Why Develop Knights Before Bishops?

In chess, one of the age-old principles that many players abide by is the development of knights before bishops.

But why is this so?

Let’s look into the reasons behind this strategic choice.

Historical Context

The principle of developing knights before bishops has roots in traditional chess teachings.

Historically, chess masters emphasized the importance of controlling the center early on.

Knights, with their unique L-shaped move, can exert influence on the center squares from the edges of the board.

This allowed players to establish a strong presence without committing their bishops too early.

Flexibility of the Knights

Knights have a unique ability to jump over other pieces.

This makes them particularly effective in the early game when the board is more crowded.

By developing knights early, players can navigate the board without being obstructed by pawns or other pieces.

Bishops, on the other hand, require open diagonals to be effective, which might not be readily available in the opening phase.

Some systems, like the London System, deploy the bishop early.

But the London System generally isn’t played a lot at the grandmaster level due to its flaws relative to more solid opening lines like the Ruy Lopez or Petrov, which utilize early knight moves.

Keeping Bishops’ Options Open

Bishops are long-range pieces that benefit from open diagonals.

By delaying their development, players can better determine which diagonals will be most effective as the game unfolds.

This allows for a more adaptive strategy, ensuring that bishops are placed on the most influential squares.

Furthermore, the exact positioning of the opponent’s pieces can dictate which bishop becomes more valuable, so waiting can be advantageous.

Psychological Advantage

Developing knights first can also serve as a psychological tool.

Many players expect the early development of bishops, especially at the beginner or intermediate levels where early attacks are common (e.g., checking a king with a bishop).

By prioritizing knights, one can potentially throw off an opponent’s preparation or planned responses.

This can lead to a slight edge, especially in games where both players are well-prepared.

Exceptions to the Rule

While the principle is widely accepted, there are exceptions.

Certain openings and positions might favor the early development of bishops.

It’s essential for players to understand the underlying reasons for the principle, rather than following it blindly.

Adapting to the specific demands of a position is a hallmark of strong play.

Knights before bishops! Heuristic thinking methods in chess [Beginner lesson]

FAQs – Why Develop Knights Before Bishops?

Why is it often recommended to develop knights before bishops in chess?

In the opening phase of a chess game, controlling the center is crucial. Knights, being short-range pieces, can quickly influence the center from their starting positions.

Developing them early ensures that they are optimally placed to exert control and influence over the board.

Bishops, on the other hand, have a longer range and can be developed later without losing their potential influence on the center.

Does this mean bishops are less valuable than knights in the opening?

Not necessarily. Both knights and bishops have unique strengths.

The recommendation to develop knights before bishops is more about optimizing piece activity rather than a value judgment.

Bishops can exert pressure across long diagonals, and their value becomes more apparent as the game opens up.

The guideline is about timing and maximizing the potential of each piece during the game’s different phases.

Are there exceptions to the “knights before bishops” rule?

Absolutely. Chess is a dynamic game, and while the “knights before bishops” guideline is a good general principle, there are many openings and positions where developing the bishop before the knight is preferable.

The key is to understand the underlying reasons for the guideline and adapt based on the specific position on the board.

How does this principle fit into the broader strategy of chess openings?

The “knights before bishops” guideline is just one component of a broader opening strategy.

The primary goals in the opening are to control the center, ensure the safety of the king (often through castling), and develop all pieces to active squares.

Developing knights early often aligns well with these objectives, but it’s essential to consider the entire board and the specific challenges of each position.

Can I achieve a strong position if I develop my bishops before my knights?

Yes, you can.

While the guideline suggests developing knights first, many strong positions arise from developing bishops early, especially if it aligns with your overall strategy and the demands of the position.

It’s essential to be flexible and adapt to the game’s unique requirements.

How did the “knights before bishops” guideline originate?

The guideline has its roots in classical chess teachings, where controlling the center and rapid piece development were emphasized.

Over time, as players observed the benefits of early knight development in various games and openings, the principle became more widely accepted and taught.

However, it’s worth noting that modern chess, with its vast database of games and computer analysis, has shown that there are numerous valid approaches to the opening phase.

Are there famous games that demonstrate the importance of this principle?

Yes, many famous games highlight the benefits of developing knights before bishops.

However, there are also famous games where grandmasters chose to develop their bishops first, leading to brilliant victories.

It underscores the idea that while guidelines are helpful, understanding the underlying principles and adapting to the position is paramount.

How can I practice implementing this principle in my games?

Start by studying classical openings that emphasize early knight development.

Play these openings in your games and observe the results. Additionally, review games played by grandmasters and note how they develop their pieces in the opening.

Over time, with practice and study, the principle will become more intuitive, and you’ll be better equipped to decide when to follow it and when to deviate.

While the “knights before bishops” guideline is a valuable tool in a chess player’s arsenal, the beauty of chess lies in its complexity and the myriad strategies available to players.

Always be open to learning and adapting, and you’ll find your game improving steadily.


The development of knights before bishops is a principle grounded in both historical teachings and practical considerations.

Understanding the reasons behind this guideline can help players make informed decisions during their games.

However, like all chess principles, it’s crucial to recognize when exceptions apply and to always prioritize the unique demands of the position at hand.

In the end, chess remains a game of infinite possibilities, and mastering its nuances is a lifelong journey.

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