Knights Before Bishops – Should the Knight or Bishop be Developed First?

Chess pieces on the board

There is an old age question in the realms of chess, people have been debating for centuries which piece is really better, is it the knight or the bishop?. This is an interesting question that we will not be answering today, because we will be answering the next question after that which is, which piece should be developed first?

Believe it or not the value of the bishop and the knight don’t have much to do with which should be developed first, keep on reading if you are interested.

Should you develop bishops or knights first?

Knights are much generally preferred to be developed in the opening since they are more influential, at this stage of the game where there are a lot of pieces, the knight shines more than any other piece. You can almost never see someone talking about how they developed the bishop first, it is exclusively how they played the knight early in the game.

If you look at any of the fundamental learning resources out there you will realize that the knight is more important early on, almost everything recommends the knight to be developed first. It is just more impactful early in the game than the bishop, plus it only takes one move in order to develop the knight.

Early in the game there are many pawns that block both of the bishops and the position can be potentially closed, the knight on the other hand is much more versatile. Since it can jump over pieces it really only takes one move in order to develop it, with that reason it makes sense to develop to the knights first.

In the opening you can develop two knights with exactly two moves, if you were to develop the two bishops on the other hand it would take more than two moves. Since they can be pretty active in only one move, knights are the most common scenario over the bishop, especially the g1 knight since it is usually used for a kingside castle.

Which is easier to develop, the knight or the bishop?

The knight is definitely more easily developed than the bishop, it can jump over pieces and control the center without much difficulty. Developing the bishops early in the game is quite a task, many pawns block the bishop’s advance and they cannot jump over pieces.

I can’t stress this enough, if you were to develop the bishop you will lose a lot of tempo even if you go for fianchetto, the knight on the other hand can already go on an active square. The g1 knight for white can already go to f3 and become a full-fledged active piece, adding to the fact that you don’t need to mess up the pawn formation in order to do this.

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The f1 bishop on the other hand is a more problematic piece to develop than its g1 counterpart, you have to somehow develop it outside of the pawn structure. Even if you do (since e4 is the most common move for white), it will be easily harassed due to its weak position, you will lose more moves trying to reposition the bishop.

This logic also applies to the black pieces, the pair of bishops are just harder to develop early on, the knights can be safe while still being strong. A knight being harassed in the opening is a rare sight, since it can control many squares while being near the rank of pawns, it can be strong while being safe.

Is a knight better than a bishop in the opening?

If you have been studying different values to which pieces are better (like the Reinfeld Values) then you will realize that the bishop is slightly better than the knight, or is this really accurate?. It is accurate yet not accurate at the same time, the question is much more complicated to answer than what it looks like.

It is true that if there is an open board and you compare the bishop to the knight the bishop would become more dominant, however this is not the case with real-time chess. Not every position will host open boards where the bishop can truly shine, especially in the opening where there are so many pieces, everything will be closed.

In positions where there are many blockades, scattered pieces, locked pawns, etc. the bishop can even have the same value as a mere pawn, it can be blocked by a lot of pieces / pawns. The knight on the other hand thrives in positions where there are a lot of blockades / scattered pieces since it can jump over them, it does not have to be stopped in its tracks.

In the opening the knight is more equipped to develop than the bishop, since there are many pawns / pieces on the board the bishop is blocked. The knight is more flexible early on, it can jump over pieces and reach squares that are not easily accessed by the other pieces.

Is a knight better than a bishop during the endgame?

Early in the game the knight is definitely a more powerful piece compared to the bishop, they can jump over pieces and control hard to reach squares. In the endgame however it is different, with the board open the bishops can reach both ends of the board and pursue control.

I have alluded to this earlier but the bishop is definitely better than the knight when it comes to open positions, and what phase is more open out there than the endgame? In the endgame where there are only a few pawns / pieces left the bishop can cover the entire board from one end to another, the knight does not even come close.

This is the reason why most people say that the bishop is slightly better than the knight, since most games are won through the endgame, it is more important than the opening / middlegame. The knight is actually still mostly stronger than the bishop when it comes to the middlegame, however, the endgame is a more important phase to competitive players.

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If both sides play decently (not even perfect) the position would be pretty much equal, the endgame will decide which of the two players will win in the end. Since the bishops are stronger in this phase they are considered better than the knight, just as rooks are considered more valuable even when they are weak in the opening / middlegame.

Is the bishop generally reserved because it is better?

Another reason why the bishop is generally reserved comes with its power in the endgame, since it is more valuable later on it is generally reserved. The knight is developed early and as far as possible since it is disposable when talking about the long game, the bishop shouldn’t be “too developed” early in the game.

Just as how the queen should not be developed too early in the game, the bishop should not be developed too early since you can be forced to lose them. Since they are more valuable in the long run they are not developed as quickly and usually maintained behind the pawns, they should be protected for the long game.

Since it is already established that the knights are much worse than the bishop, the players can afford to lose them early in the game. Not only are they stronger in the opening / middlegame they are also weaker in the endgame, this means you should make use of them while you still can.

It is like one of those stocks in your portfolio that are so good right now but it’s on a downward trend, you have to sell them early in order to make a profit. There are other stocks in your portfolio on the other hand that are low in value but have a promising future (rooks and knights), you want to keep them until their value would be at its highest.

What are the advantages of developing the knight before the bishop?

There are many advantages to developing the knight over the bishop (in the opening), one that is not discussed is the range that the knight can reach. If we are talking about an open board then the bishop will control more squares over the knight, this is not the case in closed positions though. 

In closed positions where there are a lot of pawns to limit the influence of the bishop this is not the case, most of the time the knight will still be controlling a total of 8 squares. There are some positions where the bishop is so mitigated that it only acts as a pawn (controlling only 2 squares), a pathetic display compared with the knight.

The knights can undermine pawn structures by going over them, closed pawn structures to be specific (which is common in some openings) is also not a problem. With the position so cramped early in the game it is more beneficial to develop the knight, it can control many squares all at once.

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This kind of influence will only be a dream to the bishop (or even the rook) early in the game, there is a reason why the rook is also not as powerful despite being 4 or 5 points. With so many pawns getting in the way it is not worth losing much tempo by developing the bishop / rook, it is better to focus on the knights for early attacks.

Can you develop the bishop before the knight?

This is an interesting question that a lot of you may have after reading this, if the knight is so much better is it still okay to develop the bishop first over the knight? The answer is of course yes, it is not like you will lose instantly the moment you develop the bishop, it is just an inefficient way of handling the opening.

Of course there are openings where one will develop the bishop first (like the bishop’s opening), but this is definitely not the norm for most openings. If we are talking about numbers the knight is just more preferred in more openings, this is a testament to the knight’s value in the opening.

As I have mentioned earlier, the knight is more powerful in the opening / middlegame which is why it makes sense to develop the knight first, however you can still develop the bishop if you have some sort of a strategy. Playing the bishop first before the knight is definitely an ineffective way of handling the opening, but it is not so bad that it will be difficult to come back.

If you really want to develop the bishop early then the better alternative is to develop one knight and then the bishop, you can leave the other knight that is not going to be used for castling. This way you can still get your bishop out early while also maximizing the potential that the knight can bring.

Which is worse – an inactive knight or and inactive bishop?

Another question that some people may ask is the inactivity of two pieces, if we were to develop one over the other than the other would naturally be underdeveloped. The question is which one is better to be underdeveloped, the knight or the bishop? the answer to this question is of course it depends.

If we are talking about inactivity it will of course depend on which phase of the game you are currently on, these two pieces excel in different phases of the game. If you are in the opening then an inactive knight is worse, if you are nearing the endgame then an inactive bishop is worse, it is quite relative.

So if you are thinking which piece should be developed first then you need to consider which phase of the game you are currently on, the knight is better in the opening / middlegame while the bishop is better in the endgame. You need to consider this question before coming up with a conclusion.

In the opening it is better to develop the knight first since it can jump over pieces and control many squares all at once, the bishop on the other hand is somewhat weak in the opening / middlegame. The bishop is usually obstructed by many pawns in the opening, this makes the knight a better asset to be developed first.

Apart from this the bishop is considered slightly more valuable than the knight since is more useful in the endgame, it makes sense to preserve it and not make it too active. These are the reasons why the knight should be developed first before the bishop, thank you for reading.

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