The Chess knight moves (and jumps!) in an L-shape. The knight is the unique Chess piece that can move when blocked, effectively jumping over pieces. We explore the chess tactics the knight enables. The wily knight is slow to join the fray, but when the knight arrives there are dazzling fireworks, and lot's of chess forks!
The Chess Knight: Basic Moves and Tactics
The knight is the only chess piece from the back row that can move at the start of a chess game. Above, the knight moves from the square g1, the empty one on back row, to the square f3, in front of the white pawn and bishop. Can you see why it is an L-shape move? The knight is not blocked by the pawn right in front, but "jumps" to a square "one over and two up."
The Knight is made to fork other chess pieces
Follow the white knight in this common position above. The knight has "jumped" from the f3 square where we had it, to a new square g5, again, "one over and two up." There is something special in this position though. A threat to take the pawn on f7, behind the black knight, next to the black king.
The white bishop and the white knight both threaten to capture the pawn. Chess pieces need to support each other, and in the chess position below, the white knight is supported by the white bishop. The black king cannot capture the knight because the white bishop supports the white knight.
The chess knight forks pieces by attacking two or more pieces at the same time. The "L shape" movement allows the chess knight to maraud over the chess board by attacking squares far apart. Like above, the knight threatens the black queen on d8, the black rook on h8, and a third piece, the black pawn on e5.
This is the beauty and wildness of the chess knight. The "L shape" threats and movements are special because no other chess pieces move like the chess knight.
Smothered Checkmate and the Chess Knight
A useful tactic with the chess knight is the smothered checkmate. The initial move is a discovered check to the king, forcing the king to move into the corner:
The black king moves to corner square h8, allowing the coffin corner to be constructed by white sacrificing the queen on g8. Since the knight protects the queen on g8, the king cannot take the queen, the rook must take the queen. The coffin corner is now created.
The beauty of smothered checkmate is the knight's L-shaped movement and threats are displayed with aplomb.
The knight on the f7 square again, checks the black king in the corner, and because there is no square for the king to move, black is checkmated. Notice the "L shape" movement of the knight. The movement is difficult to visualize when you start playing chess, but soon, the knight move patterns become clear.
As an exercise to improve your visualization, try to do the knight's tour around the chess board with your eyes closed. Move the knight from g1 to f3 to g5 to f7 to h8, where can you move the knight next?
The answer: (back to f7 and g6). The knight on the rim is dim. In the corner of the board, the knight can only move 2 different places. In the center of the chess board, on the square e5, the chess knight, the knight moves are maximized. The knight can move to 8 different squares:
Above, on the square e5, the chess knight can move to four times as many squares as in the corner on the square h8. An important part of chess is coordinating your pieces to the position, but knowing that the chess knight is a better piece in the center of the board than the sides will help you weigh different possible moves.
For example, at the start of the chess game, the white knight moved to f3 in our first diagram, a move toward the center of the chess board. Advanced chess players prefer the move to f3 over the alternative square on the rim of the chess board, h3. On h3, the knight is away from the center of the board and as we noted above, the possibilities for the piece are diminished.
Good luck with your chess games! And enjoy the beauty of how the chess knight moves.
Paul Rohwer is a U.S. Life Chess Master and rated above 2500 on chess24. He enjoys playing card games, sudoku, programming, and solving puzzles. Kings in the corner, chess, and chinese checkers were his favorite games growing up. Euchre in college and nowadays, the nytimes spelling bee keeps him busy looking for the elusive pangram.