Bad Bishop

bad bishop image Chess terms

Arranging pieces optimally is a crucial aspect of mastering positional chess. It entails ensuring each piece reaches its full potential while harmonizing with others and avoiding restrictions or blockages. The ability to establish such harmony indicates a deep sense of positional chess. Bad bishop represents a pivotal positional theme, impacting optimal piece play and strategic decision-making. This article explores various facets of bad bishops, delving into their drawbacks and providing insights on avoidance strategies.

Quick Summary

  • A Bad Bishop in chess is a bishop with limited mobility and control, often hindered by its own pawns. This reduces its attacking potential and overall value.
  • There are three main types of bad bishops: Bishop blocked by own pawns, Bishop restricted by enemy pawns, and the Bishop appears active but lacks significant targets or influence.
  • To avoid a bad bishop, it’s important to pay attention to pawn structure and bishop placement, consider trading the bad bishop, especially when it’s of the same color as the opponent’s good bishop, and look for ways to activate the bad bishop through strategic moves.

What is a Bad Bishop in chess?

Bishops are long-range pieces that thrive in open positions. When the position is semi-closed or closed, bishops may suffer from passivity as they cannot move around freely or exert pressure on critical diagonals. This scenario could occur, for example, when a bishop is hindered by his friendly pawns and therefore has limited mobility and control over the square. Such bishops, lacking mobility due to certain characteristics of a pawn structure, are referred to as bad bishops in chess terminology. The term underlines a bishop’s inability to unleash its full potential.

Bad Bishop

In the position above, white’s bishop can be called a bad bishop as it can never break free out of the pawn chain on the kingside. Despite the material count being in favor of the white, the position is a loss endgame for the white, as black’s pawn majority on the queenside will be decisive.

What are the weaknesses of Bad Bishop?

A bad bishop suffers from two major drawbacks: restricted mobility and the loss of attacking or targeting potential. This situation decreases the value and usefulness of a bishop. So, in the event that the position gets simplified after a series of exchanges, there is a possibility that the remaining piece will be superior to the bad bishop and therefore dominate, eventually playing a decisive role.

Bad Bishop's weaknesses

In the position above, white can capture on c6, simplifying the position into a bad bishop vs. a good knight scenario: 1.Bxc6 Bxc6

bad bishops weaknesses

All there is left for white to do is penetrate with the king into the enemy camp and reroute the knight to target the roots of black’s pawn chains (e6 and g6).

Identifying a Bad Bishop in Your Game

To prevent acquiring a bad bishop or capitalize on an opponent’s bad bishop, recognizing its presence is crucial. Bad bishops can manifest in various forms, but they are generally categorized into three main types. The first type is easily recognizable during a game when the bishop and the allied pawns occupy the same color, constraining the bishop’s mobility within those pawns.

Identifying a Bad Bishop in Your Game

The position above is a study composed by Averbakh and it features a situation of a goodof a bishop vs. a bad bishop. The material is equal; however, black’s bishop on f7 is in the same color as its allied pawns and in the opposite color as the enemy pawns. This means the bishop can never attack white’s pawns and is forced to take on defensive responsibilities. On the other hand, white’s bishop is a perfect example of a good bishop that can target any of the enemy pawns. With white to move here, black cannot avoid being put into the zugzwang situation and losing one of the pawns. A sample technique for white would be: 1.Bd1 Be8 2.Bc2 Bd7 3.Bb1 Bc8 4.Bc2 Be6 5.Bd1 Bf7 6.Bf3 Bg6 7.Bxd5 and white won a pawn.

Pawn loss

Sometimes a bad bishop is the main problem piece of a certain opening. For example, French Defense is a solid opening with its own advantages. However, due to the particular pawn structure of the French Defense with ..e6 and …d5, the light bishop on c8 typically becomes a bad bishop. One of the main objectives of the opening for black is to resolve the situation with the bishop. For example after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.c3 Qb6 6.a3 c4, we can see that black has a space advantage on the queenside, however, at the cost of a bad bishop on c8.

bad bishop in French Defense

The second type of bad bishop refers to a situation when the bishop’s mobility is restricted by the enemy pawns instead of its own pawns.

stucked dark-squared bishop

White’s bishop on g3 in the diagram above is stuck in the kingside and cannot get an active role in the game any time soon without sacrificing material. This allows black to create play on the queenside freely. Whereas, black’s bishop is perfectly placed on the opposite color of its own pawns and is ready to target white’s pawns on the light squares. When a bishop, like white’s light square bishop in the example, is encountered by a solid pawn chain like this, it is said that the bishop is ‘hitting the wall’.

The third and last type of bad bishop is when the bishop appears to be active and therefore gives the illusion of control but actually lacks any critical target.


Useless bishop

White’s bishop on b4 in the example above seems to be covering the a3-f8 diagonal; however, due to the lack of support by other pieces, in this case the rook, the bishop does not play a decisive role in the position. The bishop is also on the same color as most of white’s pawns, which restricts its mobility. Such positions demonstrate a scenario where a knight is superior to a bad bishop. For example, black could reroute the knight to e4, e.g., via Nb8-d7-f6, and dominate white’s positions. If black’s rook manages to penetrate the 2nd rank, with the help of a knight on e4, a mate threat on f2 (…Rf2#) would be something to be dealt with.

How to avoid a Bad Bishop?

Now that we’re acquainted with the three types of bad bishops, we can proactively prevent ending up with one during the game. Special attention to pawn color and bishop placement is crucial. If the position is likely to close due to pawn advances or if our pawn structure aligns with a potential bad bishop, considering a trade beforehand may be prudent. An important rule of thumb to keep in mind when deciding on a trade is that your bad bishop is likely to be the same color as your opponent’s good bishop. Below are a few examples for avoiding having a bad bishop or resolving the issue of the problem piece.

Example 1: Trading the bad bishop

Trading the bad bishop

In the diagram above, black has a bishop pair. However, black’s light square bishop is not effectively placed due to the pawn structure, whereas white’s bishop is on an optimal square and exerting pressure on black’s queenside. With black to move here, an ideal move to consider would be 1…Ba6, trading the bad bishop with white’s superior bishop. There is no way for white to avoid the trade, so after 2.Bxa6 Nxa6 black has successfully eliminated possible threats by white’s light square bishop while getting rid of their own bad bishop. If white would continue with 3.a3, now it would be more prudent to keep our good bishop and simply retreat 3…Be7 instead of exchanging it for a knight on c3.

Example 2: Activating the bad bishop

bad bishop example


Black has a great knight outpost on e4 and a central control. However, the bishop on b7 is in a passive position due to pawns of the same color, like c6 and d5. With a simple move like 1…Ba6, black could resolve the situation with the bad bishop, turning it into a monster piece after 2.c5 Bc4 3.Nd2 Nxd2 4.Qxd2 b5

Activating the bad bishop

Example 3: Activating the bad bishop

Activating the bad bishop - 3rd example

In our third example, we have a position with a structure that is typical of a Nimzo-Indian Defense. Black’s knights are actively developed on their natural squares, and the king has been tucked away to safety in a kingside castle. The remaining question to solve for black is how to bring the bishop on c8 into the game. One idea that comes to mind might be to fianchetto it via 1…b5, however, white can challenge black’s queenside expansion with 2.a4, while 1…b6 does not offer much activity to black after 2.Bb2 Bb7 3.dxc5 bxc5 4.c4.

The alternative option to consider would be a square on the c8-h3 diagonal, ideally f5 or g4 squares. However, the pawn on e6 is blocking its way out. So, 1…e5 suggests itself for this idea, but after 2.d5 Rd8 3.e4, it is a little unpleasant for black’s knights. Instead of rushing with the pawn move, black could prepare the pawn break with 1…Rd8!, placing the rook on the same file with the enemy queen, and creating a situational pin on white’s pawn on the d4. This move also prevents white’s d5 idea. After a move like 2.Qc2, stepping out of the pin, black could carry out with the plan and play 2…e5 now, followed by 3.Bb2 Bg4.

Activating the bad bishop -3rd example - 1

In just three moves, black has managed to transfer the sleeping bishop from c8 to g4 actively.

Famous Games with Bad Bishop

#1 Arthur Pijpers – Oleg Romanishin, 2009

#2 Alexander Alekhine – Fred Dewhirst Yates, 1925

Deniz’s thoughts on Bad Bishop

Mobility and activity are essential factors in determining a piece’s true value. A bishop’s ineffectual placement, often influenced by the pawn structure, can reduce it to a pawn-like function. Thus, vigilance for the potential emergence of one of the three types of bad bishops is a vital aspect of positional play. Maintaining constant awareness of the harmony between pawns and the bishop is key to avoiding the development of a bad bishop.

Written by
Deniz Tasdelen, National Master
National Master with over 20 years of experience. He has participated in many prestigious tournaments, including the European and World Youth Chess Championships.
Ask Question


What is an example of a bad bishop?

An example of a bad bishop is one that is trapped behind a chain of allied pawns, limiting its mobility.

What is the difference between a good bishop and a bad bishop?

A good bishop has mobility and influence over the game, typically operating on open diagonals. It’s unobstructed by its own pawns and can easily interact with both sides of the board. A bad bishop, however, is hampered by its own pawns, often stuck behind them on the same color squares. This limits its scope and effectiveness, making it less powerful in the game. - Your One Stop Chess Resource
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