Here's How Long Each Piece Is Likely to Survive In A Game Of Chess

Illustration for article titled Here's How Long Each Piece Is Likely to Survive In A Game Of Chess

Nobody wants to be "used as a pawn." But, in truth, pawns have a better chance of survial than knights and queens. Based on data from more than two million master-level tournament games, this chart shows the chances for each chess piece to remain standing until the bitter end.

Illustration for article titled Here's How Long Each Piece Is Likely to Survive In A Game Of Chess

Aside from providing yet another fascinating insight into the fractious world of chess, you can't rule out the possibility that these statistics could save your life one day.

Consider the Wizard's Chess scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (pp. 350-351):

"Do we—er—have to join you to get across?"

The black knight nodded. Ron turned to the other two.

"This needs thinking about...." he said. "I suppose we've got to take the place of three of the black pieces...."

Harry and Hermione stayed quiet, watching Ron think. Finally he said, "Now, don't be offended or anything, but neither of you are that good at chess—"

"We're not offended," said Harry quickly. "Just tell us what to do."

"Well, Harry, you take the place of that bishop, and Hermione, you go next to him instead of that castle."

"What about you?"

"I'm going to be a knight," said Ron.

The chessmen seemed to have been listening, because at those words a knight, a bishop, and a castle turned their backs on the white pieces and walked off the board, leaving three empty squares that Harry, Ron, and Hermione took.

As a Quora contributor notes:

J. K. Rowling doesn't identify which side of the board, queenside or kingside, the three stood on. However, in the movie, Hermione plays the queen's rook, Harry the king's bishop, and Ron straddles the king's knight—which means Ron started Hermione off as the piece with the highest survival rate (55.2%) of any of the black pieces except the king, which was probably good for their future marriage. (And even then, I'm betting that most games of wizards' chess ended with one side's king getting impaled on something, so that was a good call.)

But after Hermione, Ron does significantly worse. The next piece to replace should have been the king's rook or the queen, but Ron skips them to put his best friend on f8, where he has just over a one-in-three (35.4%) chance of getting violently bludgeoned to death before even getting to find out that his Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is actually the one with the sexagenarian dark wizard planted on the back of his head. But Ron? He plays as the king's knight, which, surviving only 25.4% of all games, has the lowest survival rate of ANY piece on the board except for the White d-pawn. Ron started out the game—and remember, this is the game to stop the most evil Dark wizard of all time from gaining immortality—with a one-in-four chance of getting at best a severe concussion and at worst a mild case of sword-through-the-aorta. So if you felt sorry for him when he got knocked off his horse in the movie, remember: he was asking for much, much worse.




As a (fairly competent) chess player, I always hated it when people claim they are "just a pawn". Pawns are incredibly important to the game and those who squander their pawns lose the game. If I'm playing a well-matched player and I get a pawn ahead I've basically won the game. All I have to do is evenly trade out all my other pieces and a slight advantage turns into a huge one.

One of my favorite strategies to use when playing against people is to trade queens as early as possible. Most people heavily base their strategy on their queen as the most powerful piece and get without one flounder. Of course, this doesn't work against better players.