# Why do points matter in trading pieces?

I am a beginner in chess and I am following the tutorials on Chess.com and reading The Complete Idiot's Guide to Chess. In the tutorials about capturing pieces, it is common to count the points in trading pieces.

For example, say I can capture a rook with my knight and the knight will also be captured by my opponent. In that case, because the rook is worth 5 points and my knight is worth 3 points, I will gain 2 points. In most of the tutorials I use, this kind of play is advised.

I am wondering why points matter in trading pieces. Does the fact that the knight is worth 2 less points than the rook make it less valuable?

• The point system (or material count) is the most basic of tools in your arsenal to evaluate which side is better in a given position. Although it's not the only factor that matters in a position (far from it, in fact), it is by far the easiest factor to learn to use consistently while playing. May 17 '20 at 14:09
• It matters, but it's not the only thing that matters. Ideally you want both more points than your opponent and a better position than your opponent. But if your position is good enough, the points matter much less. After all, having your pieces in a place where they can actually accomplish something makes them more valuable than pieces that are hidden behind pawns or otherwise locked up.
– Mast
May 18 '20 at 9:57

The point system in chess gives a rough indication of how strong each piece is. So the short answer to your question is, yes, a rook is more valuable than a knight, and so in the vast majority of cases, if you can trade a rook for a knight, you should do it.

This does beg the question, however, about why a rook is considered more valuable. At its best, a rook can control long files (columns) and ranks (rows). While the knight's tricky movement can sometimes be an advantage, in general we consider it to be inferior. One way to demonstrate the value of a rook is to try the rook and king vs king endgame. (I would definitely recommend looking it up first.) Note that there is no way of checkmating just with a knight and king. In fact, the game would be drawn by insufficient material. This is just a fancy way of saying that neither player has enough firepower to achieve checkmate. As you progress, it will become clearer to you why rooks are more valuable than knights. At some point, you might even be able to notice when a knight is better than a rook! But for now, concentrate on the points system—it's a great way of knowing who is ahead in the game.

Edit: it's worth noting that the points system is not part of the rules of chess. The bottom line is that you are trying to checkmate your opponent's king. But having more material (i.e. points) is a key way of getting closer to this goal.

• Just a minor remark (I agree with your main points, +1): “This is just a fancy way of saying that neither player has enough firepower to force checkmate.” I think that “force“ is the wrong term here. Even with help from the opponent, one player cannot checkmate the other, hence it is drawn. In KRB-KR on the other hand, it is also impossible to force a checkmate but the game is not immediately drawn.
– Keba
May 18 '20 at 14:22
• @Keba Thank you for your comment. I agree, and I have changed it to 'achieve checkmate'.
– Joe
May 18 '20 at 17:58
• It doesn't beg the question. It would only beg the question if you tried to answer "Why a rook is more valuable" with "because it has more points." May 19 '20 at 7:30
• Other things to note: Rooks have "global" range, whereas Knight's are only influential in their close proximity. A pair of Rooks can cover each other, just as a pair of Knight (unlike a pair of bishops, which would be on different colors and can never cover each other). But there's a difference: knights that cover each other can't move (or they'll break each others' cover), whereas rooks can move and continue to protect each other. On the flip side, forking pieces with knights is nice. May 19 '20 at 13:22
• sorry to bump - but @Alexander - a pair of bishops can never cover each other, but there is nothing stopping promotion and then them being of the same parity.
– sjb
Jul 24 '21 at 17:18

Just to put a point on this:

Does the fact that the knight is worth 2 less points than the rook make it less valuable?

This is looking at it upside down.

What matters in an exchange is getting some gain. The points are only a simple tool for estimating that gain.

If an exchange that would be a point-wise loss gives you the opportunity to checkmate the opponent regardless, then it should be obvious that the points have no meaning and the exchange should be made. However, most situations aren't like that, so counting points can be a useful heuristic for the future prospects of the game.

• An example of a point-losing trade is a mating line that includes a sacrifice. Sometimes a rook or queen is traded for a pawn or even just a move, but the result is checkmate so the trade is worthwhile.