Consider this position:

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1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 Nbd7 7.Nf3 Ne5 8.Nxe5 dxe5 9. Bb5+ Bd7 10. Bxd7+ Qxd7 11. O-O c4 12. Bg5 Be7 13. Qe2 b5 14. Rfd1 O-O 15. d6 Bd8 16. Bxf6 Bxf6 17. a4 b4 18. Nd5 Qxd6 19. Qxc4

This is a position where White has the superior minor piece (the knight). In such kind of positions where there is one minor piece for each player left on the board, and all the heavy pieces are there (rooks and queens) too. What trades should the player with the superior and inferior minor piece do or avoid? Or there's no such heuristic or rule of thumb here?

2 Answers 2


In most cases, Knights are happy when the position is closed and bishops are happy when it's an open position. By closed, I mean pieces are not easy to move, and in open, pieces are free to move. In these cases, one should try to keep the piece that suits the type of position.

In the position given above, the white knight is controlling many crucial squares in black's territory. Black has a bishop blocked by its own pawn and there's really nothing that black can do to kick the knight from the d5 square. If you are black and you ever get a chance to trade then go for it. White should prevent any trades in this position or else they'll lose all their advantage.

If the major pieces are still on the board then we should try not to exchange pieces unless there's a good advantage for us. Before exchanging anything just try to think will this position be good for me in the upcoming 5-10 moves. If yes, then go for it. :)

  • Addendum: +0.7 engine - without weaknesses to attack (and Black can in principle defend them same often) the giant knight doesn't bring much. Fun experiment: take R, 2R, Q, ... off the board and rerun engine assessment. In principle, QN and RB are the better pairs than QB and RN. Imagine all heavies are exchanged, Kc4 vs Kc6: White still hasn't made progress, Pb4 will be defended with a5. OK, the bishop gets more abysmal each day but bad bishops protect good pawns. Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 18:20

This is an interesting position. White has a bit of an advantage, and a strong player would certainly not agree to a draw, but I don't think that the advantage is anywhere close to winning yet. White would need to force a "second weakness" and to do that they probably want to keep as much on the board as they can.

One thing that I feel fairly sure of. Black has the move and must play ..a5. Otherwise White will play a5 and artificially isolate the pb4. Maybe that it still not winning but it will give White a little more to work with. The inferiority of the Black Bishop is that it is hard to see any creative way to employ it, whereas Whites Knight should not just sit smugly on d5 and not try to do anything more, but can and must seek creative activity.

For example, it can transfer to f5, the K-side Pawns can advance, and the Rooks can shift to that side of the board. There might not be a mating attack, but there could be the possibility of that second weakness.

Another possibility, which I think may be preferable, is to put the Knight on c4 and support it with b3. Place the major pieces actively but dont exchange them yet and start moving the King into the center. Piece activity allows you to do this without Black following suit. Then you swap off the majors and you have a won endgame because of better King placement.

A grandmaster might be able to foresee an entire process, but I am not a grandmaster. I would try to keep doing good things and hope for increasing clarity. The crucial thing is that having better pieces enables you to be more creative. I think that this is better advice that trying to present you with a formula.

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