The Pawn

“If you know them, they'll help you win lots of games”

  All Pawns are of equal value but some Pawns are more equal than others. Jacopo da Cessole (14th century) was the first to give the Pawns a name. A Pawn is not able to reverse The Pawnits move. The letter “P” is sometimes also used to name a Pawn. The first move option of this minor piece was introduced in Spain in 1280. Up to the 16th century, a game could be started by making two minor piece moves before your opponent moved. This was the norm in Holland and Germany until the late 19th century. In Asia, Pawns started on the 3rd rank instead of the 2nd. Until 1903 a Pawn reaching rank-8 could remain a Pawn! And promotion could only be to a major piece already captured. If no major piece had been captured the Pawn remained a Pawn until a capture occurred. Steinitz was a leading proponent of the dummy Pawn law. The Pawns get their name from an old French word meaning foot-soldier and like the infantry they must advance against the foe. The Pawns have special rules for their capturing maneuver. The Pawn is, in fact exceptional in many ways. The normal move of the Pawn is simple - they plod just one cell forward at a time. They may never move backwards. On their first move, however, a Pawn may, if desired, be moved two cells forward instead of just one. This privilege is accorded to each of the eight Pawns on either side, but a Pawn may only advance two cells if both cells are unoccupied and the Pawn has not previously been moved.

“The Pawn movement is the most arduous of the game”

  As distinct from their forward mode of travel, the Pawn captures diagonally, but again only one cell. A Pawn must move in the file in which it is placed, until it captures another piece diagonally. It is the only piece that captures in a different manner to the normal mode of movement. On reaching rank-8, a Pawn is invested with the title and assumes the power of any of the major pieces to which the Pawn is promoted/enrobed to which a player chooses at his/her discretion.

  A Pawn is not permitted to capture any piece which impedes its path and neither Pawn can do more than remain an obstruction to the forward march of the other. Upon capturing a diagonally placed piece, a Pawn changes file i.e., 1. e4xd5 moves from file-e to file-d. The movements of these homely Pawns are amongst the most refined and arduous elements of the game. When placed in front, they prevent the advance of your opponent's Pawns.

  However, you should not place two Pawns abreast until you are able to support them from behind. If you have two Pawns placed abreast and one of them is attacked by an opposing Pawn, you will find it better to advance the Pawn that is attacked, rather than resort to capture. After castling King-side, it is better not to advance King-side Pawns until obliged to do so. Try to protect a Pawn with a Pawn rather than with a major piece.

  Do not advance Pawns on either wing until you see on what side of the board your opponent castles. In the endgame, two Pawns can protect themselves against the enemy King.

“The Arabs called the Pawns foot soldiers”

  Promotion is also called enrobing in Chesmayne. Theoretically, it is possible to have nine Queens. The Pawn is nearly always promoted to Queen, but under promotion is also possible. If a Pawn reaches the top-rank of the board and is promoted to a Queen, then this Queen is referred to as Queen-2 to distinguish her from Queen-1. Sometimes it is best to under promote to a Knight, Bishop, Rook.

  The Arabs called them Baidaq, foot soldiers, which was translated into the Anglo-French word 'Poun'. In the old game (Shatranj), a Bishop could not be promoted to Queen, but to a “Minister” only. The game-tree of Chess was, therefore, different from today, for there was little point in promotion.  A Pawn can move forward only. A Pawn cannot jump. A Pawn is promoted on reaching the last rank as part of the same turn or move.

  The cell on which a Pawn is promoted is normally called the Queening cell, even if the Pawn is exchanged for a minor or major piece which is not a Queen. The en passant capture can only be made by a Pawn on rank-5. The en passant move is optional, not obligatory. Beginners often find this difficult, so practice on rank-5 and on the rank-4 for black. The Pawn can only capture one diagonal cell forward to their right or left. The Pawn is known by different names in differing countries:

Chess piece names in other languages
 Language  Piece name  Game name
English Pawn Chess
French Pion Les echecs
German Bauer Schachspiel
Italian Perdone Gli scacchi
Spanish Peón Ajedrez
Portuguese Peo Xadrez
Russian Peshka Shahmati
Arabic Baidaq Ash-shatranj
Latin Pedes Scaci

“A Pawn has a maximum of six moves to the promoting cell”

  In an open game or position, the Pawns are fluid, are able to advance, and many may have already been exchanged or disposed. In a closed position, the central Pawns (P-a4 and P-a5) are interlocked in such a way that they cannot be exchanged. In such positions, both Knights can become more important because of their ability to maneuver.

  The quickest number of moves of a Pawn from the initial starting position to the promoting cell is five moves, i.e.: 1st move P-d4 (moves 2 cells forward), 2nd move P-d5, 3rd move  P-d6, 4th move  P-d7,  5th move P-d8 (Pawn is promoted to Queen). A Pawn has a maximum of six moves from the initial starting position to the promoting cell.

  During the opening phase, development may be slowed down by making too many Pawn moves or moving a Pawn to a wrong cell. Most openings and defences try to keep the Pawns united, so that they protect one another. This is important for the middle game and even more important in the endgame.

Typical Pawn structures:

  Doubled Pawns:  These are two Pawns of the same color residing on the same file. Doubled Pawns usually imply that open files are available and in such cases you may be able to gain useful play on such a file with both Rooks. A doubled Pawn is not necessarily a disadvantage, particularly if it is united with another Pawn. A doubled Pawn on file-e is the best because it strengthens the middle Pawns and makes available a file for a Rook. A doubled Pawn on file-a or file-h is the least valuable.

Doubled Pawns
Pawns on c3 and c4 are doubled Pawns

  Isolated Pawns:  A Pawn is considered isolated because there are no Pawns of the same colour on adjoining files or whose friendly Pawns have left the adjacent file(s) leaving it on its own, without friendly Pawn support. If the Pawn is attacked, it may have to be defended by major pieces which are then left out of action on other areas of the board.

Isolated Pawns
White Pawns a2, c3 and black Pawn on a6 are isolated Pawns

  Backward Pawns:  A backward Pawn is a Pawn that is behind all Pawns of the same color on the adjacent files and cannot be safely advanced. They're usually in a positional disadvantage since they are difficult to defend. Also, the opponent can place a piece, usually a Knight, on the hole in front of the Pawn without any risk of a Pawn driving it away.

Backward Pawn
Black Pawn on b7 is a backward Pawn

  Passed Pawns:  When a Pawn has no enemy Pawn that could hinder promotion - that is, no enemy Pawn in front or, on the same file or, either of the next-door files - then the Pawn is called a passed-Pawn. A passed Pawn in the endgame can be a great asset, particularly if well advanced, as the enemy has to use major pieces to stop the Pawn from becoming a Queen, thus reducing your adversary's major pieces efficiency.

Passed Pawn
White pawn on e6 is passed

“A Pawn's value increases as major and minor pieces are exchanged”

  In the early stages of the game, the Pawns have various functions. Those in the center are the most valuable Pawns and are used for protecting central cells. Pawns in front of a castled King are used as a shelter. To wreck this center, the enemy often advances Pawns upon yours, to force them to advance or exchange. This operation is called a Pawn-storm. Here, the Pawns play the part of tanks rather than infantry, although sometimes they resemble neither tanks nor infantry.

  Their lack of mobility makes them more like natural obstructions i.e., rivers, hills or marshes, that interfere with mobile warfare. When one of your own Pawns becomes an obstruction to your attack, it often pays to sacrifice the Pawn. A Pawn's value increases as pieces are exchanged off, for when both armies are so reduced that checkmate becomes next to impossible, the major objective becomes the promotion of a Pawn.

  To be a Pawn ahead with otherwise as good a position as your opponents, is usually a winning advantage - theoretically! Although Pawns are usually promoted into a Queen on reaching rank-8, they can be also promoted to any other major piece you choose. In the opening phase the Pawns defend the center of the board and play a static role.  In the endgame phase, when there are few pieces on the board, Pawns help the King to capture pieces or to checkmate your opponent.

  In the middle game Pawns become very active. Their function is to drive away attacks from enemy pieces and move forwards or sacrifice themselves to open attack lines for the Queen, Rooks, and Bishops. Pawns that are in a group can support one another (Pawn islands). Pawns connected in a chain are quite strong. To attack this chain, your opponent would need to attack the base Pawn.

  Passed Pawns are very strong as they can reach rank-8 without coming into contact with enemy Pawns on their own or adjacent ranks. Pawns in enemy territory should ideally be supported by major pieces. Two Pawns placed on the same rank control more cells in front but will need to be supported from behind.  A Pawn on rank-7 can even deliver checkmate. A trailing Pawn should not be left unsupported (backward Pawn) and if advanced is usually captured quite easily.

  Pawns are fixed if they are blocked from moving forward. Isolated Pawns cannot be defended by neighborly Pawns and are easily captured by your opponent. Doubled Pawns are weak as the back Pawn cannot advance until the front Pawn moves forward. Tripled Pawns are even weaker as the back Pawn has to wait for the front two Pawns to advance before it can do so. Hanging Pawns must rely on major pieces for protection and without support are easily eliminated / erased.

  On it's first move, a Pawn may move either one square forwards or two squares forwards.  After its first move it can only move forwards one square at a time. Unlike other pieces, Pawns do not capture in the same way that they move. They capture one square diagonally forwards. You might think a Pawn's not much use but there is one really special thing it can do. If you get a Pawn to the far side of the board you must exchange it for another piece: a Queen, a Rook, a Bishop or a Knight.

En Passant

  There's another special rule to do with Pawns which you'll probably find hard to understand. It's called the en passant rule. If you have a Pawn on your fifth rank, as white does in fig. 1, and your opponent moves a Pawn on the next file two squares, you can, on your next move, capture it as if it had moved one square only as shown in fig. 2.
En passant 1 En passant 2
Fig. 1 Fig. 2

Pawn majorities

  If you have a Pawn majority - say, four Pawns to your opponent's three on one side of the board -, you should be able to create a passed Pawn. By advancing the Pawn, you should be able to create enough pressure to win.

  Steinitz was the first great exploiter of Pawn majorities, particularly on the Queen's side where they can often advance without fear of exposing the King. Some people regard the Queen's side majority as an advantage in itself, but realistically it depends on where and what the other pieces are.

Pawn majority
White has a clear Pawn majority

Stalemate: The game's over but nobody won, what's going on here?

  Stalemate is one of the more confusing concepts to beginners. Stalemate is a case in which neither side wins the game but it is declared a draw. By the laws of Chess, you must play a move when it is your turn. Unlike other games, you are not allowed to pass your move. But what happens if you don't have any legal moves?

  That's where the stalemate rule comes into play. You have no legal moves, but by the laws of Chess, you have to play a move. The position is declared as stalemate and the game is drawn. There are also many more ways (other than stalemate) to draw a game. Draws are explained in much more detail here.

The black King has no safe square to go

Zugzwang: Zug-what?

  Why couldn't they just use English? This one is a German word and it's a little more complicated than a lot of things that you've done so far. The word means 'compulsion to move' and it doesn't happen very often. A zugzwang position is one in which it is your turn to move but any move that you make will make your position worse. The term zugzwang was used in German Chess literature in 1858 or earlier.

  The first known use of the term in English was by world champion Emanuel Lasker in 1905. The concept of zugzwang was known to players many centuries before the term was coined, appearing in an endgame study published in 1604 by Alessandro Salvio, one of the first writers on the game, and in shatranj studies dating back to the early 9th century, over 1000 years before the first known use of the term.

Either player to move, ends up on zugzwang

Pawn Promotion

  The Pawn, not even good enough to be called a piece. They're not very interesting, look kind of boring and they can only move forward. Something had to be done to spice these pieces up. A Pawn, as you know, can only move one square forward at a time. Only forward, no sideways stuff. So, an interesting case came up where when the Pawn reached the 8th rank: it wouldn't be able to move anymore for the rest of the game. How could this be fixed?... with the promotion of a Pawn!

  Those who struggle hard and work their way to the eighth rank get to promote to any piece they like! What a prize! When the game originally began, the Pawn could only promote to a "Mantri" (the predecessor of the Queen), which at the time was the lowest of the officer pieces. It wasn't until they introduced the "new Queen" that the Pawn could promote to anything it liked.

  Now, the threat of Queening is quite a threat indeed: introducing a second Queen to the game could be deadly. By the way, a small tidbit of information for you: the promotion of a Pawn to anything other than a Queen is what is known as under promotion. Why would anyone want to under promote? Well, it depends on the position over the board. If there is a tactic in the position which the player can take advantage of only if he under promotes, then he may choose to do so.

Pawn two squares movement

  Well, someone decided that Pawn promotion was not enough. The game was still too slow and needed to be sped up to provide excitement. Along with the introduction of the "new Queen" as we've been calling it, they introduced a rule, where on the Pawn's first move it is allowed to move up to 2 squares.

  This picked up the speed of the game and made it more interesting. This rule applies to each Pawn, on their first move, not the first move of the game and can be invoked any time you please, but only on the Pawn's first move. You can't take this option after the Pawn has already moved one square.

Movement and capture

  When a Pawn captures, it captures different than the other pieces. Instead of capturing the way it moves, forward, the Pawn captures diagonally forward and it can't capture forward. This makes it a little more interesting and less predictable. When a Pawn makes a non-capturing move, it goes one cell forwards.

  Any Pawn still on its original cell on the second row, can make a non-capturing move forwards of one or of two cells - if it moves two cells, the first cell must be empty. Pawns can only move forwards and can only capture one cell diagonally forwards.

Pawn movement


Pawn capture


Pawns move forward only and they cannot retreat. At the beginning of a game, each Pawn has the option to advance 1 or 2 squares. Afterwards, they can only move one square at a time.


Pawns can capture in a diagonal way only as shown above. The e-4 Pawn cannot move forward because is blocked by the black e-5 Pawn nor he can move to d-5 since it is an illegal move.




Pawn promotion


Above, black Pawn just moved two squares to d-5. This enables the white Pawn to perform the optional en passant move by capturing it and placing himself onto the d-6 square (blue arrow).


When a Pawn reaches the 8th rank, it can be promoted to any desired piece other than King or Pawn. The Queen is chosen as a natural and logic move for it's the most powerful Chess piece.

  Notes: for more information on the usual Chess Pawn, see Chesmayne illustrated rules of Chess or the FIDE laws of Chess.

Pawn, historic remarks

  With slightly different movement rules, the Pawn already appeared in the first variant of Chess, Chaturanga, about one-and-a-half millennium ago in India. At the period in the history of Europe that marked the end of the middle ages and the start of the renaissance, movement of the Pawn was slightly changed: it gained its initial double step, and later en-passant capture, and different promotion rules were added.

  More than any other minor piece, the Pawn is the Chess piece that is used as a metaphore: phrases like "He was just a Pawn in a Chess game" signify someone whose personal interests are sacrificed by others in a pursuit of other goals, referring to the Pawns role in a Chess game.

Pawn graphics

Staunton Pawn P

Pawn symbol

Pawn figurine white

Pawn figurine black
Xiangqi white

Xiangqi black
Symbols Pawn figurines Xiangqi figurines
Shogi figurine Staunton Pawn white                Staunton Pawn black
Staunton Pawn piece Shogi figurine Staunton Pawn Graphics

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