IV. Stronger and Weaker Bishops; Good and Bad Bishops; Active Bishops.
Each player starts with a White Bishop (the King’s Bishop for White, and the Queen’s Bishop for Black) and a Black Bishop (Queen’s Bishop for White, and King’s Bishop for Black). As a general principle, at the start of a game each player has a stronger Bishop and a weaker Bishop. For both White and Black, their King’s Bishops are the stronger Bishops.
The question naturally arises…Why is one Bishop stronger and the other weaker at the start of a game? Theoretically, both Bishops for each player are equal in the sense that they have equal capability to move diagonally along the lines of their own colors. However, examine the chessboard for the start of a game shown below and determine if the answer pops out as to why one Bishop for each player is said to be the stronger Bishop, and the other one the weaker Bishop. Of course, depending on the players’ moves, captures, strategy, tactics, and positional structure of the game, a weaker Bishop may become the stronger Bishop and vice versa.
The foregoing stated reason is exemplified by two higher-level concepts relating to two key squares as focal points for attacking an opposing King castled to the Kingside. These squares are the f2 & h2 squares against White’s King castled to the Kingside, and the f7 & h7 squares against Black’s King castled to the Kingside. Both these squares become critical squares to attack in order to create attacking lines at or through them to reach a King castled to the Kingside.For example, one popular line of attack against a castled King is based on a Bishop sacrifice at either the h2 square (Black sacrifices his stronger Bishop) or h7 square (White sacrifices his stronger Bishop) in order to open the h file and provide an avenue for a mating pattern and mating net vertically against the castled King with the player’s Queen or one of his or her Rooks positioned in h file.The four squares (f2, h2, f7, & g7) thus are shown to be critical defensive points on the chessboard when a King has castled to the Kingside, further emphasizing the principle relating to Knights that the squares f3 (for White) and f6 (for Black) are the most natural home squares for the King’s Knights. The placement of the King’s Knights at f3 and f6 provides defense and protection for the pawns located at squares h2 and h7 respectively, and represent blocks against vertical attacks in the f file against the squares f2 and f7 respectively.
The concepts of Good Bishops and Bad Bishops, as well as Active Bishops, are akin to the Stronger Bishops and Weaker Bishops. However, analytically the concepts are focused upon positional structure, and more particularly upon pawn structure for Good Bishops and Bad Bishops.
- A Good Bishop: is one that has free reign through the central diagonals because its central pawns are not on squares of its color in the center of the board. That is to say, a player’s Bishop is “good” when his or her pawns in pawn chains are not blocking the Bishop’s mobility through the center of the board.
- Bad Bishop: is one that does not have free reign through the central diagonals because its central pawns in pawn chains are on squares of its own color thereby blocking the Bishop’s mobility through the center of the board.
- Active Bishop: is one that is serving a purpose on the board at the present time as opposed to sitting on a square waiting to become involved in the fight. An Active Bishop may be either a Good or Bad Bishop. The sole aspect to consider whether a Bishop is “active” is whether at the present time the Bishop is accomplishing something relative to the players’ positional structure and game plan, such as a pin, defensive support, attacking capability, and/or other aspects of play in the game.
There are three things a player may try to do if he or she has a Bad Bishop:
- Trade (exchange) the Bad Bishop for an opposing Bishop, or exchange it for an opposing Knight.
- Make the Bad Bishop into a Good Bishop by advancing one or more of the central pawns off the color squares of the Bad Bishop.
- Move the Bad Bishop so that it becomes active or more active by increasing its mobility through moving it outside the blocking central pawn chain This allows the Bishop to become active along other open diagonals on the board, but often requires more dedicated attention to the Bishop’s possible mobility along those lines to keep those diagonals open for it to move and thereby have power along those lines. More than one player has through inadvertence or not being familiar with this concept, further blocked in his or her Bad Bishop by placing pieces and/or pawns on squares of the same color in other diagonal lines through which the Bad Bishop could be moved to activate it or make it more active.
The last avenue normally is the more difficult one because this causes a player to have to think along multiple diagonal lines, including paths to the wings and away from the wings on the board. This also includes having to consider open squares available on shorter diagonal lines. to and from the wings and the players’ back ranks. Constructing good activity for a Bishop using these diagonal lines requires more concentration because the Bishop will have to move, stop, turn, and then move in one or more different diagonal directions to accomplish the goal; a much different and more difficult course than simply looking straight up the long diagonals for instance or along relatively clear paths of other more “obvious” diagonals.There are two methods to try to visualize and capitalize on using this avenue for a Bad Bishop in order for a layer to make it into a Good Bishop and activate it, both based on geometrical patterns.
- Triangulation: Two diagonal lines for the Bishop to move with an intersecting common square on a wing of the board and squares on the back ranks of the players, approximates a triangular view of the Bishop’s movement. Progressively smaller triangles exist throughout the board as the diagonal lines away from the center as well.[Important Note: I am using the word “triangulation” solely in a purely geometric manner for considering movement of a Bishop. This use should not be confused with the term “triangulation” as used in chess with a specific definition and conceptual application that is more restrictive. Mark Weeks from About.com provides the following definition for triangulation as used in chess: A term reserved for endgames to describe a maneuver where a player on the move loses a tempo to achieve the same position with the opponent on the move. The maneuver usually involves Kings — one King is forced to shuttle between two squares while the other King has three squares (the ‘triangle’) at its disposal. Stated another way: “Triangulation is a King maneuver designed to achieve the same position as when the maneuver began except with one’s opponent compelled to move.” Therefore, it is a specific tactical maneuver designed to force a strategic change in positional structure to the advantage of the player engaging in maneuver that results in a loss of a tempo or halfmove for the player but with the compensation of gaining a highly desired positional advantage in a difficult endgame (e.g., when both players have Queens and equal pawns on the board without other pieces).]
- Diamondization: The four diagonal lines starting from a square through the wing to a back rank to a wing to back rank and back to the starting wing, provides a diamond view for the Bishop’s movement. Progressively smaller diamonds exist as the staring squares are moved in toward the center of the board
Triangulation and Diamondization may be combined to provide even greater flexibility (mobility) for a Bishop, and may be used for Good Bishops as well. Of course, using these views are more conceptually difficult; yet, recognizing the geometrical patterns can greatly assist in planning and developing long range attacks with the Bishops that are “hidden” and which seem to come out of nowhere to the opposing player. Such attacks are not easily foreseen and defended against by most opposing players, who have to try to visualize what the player is planning from the opposite side of the board (a mirror-like view). That can be a difficult task when things are fairly straightforward on the board with lots of pieces and pawns. It can get downright tricky when a Bishop is in essence hidden.Shielding the Bishop behind the player’s other forward pieces and pawns and then launching a sideways attack off a wing of the board from behind the player’s spatial lines created by the player’s other fighting forward units, while not necessarily easy to construct and carry out, often is that much more difficult for the opposing player to see coming at him or her. These lines of attacking for a Bishop can be very highly effective as counterattacks and for counterplay. In the right positional structure, a player also can suddenly drop a checkmate on the unsuspecting opposing player like the rhetorical “lead balloon.”
Below are two diagrammed boards. The first shows Black with a Bad Bishop. The second shows the same board position, but with the two geometrical patterns of viewing creating activity for the Bad Bishop. You should note, however, that Black has a different line of play consistent with the second of the three principles for a Bad Bishop – to clear a pawn off the same colored square and make the Bad Bishop a Good Bishop…Black to play and move e4!! getting White’s Knight because the Bad Bishop becomes a very, very Good Bishop (we can say an excellent Bishop). Advancing to e4 creates a checkmate threat against White at h2 through the Bishop and Queen combination lineup – the Bishop along the now open diagonal from d6 to h2, and the Queen from h5 to h2, preventing White’s Rook at e1 from capturing White’s pawn at e4. Further, you should note that Black’s Bad Bishop is active at d6 because it is providing defense for Black’s pawn at c5, and tripling the defensive protection for Black’s pawn at e5 (also protected by Black’s Knight at c6 and Black’s Queen at h5) against the double attack by White by White’s Knight at d3 and White’s Rook at e1.
Before proceeding with the Bishop, let’s review some additional principles, rules, and concepts.Black smartly positioned a Rook in Black’s open b file at b8, while White created positional inferiority by not positioning a Rook in that open file.
White created significant positional inferiority by diagonally connecting White’s Queen and Rooks on black squares while Black has a Black Bishop on the board.
White also has a backward pawn at b3 in White’s Queenside reverse-V (or backward) pawn chain (also is a pawn island) that is being attacked by Black’s Rook at b8 (that is, attacking the base pawn in the pawn chain). In fact White’s pawn at b3 is subject to being freely captured by Black if it is Black’s move or if it is White’s move and he or she does not move to defend and protect it. This shows how a backward pawn can be particularly vulnerable to being attacked and captured.
Black can smash and fracture White’s reverse-V pawn chain on the Queenside if Black’s Rook freely captures White’s pawn at b3, seizing control of the open b file.
Black has a centralized forward V-shaped pawn chain with a passed pawn at d4.
Black has a pawn couple at g7 & h7, and White has a pawn couple at g2 & h2, and both also are pawn islands.
Black also has an outside (remote) isolated pawn at a7, which also is a backward pawn.
Black additionally seized control of the open f file by positioning Black’s Rook at f8.
Black has a significant material advantage.
The combination of all these factors should lead Black to an easy win. Now let’s now shift gears and turn to Bishop Pins.