- The chess knight moves in an L-shape of two-squares in a straight line and one-square sideways.
- Knights can move forwards, backward, and sideways. That’s why it is good to keep their time on the edge of a board short.
- The chess knight is Magnus Carlsen’s favorite piece and one he uses with deadly effect!
Chess knights might be minor pieces, but they can become a major nightmare for your opponent.
The knight is Magnus Carlsen’s favorite piece and one he uses with deadly effect!
Using your knights most effectively requires understanding the benefits of these remarkable pieces and their unique movement pattern.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Where the Chess Knight Starts
The knight stands between the rook and the bishop at the start of the game.
How the Chess Knight Moves
Beyond any doubt, the knight moves most unusually.
The knight moves in an L-shape of two-squares in a straight line and one-square sideways.
Knights can move forwards, backward, and sideways. That’s why it is good to keep their time on the edge of a board short.
This is because the chess knight is the only chess piece that can jump over another piece.
Remember the knight always moves to a square of the opposite color it is on. For example, A knight on f3, which is a light square, will move to a dark square on the next move.
To learn more about how the knight and all the other pieces move be sure to read this helpful article.
Look for Outposts for Your Knights
When deciding if a square qualifies as an outpost, three conditions must get met:
- Outposts must be near enemy territory.
- They must be safe from attack by a pawn and
- It must have an anchor (usually the pawn)
Unlike the other minor piece, the bishop, knights are not restricted to moving on one color squares. This means they have access to the entire chessboard instead of half the chessboard.
However, knights do not have the range of a bishop. Knights are restricted to moving two-squares backward, forward, or sideways but bishops can cover any number of unobstructed squares along a diagonal.
Because of their ability to jump over another piece, chess knights do very well in closed positions with lots of chess pieces on the chessboard.
The more advanced the outpost, the more mayhem the knight can create for your opponent.
In the following game, you will see how effective an outpost can be. The knight on d5 becomes a powerful attacking piece.
Smyslov–Rudakovsky, URS-ch14 Moscow, 1945, 1-0
Chess Knights in the Opening
Thanks to the knight’s unique ability to jump over a piece, there is a famous chess opening that starts with the moves 1.Nf3 and 2.c4.
Yes, the Reti Opening, which is named after Richard Reti.
There is also a famous chess defense for black which begins with a knight move. This opening is named after former world chess champion Alexander Alekhine.
1…Nf6 is Alekhine’s Defense.
Instead of controlling the center by occupying it with pawns, these openings use pieces to control the central squares. They both originated from the hypermodern school of chess.
A more conventional opening system that combines occupying the center with a pawn and developing your knights rapidly is the Three Knights Opening.
Because of their short-range it is usually best to develop your knights on c3 and f3, where they can help control the central squares – e4, d4, e5, and d5.
The white knight might get developed to e2 or h3 when white plays with a fianchettoed bishop on g2. This prevents the knight from blocking the bishop’s diagonal.
There are variations of the Dutch Defense and Closed Sicilian where white develops the knight to these squares.
Although h3 is on the side of the board the knight usually moves inwards to f4 or f2 soon. From these two squares, the knight aids white in the battle to control the central squares.
Chess Knights in the Middlegame
A white knight securely placed on the d6 or e6 square is called an octopus, because an octopus has eight limbs, and the knight controls eight squares.
Any knight on one of these squares will soon become a nightmare for your opponent.
Another good square for a white knight is f5. From f5, the knight puts pressure on three crucial squares in the black camp – d6, e7, and g7.
Black must be careful about driving the knight away with …g6 because it leaves the h6 and f6 squares undefended. White might play Nh6 and Ng4 when the knight puts pressure on both these squares.
Moving pawns in front of a castled king is something you must only do after lots of thought. Always remember, pawns cannot move backward, and they always leave undefended squares behind.
These undefended squares can become perfect outposts for knights deep within your opponent’s half of the chessboard.
Spotting Tactics for the Knight
Because the knight moves in an L-shape, it can be tricky to see all the squares it threatens. One way to make certain you don’t miss a capture is to look for pieces on squares of the opposite color to the knight.
For example, after the opening moves of the Open Sicilian 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4, we reach this position
The knight on d4 is on a dark square. If you are playing white, you will look for black pieces on light squares to attack with this knight.
This can be a helpful technique for spotting tactics. When you notice two of your opponent’s pieces on dark squares, look to see if you can find a light square for your knight to attack one of the pieces.
When you can attack one piece from a light square, it usually means there is a light square for your knight to attack both pieces.
In the following position, the white knight on d5 can attack the black rook on a8 from the b6 square. SImilarly, if you look a little closer, and you will see the black king is also on a dark square.
Now you know there are two pieces on dark squares, and you can attack one of them. This means there is a square where you can attack both of them.
A better square than b6 is the one next to it on the diagonal – c7. Moreover, when you attack the king, it is a check, and he doesn’t have time to move the rook to safety.
Chess Knights in the Endgame
Knight endgames in chess are very similar to pawn endgames. In other words, almost everything you learned about pawn endgames can apply to a knight endgame.
A knight is a short-range piece. For this reason, when you are considering transitioning to a chess endgame, aim for one where the pawns are on the same side of the board.
With this in mind, there are three points to remember about knight endings:
- Look for an outpost in enemy territory, from where your knight can attack or restrict your opponent’s pieces.
- Your knight is unlikely to win the ending on its own, so centralize your king to support the knight.
- Being cautious with pawn moves is crucial, but you will need to advance and/or exchange pawns to win.
Bishops can control two sides of the board, but your knight does best on one side. Learning how to make the most of every piece is important in chess.
A king and two bishops can force checkmate, but a king and two knights cannot. Yes, a king and two knights can deliver a checkmate. But it can only happen with some help from your opponent.
The following position is what you are aiming for if you only have a king and two knights on the board.
A knight and a bishop, though, can force checkmate.
Here is International Master Anna Rudolf showing you how to deliver checkmate with a bishop and knight. You can learn this essential endgame technique plus a lot more from her Endgame Renaissance course.
Knights are indeed very tricky pieces. However, if you take a little time to familiarize yourself with them, they can be an absolute nightmare for your opponent.
Playing good chess is all about your pieces working together. There is not one chess piece that is perfect in every situation.
When you know how to use each piece effectively, you will create more harmony between your pieces.
Increased harmony, will make your pieces stronger and more effective in any position.
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Bonus video! IM Ekaterina Atalik masterclass on how to improve your piece activity with your knights and bishops!