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Steinitz on the 'Relative Value of the Pieces'
The 1st World Champion's explanations are as valid today as when they were written over 100 years ago.

When a World Champion says

We shall now endeavor to describe seriatim and briefly the power of each man and its most favorable mode of development, as well as to offer some hints as far as practicable about its value and action in the middle game and in the ending.
we should all take note. The World Champion was Wilhelm Steinitz writing on the 'Relative Value of Pieces and Principles of Play' (see the link box at the bottom of this article) in The Modern Chess Instructor (1889). In this brilliant introduction to positional play, Steinitz discusses:
  • the special powers of each of the six pieces (King, Queen, Rook, Bishop, Knight, and Pawn);
  • the differences between the Rook, Bishop, and Knight on the Queenside vs. the same pieces on the Kingside; and
  • the relative strengths of each of the eight Pawns.

Steinitz's explanations are as valid today as when they were written over 100 years ago. It's still useful to place Steinitz's views in their historical context.

Steinitz's predecessors

As the first World Champion, Steinitz built on the great literature of the 19th century:

  • Howard Staunton's The Chess-Player's Handbook (reprinted as recently as the 1990s), and
  • Paul Rudolf von Bilguer's Handbuch des Schachspiels (completed by Tassilo von Heydebrandt und der Lasa; long out of print : a collector's item)

For example

Staunton's Handbook gives the following good advice: "It is generally advantageous for your pawns to occupy the middle of the board, because when there they greatly retard the movements of the opposing forces. The e-pawn and the d-pawn at their fourth squares are well posted, but it is not easy to maintain them in that position, and if you are driven to advance one of them, the power of both is much diminished."


Baron von Heydebrand in Bilguer's Handbuch very properly describes the power of the King for the pawn ending as stronger than any minor piece, namely, Knight or a Bishop.


Steinitz's 19th century terminology is recognizable today. He even gets credit for the term 'hole'

now generally accepted as a technical definition, was first used by the author in The International Chess Magazine of November 1886, where the disadvantage which it is intended to describe was also first pointed out [...] "hole" means a square on the third or forth row in front of a pawn after the two adjoining pawns have been moved or captured

His endgame term 'square of a quadrate', however, is better known today as the square of a Pawn.

Value of the pieces

Steinitz took his numerical values for the pieces from Staunton.

In Staunton's Handbook, it is stated that some scientists have calculated the approximate mathematical value, to be as follows: Taking the pawn as the unit, the Knight is worth 3.05; the Bishop 3.50; the Rook 5.48; and the Queen 9.94.

These values are more suitable for computer calculation than for over-the-board use, where 1:3:3:5:9(or 10) is commonly used. For a modern treatment of the subject, see The Evaluation of Material Imbalances by IM Larry Kaufman, published March 1999 in Chess Life (see the link box again for a reprint by noted chess instructor NM Dan Heisman).

Opinions instead of facts

Some care should be taken where Steinitz presents an opinion disguised as a fact. He was, for example, an early proponent of the value of a Queenside majority.

Most particular care should be taken that the opponent does not obtain the majority of pawns on the Queenside, on the wing opposite on which the Kings of both parties usually castle.

His strong opinion was not subsequently adopted by most leading chess theoreticians. Another misleading concept was the relative value of Bishop vs. Knight.

But after careful consideration of the average of positions that have attracted our attention and the few exceptions positively in favor of either piece, we have come to the conclusion that the power of the Bishop corresponds for practical purposes with its estimated superior mathematical value over the Knight in the opening, and in the middle part as well as in the ending, and in the majority of combinations with other forces. The great power of the Bishop, especially in conjunction with the other Bishop for attack in all directions, as well as for the defense has been first systematically and consistently demonstrated in practice over the board by the great German master, Louis Paulsen, who may be regarded in many respects as one of the chief pioneers of the modern school.

Kaufman assigns a value of 3.25 to both pieces. Concerning the two Bishops, Steinitz said:

The great power of the two Bishops combined has already been alluded to. They are a little superior to Bishop and Knight and considerably stronger that two Knights.

Kaufman, who uses the term Bishop pair, confirms this, assigning an additional value of 0.5 (equal to one-half Pawn) to a position having both Bishops.

 Related Resources
• Relative Value of Pieces and Principles of Play
• Collected Works of Steinitz (offsite)
 Elsewhere on the Web (offsite)
• Material Imbalances