In How to reassess your chess from Jeremy Silman there is this position about knight outposts:

[FEN "2r2rk1/pbqnbppp/1p3n2/1Pp1p3/2P1P3/5NP1/PBQN1PBP/R4RK1 w - - 0 1"]

The author argues that the knight should maneuver to d5 with the plan Rfe1, Nb1, Nc3, Nd5.

I understand that d5seems like a nice square for the knight. But once the knight reaches d5, couldn't black just trade its bishop for it and white would have wasted 5 moves on nothing?

Why is this maneuver still worth it?

4 Answers 4


I understand that d5 seems like a nice square for the knight

It's a FANTASTIC square for a knight. It's a hole in black's position which means it can never be kicked away by a pawn. It's centralized which means it's affecting a larger portion of the board. It's in the enemy's camp and is either 1 or 2 moves away from attacking any square on the board. It's a checking distance away from the black king.

So that leaves us with the last point: can't black just capture this knight? Well yes, but then you get something almost as good: A protected passed d pawn! This pawn means you're instantly winning any king and pawn endgame. So all trades from that point on are probably good for you. It's never a weakness because it's firmly protected by another pawn. Read Silman's chapter on pawns to get more of an idea. Finally, there's another good point here which is after recapturing with cxd5, we have a new great square for our other knight: c4! Nfd2->Nc4 is now one of the best squares on the board for a knight for a lot of the same reasons that d5 was so good too.

By the way, was this a Fischer game? I feel like I recognize it from My 60 Memorable Games but maybe I'm misremembering...

  • 1
    The core of this answer is correct, but I would like to point that after Nd5 Bxd5 cxd5 (I agree it the most tempting recapture, freeing c4 for the second knight) a pawn ending would NOT be winning for White but drawn (because Black has a passed pawn of his own on c5). So White shouldn't play for simplifications : instead he will avoid exchanges to build on his space advantage, and prepare a central pawn storm with f2-f4.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 12:49
  • 2
    Alternatively, capturing exd5 can be interesting in order to attack e5, depending on the circumstances. In that case the protected passed pawn on d5 is a huge asset in any endgame.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 12:51

Why is this maneuver still worth it?

Let's have a look and see, filling in some reasonable moves for black

[FEN "2r2rk1/pbqnbppp/1p3n2/1Pp1p3/2P1P3/5NP1/PBQN1PBP/R4RK1 w - - 0 1"]
[Startply "9"]

1. Rfe1 Rfe8 2. Nb1 Bf8 3. Nc3 Rcd8 4. Nd5 Bxd5 5. exd5

White's position has been transformed. The protected passed d pawn means that white is strong favourite to win any endgame, there is strong pressure on the black e5 pawn and the cramped nature of black's position (thanks to the pawn on d5) gives white good chances of also launching a kingside attack.


To add to the excellent points made by NoseKnowsAll, observe that White is putting Black in the position of having to accept a strong disadvantage and Black can only choose which one. Notice too that Black could try for a similar manoeuvre with ..Rfe8, ..N-f8-e6-d4 but he is just one move too late because the WN arrives at d5 with tempo. I suspect that both players have had this outpost business in mind for some time and that White has been able to surpass Black in the matter of timing. That is how GMs play chess.

  • Extremely good point, and if I'd play Black, I would avoid exchanging at all costs: Rfd8, Bd6, Qb8, Ne8. Oy gevalt, now Bh3 throws in a spanner to the planned N-f8-e6...Or maybe skip Ne8 and allow Nxf6+ ruining the kingside? Nf3 will say "thank you" for the square f5...Blacks problem isn't only d5, but also less space! Commented Mar 5, 2022 at 8:52
  • 1.Rfe1 Rfd8 2.Nb1 Nf8? 3.Nc3 Ne6 4.Nd5 Bxd5 5.cxd5 Nd4 wouldn't be too slow for Black, but removing the Nd7 is difficult because his Pe5 needs protection : 3.Bxe5!
    – Evargalo
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 12:54
  • Thank yoy @Evergalo. Much simpler argument. Same conclusion
    – Philip Roe
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 18:57

To add on to all the other answers, yes the d5 square is an excellent square for the knight as an outpost, no other pawns can kick it away, but another reason why this is so good for white is that not only improves white's pawn structure, you can actually see that black's e5 pawn is a bit awkward, moving the f6 knight to advance the pawn will just give white a chance to attack. White also has ideas of nd2 and pressuring the e5 pawn or attacking the king side with the queen and bishop somehow, or even pushing the a2 pawn. Additionally, the knight on d7 cannot really go anywhere

[FEN "2r2rk1/pbqnbppp/1p3n2/1Pp1p3/2P1P3/5NP1/PBQN1PBP/R4RK1 w - - 0 1"]
[Startply "9"]

1. Rfe1 Rfe8 2. Nb1 Bf8 3. Nc3 Rcd8 4. Nd5 Bxd5 5. exd5 Bd6 6. Nd2 h6 7.  h4 Re7 8. a4

The above is just an example

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