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Rules of Chess: En passant capture FAQ

This webpage gives the answers to some frequently asked questions about the official rules of Chess regarding en passant capture. We have another page for the full rules of Chess.

What does the term en passant mean?

En passant is a French term that means in passing. In Chess, it refers to a type of capture in which the capturing piece moves to a space the captured piece just passed over. The idea is that it captures it while it is still on its way to its destination instead of capturing it where it arrives.

Under what circumstances is en passant capture allowed in Chess?

In Chess, the term is normally used to refer to a move that lets one pawn capture another pawn that ends up beside it after making a double move.

How does en passant capture work?

First, the pawn that will make an en passant capture must be in place on the opponent's fourth rank, as the pawn at f4 is here.

Next, the opponent makes a double move with a previously unmoved pawn to a space that is adjacent to an enemy pawn. Here, White moves to g4, which is adjacent to the Black pawn on f4.

Finally, Black may use the very next move to capture the pawn on g4 by moving diagonally forward to g3, the space White's pawn just passed over.

Is it also possible for White to capture by en passant?

Sure. See the following example.

This position is made possible by the moves 1. f4 e5 2. f5. So, it is Black's turn, and despite these pawns being adjacent, no en passant capture is possible right now.

Black makes a double move with the g pawn, landing adjacent to White's pawn on f5.

White can now capture the g pawn by en passant, as it has done here.

Must en passant capture be done immediately, or can I wait some turns before doing it?

You cannot wait. If you want to capture by en passant, it must be done on the next move.

Is any other kind of en passant capture allowed in Chess?

The only time when en passant capture ever happens in Chess is when one pawn captures another that has just made a double move, as illustrated above.

Does the concept of en passant capture have any other application in Chess?

Yes, a king may not move through check when castling, the idea being that when it moves two spaces toward the rook, it is subject to capture even on a space it is passing over. But since it is illegal for a king to move into check, and Chess ends with the checkmate of the king, not with its capture, this potential en passant capture of the king never actually happens in Chess.

Why are actual en passant captures limited to pawns?

Chess is descended from the earlier games Chaturanga and Shatranj, in which all capture was by displacement. This is when a piece captures another by moving to its space. In these earlier games, pawns did not make double moves, and kings did not castle. So, these pieces never moved more than one space at a time. In Europe, some people made changes that sped up the game, and one of these changes was allowing a pawn to move two spaces on its first move. This introduced the possibility of a pawn escaping capture by moving past the space another pawn could capture it on. To close off this possibility, en passant capture was introduced as an exception to the usual manner of capture by displacement.

Another change made to speed up the game was to introduce castling, and one of the conditions on castling was that a king may not castle through check. In both cases, a piece that normally moves one space at a time is given the privilege of making an initial move that spans two spaces. In these cases, some kind of en passant capture is allowed in order to lessen the advantage that a pawn gets from making a double move and that a king gets from castling. So, en passant capture is allowed in Chess only when a short-range piece exercises a one-time special power.

From the perspective of gameplay, allowing en passant capture on a wider scale could overcomplicate the game and make it more difficult to play. It works better as an exception to the general rule than it does as the general rule itself.

Is it possible to capture by en passant more than once in a game?

Yes. Of course, this then happens with different pawns.

Can an en passant capture happen later?

I have a question in regards to the en passant move. Let's say that the white pawn takes a double step from the second row to the fourth row on its first move, and the black pawn in turn does the same to where they are now diagonal to one another. If the white pawn then chooses to move one additional square forward (to the fifth row), can the black pawn perform the en passant and move to the square on the fourth row behind the white pawn and take the white pawn?

No. The en passant capture can only happen directly after the double step move; the pawn that takes must be on the rank where the taken pawn has moved to during the double step move, as in the examples above.

Can a pawn that passed up the opportunity to capture one pawn by en passant still capture another pawn by en passant later in the game?

Suppose a black pawn has the opportunity to capture a white pawn en passant, but the player with black decides not to exercise the en passant option his next move. He has lost the chance to do it later in the game. But suppose later in the game that same black pawn has the opportunity to capture a different white pawn en passant. Can that same black pawn that opted not to capture en passant earlier in the game now legally capture a different white pawn en passant?

Yes. Although a pawn gets only one chance to capture a particular pawn by en passant, passing up this opportunity does not prevent it from capturing another pawn by en passant if another pawn should make a double move to the space on its other side.

How many times may a pawn capture by en passant?

Given how the pawns move, any given pawn will have a maximum of two opportunities to capture a pawn by en passant, though it is limited to taking only one of them. Once a pawn captures by en passant, its move will take it past the rank where it would be possible for it to capture by en passant.

Originally written by Hans Bodlaender. Revised and expanded by Fergus Duniho.
WWW page created: October 11, 2002.