Sports & Games

The Knight in Chess: What a Knight Is and How to Move a Knight Across a Chessboard

Written by MasterClass

Aug 1, 2019 • 3 min read

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The knight is one of the most powerful pieces on the chessboard due to its unusual movement. Understanding the basics of the knight can help you develop powerful openings in the beginning of the game and set you up for checkmate in the endgame.

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What Is a Knight?

A knight is a piece in the game of chess that is traditionally shaped like a horse. Each player begins the chess game with two knights. When setting up your chess set, place the knights on the row closest to each player, between the bishop and the rook.

A chess knight has a value of three points, which makes it the same in relative value as a bishop.

How Do Knights Move?

The knight moves unconventionally compared to other chess pieces. Whereas other pieces move in straight lines, knights move in an “L-shape”—that is, they can move two squares in any direction vertically followed by one square horizontally, or two squares in any direction horizontally followed by one square vertically. The knight is the only piece in the game of chess that can “jump over” other pieces, regardless of whether those pieces are black or white.

Knights capture enemy pieces by replacing them on their square. Due to its L-shaped movement, a knight beginning on a white square will always end up on a black square, and vice versa.

5 Tactics for Using Your Knights

Though every game of chess is different, there are a few fundamental knight principles that can improve your strategy and make you a better chess player.

  1. Occupy the center of the board. Unlike bishops or rooks, which can move all the way to the opposite side of the board in one turn, knights have a limited range of possible moves and can only move three spaces at a time. Therefore, knights are most effective when they occupy the center of the board, as a center position maximizes the number of possible moves that a knight can make. A knight placed on the edge of the board can only attack three or four squares, whereas a centrally-placed knight can attack eight. A knight in the corner only has two possible moves.
  2. Look for outposts. Knights are most effective in the center of the board, but that’s also where they are most vulnerable to attack from your opponent’s pieces. It’s helpful to look for areas of the board towards the center that cannot be easily attacked by your opponent’s pawns. These powerful center squares that are not immediately threatened by enemy pieces are known as “outposts.” Holes in your opponent’s pawn structure often provide great knight outposts. Occupying a strong outpost can also cramp your opponent’s development and become a key component in an eventual attack on the king.
  3. Develop your knights early. Many chess players like to develop their knights early in the game when they play chess. In fact, knights are the only piece in the game that can be developed before your own pawns. A white knight move can be the first move of the game. Developing your knight early can help you establish early control of the center of the board. Knight moves generally occur before queen or rook moves. A promptly developed knight additionally allows you to castle early in the game, as according to chess rules the knight and the bishop must be developed before castling king-side (the knight, bishop, and queen must be developed in order to castle queenside).
  4. Beware of traps. Because knights are bound by a fixed number of movements, they are particularly vulnerable to traps. If a knight is on a light square, its next move must be to a dark square. In that scenario, a knight would be especially susceptible to a dark-squared bishop cutting off the number of squares a knight could potentially occupy, which could lead to the knight being captured after a few subsequent pawn moves.
  5. Take advantage of forks. The knight’s unique movement makes them especially well-equipped to execute a fork, which occurs when your piece attacks two of your opponent’s pieces at the same time. For example, if you are controlling a black knight, it is possible to attack the white king and the queen at the same time, even if those pieces are far apart from one another.

Learn more about chess strategy in Garry Kasparov’s MasterClass.