Where to go, what to do? – Jan Markos reveals the secrets of the bishops!

by Stefan Liebig
6/10/2024 – Bishops often wonder where they should be going. This is a difficult question that Jan Markos answers in his new course 'The Career Paths of Bishops'. Using carefully selected examples, he provides an instructive insight into the world of the specialists on the diagonals.

Middlegame Secrets Vol.3 - The Career Paths of Bishops Middlegame Secrets Vol.3 - The Career Paths of Bishops

In this video course we will explore in depth some familiar concepts regarding the bishops. For example, everyone knows that a bishop-pair should grant him a positional edge.

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Where to go, what to do? – Jan Markos reveals the secrets of the bishops

Jan Markos likes to illustrate things: how many squares can a bishop reach on an otherwise empty board? The third, interactive episode of his video series ‘Middlegame Secrets’, which can be viewed on all media as an e-book or stream, is called ‘The Career Paths of Bishops’ and is all about bishops. When do bishops stand effectively on the up to 13 squares they can reach, and when not? In an entertaining way the renowned Slovakian trainer presents the basics, expert knowledge and many amazing facts about the only pieces that can only move on one colour of squares.

Middlegame Secrets Vol.3 - The Career Paths of Bishops

In this video course we will explore in depth some familiar concepts regarding the bishops. For example, everyone knows that a bishop-pair should grant him a positional edge.

In the first two episodes of the series ‘Middlegame Secrets’, Jan Markos took an in-depth look at the heavy pieces, the queen and the rook. In ‘The Power of the Queen’ and ‘The Potential of the Rook’, he used a refreshing new approach to show what these powerful pieces are capable of. By focusing on each piece, he explains not only how, but above all why master games became master games. Using classics and the latest games, as well as examples from his own practice and that of his chess students, he provides instructive guidelines on how to activate your own pieces and deactivate your opponent's pieces.

Depending on its position, the bishop can reach between seven and 13 squares. In extreme cases, this is only half the distance of the rook, which can always move to 14 squares. The knight can only move between eight and two squares if it is in the corner.

Complex topic

The number of squares is of course only a weak indicator for determining the possibilities. Analyses often talk about the bishop pair, about bishops of the same or different colour. These are easy to identify. But when should you bet on which variant and make targeted exchanges? What – and this is the crucial and anything but trivial question – actually makes a bishop a good bishop and what makes it a bad bishop?

Most amateurs already have an idea that a pair of bishops should be something good. But many don't know what to do with them," says Markos, who has decades of experience as a coach and from his own career. After the introductory theoretical considerations, Markos plunges into the practical side and shows in seven chapters, each with three to five example videos, how he imagines the ideal use of the bishops's potential:

Not so easy: how does a bishop get from one side of the board to the other? 

The pair of bishops

"Steinitz was a genius," says Markos, getting to the heart of the matter. That's why he starts the course with the well-known, classic, but still impressive example of English vs. Steinitz from 1883. He derives important basic rules from it: you should play against the enemy's bishops, for example so that a good bishop remains on the board for you after an exchange. It often helps to place pawns on the colour of the opponent's bishop. You should always keep an eye on possible bishop and knight outposts for yourself and your opponent. On the other hand, your own king is usually easier to activate via the squares not covered by the opponent's bishop. Markos also advises patience: "‘You should slowly build up an advantage, the game is more difficult for the defender."

Markos illustrates these basic rules with examples and analysis of the mistakes made by prominent players, but also with examples from his own games, in which he was at a loss what to do.

"I sat at the board and thought: ‘How can I continue here?’"

Disadvantages of the pair of bishops

The value of the bishop pair is often emphasised, but the possible disadvantages of having the two bishops are rarely mentioned. Markos starts the chapter with an evergreen: the famous 5th from the World Championship match between Spassky and Fischer in Reykjavik 1972.

It is also remarkable how, in the next example, the strategist Michael Adams, playing with the black pieces, exploits the fact that his opponent, Dao, playing with the white pieces, is determined to hold on to the bishop pair. Adams uses of the large amount of time that his opponent invests to keep the bishops to build up a strong centre and to gain the upper hand on the queenside.

Good bishops, bad bishops

When the bishops are of the same colour, it is the activity of the bishops that is most important. Often – as in the game Kramnik vs. Leko (Budapest, 2001) – the pawn structure in the centre plays a decisive role. In the example, Kramnik's rooks also attack across the black squares. Later, he even spurns a pawn sacrifice on d5 because it would activate the bishop. What a brilliant demonstration by Kramnik on the subject of good bishops and bad bishops.

"I couldn't resist," Markos comments on the inclusion of his own endgame in this series of videos on middlegames. His endgame against Rausis impressively shows how his opponent misses an opportunity to turn the game into a draw and then is outmanoeuvred, although not without some glitches. The encouraging comment for the learning amateur: "You see two players with 2550 and they also make mistakes in technical endgames."

Bishops of opposite colours

In this chapter, the game Topalov vs. Leko shows how important it is to have the pawns on the colour of the opponent's bishop in the middlegame – from a position that initially looks at least equal, if not better for Black. This is followed by a surprisingly effective winning plan by Anand against Judit Polgar. However, against Carlsen, Anand throws himself at a pawn on the queenside instead of exploiting his good chances on the kingside – Carlsen wins, as he did in the game against the non-castling Caruana. Of course, the former world champion Karpov, who shows how a queenside majority can be converted into a win with a bishop, should not be missing from a collection of strategic masterpieces.

Bishops as billiard balls

Markos uses this creative chapter title to describe the transfer of a bishop from one board area to another, as described above. A detailed example from Carlsen, which demonstrates the problems of a black bishop stranded on b6, as well as two of the author's own games, show how he interprets "billiards on the chessboard". Anyone interested in hedgehog structures should definitely take a look at chapter 6.4, and in the video that follows Markos goes into the frequently occurring Maroczy structure.

Bishop dominating the knight

It is hard to imagine that White is better in this game between Reshevsky and Smyslov and that the bishop can ever play an important role. The solution: White changes the structure with 1.b4!, a move to chase Black's knight away and/or bring the bishop to b3. Marko's conclusion: "The position is not always crucial. Great players recognise the potential of the pieces."

Summary

The main theme of the course is: how can I activate the bishops? An important aspect of this is to open or close the position at the right moment. Jan Markos also shows the dilemma for the defender: if I open up, the opponent's bishops get space; if I don't open up, my bishops remain bad and my position is cramped.

As usual, the Slovakian trainer explains the right and wrong plans in a didactically masterful way. He often addresses the problems of his own students – that's motivating.

A practical example from one of Markos' students: the knight belongs on e5. After an exchange on e5 the black knight on f6 has no prospects because of the e-pawn.

At the end of each video, Markos provides an instructive summary. He also makes connections to his other courses and shows, for example, that the queen does not feel comfortable in the fight against minor pieces – it can often be pushed back.

Those who have been waiting for this course will certainly not be disappointed and, after working through the course – including the tasks and online exercises – will know better where the bishops should go to optimise their potential. In addition, all Markos fans can now look forward to the sequel about the knight, which will be released soon.

Middlegame Secrets Vol.3 - The Career Paths of Bishops

In this video course we will explore in depth some familiar concepts regarding the bishops. For example, everyone knows that a bishop-pair should grant him a positional edge.

Middlegame Secrets Vol.1 + Vol.2

Let us learn together how to find the best spot for the queen in the early middlegame, how to navigate this piece around the board, how to time the queen attack, how to decide whether to exchange it or not, and much more!


Stefan Liebig, born in 1974, is a journalist and co-owner of a marketing agency. He now lives in Barterode near Göttingen. At the age of five, strange pieces on his neighbor's shelf aroused his curiosity. Since then, the game of chess has cast a spell over him. Flying high in the NRW youth league with his home club SV Bad Laasphe and several appearances in the second division team of Tempo Göttingen were highlights for the former youth South Westphalia champion.
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