Chess Corner - The True Value of the Pieces

Each piece has its own power in chess, and each has its own part to play in every victory. Based on each piece’s strength, a relative value has been assigned to the piece. As mentioned in a previous column, bishops and knights are worth about three pawns each, a rook is worth about five pawns, and a queen is worth about nine. The king, of course, is worth the game.


With this scale, chess players have a good understanding of the chess pieces. Most players would gladly exchange a knight and a bishop for a rook, or a rook and a bishop for a queen, or two pawns for a knight. According to this scale, all of the trades gain material. These relative values are especially useful among beginners to help them understand the true value of the pieces.

Notice I said “about” when stating the values of the pieces. Why? The value of the pieces has other factors as well. You will find the first diagram very familiar – it is the starting position of every chess game. Now, take a look at White’s rook on a1. Is it worth five pawns? Not really. White’s rook is sitting there, trapped, while any one of White’s pawns are ready to move and attack. This shows that the value of the pieces can change depending on their position at any given time.

Of course, if the value of the pieces can go down, it can also go up. Take the second diagram. I used this puzzle a few columns back to show destruction, a way of removing a guardian of a piece or a crucial square. In this diagram, Black plays 1. Qxg3! fxg3 2. Rh1#. Why would Black trade his powerful queen for a knight? The answer: in this situation, White’s knight is worth more than Black’s queen. Despite its lack of power, the knight’s power is being put to good use. If White’s knight hadn’t been put there, Black would be free to checkmate White. This makes White’s g3-knight worth the whole game! Black is more than happy to get rid of White’s knight, because after the knight is gone, the game is won.

In this week’s puzzle, Black has a huge material advantage, but his pieces are sitting ducks and so are worth nothing. White can show Black his disadvantage by mating in two moves (White to move).

Answer to the previous puzzle: Black sacrifices his queen by playing 1… Qa4!! If White plays 2. Nxa4, then 2… Na2 is checkmate. If he leaves the queen alone and tries to play 2. Bd3, he will be mated again by 2… Bxd3 followed by 3… Qc2#.