When you want to assess who is winning a game of chess, just counting the number of pieces doesn’t work
There are 6 different chess pieces and some of them are (a lot) stronger than others.
To help you determine who is winning in a position or whether you should trade certain pieces, you can use the point values assigned to each chess piece.
Let’s see how many points each piece is approximately worth and how to use this knowledge in your games.
Chess piece values
Each chess piece has a numerical value that gives a rough estimate of how strong each piece is. The point value of each piece is as follows:
- Pawn: 1 point
- Knight: 3 points
- Bishop: 3 points
- Rook: 5 points
- Queen: 9 points
Since the pawn is worth 1 point, you can also represent the strength of certain pieces in terms of pawns. For example, a knight is worth 3 points or 3 pawns.
How many points is a king?
The value of a king in chess is undefined because it’s impossible to capture a king. You can merely checkmate a king, after which the game finishes.
Some people assign an infinite (∞) number of points to the king, indicating that you lose the game immediately without a king.
Although the chess king might be the most valuable piece on the board, that doesn’t mean it’s the strongest piece.
It often starts out as one of the weaker pieces, because it has to hide away from checkmates. But it can become one of the strongest pieces in the endgame.
Chess piece value chart
Below you can find a ranking of all the chess pieces with their respective names and values. You can read my article on the names of each chess piece if you aren’t familiar with them yet.
Chess Piece Name Value Pawn 1 Knight 3 Bishop 3 Rook 5 Queen 9 King ∞
What is the most powerful piece in chess?
The queen is the most powerful piece in chess because it can move horizontally, vertically and diagonally for as many squares as she wants.
If you want to know more, you can read my article on how the queen moves in chess.
The queen combines the moves from both the rook and bishop in one piece, and is valued at 9 points, which is higher than any other piece.
Why is the queen the strongest piece in chess?
Due to the high mobility of the queen, it can control more squares than any of the other chess pieces.
When placed in the center of the board, the queen can move to 28 different square of the board, and she can reach any square in just two moves.
This makes the queen great at attacking and defending several pieces at once.
What is the least powerful piece on the chess board?
The chess piece that is the least powerful is the pawn, which is worth only 1 point. The pawn is very limited in its movement, being able to only move 1 square at a time.
However, when a pawn approaches the opposite side of the board it becomes more valuable, since it threatens to promote to a queen.
For more information, you can read my article on how pawns move.
How to use the point value system?
Now that you know the value of each chess piece, it becomes much easier to assess who is winning in a specific position. Simply add up the values of each piece and compare them for both players.
Take the position below as an example. White has 4 pawns and a rook, which is a total of 4*1 + 5 = 9 points. Black has 4 pawns, a rook, and a bishop, for a total of 4*1 + 3 + 5 = 12 points.
Since black has more points, he has a big advantage in this position. Just having a single point more than your opponent can often be enough to win a game.
Moreover, you can also use the piece values to determine whether you should make certain trades or not.
In the position below, white can capture the black knight with either the bishop or the rook. Regardless of which piece captures first, the black pawn on c6 will recapture, and the remaining white piece will capture the pawn on d5.
So white can either play Bxd5, cxd5, Rxd5 or play Rxd5, cxd5, Bxd5.
If white captures with the bishop first, he’ll win a knight and pawn for the bishop. If white captures with the rook first, he’ll win a knight and pawn for the rook.
In the first case, it’s a good trade because he wins 4 points and only loses 3 points. But in the second case it’s a bad trade, because the rook is worth 5 points, but the knight and pawn are only worth 4 points together.
Relative value of the chess pieces
As shown above, using the value of each piece, you can determine whether certain piece trades or material imbalances are good or bad.
Let’s take a look at a few common ones together!
Is a queen worth a bishop and a knight?
No, the queen is worth 9 points while the bishop and knight are only worth 6 points together. To make an even trade, you’ll have to win two bishops and a knight, or two knights and a bishop for the queen.
However, for the three minor pieces to be better than the queen, they’ll need to work together closely. For most beginners and even intermediate players, playing with a queen is much easier than playing with three minor pieces.
Are two rooks better than a queen?
Yes, the two rook are worth 10 points while the queen is worth 9 points. Another reason why two rooks are better than a queen is because you always have the option to trade one of your rooks for the queen and still be able to checkmate with the remaining rook.
However, the relative strength between the two rooks and a queen depends on the position. If the two rooks can’t defend each other and work together, the queen will often be better.
Should I sacrifice a queen for two rooks?
In terms of the relative point values, the two rooks are worth more than the queen. However, whether you should sacrifice your queen for two rooks will depend on the position. If there are still a lot of pieces left on the board, the queen is often stronger due to it’s high mobility.
Is a knight or bishop more valuable?
This is one of the biggest and most difficult questions in chess. Both the knight and bishop are worth 3 points, so you might think they are equally strong.
Unfortunately, that’s not exactly correct.
A better way to look at it is to say that half the times the bishop is better and half the times the knight is better.
As a general rule of thumb, in open positions with few pawns left on the board the bishop is stronger. But in closed positions with lots of pawns remaining the knight is better.
In closed positions, the knight can jump over pieces to reach the important squares, while the bishop’s movement is limited by the other pieces on the board.
In the position shown below, white’s bishop is much stronger than the black knight because it can attack two pawns on opposite sides of the board, while the black knight can only protect one of them simultaneously.
However, in this second position the black knight is much stronger than the white bishop. From its central square, the knight can easily jump over pieces to attack pawns on either side of the board.
Meanwhile, the white bishop is blocked by all the pawns on the board. And even worse, white’s bishop can’t even defend its own pawns on a4 and e4 because they are on a different color!
If you want to learn more, you can read my in-depth article on the bishop vs knight exchange.
Are two knights better than two bishops?
As mentioned above, the strength of a bishop and knight is determined by the position they are in. The same holds when comparing the relative strength between two knights and two bishops.
The two knights are preferred in closed positions and the two bishops in open positions.
One thing to keep in mind though is that the bishop pair is more than twice as strong as a single bishop, since they can work together very well and cover a lot of squares. Some people even say that a bishop pair might be worth 6.5 points rather than just 6 points.
However, the two knights normally don’t work together very well and might even be in the way of each other.
Therefore, most players prefer the two bishops over the two knights unless there is a very concrete position reason to go with the knights.
Why is a rook worth more than a bishop?
A rook is worth 5 points, while a bishop is only worth 3 points. This might seem strange at first, because a rook or bishop placed in the center of the board can roughly control the same number of squares.
However, an important difference is that no matter how any moves you make with your bishop, you can only move to half the squares on the board because you are limited to diagonal moves. On the flip side, a rook can move horizontally and vertically, so it can reach any square on the board given enough moves.
Below you can see a quick reminder of how the bishop and rook move:
Are two bishops stronger than a rook?
Yes, with good play from both sides the two bishops together are stronger than a rook. However, playing with a rook is easier than with two bishops. Since the two bishops can’t defend each other, you have to be very careful not to lose one to a pin, skewer or double attack by the rook.
Which bishop is more valuable?
You start every new game of chess with a light-squared bishop and a black-squared bishop. Neither one is inherently stronger than the other. The strength of a bishop is completely determined by where the other pieces are on the board.
So in certain positions your light-squared bishop might be stronger, but in other positions your black-squared bishops might be better.
Being able to determine which of your bishops is stronger in a certain position and all the surrounding nuances will take a lot of time and practice. But to make a quick assessment of the strength of each bishop, you can use the concept of “good bishops” and “bad bishops”.
For more information, you can read my article on how bishops move.
Is a bishop and knight better than a rook?
Yes, the bishop and knight are worth 6 points together and should be better than the rook, which is only worth 5 points. However, playing with a rook is easier than with two minor pieces.
With lots of pawns left on the board, the bishop and rook can often dominate the rook by blocking open files. But with only a few pieces left on the board, the rook can easily infiltrate the opponent’s position and threaten to capture pieces.
Should you sacrifice a rook for a bishop?
In most positions, you don’t want to trade your rook for a bishop, because the rook is a more valuable and stronger piece. However, in some cases you can opt to sacrifice your rook for the bishop if this gives you strong counterplay in the form of a weak pawn structure, exposed king, faster development of the pieces, etc.
Determining the REAL value of a piece
The point values for the chess pieces should only be used as a first approximation of how strong each piece is. As always in chess, how good or how bad a piece is depends on the position.
You should think of the points assigned to each piece as an average statistical value. In most positions, the knight is worth around 3 points. However, in some positions, a knight can be worth a lot more or a lot less than 3 points.
For example, a common rule of thumb for knights is that “a knight on the sixth row is worth a rook“, indicating that a knight on an advanced square is often stronger than 3 points.
However, another rule for knights is that “a knight on the rim is dim”, warning players that knights on the side of the board are often worth less than 3 points.
You can find these kinds of exceptions to the point values for each piece in chess. So I want to caution you against blindly following the piece values to determine whether to capture a piece or not.
In the position above, something has gone really bad for black. The white knights on c5 and d6 are completely dominating the position. It’s difficult for the black queen and rooks to move anywhere without being captured by one of the knights.
Looking at this position, it is clear that the white knight on d6 is worth more than 3 points and the black rook on d8 less than 5 points. If you are black in this position, you might consider capturing the white knight with your rook to open up the position and give yourself some breathing room.
If the position was slightly different with the white knights back on c3 and f3, the story would be completely different.
The white knight on c3 possess no danger to black since it is just looking at some defended black pawns.
In this case, you would not want to trade your c8 rook for that c3 knight.
As you can see, the value of each piece can change a lot depending on the position.
Another piece whose value can change a lot depending on the situation is the pawn. Passed pawns that are close to promoting are worth a lot more than pawns in the starting position.