The Chess Variant Pages

Rules of Chess: Pawns FAQ

This webpage gives the answers to some frequently asked questions about the official rules of chess regarding pawns. For the full rules of chess, see another webpage.


What happens when my pawn reaches the other side of the board?

When a pawn reaches the opposite side of the board, it promotes. This means that the owner of the pawn can choose a queen, a rook, a knight, or a bishop (of his own color), and put that piece instead of the pawn on the board; on the square of the pawn. For example, look at the following position. (White is sitting at the lower side of the board, black at the upper side.)

If it is whites turn to move, then white can win in one move, although his situation seems to look rather badly. He moves his pawn from d7 to d8 and chooses a queen (he could also choose a rook), and mates black.

To what pieces can a pawn promote?

A pawn can promote to a queen, a rook, a bishop, or a knight. Naturally, a pawn promotes to a piece of the same color - so a white pawn promotes to a white queen, white rook, white bishop, or white knight, and a black pawn promotes to a black queen, black rook, black bishop, or black knight. The player that owns the pawn chooses to what piece it promotes.

Usually, people will choose a queen, because the queen is the strongest piece. There are a few cases where people may choose another piece.

Look at the position above. It is whites turn to move. Now, white can move his pawn from f7 to f8, and promote it to a knight and win the game by mating black!

Another example can be seen below.

Again, it is the turn of white. Now, note that if he would promote his pawn to a queen, it would become a stalemate position: a draw.
So, instead, white promotes to rook; the resulting position is won by white when he plays reasonably well.

Can I promote to a piece that has not been lost?

There are many people that think that one can only promote pawns to lost pieces. However, that rule has been abolished centuries ago: a pawn can always promote to a piece chosen from queen, rook, knight, or bishop, no matter whether such a piece has been lost during the game. In this way, it is for instance possible that a player has more than one queen - this is something I see quite often happen in games played by the children in my local chess club.

Consider the following position:

If the pawn on a7 moves to a8, it can promote to queen, rook, knight or bishop, so, if it is whites turn, we can either get a legal position with two queens for white:
or a legal position with three rooks for white:

While playing chess my opponent reached the other side of the board with his pawn, and all that he has to choose from is pawns. What do you do?

See above. A pawn may promote also to a piece that is not lost, so the player could e.g., choose to have a second queen.

Is promotion instantaneous?

Yes. Moving the pawn and changing it to the new type happens alltogether in one turn.

What happens to the pawn itself? Is it put somewhere else on the board?

The pawn is replaced by the new piece. The pawn piece itself is not put on the board, but goes to the box of pieces; it must wait till the next game of chess for doing something...

Can pieces other than pawns promote?

No, only pawns promote. There are no special rules when queens, rooks, knights, bishops, or kings reach the opposite side of the board.

Can promoted pieces be captured directly after promotion?

Yes. Consider the following position.
If white moves his pawn from b7 to b8, and promotes to a queen, we get the following position.
Now, black can take the queen in his move.
(As a side remark, black should be able to win the game from the resulting position. White would have played better if he first moved his king to a7; that can lead to a draw.)

Movement of pawns

Can I move two pawns one step ahead instead of one pawn two steps at the first turn?

Some people this the position at the left is allowed for the first move, but they are wrong:

This is not allowed.

No. This is not allowed. The only case when two pieces are moved in one turn is when castling, but that does not involve pawns.

Can a pawn move two squares on its first turn and also capture that turn?

No. When a pawn moves two squares on its first movement, then this must be without capture, i.e., two squares straight ahead, and the square that he passes must be empty, as must be the square he moves to.
For the en passant capture, see the FAQ page for en passant capture.

Can the pawn jump a piece when it moves two squares on its first turn?

On the first move of a pawn, where it is alowed to move 2 spaces: if there is a piece in front of the pawn such as the knight, may the pawn jump the knight or must the knight be moved before to allowe the pawn to move?

The pawn may move only two spaces if the first space is empty. So, the pawn may not jump over the knight.

In the diagram above, the white pawn on c2 cannot move as it is blocked by the knight on c3.

Is it true that a pawn may not capture on its first turn?

No, that is not true. So, if possible, pawns may also capture from the second line. E.g., in the following diagram, which could have happened after the third move by white, black can take the white pawn at g6 with either his pawn from f7 or his pawn from h7.

Can pawns capture when they haven't moved yet?

I heard of a rule that if the pawn hasn't yet moved in the game, it can't take another piece on its first move. Is this true?
No. See the previous question.

Can a pawn capture a queen?

Yes. Pawns can capture, like any other piece, other pawns, queens, rooks, bishops, and knights; and they can give check to kings.

Is it possible to move more than one pawn two squares during a game?

We have been told two different things on how a pawn may be moved. Will you please help us clear this up?

1. We were told that only the first pawn moved can be moved forward 2 places and that from there on all pawns may only advance 1 space at a time.

2. We were told by another party that all pawns, on each individual pawns first move may advance forward either 1 or 2 spaces depending on what the player wants to do.

Which of these is correct?

2 is correct. Each individual pawn can be moved 1 or 2 spaces.

For example, last week, on the chess club, the game I played started with
1. d2-d4, d7-d5.
2. c2-c4.

Can a pawn check a king?

Yes. A pawn can check a king. See the diagram below.

If white plays his pawn from b2 to b3, then black is in check:

Can pawns take straight in front of them?

No. Consider the following position:

The white and the black pawn can not take each other. Moreover, they can not move at all. (A strategy in this position would be to move the kings towards the pawns, trying to be the first to take the pawn of the opponent.)

Is it allowed to move two pawns at the same turn at the first move?

No. Some people may be confused by the `double step' rule. That rule allows to move one pawn two steps at its first move; but there is no rule that allows to move two pawns simultaneously.

Written by Hans Bodlaender.
WWW page created: January 31, 2002. Last modified: May 7, 2003.