I am an intermediate player (around 1400 on chess dot com); I've been playing, off and on, a long time. I thought I knew what "development" meant: Getting your pieces (esp. minor pieces) off the back rank and onto good squares; getting castled; getting rooks to open files (if there are any). But especially the first. Get those knights and bishops to good squares!

But in several YouTubes by GMs and IMs (Naroditsky and others) they will look at a position where each side has the same number of minor pieces onto what look like reasonable squares and then say "Black is way behind in development, so White wants to open the center" (or whatever).

So, what exactly is "development"?

  • 3
    It would help the see that position they were talking about. Commented Jan 12 at 16:28
  • @RemcoGerlich There were several positions. I don't remember them exactly.
    – Peter Flom
    Commented Jan 13 at 17:39

4 Answers 4


Not all pieces that moved out of back rank are developed - for example in IQP positions a common mistake by begineers is playing Bd2, thinking that they developed their bishop (they didn't, bishop was working just as good on c1, so they wasted a tempo).

Alternatively something in position changed, so now one side's piece layout makes much less sense - for example in Sicilian Scheveningen common idea is to play Bd7-Nxd4-Bc6. If white moves his knight away from d4, thus preventing Nxd4, bishop on d7 isn't doing anything - it is practically undeveloped, and needs to be redeployed soon. Or maybe center got closed and suddenly one side's pieces are on "wrong" side of the board, while the advantaged side is ready to attack.

Or maybe the pieces are just too exposed. For example in Classical sicilian line 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Be3? bishop on e3 is too exposed, black can take advantage of this with Ng4. At first glance white has a small advantage in development (3 pieces out vs 2), however after next few moves he will either have to sacrifice a pawn for dubious compensation or waste few tempi with the bishop, giving black lead in development.

Development is not just a question of how the squares on which pieces are look - you also have to consider, if they are doing anything and if they are established securely. This of course strongly depends on particular position, so please add some examples to your question if you have them.


Development in the most conventional sense would simply mean moving a piece (often a knight or bishop) from the back rank. In general, this tends to increase the mobility of the piece but also can have other beneficial side effects such as enabling castling and/or connecting rooks. In many cases of "opening the center" the question who can castle first is of paramount importance, so these side effects of development can be as significant as the improvement of the developed piece.

Chess practice is rife with examples of this principle (particularly in the games of 19th century masters, who specialized more in "open" games where this matters more):

[Event "Rook Odds game"]
[Site "New Orleans, LA USA"]
[Date "1849.??.??"]
[EventDate "?"]
[Round "?"]
[Result "1-0"]
[White "Paul Morphy"]
[Black "Charles Le Carpentier"]
[ECO "000"]
[WhiteElo "?"]
[BlackElo "?"]
[PlyCount "25"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/1NBQKBNR w Kkq - 0 1"]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Bb4+ 5.c3 dxc3 6.O-O cxb2
7.Bxb2 Bf8 8.e5 d6 9.Re1 dxe5 10.Nxe5 Qxd1 11.Bxf7+ Ke7
12.Ng6+ Kxf7 13.Nxh8# 1-0

Here is an example of development mattering even in modern chess praxis with its increased emphasis on closed and "semi-open" positions:

[Event "Hoogovens"]
[Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"]
[Date "1974.01.31"]
[EventDate "1974.01.15"]
[Round "14"]
[Result "1-0"]
[White "Walter Shawn Browne"]
[Black "Miguel A Quinteros"]
[ECO "B52"]
[WhiteElo "?"]
[BlackElo "?"]
[PlyCount "35"]
[FEN ""]

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.Bxd7+ Qxd7 5.c4 Qg4 6.O-O Qxe4
7.d4 cxd4 8.Re1 Qc6 9.Nxd4 Qxc4 10.Na3 Qc8 11.Bf4 Qd7 12.Nab5
e5 13.Bxe5 dxe5 14.Rxe5+ Be7 15.Rd5 Qc8 16.Nf5 Kf8 17.Nxe7
Kxe7 18.Re5+ 1-0

Development is about getting your army out as optimally as possible. There are arguably 5 key principles you need to concern yourself with in the opening, Force (Material), Space, Time, Pawn structure and King Position. Development is about getting your army out quickly so that you gain advantage in material distribution on the board (Material), controlling more squares in your opponent's territory (Space), Having the initiative (tempo/time), controlling the centre of the board as most of the action on a chessboard happens through the central squares and importantly keeping your Achilles heel (the king) in a secure position on the board such that it cannot be easily attacked by e.g. castling. Yasser Seirawan eloquently lays this out in his book Play Winning Chess available in online book stores and Chessable


Development is piece activity combined with king safety. Piece activity is in general the number of squares in your opponent's territory (fifth rank or beyond for white, opposite for black) that your pieces control. King safety is in general how vulnerable your king is to attack.

Those GMs might have been noticing, for example, that white is castled and has many of his/her pieces center forward, but black's king is still un-castled. But there are many situations where a player will feel the need to "act quickly". An opponent's king in the center while yours is safe is just the first one you should learn.

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