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The Value of Chess Pieces

If you're going to play a chess game you can hardly avoid trading one piece for another. In fact, as the game progresses you'll exchange many pawns and pieces until the endgame is reached, when very few chessmen remain on the board. Therefore we have to know when a trade is good for us, and to have some idea of what each chess piece is worth.

The guide given below offers a good servicable rule of thumb for the value and relative worth of chess pieces - important because the side with more material firepower usually wins the chess game. Bear in mind, however, that everything depends on the position in front of you. It's easy enough to imagine a chess position in which the Queen is nearly worthless, or where a pawn is more important than a Rook. Bearing that in mind, let's take a look at the standard value of each man in our chess army.

1) The Pawn
The pawn is the basic "counting" unit in chess, and is assigned a value of 1 point. All other piece valuations are given in multiples of this lowly pawn. And what is a "point" worth? Long experience has shown that a pawn is worth about 3 tempi, which explains why chess opening gambits often feature a pawn sacrifice. One side gets to develop extra pieces while the other side digests the offered pawn.

2) The Knight
A Knight is worth about 3 points. This chess piece, however, gets noticably stronger in closed blocked positions. And though the Knight and Bishop are valued equally, some chess Masters have shown a preference for one over the other - Staunton, for example, valued a Knight at 3.25 and a Bishop at 3.50. Maybe the Bishop is a tad better (and maybe not) but for now 3 points each is good enough.

3) The Bishop
The Bishop is also worth 3 points but, unlike the Knight, this piece becomes stronger in open positions with unobstructed diagonals on which to operate. The Bishop pair often cooperate together better than a Bishop and Knight, but again that debate can be saved for another day.

4) The Rook
A Rook is valued at 5 points. Like the Bishop, however, this piece requires wide open spaces to reveal its full power. Therefore the Rook normally provides only long range support in the chess opening, coming into its own after most pieces have been exchanged.

5) The Queen
The Queen is worth 9 points, although older chess books sometime give 10 points. Perhaps we simply stand less in awe of royalty these days, but maybe she's really worth 9.5 points. Because of her high value as a chess piece the Queen is usually not developed early in the chess game, joining any attack only in the company of the other chess pieces.

6) The King
The King cannot be captured, and so we sometimes hear that its value is "infinite". But in terms of fighting power 3 points is about right, though Steinitz claimed that a pawn supported by the King was worth a Rook. That would give the King about 4 points in strength, but in view of his need for protection we might reduce that to 3.5 points of value. The King is a powerful chess piece!

Now let's have some fun. You'll find it a useful exercise to "mix and match" the values given above, because situations arise in actual games that aren't so clear cut. For example, what if we could sacrifice a Knight for 2 pawns plus 3 tempii? The math works, and we can see it in action in the Cochrane Gambit: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7 Kxf7 5.d4, etc. Again, we can say that a Knight (or Bishop) plus 2 pawns is equal to a Rook, and that a Rook and pawn are equal to a Knight plus Bishop. A Queen might hold her own against two Knights and a Bishop, but most chess Masters would take the three minor pieces. However three minor pieces versus a Queen and pawn is not an easy call, while a Rook plus Bishop plus pawn against the Queen is complicated too! These "gray areas" lead back to our earlier statement - everything depends on the position in front of you.

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