Knights have the most peculiar move of them all in chess. While all other pieces move in straight lines, the knight’s move is an L-shaped one and it can allow for very powerful attacking opportunities by creating forks and reaching behind enemy lines. But is a knight powerful enough to win the game all by itself and if not, why not? Let’s take a look and see.
Can you win chess with just a knight? You cannot win a game of chess with just a knight because one knight alone cannot block all the king’s escape routes and checkmate him. If there are other pieces on the board that restrict the king’s movement, then a checkmate, and therefore a win, is possible with just the knight.
Let’s look at the knight’s potential to checkmate in a game of chess!
An Introduction To The Knight In Chess
The knight in chess has a very noble history. Along with just the king and the rook, it has the same move set as when the game was invented in India in the 6th century AD and was called “chaturanga”. Some chess players will refer to the knight as a “horse” because in modern sets which tend to be based on the Staunton Chess Set are drawn from English medieval times and English knights rode into battle on horses.
However, the piece isn’t known as a “knight” in all languages and you can find it called a “jumper” in many other Germanic tongues and in the Sicilian dialect they call it a “donkey”.
The Movement Of Knights
What makes knights so interesting is their unique movement. They may move 2 squares in any direction vertically or horizontally and then another square either horizontally or vertically in either direction (depending on how they moved originally). They may capture another piece while doing this is it is a legal move to do so, they can threaten check in the same pattern and, most importantly, they are the only chess piece which can jump over other pieces to complete their move.
Thus, knights are the only pieces, other than pawns, which can be moved in the first turn of the game.
The Value Of Knights
Chess, as you are probably aware, has a formal scoring system for the value of pieces. A pawn is worth 1 point and a queen is worth 9. The knight, along with the bishop, is worth 3 points. Though, the actual value of each of these pieces in play tends to vary throughout the game.
Knights are capable of very powerful attacks throughout the game because of their special move. Players will seek to create forks (that is positions in which two pieces are threatened at once) with their knights to gain material value. They can use their knights to get behind enemy lines when other pieces are blocked from doing so.
But they are also very vulnerable to the opponent’s pawn structure and when a pawn threatens a knight, the knight cannot retaliate and thus, must move or fall cheaply to the opponent.
Knights tend to become weaker throughout the game and, in general terms, they are not the best piece to enter the endgame with as they are appreciably less powerful than bishops for an endgame. However, this changes if all the pawns are trapped on a single side of the board.
Can A Knight Win A Game Of Chess?
There are several situations we can examine here. Firstly, we will look at the situation where one player has a knight and a king against a king, then two knights and a king against a king and then three knights and a king against a king.
After that, we’ll examine how a knight can achieve checkmate on its own with other material on the board before, finally, touching on the knight plus bishop and king versus king situation.
A Knight And A King Vs. A King
There is absolutely no position on the board that allows a knight and a king to beat a king by itself. This is fairly obvious when you think about it.
Place the black king on A8, and then the white knight on B6, this places the king in check and gives the black king the fewest possible moves out of check. Now, where would you place the white king in order to make this position checkmate? It can’t be done.
The white king cannot be placed to put the black king in check as it would be in check too (and thus, it’s an illegal move) and without this – the knight doesn’t control enough squares to keep the black king in place.
Two Knights And A King Vs. A King
You cannot force checkmate when playing with two knights and a king against a king. You can force checkmate with two bishops (on opposite colors) and a king against a king and this illustrates the value difference between the pieces in the endgame.
However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t checkmates available. It just means that the player with just a king must blunder for you to achieve them.
A simple example of this would be:
White: Knights (C2 and D2), King (B3)
Black: King (A1)
This is checkmate. The knights and the king cover all escape squares and ensure that the king is in check too.
Three Knights And A King Vs. A King
There are no real world examples of this because, in truth, it would be a very rare event in which a player promoted a pawn to a knight and then ended up with only 3 knights on the board against a king. So rare, that it’s never happened to the best of our knowledge in any tournament play.
However, as a theoretical position three knights and a king is completely possible and if it were to arise, then computer analysis has shown that you can force checkmate with three knights though only on the edge of the board. This would take a maximum of 20 moves. Though if the defending king can take one of the knights when the position becomes three knights and a king, he will and thus, the game should end in a draw.
A Knight Against A King With Some Material
There is a fairly simple situation in which a knight and a king could achieve checkmate against a king with more material on the board. However, you’re not likely to see it in real life as again, it would require a serious blunder to lose like this.
Set up the board as follows.
White: Knight (C7), King (H1)
Black: Pawns (A7, B7), Rook (B8), King (A8)
As you can see, this is checkmate. The rook and pawns prevent the king from moving out of check and neither the rook nor the pawns can capture the knight.
A Knight And A Bishop And A King Versus A King
In this situation, which we covered in detail in our article on how you can win the game with only one bishop, it is possible to force mate in 33 moves. However, you should be aware that the tactics for this win are fairly complicated and if you don’t learn them – the odds are you will end up with a draw.
We know this because it has happened to grandmasters in tournament play!
Can you win chess with just a knight? In the sense that the only piece on the board, other than the two kings, is a single knight, no, you can’t. The knight isn’t sufficiently powerful enough to deliver victory via checkmate. It’s unusual move pattern can be really useful in the early part of the game but by the time you get to the endgame, it’s often much weaker than you’d like it to be and by itself, it’s not enough.
However, you can win chess with just a knight creating the checkmate and it is possible to use a knight plus a bishop to force checkmate. The first situation is only ever likely to take place if your opponent makes a terrible blunder but the second, whilst rare, does occur on the board and if you know how to approach this game from a tactical perspective, you can force a win in a maximum of 33 moves and that means you can guarantee a win without falling foul of the 50 move rule.