How to Use a Good Bishop and a Bad Bishop in Chess

One of the best pieces that you can use to create serious problems for your opponent is the Bishop. However, many players do not know how to use this piece. I think that the biggest problem is that players are unable to determine the true value of their pieces. When it comes to Bishops, you should be able to determine whether it is a good or a bad Bishop. It is extremely important for any player to be able to evaluate a Bishop because each type of Bishop requires different handling. In this article, you will learn how to handle a bad Bishop and a good Bishop. Feel free to take a look at my other articles about chess strategies and chess set reviews.

What is a Good and a Bad Bishop

It is obvious here that there is a distinction between a good and a bad bishop. If a Bishop is on the same color square as his own pawns, then it is considered as a bad Bishop. Another identification of a bad Bishop, obviously very similar to the previous one, could be the Bishop who can attack his own pawns only. On the other hand, a good Bishop is one who rests on the opposite color square than his own pawns. The distinction between a good and a bad Bishop was not done arbitrarily. Anyone can easily tell, by his experience in chess, that a Bishop trapped on a particular color is unable to attack his opponent, it is practically useless. For this reason, it is called a bad Bishop. On the contrary, a Bishop resting on a color, where he can attack and maneuver in the game at the same time, is very useful. For this reason, it is called a good Bishop. That’s the definitions but you should keep reading if you want to improve in chess.

The correlation between active and passive Bishops

Before further analyzing the definitions of a good and a bad Bishop, I would like to describe two similar terms. Many players confuse the good one with the active and the bad one with the inactive Bishop. It should be noted that there are different cases. A bishop is called active if he is in front of his pawns and inactive if it’s trapped between his own pawns. From these simple definitions, anyone can understand the difference between them. People tend to confuse these definitions because in many cases both of them are valid. Most times a passive Bishop is also a bad one since the pawns prevent any movement. However, an active Bishop may be a bad or a good one because the pawns behind it may prevent or facilitate its movement. So, it’s obvious that there is a correlation in each case.

Examples of a Good and Bad Bishop

It may seem a little complicated but it’s easy to determine whether a Bishop is good or bad. In order to understand the above mentioned, you should emphasize the following example.

In this example, the white Bishop is bad and the black Bishop is good. In endgames, every move plays an important role. It looks like the black pawns have been blocked by the white ones and vice versa. The only pieces that could make a difference are the two bishops. However, the white Bishop cannot attack against the black pawns, because it is blocked behind his own pawns. You can easily notice that this Bishop is not so useful for the white player. So, this Bishop is a bad Bishop. On the contrary, the black Bishop rests on the opposite color from the color of his own pawns and can easily attack against the pawns of the opponent. So, this Bishop is a good Bishop.

At this point, it is worth pointing out another example of a good and bad Bishop to make things fully understood.

In this game, you can see that the white Bishop is a good one and the black bishop is a bad one. It is worthy to study one of these two games.

An Interesting Game

At this point, we will study the first example. Here Black has the advantage and shall win the game unless he commits a fatal mistake. So let’s check how come this game can be continued. It should be noted that it is the turn of White to play.

The outcome of this game is obviously inevitable. The black managed to win the game by promoting his pawn into a Queen with the help of the “good” Bishop. For sure, this game could have been played in many other different ways, but in any case, the black had definitely more chances, due to his Bishop.

Why a Good Bishop is More Valuable Than a Bad One

The relative value of the good and bad Bishop was mentioned above. A good bishop gives more chances to the particular player to win the game if the bishop is used properly of course. Even when both players have pieces with the same value depending on the situation, a player may have an advantage. The true value of any piece can be determined only by where the other pieces are placed. That’s something that you should always remember in chess.

So, why a good Bishop has greater value than a bad one? This happens because a good Bishop guards and attacks square that its pawns do not cover. In other words, it’s more nimble and there is a better allocation of work among your pieces. Although keep in mind that a good Bishop may attack opposing pawns on bad squares and in that case, there is not a big advantage. Therefore, any player who has a good bishop tries to take advantage of it, in order to have a good outcome of the game.

On the other hand, any player who has a bad Bishop is not using it to its full potential. If you take a closer look at the definition of the bad Bishop you will notice it can be moved easily across the board. You can move it across the board but your own pieces obstruct its movement. In case that a Bishop is also a passive one then such a piece is practically useless because it is trapped by its own pieces and it can not attack or threaten pieces of your opponent. So, its contribution to a game of chess can be limited or none.

However, an active bad Bishop can be a valuable piece because it can threaten enemy pieces in critical squares. The problem is that usually an active bad Bishop cannot be moved deeper into your defensive lines for protection and in most cases, you will be forced to exchange it. So, almost every time a good Bishop has far greater value than a bad Bishop.

How to Handle a Bad Bishop

Having a bad Bishop can create some problems but almost every time you can find a solution to them. Depending on each situation there are numerous ways that you can get the best out of a bad Bishop. Some of those ways are easy to do while others require many maneuvers. So, let’s see what options you have.

First Step: Analysis

The first step is to identify the position that you are facing. You have to take into account some parameters in order to make a good evaluation of the position that you are facing.

  • Do you have an active or a passive Bishop? That’s a very important question because as I have written above, an active bad Bishop is usually more valuable than a passive bad Bishop. So, that’s definitely the first question that you should consider.
  • On which important squares of the board can my Bishops add pressure? A piece of yours can control many squares if it is located at an important one. That’s why important squares are usually those in the center of the board.
  • Which pieces of your opponent create the most problems for you? Not allowing your opponent to threaten you is a very important task. You should identify and intercept those pieces from the opening moves of the game. Sometimes a Bishop can provide an easy solution to the problem.

Second Step: Create a Plan

The second step is all about figuring out a plan. Each situation requires different handling. So, by using the outcome of your analysis you should be able to find out a good plan. I am about to show you the most common ways to do that. Also, I will talk about when you should use them. These three ways are the most usual ones, in order to solve this particular problem, however, no one should think that there is no probability to find some other way.

  • The first way is to exchange the bad Bishop with a piece of your opponent. By that exchange, the player gets rid of the bad bishop and at the same time, the opponent loses a bishop or a knight, obviously a little better than the bishop of the first player. This solution of the problem is easy enough and effective, however, it cannot be accomplished all the time or the opponent tries to avoid that all the time. Sometimes you will have to move another piece and then exchange your bad Bishop. Let’s see an example of a game where Black gets rid of his bad bishop by exchanging it with a Knight of the opponent.

  •  In this example, Black has a bad Bishop, since he can not threaten White’s pawns. Black is in a somehow difficult situation because the white Knight can easily capture some of his pawns. This would result in the deployment of the white Queen and this would be inevitable for Black. However, there is a good move that Black can do. This move is to exchange his bad Bishop with the opponent’s valuable knight. With that exchange, Black will place himself in a better position and this can be decisive in winning the game.
  • There is an effective enough way to convert a bad Bishop into a good one. You can achieve that by opening the center. At first glance, it looks no good enough and at the same time not effective enough. However, in that way the Bishop has a variety of possible moves, which is an objective of all chess players. The greater the variety of the Bishop’s moves the better the Bishop performs. It is worthy to be given an example, where the white Bishop starts to control more squares.

    This game can evolve in many ways, depending on the skill of the players. At this point, it should be noted that the white Bishop controls in a better way the center of the board. The particular way to improve the features of a Bishop can be applied during the entire duration of the game. Namely, it can be done in the middlegame and provide a future advantage to the player at the endgame. The results will be positive for sure, however, if the player is not experienced enough he may not notice them.
  • A third common way is to convert a bad Bishop to a good one is to move the player’s pawns to squares of opposite color than the color of the particular Bishop. With that technique, the Bishop can pass through his own pawns and attack against his opponent. Another benefit is that it’s easier to attack with your other pieces because trapped pieces like a passive Bishop As in the former two cases, an example will be given to clarify the particular way.

    In this example, White, after he moved the pawns properly, controlled the center and he had the freedom of movements. With a few moves, he solved this problem and he has the advantage.

So, those are the main ways that you can handle a bad Bishop. Make sure that you understand the mechanics behind each method. If you do that, you will be able to implement them immediately after you have read this article. Some might consider this matter as negligible – not very important – however, for grandmasters, the slightest superiority might decide the winner. The better you become in chess, the more you want to learn about tactics who most players ignore. Its all about the details at the highest level.

Third Step: Evaluate your plan

Finding a plan doesn’t mean that you must make it happen. You should check for weaknesses that might be created and make sure that your opponent cannot easily stop this plan. In other words, you have to be sure that it is worth to put it in action. The goal is to win the game and the only way to achieve it is to play as optimally as possible.

A Bad Bishop Can Be A Valuable Piece

As I have previously talked, having a Bad Bishop usually means that you have a problem. However, the beauty of chess is that the game is so complex that no tip always works. So, I would like to talk about the occasions when having a bad Bishop is a good thing. No matter how crazy it sounds, it has to do with the protection of pawns. In particular, a bad Bishop in cooperation with his pawns creates a protective wall that creates problems for your opponent. A pawn protected by another pawn or Bishop is more difficult to be captured. However, the result brought by a good Bishop shall be better for sure, compared with the result brought by a bad Bishop, who protects only his own pawns. The following example will help you understand the usefulness of a bad Bishop.

White has an advantage due to his bad Bishop.

Final Thoughts

Before closing this article I would like to give advice to all readers who want to improve their skills in chess. No one was born with infinite knowledge of chess, we all learned along the way. So keep practicing everything that you have learned in this article. Avoid having a bad Bishop during a game of chess, but even in that case, there can be a benefit out of that. With experience, you will be able to determine what is best in each scenario. If you are a beginner keep in mind that in most cases the easiest way to solve this problem is to exchange a bad Bishop with a valuable piece of your opponent.

I hope you enjoyed this article and learned some essential things about the bishops and their importance in the game. You can find other similar articles on this website about strategies and reviews about nice chess sets. Also, I would like to know your honest opinion about this article. Please share this article with all your friends. Enjoy chess!

5 thoughts on “How to Use a Good Bishop and a Bad Bishop in Chess”

  1. In your first example (“An Interesting Game”), after 1.Bg3 Bf6, why do you play 2.Kb3 and not 2.Bf2, defending both pawns d4 and h4?
    Thank you for any answer you might care to give.

    • Hi, you are right, that is a bad move and I did that on purpose. My intention is to demonstrate that a bad and passive Bishop is worthless. Both Bishops were passive but Black’s Bishop was a good one. If White played the move that you suggested he would not have a problem. Instead, he left the white Bishop trapped. Thanks for your remarks and your comment

  2. August 7, 2019

    Thanks for the interesting article. I’ve been playing chess a long time and read several chess books but have seen little to nothing on this important topic.
    I’m playing the black pieces in an English opening game right now in which I exchanged my King’s bishop for a knight early. I think my remaining bishop is good but now he will likely maintain the bishop pair. If he does keep the bishop pair to the end game does that mean he could have a good and bad bishop? Is one bishop automatically good and the other bad?

    • Hi, sorry for the late reply. Your question is quite difficult to answer because it depends on each scenario. Usually, Bishops in the endgame are good because there aren’t any pawns to obstruct them. In the opening, it is common to spot at least one bad Bishop but after it, there is no correlation. However, keep in mind that you may have a plan that doesn’t include any Bishop (it usually includes both Knights) and both your Bishops are bad. So, once you exchange your Knights or capture key squares thanks to them you should focus on making your Knights good. Thanks for your comment!

  3. I’m “An interesting game” example; white can play 2.Bf2 defending both d4 and h4 and the game is drawn.


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