Bishop vs Pawns

Discover how to play the bishop vs pawns endings.

Let's start with a very famous position.

Example nr.1

Isn't this a pretty picture...  A lot of pawns and only one bishop.

How do you prevent Black from winning here?

You need to prevent the black king from helping it's pawns.

So you have to play 1.Bd7+, trapping the king at the edge of the board.

Now the black king is under attack and it can't move to b5.

1....Ka3; 2. Bc6,

And here the bishop stops the whole pawn chain from advancing.

2....Ka2; 3. Kc2,

You have the opposition, so your king will keep the black king confined to the edge of the board. In the meantime the bishop is stopping the whole pawnchain.

And when one of the a-pawns move, the bishop plays a move along the a8-h1 diagonal. There's no Zugzwang, so you will easily draw this position.

This is a very good example of the power of the bishop.

Example nr.2

If your bishop is free to move around, you will always be able stop a single pawn.

The following position is very basic.

With 1.Bc5, you move the bishop to the right diagonal. The bishop is now ready to take the pawn as soon as it queens. This is an easy draw.

Example nr.3

If the bishop isn't free to move around, the outcome may be very different.

The black king is obstructing the bishop. Black wants to prevent the pawn from queening. He would like to play 1....Be3, taking control of the important diagonal.

You can prevent this with 1. Ke4,

If black can't reach the a7-g1 diagonal your pawn will queen, so he tries:

1....Bh4. This doesn't help, because you'll now play 2.Kf3.

This prevents Black from reaching the desired diagonal.

Your pawn will start advancing next move, and there's nothing Black can do about it.

Example nr.4

When playing against two (or more) pawns, the bishop needs the help of the king. The bishop stops one pawn and the king has to stop the other.

In the previous position this was very obvious. Now take a look at the next position.

With Black to move, the white king is too late. In this case the king isn't stopping the second pawn, so Black will promote one of his pawns.

Example nr.5

Is the white king able to help the bishop?

If it's White's turn he is! The king will reach the square of the h-pawn and thus stops it from queening (see rule of the square). Meanwhile the bishop is guarding the c-pawn. This would secure the draw.

If it's Black to move, he can play 1...h5. Now the white king can't reach the square anymore. And beacuse the bishop has to guard the c-pawn, Black will win.


Conclusion

In the endgame of bishop vs pawns it's necessary to let your king and bishop work together.

The king obstructing the bishop may lead to defeat, while the king helping the bishop may secure a draw.


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