Point System: Basics and Strategy

By CEO National Master Evan Rabin 

Occasionally I will see a beginner count the number of pieces of the board and say “the position equal. white and black have the same number of pieces.” Of course every piece is not equal as the pieces have values:

Before I teach the point system, I remind students that checkmate is the only way to win a game and that the system is a guideline for what trades are good and which ones are bad. Afterall, kings do not have a definite value as they can never be captured. For instance, one should typically not exchange a rook worth 5 points for a bishop, which would equate to a loss of 2 points. However, one would sacrifice the exchange, which specifically refers to exchanging a rook for a minor piece (bishop or knight), if he gets some sort of compensation.

Here are a few items important items to consider when learning about the point system:

  • Despite being only 1 point, pawns are important as they have the potential to control key squares and promote. If Master A is up a pawn for no compensation against Master B, Master A will win a substantial majority of the time.
  • Knights and bishops are roughly equal in strength; hence both are worth 3. Some chess books state the bishop is worth 3.5; however, it depends on the position. Knights are better in closed positions as they control both light and dark squares. Bishops are better in open positions and when one has the bishop pair.
  • One should evaluate the position every 3-4 moves and not solely rely on the position. A piece can practically be stronger or weaker than its typical value. For instance a piece that is pinned and cannot move is temporarily worth zero points. A knight in an outpost may be worth 5 points, where one that is not yet developed has little to no value.

When your opponent offers you a trade, consider the basic arithmetic of point system, tactical and positional factors and make an informed decision.

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