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Bishop (chess)

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White bishop
Black bishop

The bishop (♗, ♝) is a piece in the game of chess. It moves and captures along diagonals without jumping over intervening pieces. Each player begins the game with two bishops. The starting squares are c1 and f1 for White's bishops, and c8 and f8 for Black's bishops.

Placement and movement


The king's bishop is placed on f1 for White and f8 for Black; the queen's bishop is placed on c1 for White and c8 for Black.

The bishop has no restrictions in distance for each move but is limited to diagonal movement. It cannot jump over other pieces. A bishop captures by occupying the square on which an enemy piece stands. As a consequence of its diagonal movement, each bishop always remains on one square color. Due to this, it is common to refer to a bishop as a light-squared or dark-squared bishop.

Comparison – other pieces


Versus rook


A rook is generally worth about two pawns more than a bishop. The bishop has access to only half of the squares on the board, whereas all squares of the board are accessible to the rook. When unobstructed, a rook attacks fourteen squares regardless of position, whereas a bishop attacks no more than thirteen (from one of four center squares) and sometimes as few as seven (from sides and corners). A king and rook can force checkmate against a lone king, whereas a king and bishop cannot.[1] A king and two bishops on opposite-colored squares, however, can force mate.

Versus knight


Knights and bishops are each worth about three pawns. This means bishops are approximately equal in strength to knights, but depending on the game situation, either may have a distinct advantage. In general, the bishop is slightly stronger than the knight.

Less experienced players tend to underrate the bishop compared to the knight because the knight can reach all squares and is more adept at forking. More experienced players understand the power of the bishop.[2]

Bishops usually gain in relative strength towards the endgame as more pieces are captured and more open lines become available on which they can operate. A bishop can easily influence both wings simultaneously, whereas a knight is less capable of doing so. In an open endgame, a pair of bishops is decidedly superior to either a bishop and a knight, or two knights. A player possessing a pair of bishops has a strategic weapon in the form of a long-term threat to trade down to an advantageous endgame.[1]

Two bishops on opposite-colored squares and king can force checkmate against a lone king, whereas two knights cannot. A bishop and knight can force mate, but with far greater difficulty than two bishops.

In certain positions a bishop can by itself lose a move (see triangulation and tempo), while a knight can never do so. The bishop is capable of skewering or pinning a piece, while the knight can do neither. A bishop can in some situations hinder a knight from moving. In these situations, the bishop is said to be "dominating" the knight.

On the other hand, in the opening and middlegame a bishop may be hemmed in by pawns of both players, and thus be inferior to a knight which can jump over them. A knight check cannot be blocked but a bishop check can. Furthermore, on a crowded board a knight has many tactical opportunities to fork two enemy pieces. A bishop can fork, but opportunities are rarer. One such example occurs in the position illustrated, which arises from the Ruy Lopez: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 b5 6.Bb3 Be7 7.d4 d6 8.c3 Bg4 9.h3!? Bxf3 10.Qxf3 exd4 11.Qg3 g6 12.Bh6!

Game use


Good bishop and bad bishop

Krasenkow vs. Zvjaginsev
FIDE World Chess Championship 2004
c8 black bishop
g8 black king
d7 black knight
e7 black queen
f7 black rook
h7 black pawn
c6 black pawn
e6 black pawn
g6 black pawn
b5 black pawn
c5 white pawn
d5 black pawn
e5 white pawn
b4 white pawn
d4 white queen
f4 white pawn
b2 white knight
e2 white bishop
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
g1 white king
Position after 23.Rxa1

In the middlegame, a player with only one bishop should generally place friendly pawns on squares of the color that the bishop cannot move to. This allows the player to control squares of both colors, allows the bishop to move freely among the pawns, and helps fix enemy pawns on squares on which they can be attacked by the bishop. Such a bishop is often referred to as a "good" bishop.

Conversely, a bishop which is impeded by friendly pawns is often referred to as a "bad bishop" (or sometimes, disparagingly, a "tall pawn"). The black light-squared bishop in the French Defense is a notorious example of this concept. A "bad" bishop, however, need not always be a weakness, especially if it is outside its own pawn chains. In addition, having a "bad" bishop may be advantageous in an opposite-colored bishops endgame. Even if the bad bishop is passively placed, it may serve a useful defensive function; a well-known quip from GM Mihai Suba is that "Bad bishops protect good pawns."[3]

In the position from the game Krasenkow versus Zvjaginsev,[4] a thicket of black pawns hems in Black's bishop on c8, so Black is effectively playing with one piece fewer than White. Although the black pawns also obstruct the white bishop on e2, it has many more attacking possibilities, and thus is a good bishop vis-à-vis Black's bad bishop. Black resigned after another ten moves.



A bishop may be fianchettoed, for example after moving the g2 pawn to g3 and the bishop on f1 to g2. This can form a strong defense for the castled king on g1 and the bishop can often exert strong pressure on the long diagonal (here h1–a8). A fianchettoed bishop should generally not be given up lightly, since the resulting holes in the pawn formation may prove to be serious weaknesses, particularly if the king has castled on that side of the board.

There are nonetheless some modern opening lines where a fianchettoed bishop is given up for a knight in order to double the opponent's pawns, for example 1.d4 g6 2.c4 Bg7 3.Nc3 c5 4.d5 Bxc3+!? 5.bxc3 f5, a sharp line originated by Roman Dzindzichashvili. Giving up a fianchettoed queen's bishop for a knight is usually less problematic. For example, in KarpovBrowne, San Antonio 1972, after 1.c4 c5 2.b3 Nf6 3.Bb2 g6?!, Karpov gave up his fianchettoed bishop with 4.Bxf6! exf6 5.Nc3, doubling Black's pawns and giving him a hole on d5.[5]



An endgame in which each player has only one bishop, one controlling the dark squares and the other the light, will often result in a draw even if one player has a pawn or sometimes two more than the other. The players tend to gain control of squares of opposite colors, and a deadlock results. In endgames with same-colored bishops, however, even a positional advantage may be enough to win.[6]

Bishops on opposite colors


Endgames in which each player has only one bishop (and no other pieces besides the king) and the bishops are on opposite colors are often drawn, even when one side has an extra pawn or two. Many of these positions would be a win if the bishops were on the same color.

The position from Wolf versus Leonhardt (see diagram) shows an important defensive setup. Black can make no progress, since the white bishop ties the black king to defending the pawn on g4 and it also prevents the advance ...f3+ because it would simply capture the pawn – then either the other pawn is exchanged for the bishop (an immediate draw) or the pawn advances (an easily drawn position). Otherwise the bishop alternates between the squares d1 and e2.[7]

If two pawns are connected, they normally win if they reach their sixth rank, otherwise the game may be a draw (as above). If two pawns are separated by one file they usually draw, but win if they are farther apart.[8]

In some cases with more pawns on the board, it is actually advantageous to have the bishops on opposite colors if one side has weak pawns. In the 1925 game Efim BogoljubovMax Blümich (see diagram), White wins because of the bishops being on opposite colors making Black weak on the dark squares, the weakness of Black's isolated pawns on the queenside, and the weak doubled pawns on the kingside.[9] The game continued:[10]

29.Kd2 Ke7 30.Kc3 f6 31.Kd4 Be6 32.Kc5 Kd7 33.Kb6 g5 34.Kxa6 Kc7 35.Bb6+ Kc8 36.Bc5 Kc7 37.Bf8 f5 38.Bxg7 f4 39.Bf6 f3 40.gxf3 exf3 41.Bxg5 Bxh3 42.Bf4+ 1–0

Wrong bishop


In an endgame with a bishop, in some cases the bishop is the "wrong bishop", meaning that it is on the wrong color of square for some purpose (usually promoting a pawn). For example, with just a bishop and a rook pawn, if the bishop cannot control the promotion square of the pawn, it is said to be the "wrong bishop" or the pawn is said to be the wrong rook pawn. This results in some positions being drawn (by setting up a fortress) which otherwise would be won.


Antique Indian chess bishop represented by the camel, carved from sandalwood
Elephant chess piece from the Charlemagne chessmen, 11th century
A pre-Staunton bishop
Camel chess pieces, from a Mongolian set
The bishops in the Lewis chessmen
A white bishop

The bishop's predecessor in medieval chess, shatranj (originally chaturanga), was the alfil, meaning "elephant", which could leap two squares along any diagonal, and could jump over an intervening piece. As a consequence, each fil was restricted to eight squares, and no fil could attack another. The modern bishop first appeared shortly after 1200 in Courier chess.[11] A piece with this move, called a cocatriz or crocodile, is part of the Grande Acedrex in the Libro de los juegos compiled in 1283 for King Alfonso X of Castile. The game is attributed to "India", then a very vague term.[12] About half a century later Muḥammad ibn Maḥmud al-Āmulī, in his Treasury of the Sciences, describes an expanded form of chess with two pieces moving "like the rook but obliquely".[13] The bishop was also independently invented in Japan at about the same time (the 13th century), where it formed part of sho shogi and dai shogi; it remains present in modern shogi as the direct descendant of sho shogi.

Derivatives of alfil survive in the languages of the two countries where chess was first introduced within Western Europe—Italian (alfiere) and Spanish (alfil).[14] It was known as the aufin in French,[15] or the aufin, alphin, or archer in early English.[16]

The earliest references to bishops on the chessboard are two 13th-century Latin texts, De Vetula and Quaedam moralitas de scaccario.[17][18] The etymology of "bishop" comes from Old English bisceop "bishop, high priest," from Late Latin episcopus, from Greek episkopos "watcher, overseer." The term "bishop" as applied specifically to the chess piece was first recorded in the 16th century, with the first known written example dating back to the 1560s.[16] In all other Germanic languages, except for Icelandic, it is called various names, all of which directly translate to English as "runner" or "messenger". In Icelandic, however, it is called "biskup",[19] with the same meaning as in English. The use of the term in Icelandic predates that of the English language, as the first mentioning of "biskup" in Icelandic texts dates back to the early part of the 14th century, while the 12th-century Lewis Chessmen portray the bishop as an unambiguously ecclesiastical figure. In the Saga of Earl Mágus, which was written in Iceland somewhere between 1300–1325, it is described how an emperor was checkmated by a bishop. This has led to some speculations as to the origin of the English use of the term "bishop".[20][21][citation needed]

The canonical chessmen date back to the Staunton chess set of 1849. The piece's deep groove symbolizes a bishop's (or abbot's) mitre. Some have written that the groove originated from the original form of the piece, an elephant[22][23] with the groove representing the elephant's tusks.[24] The English apparently chose to call the piece a bishop because the projections at the top resembled a mitre.[25] This groove was interpreted differently in different countries as the game moved to Europe; in France, for example, the groove was taken to be a jester's cap, hence in France the bishop is called fou, the "jester"[26] and in Romania the nebun (madman).[27]

In some Slavic languages (e.g. Czech/Slovak) the bishop is called střelec/strelec, which directly translates to English as a "shooter" meaning an archer, while in others it is still known as "elephant" (e.g. Russian slon). In South Slavic languages it is usually known as lovac, meaning "hunter", or laufer, taken from the German name for the same piece (laufer is also a co-official Polish name for the piece alongside goniec). An alternative name for bishop in Russian is "officer" (Russian: офицер); it is also called αξιωματικός (axiomatikos) in Greek, афіцэр (afitser) in Belarusian and oficeri in Albanian.

In Mongolian and several Indian languages it is called the "camel".

In Lithuanian it is the rikis, a kind of military commander in medieval Lithuania.

In Latvia it is known as laidnis, a term for the wooden handle part of some firearms.[28]

Name translations

Overview of chess piece names

Bishop Translation
Afrikaans L Loper runner
Albanian F Fili / Oficeri elephant / officer
Arabic ف فيل (fīl) elephant
Azerbaijani F Fil elephant
Armenian Փ Փիղ (P῾ił) elephant
Basque A Alfila
Belarusian (Taraškievica) А афіцэр officer
Bengali H গজ / হাতি (gôj / hāti) Elephant
Bulgarian О офицер officer
Catalan A alfil
Chinese B (xiàng) elephant
Czech S střelec shooter
Danish L løber runner
Dutch L loper / raadsheer runner / counsellor
English B bishop
Esperanto K kuriero courier
Estonian[29] O oda spear
Finnish L lähetti messenger
French F fou jester
Galician B bispo bishop
Georgian კუ (ku) tortoise
German[30] L Läufer runner
Greek Α αξιωματικός (axiomatikós) officer
Hindi O ऊँट (ūṁṭ) camel
Hebrew ר רץ (Ratz) runner
Hausa G giwa elephant
Hungarian F futó runner
Icelandic B biskup bishop
Ido E episkopo bishop
Indonesian G gajah elephant
Interslavic L lovec hunter
Irish E easpag bishop
Italian A alfiere standard-bearer
Japanese B ビショップ (bishoppu)
Javanese M mentri minister
Kannada ರಥ (ratha) chariot
Kazakh П піл (pıl) elephant
Korean B 비숍 (bi syob)
Latin A signifer / cursor / stultus / alphinus standard-bearer / messenger / fool[31]
Latvian L laidnis
Lithuanian R rikis Lithuanian military commander
Lojban X xanto elephant
Luxembourgish L Leefer runner
Macedonian L ловец hunter
Malayalam B ആന (aana) elephant
Marathi O उंट (Unṭ) camel
Mongolian Т тэмээ (temee) camel
Norwegian Bokmål L løper runner
Norwegian Nynorsk L løpar runner
Odia B ହାତୀ (hati) elephant
Persian ف فیل elephant
Polish G goniec / laufer courier / (ger. derived)
Portuguese B bispo bishop
Romanian N nebun fool
Russian С слон (slon) elephant
Scottish Gaelic E easbaig bishop
Serbo-Croatian L lovac / strijelac / laufer (Л ловац / стрелац / лауфер) hunter / archer / runner
Northern Sotho Mp Mopišopo
Sicilian A alferu
Slovak S strelec shooter
Slovene L lovec hunter
Spanish A alfil
Swedish L löpare runner
Tamil B அமைச்சர் / மந்திரி (amaicchar / manthiri) minister
Telugu శకటు (śakaţu)
Thai โคน (khon)
Turkish F fil elephant
Ukrainian C слон (slon) elephant
Urdu فيلہ (fiyalah)
Vietnamese T tượng / tịnh / voi elephant
Welsh E esgob bishop



Unicode defines three codepoints for a bishop:

U+2657 White Chess Bishop

U+265D Black Chess Bishop

🨃 U+1FA03 Neutral Chess Bishop

See also



  1. ^ a b "The value of the chess pieces". Schach.de. Retrieved 2021-03-11.
  2. ^ (Mednis 1990:2)
  3. ^ Discussions on the strength of bishops is covered e.g. in "The Art of Planning, part 2" by Jeremy Silman published in the July 1990 issue of Chess Life. Suba's quote is mentioned e.g. in Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy, Advances Since Nimzowitsch by John Watson.
  4. ^ "Krasenkow vs. Zvjaginsev". Chessgames.com.
  5. ^ "Anatoly Karpov vs. Walter Shawn Browne, 1972". Chessgames.com.
  6. ^ (Mednis 1990:133–34)
  7. ^ (Müller & Lamprecht 2001:118)
  8. ^ (Fine & Benko 2003:184–204)
  9. ^ (Reinfeld 1947:80–81)
  10. ^ "Efim Bogoljubov vs. Max Bluemich, 1925". Chessgames.com.
  11. ^ Murray 1913, p. 483
  12. ^ Murray 1913, p. 348
  13. ^ Murray 1913, p. 344
  14. ^ The Spanish alfil is simply a loanword of the Persian term, without any other meaning; while the Italian form became alfiere—an already existing Germanic- or Arabian-derived word for "standard-bearer".
  15. ^ Yalom, Marilyn. Birth of the Chess Queen. New York: Perennial, 2004. p. 70.
  16. ^ a b Piececlopedia: Bishop Archived 2010-02-05 at the Wayback Machine from Online Etymology Dictionary
  17. ^ Archaeologia, Or, Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, Volume 11 [1] Archived 2022-11-01 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Murray, H. J. R. (1913). A History of Chess, Oxford University Press. p. 507[2], p. 521[3] pp. 530–533[4].
  19. ^ Piececlopedia: Bishop Archived 2010-06-12 at the Wayback Machine from chessvariants.org
  20. ^ Reopening History of Storied Norse Chessmen Archived 2017-12-08 at the Wayback Machine from nytimes.com
  21. ^ Fiske 1905
  22. ^ The Oxford Companion to Chess
  23. ^ The Everything Chess Basic Book, by the US Chess Federation and Peter Kurzdorfer, 2003, pp. 32–33.
  24. ^ Golombek, 1976, p. 80
  25. ^ Davidson, pp. 35–36
  26. ^ The word can also mean madman or gannet.
  27. ^ Davidson, p. 35
  28. ^ [5] Archived 2022-06-01 at the Wayback Machine Tezaurs - Latvian Definition Dictionary
  29. ^ The Estonian chess terms were coined by Ado Grenzstein.
  30. ^ "Handbook". www.fide.com. Retrieved 22 March 2019. The pieces bear the names: Koenig, Dame, Turm, Laeufer, Springer, Bauer
  31. ^ Murray 1913, ch. 11