Three Questions to Ask When Trading Pieces

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Trading postThroughout a game of chess there will be multiple positions where an equal trade of pieces is possible. These include trades such as a bishop for a knight, a knight for a bishop, a knight for a knight, a bishop for a bishop, a pawn for a pawn, a rook for a rook and a queen for a queen. How do we know when to make a trade of pieces?

Well, there are three main questions we must ask every time that the possibility is on the board:

  1. “How forced is this trade?”
  2. “How much will this trade benefit my position?”
  3. “How much will this trade hurt my opponent’s position?”

This article will examine each question a bit more in-depth.

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“HOW FORCED IS THIS TRADE?”

In some positions, we do not have the choice whether we should capture a piece or not. For example, maybe our king just got checked and the king has no available moves and we have no way to block the check. Well, if we are able to capture the piece that is checking our king, then we are forced to do so.

Another example could be if our opponent has made a big threat and the only way we can deal with the threat is by capturing the piece that created the threat. In both of these examples, capturing the piece is forced, or else we would end up with a worse position or lose the game. In many positions though, we will have the option if we would like to trade pieces or not. If we are not forced to trade pieces, then we must move on to the next set of questions to decide if the trade would be advantageous to us or not.

“HOW MUCH WILL THIS TRADE BENEFIT MY POSITION?”

In general, we want to make trades when they benefit us. That’s how it works with any king of trade in life. If we had the ability to trade a few oranges for a hundred dollars, that would be a terrific trade for us! That would benefit us very much because we know that a few oranges are worth much less than a hundred dollars.

The same way in chess, we want to make trades that benefit our position. For example: Does the trade allow us to get rid of our bad bishop? Can we trade off one of our inactive pieces? Does the trade help to increase our attack? Is it a trade that allows us to gain more space?

Piece trade benefits our position

The position above highlights this question very well. It is White’s move and he has the option of playing Bxd6. We first ask ourselves if the trade is forced. Well, there is no reason that White is required to play the move, so we now ask the next question: “How much will this trade benefit my position?” In this case, the trade is excellent for White, because he is able to get rid of his bad bishop on f4 (the d4 and e3 pawns block its mobility a bit) and also weaken the e5 square even more, because Black has one less defender for that square. After the trade, White would soon put a knight on e5, which would rule the board. This trade would be very beneficial for white.

“HOW MUCH WILL THIS TRADE HURT MY OPPONENT’S POSITION?”

We always want to do things that will hurt our opponent’s position and his chances to win the game. The best trades are ones that benefit our position and hurt our opponent’s position at the same time. How do we know if a trade hurts our opponent’s position?

Well, we need to think about the value of the piece we may be trading off his side of the board. Is his piece very active? Does it serve a purpose in this position? Is it controlling key squares? Is it one of his best placed pieces. If you can answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, then the piece is probably a good candidate for one that you should try to get rid of or trade off.

Trading off opponent's strong pieces

In the position above, White would love to play Nd3 attacking the queen and forcing it to move, then play the move e5, gaining a lot of space in the center of the board. However, if White played the move Nd3 immediately, this would give Black the option to hurt his opponent’s position with the piece trade Bxd3. Once the knight is gone, then White is stuck with a bad bishop on g2 against a very strong knight on d6.

With the knight off the board, White would have no way to kick away the queen or knight, and the center pawns would be forever blockaded. In this case though, White can make the move Bf1 instead, offering a trade of pieces that would benefit his position (trading off his bad bishop) and also hurt his opponent’s position (once the bishop on a6 retreats, Nd3 is possible).

From this article we can see how to evaluate trades when they are possible on the board.

Remember:

  1. Forced
  2. Good for us
  3. Bad for our opponent.

If we consider these three things when looking at our options, then we will be much better prepared to make good trades.

Read more about how to improve at chess by reading: “Three Key Ways to Improve at Chess – Part 1”.

“PLAY POSITIONAL CHESS LIKE A GRANDMASTER” DVD

I learned a lot about playing positional chess by watching this video!

Click here to access the “Play Positional Chess Like a Grandmaster” DVD

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