# Whats the point of 'points' in chess?

There seems to be a universally accepted point system for measuring the supposed ‘value’ of pieces in a chess game. For example, a pawn is supposed to be worth one point, a bishop 3, a rook 5 etc. Is this system simply a way to teach novice players which pieces tend to have more value? Is there any more significance than that? Obviously the points have nothing to do with the accepted outcome of the game (i.e. points don’t count towards a ‘win’). More to the point, the values have little meaning in intermediate+ play, in so far as a good chess player can give away most of his pieces in order to control the board. So once again, why were ‘points’ assigned to chess pieces?

Between two evenly matched players, it’s a quick way to roughly assess who has the advantage. It doesn’t really do much more than that.

It’s also a rule of thumb (useful to beginning and intermediate players, at least), to figure out whether a move or series of moves is a good idea.

For example, trading a rook (5 pts) for a bishop (3 points), is usually a bad plan. If you can trade that same rook for a bishop and a knight, the plan begins to make sense.

so can we called the whole system a strategic paradigm?

The points you refer to are derived from the mobility and capturing power of the various pieces.

Assuming the pawn as a unit and that it controls at most four squares (three after its first move), the other values are established from that basis.

As Knights and Bishops move nearer the center of the board (e4, e5, d4, and d5) their range increases and they are much more valuable from those positions. Since a Bishop is locked to one color the entire game, its value is less than a Rook. Since the odd Knight Move allows it to get (eventually) to any square on the board it’s considered about on par with a Bishop.

However, two Bishops (one of each color) can force checkmate, whereas two Knights cannot.

A single Rook can force checkmate and it is therefore more powerful than either Knight or Bishop.

Since the Queen combines the power or Rook and Bishop it is valued a pawn’s worth more than the combined Rook (5) and Bishop (3).

The King isn’t provided with a point value since it can’t be traded, but its mobility and capturing power are on par with the pawn, certainly less than the other pieces.

Nearly right except for the value of the King - although it must not be lost, its power especially in an ending with no major pieces is marginally greater than a Bishop or a Knight. Strategically, in an ending between Kings with pawns and a minor piece each, it would be worth immobilising your own Bishop or Knight if that meant tying the enemy King down. A King can munch through pawns very capably if only it doesn’t have to catch them from behind - much better than a Bishop or Knight.

Of course, the beauty of chess is that there are as many exceptions as there are rules, and it is often the case that giving up a Rook for a Knight confers a temporary advantage, especially if the position is crowded and the enemy’s Rooks are not effectively in play. Similarly although two Bishops are marginally stronger than two Knights, there are many positions where it makes sense to give Bishop for Knight (and many others where this is positional suicide).

Good correction. You’re right, of course.

On the open board, one rank or file from the edges, the king commands eight squares. From the center a bishop commands 13 and a knight 8. From a corner a bishop only has 7 squares available and a knight 2. So the mobility of the king is certainly more than the pawn’s 3 and approaches that of bishop. It has to be greater than a knight.

On a slightly different slant from piece-value points, there’s an excellent method of establishing “strategic or positional points” laid out in Point Count Chess by I.A. Horowitz. Even if you decide to reject his specifics as far as tallying up those points goes, they are behind the programming of chess-playing computers and software. Some methodology is required to evaluate the overall condition of the board at any given point so as to select the next move or moves.

The Horowitz ideas are key ones. Other authors have been more circumspect in the details of weighting those factors, but any author describing the positional and/or strategic principles will address all of them in some fashion.

The Horowitz book makes it easy to calculate the strengths (and weaknesses) in a position. Assuming piece-value points are even (as they most often are in the play of stronger players) these other points must be examined in the planning process.

Yes. It’s not just the number of squares commanded, though. A King can command both the square in front of a pawn and the square it is on, which a minor piece cannot; a Bishop or Knight can only prevent a pawn from advancing, it cannot also threaten to take it. (Or, if it is threatening to take a pawn, it cannot prevent it from advancing.)

One case in which a King is stronger than even a Rook is when it opposes two adjacent passed pawns on the sixth rank. For instance, two white pawns on d6 and e6 beat a black Rook, unless the Rook, to move, can immediately take one; place the Rook anywhere else (and the Kings somewhere irrelevant) and it cannot prevent one of the pawns from queening. But a black King on e8 or d8, or a few other squares, could hold this position, although the pawns can easily reach a configuration where the King cannot take either of them.