I was scrolling through some chess.com forums lately when I saw this one guy asking which of the two bishops (light-squared or dark-squared) is more important. I was taken aback since I have never thought of asking this question, not even once.
Basic reinfeld value tell us that the two bishops should be equal. But is this really true? I find this interesting.
This is a good article topic I’ve thought, so this is what I think:
If all things are equal, the light-squared bishop should have the same value as the dark-squared bishop. Since kingside castling is popular however, the bishop neareast to the king is more valuable since it is more likely to be active. For queenside castling it will be the opposite.
There really isn’t much of a difference between the two bishops but upon further inspection there are little details that should be said about this. There are situations where one is more valuable than the other, it really depends on the position.
If you are interested, reading on can give you valuable information, I want to share my complete thoughts on this. With all of that in mind, let’s get started.
Why is this question even important?
In the opening players will have to decide which pieces are going to be developed. If a light-squared bishop proves to be in fact better than a dark-squared bishop then it is a big deal.
This means that players should prioritize the light-squared bishop in the opening since it is just better. It is for the same reason that the bishop pair is generally reserved over the knight pair.
It is simply because the bishop pair is slightly better than the knight pair.
Light-squared bishop is better for white, Dark-squared bishop is better for black
The very first thing that I have considered is which color are you playing? This is very important since it determines which bishop is closest to the king.
If you are playing white the closest would be the light-squared bishop, and if you are playing black the closest would be the dark-squared bishop. This will determine which bishop is likely to be active since they are materials that get in the way of castling.
Castling is important, if you have never castled in a game then you cannot really treat it as playing “true chess” (although there are positions where it is good to never castle). Castling is so common that it is automatic in most chess games, people cannot play without it.
This is why the material that gets in the way of castling is almost fundamental, of course the bishop that is closest to the king would be developed first. They have to be developed, otherwise the player cannot castle kingside.
We have to understand that most castles are kingside castles (as opposed to queenside castles), this means that the one closer to the king would be more valuable. If you are playing white then it is the light-squared bishop and if you are playing black it would be the dark-squared bishop.
The color of the bishop which will become the most useful will depend on which side you are playing, if you are playing white then the light-squared bishop is likely to be more active. If you are playing black on the other hand, the dark-squared bishop is the one to consider more.
Of course this would be the opposite if you are planning to castle queenside, this is because the bishop that is closer to the queen is going to be the one that is more active.
This would be the dark-squared bishop for white and the light-squared bishop for black (opposite of what is in the kingside castles).
Do chess players castle kingside or queenside more?
Chess players generally castle kingside more than anything. It is the safer option since it is the faster route to castling.
This means that in most cases the light squared bishop is the better one for white. Consequently the dark-squared bishop is better for black most of the time. This is the opposite if there is a queenside castle which is quite rare.
The value of Light-squared/Dark-squared bishops will depend on the opening
Which color bishop is better will of course depend on the type of opening that you choose to play out, there are some opening lines that favors the light-squared bishop while there are others that do not.
While castling might be a good indicator of which bishop is likely to be more active, it is not the only indicator. There are many chess openings where the bishop that is farther from the king is the one that is more active (probably due to a fianchetto).
This means that the rule stated above can be broken depending on which type of chess opening that you choose to play, it may become the opposite.
Even if you are playing white the dark-squared bishop may become the more active one if you are playing the London System for example.
The light-squared bishop might become more active for black if this is the common Caro-kann.
I can go on and on at many examples of chess opening breaking the rule imposed by castling, there are some that give an opportunity for the other bishop to shine.
It is good to follow the castling rule as an indication of which bishop is more likely to be active, but you still have to understand that the opening you choose can alter that reality. It might become the opposite in some lines (although rare) since the opening can give the other bishop time to develop.
Also, there are occasions where it is not you but your opponent who has caused the deviation, they might force you in a line where the opposite is true (despite which bishop is closer to the king). In these cases it might be better to ditch the “which bishop is closer to the king” rule.
The value of Light-squared/Dark-squared bishops will depend on promotional tiles
For the most part of this article I have only considered the opening/middlegame, but we all know that the endgame is the most important phase in chess since it determines the winner. So we need to talk about which bishop is more important in most endgames.
In endgames it doesn’t really matter which color of bishop a particular player has, what matters more is the promoting square which the passed pawns need to reach. Not one colored bishop is better than the other, it is more like which promotional tile do you need to cover in order to promote?
If the promoting squares are on the light squares, then the light-squared bishop is obviously going to be more useful.
This is because the light-squared bishop will be able to escort the passed pawn into an eventual promotion, therefore, making it more valuable than the dark-squared bishop (if it is still not captured).
This is also true the other way around, the dark-squared bishop is going to be more useful to you (in the endgame) if the promotional tiles of the passed pawns are on dark squares. The dark-squared bishop is going to be the one to escort the passed pawn in this case.
Have you seen the pattern? I do not really say that one colored bishop is better than the other, rather I only talk about which is going to be more important depending on the situation. This is really important in answering this question.
Inherently, the Light-squared/Dark-squared bishop is not better than the other
Overall one color bishop over the other is not really more valuable, whatever color the bishop has on them the value should be the same (inherently).
This is the reason why I have never thought of this question at least once, because when I was still studying I have been told that both bishops are the same.
I think this question has been raised by some people who have studied chess history and have seen their favorite player having a favorite bishop color (like Bobby Fischer and his light-squared bishop).
This makes them debate about which bishop color is better than the other in hopes of making their favorite player’s favorite bishop “immortalized”. This is great and all since I also have favorite players from the past too, but the answer is just unclear in this case.
The only time when one becomes more important than the other will be due to some other factors (position, time control, color of pieces, etc.) if all things are fair they should be equal.
I mean this makes sense since they are just both bishops, they are both a cut of the same cloth even though they are on different squares. The value of a bishop will be higher over the other (depending on some factors) but the difference in value should not be that much.
If all things are fair they should be the same.
One bishop’s color worth over the other is not more important (inherently), but because of the castling mechanic and how many people prefer kingside castles, you can say that there is one.
If you are playing white and then the light-squared bishop is better since it is likely to be more active, if you are playing black then the dark-squared bishop is better since it is the one that is likely to be active.
This is not even concrete, some other factors like the chess opening chosen or just one player castling queenside can change the whole story. I will recommend that you shouldn’t think too much about this though, it is not that important.
That is all, thank you for reading.