So, I've found the general advice that you should develop your knights before your bishops. Reasons I think are: 1) The knights almost always go to the main squares (c3,c6,f3,f6) (or sometimes to d7 the black knight in the queen's gambit) but, generally, you know in advance that you are likely to want your knights there. However, the bishops you don't want to commit to a square and "reveal" your intentions.

Of course this rule has a lot of exceptions, starting with the ruy lopez Bb5, italian game Bc4 are better for white than 3 Nc3.

But I've seen this rule for example here1. In that quora question, 5 answers reference my intuition that i describe below. Here also argues that while not universal, it is recommended normally. Other authority sources were founded using this article , in that , it can be found that Emmanuel Lasker and Reuben both recommend it:

Bring out your knights before developing the bishops.

Intuition: is not to commit /reveal information by moving the bishop, and since the knight has almost only 1 great square in most openings (c3,f3,c6,f6) then there is nothing to hide and sooner or later it will be needed there, so just move right now. Keeps the bishop options open.

  • 2
    You seem to answer the question by yourself. Do you have any second thoughts about this explanation?
    – Evargalo
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 15:47
  • @Evargalo When I have second thoughts I'll add into the question, but I think I'll now try do add more references to the claim "knighs before bishops" in the literature, this is super important because as I'll show, very top GM have given tips on the same vein. I don't really have thoughts for now that are worthwhile with respect to the main claim, but I think it's crucial to at least find literature referencing it. Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 18:49
  • By "second thoughts" I meant this: is there any reason you doubt about the explanation, or are disatisfied with it ?
    – Evargalo
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 14:26
  • @Evargalo I don't have arguments against the explanation. I just want to get a more expert opinion on the matter, if someone can come with strong proof that the explanation is correct. Because it's not universal advice for sure! (except in the exception cases such as ruy lopez). From the opening explorer on lichess, i see in many masters games, in the sicilian, it is also played Bb5 quite early, with some frequency earlier than Nc3. In the caro Kann Advance variation, black develops his bishop from c8 to f5 early. So this are counterexamples to the general proposition. This are worries I have Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 19:53

9 Answers 9


Commitment (versus flexibility) indeed is the main reason for this piece of advice. In particular:

  • The first moves are (usually) all about fighting for control over the center. The knights are superior to the bishops in that regard because from their "natural" development squares, they have access to 2 of the central squares (e.g. a knight on f3 reaches both d4 and e5 - attacking and defending the center at the same time), while the bishops can control at most one (e.g. Be3 reaches d4 and Bf4 reaches e5, so the bishop can only attack or defend the center, but not both) unless they are fianchetto'ed, but that has the cost of two moves to develop instead of one.

  • Half of the options to develop the bishops in one move (Bf4, Bg5, Bc4, Bb5) makes them vulnerable to the opponent's pawns (Be2, Bd2, Be3 and Bd3 are safe) which might cause you to lose tempo, while the developed knights are usually safe from pawn attacks after their first move.

  • a bishop may attack a developed knight on the bishop's first move (e.g. 2...Nc6 3. Bb5), a knight cannot attack a developed bishop on the knight's first move. This slightly increases the value of developing the bishops only after a few moves.

  • never forget that this is just a broad rule of thumb, and there actually is a perpendicular one: To develop the pieces of one wing (typically kingside) before those of the other to enable you to castle as soon as possible. You will very often see the bishop on f1 to be developed before the knight on b1 (e.g. in the Ruy Lopez or Giuoco Piano), contradicting the rule to develop knights before bishops. From the fact that these two openings are by far more popular than the Four Knights, you can tell that these moves are very strong regardless!


Another reason besides what you stated: The Bishops can work from home. What I mean by that is when the e/d pawns are out of the way the Bishops are already influencing enemy territory.


I would also add to what you wrote that you start with less valuable pieces, so you don't have to worry about them being exchanged. You wouldn't probably start with Rf3 if Bg4 pin was possible. Also bishop on c1 is active even from that square and it's often developed mainly because of the rook on a1. In quite some lines of Ruy-Lopez the rook is developed with a4 so bishop c1 doesn't even have to move. For example Zaitsev line. There's even more obvious example in Breyer Ruy-Lopez for black. You play like Be7 0-0 Re8 Bf8. Obviously you don't make moves with the bishop here to develop him, but to develop other pieces. It's long range piece worried about being exchanged for knight, they like to stay far from battlefield, using their rifle...


Knights are better "skirmish" pieces than bishops. They are "powerful" (compared to pawns), but operate at short range. They typically need two moves to get to their best (strategic) locations(typically on the 5th or 4th ranks). So they need to get an early start.

Bishops are "distance" pieces. I compare them to archers (and rooks to artillery). They can have a powerful impact on the board after only one move.


Besides the fact of keeping options for the development square of your bishops, another reason lies in the fact that you prefer to use knights right away for center control because if you use bishop and have some reason to trade it against an opponent's knight, you lost the bishop pair. Yet another reason though is the fact that the bishop can't control the center square on your side when developped on move 2. After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3, the knight controls d4 and attacks e5. If black plays d6 for instance, you can play 3.d4. The bishop on c4 would only control d5, and the other bishop that could control d4 can t be developped yet. It's more important in games with 1.e4 (open game, sicilian) but it's often true as well in 1.d4 games. Of course in openings where both side decide to delay their control of the center, the move order may matter less. For instance after 1.c4 c5, besides the usual 2.Nc3 and 2.Nf3, 2.g3 is very playable as well (and if 2....Nf6 then 3.Nc3, but if 2...g6 then 3.Bg2 is ok).


In openings, pawn structure is usually fluid; i.e., a closed diagonal might suddenly open up, and vice versa. A bishop may be blocked by pawn movements, so it must find a better diagonal. However, knights aren't affected by such - both side have same-strength knights. Thus, it is best to develop bishops only if the pawn structure is clarified(for example, in the exchange French).


I think this might have some value for someone who is playing her very first chess games, but it has not to be taken too seriously, especially if we see GMs and World Champions play, as White, 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4, or 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4.

It's like the advices that say "Castle as soon as you can"... or "Don't move the Queen too early". I hope you get the idea...


I think one aspect of the "guideline" or "suggestion" to develop the knight first is a subtlety aimed at the closed center. As we all know, knights(well positioned) work better in a closed position. To a degree, white with 2. Nf3 Can be said to be waiting to see what black plays next which could decide the placement of the Bishop for white. As far as these guidelines and GM play they know the how/when/why that these guidelines do not apply in specific positions.


I knew a very strong player whose advice was to develop Bishops before Knights and who successfully followed this principle himself. His justification was that you were more likely to get your opponent out of their book.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.