If you are new to chess, here is some good news; the bishop is one of the easiest chess pieces to master. Within a few days of learning the basics of how they move, you will know by heart how to use them, and you will never forget it. It’s like riding a bicycle.
So, how do bishops move in chess? Bishops move diagonally only, forwards and backwards, and they can travel as many squares as you want in one turn as long as their path is clear, as bishops can not jump over other pieces. Each side has two bishops, one bishop that can only move on dark squares and another that only moves on white squares.
In this article, not only am I going to tell you all the basics of how bishops move on the chessboard, but I’m also going to teach you how to use them effectively like a master in no time. Let’s get to it.
Bishops move diagonally on the same color they start the game on. At the start of the game, you will have two bishops; a dark-squared bishop and a light-squares bishop.
The dark-squared bishop can only travel on dark squares for the entire duration of your game, and similarly, the light-squared bishop can travel on light squares.
You can never switch the color on which your bishop travels just to get this question out of the way. You can also move in only one direction in each move.
The diagram above shows the range of the white-squares bishop on e4.
Bishops capture pieces just like all other chess pieces do. They take out the piece and take its place as long as the move is legal.
In the diagram below, the white bishop will take the black rook on the next move regardless of whose turn it is since the black side can’t move the rook away because it’s pinned.
Bishops can move freely as long as their path is clear. This makes bishops pretty powerful in open positions, as they can literally move from one side of the chessboard to the other in one move.
In the position shown below, the white bishops can move to any square the orange arrows touch:
This is, of course, given that the black king is currently in check and must move to h7.
Bishops can not jump over other pieces. The only piece in your arsenal that can jump over other pieces – whether those are your pieces or your opponent’s – are the knights.
This, however, is compensated by the long reach of bishops, which knights do not have. We have a very detailed comparison of bishops vs. knights in our guide to how chess knights move.
A bishop and a king alone can not checkmate. That’s because a bishop can control only one color, so the other side’s king will always be able to escape to a square of the opposite color.
However, a lone bishop can actually give checkmate in the case of an opponent’s error. In this case, the other side’s king must terribly position their pieces in a way that restricts their own movement.
Here is an example of such a rare scenario:
In this position, white’s last move was Kf6 (the king was previously on e5). The bishop now must make a decision, where to go? The correct answer is anywhere but g8. However, in this position, if black got greedy and decided to try and keep his d5 pawn protected to have winning chances and played the horrible Bg8??
White wins the game immediately with Kg6#
Black has dug his own grave by taking away its escape square of g8 and putting the bishop there. Quite the blunder in a position that should end in a draw.
Two bishops can checkmate, indeed, with the help of their king, of course. A two-bishop checkmate is not easy, though. If I were to rank its difficulty, I would say it’s more difficult than a rook and king checkmate but easier than a bishop and knight checkmate.
The key to giving a checkmate with the bishops is to keep your bishops close together and push the opponent’s king to a corner where you can deliver the checkmate.
A two-bishop checkmate will look like this:.
Now that you know how the bishops move and checkmate, let’s see how to use your bishops effectively.
There is a very simple rule to follow if you want to use them effectively: Clear their path.
Here are some tips that should help you use your bishops very effectively:
- Don’t block them with pawns. This often means you should put your pawn chains on the color opposite to your bishop’s color.
- Aim them at the important diagonals. You don’t have you put your bishops at the center of the board to have them be at their strongest; your bishops can still be very strong if you hide them away but aim at the right diagonal.
- Support them with other pieces, particularly knights. Bishops have limited control since they can only control one color of squares, but knights can complement this as a knight can control all the squares of the opposite color.
- Open up the position. Exchange pawns and light pieces to open up the diagonals for your bishops. Bishops do not do well in closed, crowded positions.
To help you understand some of these tips, let’s dig a bit deeper into some bishop-related concepts.
Let’s start with the word: Fianchetto is an Italian word that means “little flank.” The fianchetto is a way to develop the bishop where you move the b or g pawns (the knight pawns) and place it in its place, surrounded by pawns and protected by them.
Here’s how this looks in action:
The fianchettoed bishop has been gaining popularity quickly in the last few decades. The reason is simple: It makes the bishops very powerful by putting them on open, lengthy diagonals where they can aim at weaknesses all the way on the other side of the chessboard while also keeping them safe behind their pawns.
Fianchettoed bishops are very popular in Queen pawn openings such as the king’s Indian defense.
The most popular use for fianchettoed bishops in king pawn openings is probably in the dragon variation of the Sicilian opening, which goes as follows:
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. B3e Bg7
The fight in this opening is on the d4 square, and black’s dark-squared bishop on g7 plays a vital role in both the attack on the center and in later protecting the black king.
A very common tactical pattern is the pin of pieces by the bishop. Thanks to its range, the bishop can pin pieces against their king or against a more valuable piece.
Here is an example:
In the diagram above, white has pinned the queen against the king and will take the queen as it can’t move.
The great thing about this pattern is that it works regardless of the piece in front, but only if the piece is pinned do we call it a pin.
For example, if we switch the king and queen here:
The position is slightly different, and this is now a check, but the result is going to be the same: The white bishop is going to take the queen on the next move.
Similar to how knights can fork two pieces, the bishop can also deliver a fork if the two pieces are on the same diagonal. This is surprisingly common, although not as common as knight forks.
Here, after Be4+, the black queen will be gone in the next turn.
Here is the most common form of a bishop fork:
Most amateur players make the error of placing both their rooks on the same diagonal, which is usually fine unless your opponent has a bishop on the same color as the diagonal they are on.
Whether your bishop is good or bad will depend on its ability to move freely on the board, which is often determined by the color of your pawn chains. If your pawn chains and bishop occupy the same color, your bishop’s movement is going to be severely restricted as the pawns will take away from the squares the bishop can move to and block its access to the squares behind them.
Here is an example of a good vs. bad bishop:
In the position shown in the diagram, notice how black’s white-squared bishop on d5 is powerful and dominates the h1-a8 diagonal, taking many squares away from black pieces. On the contrary, white’s bishop on f2 is awful, as it’s blocked by its own pawn chain (e5-d4-c3-b2).
The key to making your bishop stronger in any position is to try and place your pawns on the squares of the color opposite to your bishop’s.
A side with unopposed bishop pair is often at a great advantage, and most pro players can drive a win just with this advantage.
If you have a pair of bishops when your opponent doesn’t, you can use those bishops on the right diagonal to have strong control over the board and should be able to restrict the movements of your opponent’s pieces easily.
A bishop pair advantage is often decisive in open positions and endgames. A pair of bishops vs a pair of knights in an endgame is almost always a winning advantage.
Notice how dominating the bishop pair in the position shown in the diagram above? They completely control the center, dominate the black knights, and target the black pawns.
The strategy for white here would be to bring the king forward and try to make the h pawn a passed pawn since knights have very difficult time stopping pawns on the h and a files from advancing.
The opposite-coloured Bishops’ endgame
An endgame where one side has a white-squared bishop and the other has a black-squared one is called an opposite-coloured bishop’s endgame.
Assuming neither side has a material advantage, or at least not a significant one, those types of endgames will usually end in a draw.
The reason this happens is because the opposite-colored bishops will basically exist in different dimensions and will have little to no impact on each other. They can not defend against the other’s attacks nor can they attack what the other is defending.
In the position above, we can see how there is no way for either side to make any progress. All of white’s pawns are on dark squares but they are in strong pawn chains and black bishop can not get to the base to attack them easily, and the same can be said for white.
There is a menauver for white’s bishop through Kf2, Bd1, Bf3 and Bb7, but black can defend against it with Ke6-d6-c6-b6.
It’s important to know that opposite-colored bishop endgames are still likely to end in a draw even if one side is up by one or even two pawns if the side at a disadvantage can do good work of blocking those pawns and stopping the other side from creating a passed pawn.
Bishops are long-ranged pieces and can be very strong in open positions. The two problems with bishops is that they can not jump over other pieces, and they can only move on one color.
Bishops are stronger in open positions and on open diagonals, so you should try to open up the position and put your pawns on the color opposite to that of the bishop.
A bishop pair advantage can be enough to drive a win in simple endgames against knights, and a bishop advantage in tactical positions can greatly support your attack.
A Bishop can move as many squares or steps as possible as long as the diagonal is not blocked by other pieces. This means that your bishop can travel from one corner of the board to the other in one turn.
Bishops can not jump over other pieces in chess, a bishop can only move if the diagonal is not blocked by other pieces. The knight is the only piece that can jump over other pieces in chess, and the king and rook can jump over each other during castling only.
Bishops can move back and forth in chess. Your Bishop can move on any diagonal of its color as many moves as you want as long as the path is clear of other pieces. However, the bishop may only travel diagonally in one direction for each move, so if you need to go back and forth, you will need to go in one direction in one turn and then wait for the next turn to make a move in the other direction.