How Does The Knights Move?

Why the knight is not a horse.

One of the most common questions I get from beginner and intermediate players in the Don’t Move Training System is this:

“How can I visualize knights better?”

They’re the most difficult piece to keep track of when we CAN see a board.

They can be daunting when we can’t.

The reason they’re so tricky is that they don’t travel along any vectors.

We know that a Rook on c5 can see right up and down the c-file and the fifth rank.

But a Knight on c5 doesn’t follow any simple rule like that. There’s no one vector.

Instead, it’s a funny little L-shape.

The Knight’s classic L-pattern is tricky to follow in our minds. And can be our undoing in complex positions and in time trouble.

I got tired of blundering my Queen or Rook to a Knight fork in endgame time scrambles!

But then I discovered this method. And it changed everything about the Knights for me.

Maybe it will for you too.

The first thing we need to understand is that the person who designed the piece for the Knight screwed up.

They got too busy leaning into the theme of the Medieval European royal court. They didn’t stop to think what the Knight actually DOES.

(They did make the Queen the most powerful piece though – Chess is feminist, and it’s awesome!)

They made a real blunder with the knights – and it’s a blunder that has confused players for centuries.

The Knight isn’t a horse – it’s an octopus!

Hear me out.

A knight has a maximum of 8 squares it can move to at any one time.

They spray out in a shape like a circle, with a bit missing in the middle like a donut.

And each of those squares is the opposite color to the knight’s current square.

(That took me a long time to notice.)

The knight can move to any square of the opposite color in the ring around it.

Like an octopus, reaching out with its 8 tentacles.

Here’s an image to clarify.

In this example, the knight is standing on a dark square and can move to any light square in the outer ring around it.

If it were standing on a light square, it could move to any dark square in that same ring.

(At the end of this email, I’ll include my way to quickly work out square colors in your head.)

Instead of working out 8 separate L-shapes, we can learn to see the octopus.

With practice, we can see this ring of moves around the knight as clearly as the diagonal vector of a bishop.

It’s made me much better at visualizing Knight movement.

Not to mention made me far less likely to blunder a knight fork in time trouble. (Keep my Rook and King on different color squares!)

To practice seeing the Octopus-Knight, take a few moments throughout your day to do the following:

  1. pick a square coordinate (eg. d4)
  2. work out the color of the square (with the Odd Cage Method)
  3. put a knight on that square in your mind
  4. work out one of the squares the knight could move to
  5. continue around the ring clockwise or until you’ve noticed all of the moves the Knight could take. Don’t think of them as 8 separate moves, but as pieces of the ring.

This process will help you identify the ring and see it in your mind.

Do that a few times a day in quiet moments. You’ll get much more comfortable with knights.

Here’s something that might help with the square color bit:

The Odd Cage Method for determining square colors

To work out the color of a square, you need the square’s coordinates and to follow two rules.

Rule #1: All squares with odd-odd or even-even coordinates are dark squares. All others are light squares.

It’s obvious if the ranks are odd or even – they’re numbers!

But how do we tell if the files are odd- or even-numbered?

Rule #2: if the letter for a file appears in the word CAGE, it is an odd-numbered file.

For example, the square E5 is a dark square.

We can tell because 5 is an odd number, and E is in CAGE (and, therefore, odd).

Odd + Odd = Dark square.

F7 is a light square. 7 is odd, but F is not in CAGE. Odd + Even = Light square.

About the author

Aiden Rayner writes about how to make the adult brain better at Chess. Using science-backed insights, he works to change the narratives around adult improvement, and help adults discover the power of their Chess brains.

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