22 Interesting Chess Pawn Rules and Popular Myths

By Gary Flores •  Last Updated: 5 months ago •  12 min read

Pawns move in two ways, single square forward or two squares forward from their initial position. Pawns can't move backward, but they capture diagonally, even with a special capturing move called “En passant” a French term meaning “in passing.” Pawns can't jump over and can't move forward in an occupied square.

The pawn is easily one of the most overlooked pieces in the game of chess. Many players choose to concentrate on learning about how to use other pieces first, but this often ends up hindering their overall chess game. 

Pawns are pretty much the building blocks of chess. They can be used for offense or defense, depending on the position. The pawn is also the most powerful piece when used correctly.

Knowledge of pawn rules can help you defend your pieces from capture and push your way to victory. Let's take a look at 22 interesting pawn rules in chess and popular myths that you should know!

1. Chess pawn position

The pawns are the easiest to set up on the board; initially, chess pawns are positioned one square in front of other chess pieces (rook, knight, bishop, queen, and king). To be exact, the white pawns are located on the second rank, while the black pawns are positioned on the seventh rank.

New chess players who are just starting to learn how to play chess can follow the pawn setup below;

pawns chess
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2. Chess pawn moves

How does a pawn move? A pawn moves by advancing one square, but pawns can also move two squares from their starting position. This happens typically at the very beginning of the game or opening game. King's pawn opening is one of the examples where pawns move two squares forward.

Check the image below of King's opening;

kings pawn opening

It would be best to keep in mind that pawns can start with an opening game by moving one square. French defense opening is one of the examples of this where pawns start with advancing one square.

Check the image below of the French defense;

french defense

Watch the video below on how to move the pawns;

Although pawns move two squares at the initial starting position, they cannot jump over any piece or capture any piece by moving forward, and they can never move backward. Pawn capture is different, though…

Pawn capture and special pawn move

In general, pawns capture by moving diagonally rather than forward – pawns do not capture by moving directly in front of the chess square. Pawn has a special pawn capture move in which it takes a pawn but does not occupy the square of the captured piece.

The special pawn capture move is what you call “En Passant” or “In Passing”…

This special pawn capture needs to occur immediately, and it cannot be used after you make a different move except the “En Passant” move!

Read related article where I've answered questions about en passant in chess.

Important: It is a special pawn capture that can only occur immediately after a pawn makes a move of two squares from its starting square, and a pawn adjacent to it will have the advantage to capture it.

Check out the image below on how “En Passant” works;

en passant

Watch the videos below to understand;

3. How do you identify pawns on a chessboard using notations?

It's easy to identify other chess pieces like a rook, bishop, king, and queen when reading chess notations – knights and pawns are a little bit different. When you see R, it means the rook, B for bishop, K for the king, and Q for Queen. However, knights are notated as N, and pawns are identified by their corresponding letters on the board.

Pawn notations are like this, if your pawn is positioned in the “a file,” they can be written as a2 because it is on the second rank – a for the file and 2 for the rank. Now, when the pawn captures another piece, it then takes the letter of the file and corresponding number on the board.

Here is an example of a pawn notation;

pawn notation
1. e4 e5

4. Can you castle after moving pawns?

Even if you move your pawns anywhere on the board, you can still make the castling move as long as two main pieces of the castling move have not been moved – they are the King and Rook. Pawns are not part of the actual castling move, and they are not involved either on the kingside or the queenside.

5. Do you need three pawns to castle?

Three pawns are not needed to perform castling. Only a King and Rook that are on the corner of the board are used to perform castling, either kingside castling or queenside castling. Both of them should still be in their initial position.

Read a related article or check out more information in the video below;

6. Can a pawn capture on its first move?

Can any of the pawns on the board capture on its first move? No, not all pawns can capture on its first move, especially the pawns on d and e, but pawns on a, b, c, and f, g, h can capture on its first move. It's because the very first move of a game normally e4, or d4 pawn, can not capture on its first move.

Can a pawn attack on its first move? 

If the very first move of a game is a pawn to e4, it does position itself to attack the center of the board, which means yes, pawns can attack its very first move. 

Let's be clear that pawns can kill, take or capture on their very first move but not the first pawn move of the entire duration of the game.

Always remember that the pawn captures an opponent's chess piece by moving one space diagonally forward. It is the only piece that does not take a piece the same way as it moves and does not move backward or does not capture backward!

7. Can pawn checkmate King?

Can a pawn checkmate a King? Yes, a pawn can checkmate a king, and any chess piece on the board can perform a checkmate. A king cannot be taken, so it only means that a square is being protected or attacked, which means the king cannot move into that square; it can be by a pawn.

8. Pawn stalemate

Stalemate often happens during the endgame, and the most usual setup is a king and pawn stalemate. You need to be very careful during the endgame, especially if you are winning!

I've experienced this several times, and it is very frustrating; you need to practice king and pawn endgames; here are some examples of pawn stalemate you should study and learn;

9. Pawn strategy

Pawn strategy is how you effectively use the pawn's structure to win a chess piece, gain an advantage or ultimately win the game. If you implement and fully understand pawn formations, you will most likely overwhelm your opponent, especially if they don't know all about pawn strategies.

Pawns are the backbone of chess. You always need to keep an eye on your pawn structure and how it can be used to create a powerful attack or defense. The following strategy will help you understand how pawns work in various positions so that you can use them as part of your game plan!

10. Pawn Endgame

Pawn endgames are usually easier to master than the rest of the endgame. This is because many positions frequently occur in practical games, and beginners can improve their skills by learning how to handle them well. 

11. Pawns can kill a King

In chess, a king can be killed by a pawn, which is often overlooked by newcomers. Many new chess players are surprised when they learn that a pawn can kill the king. This is something that experienced players know and understand from the beginning, but it's not always obvious to beginners. 

Pawns can kill or checkmate a king in two ways;

You should keep in mind, though, that a lone pawn cannot checkmate a King, just like other pieces.

12. Pawns cannot take a Queen

Can pawns Take a queen? Yes, during exchanges, a single pawn or two pawns can capture a queen. In order to do that, you should have already planned the attack, and also, you should have set up a trap for the queen. Your pawn should be one square diagonally forward to an opponent's queen to be able to make a capture.

13. Pawns can attack forward

Do pawns attack forward? Yes, a pawn can be advanced to the third or fourth rank to attack the enemy pieces directly. Pawns move forward and capture diagonally; pawns cannot move or attack backward. If any piece is in front of a pawn, that means the pawn cannot move forward because it is being blocked.

14. Pawns can move two squares forward

When a pawn starts from its initial position, it can move two squares forward, but pawns normally move one square forward. After moving two squares forward from the starting point, pawns will have to move one square forward.

15. Pawns can move backward

Does the pawn move or attack backward? No, pawns can only move forward and attack or capture diagonally. It is the only chess piece that moves and captures differently.

16. Pawns can move diagonally

Can pawn chess pieces move diagonally? A pawn can move diagonally only if it captures, takes, or moves to the space of an opponent's chess piece. For instance, you could make a special capture called En Passant by moving diagonally and capturing an adjacent opponent piece.

17. Pawns can jump over other chess pieces

Can pawns jump over other chess pieces? No, pawns do not or cannot jump over other chess pieces except they can move or capture diagonally. The only chess piece that can jump over other chess pieces is the knight.

It's important to remember that pawns cannot jump over pieces, the only chess piece that can jump and capture a piece is a knight.

18. Pawn En Passant move can be used anytime you wish

Can we use the “En Passant” move anytime you wish? You can use the “En Passant” move immediately after it occurs. The En Passant move is one of the moves you can do with your pawns, but it has to happen at the right time.

19. Pawn En Passant move should be used once

Is the pawn “En Passant” move can only be used once? No, you can use the “En Passant” move many times if it occurs during a game immediately! The pawn “En Passant” move should be used whenever it is legal to do so and should be done immediately after it occurs.

20. Pawns can become a King

Can pawns become king in chess? The answer is no; the rule being considered is the pawn promotion rules. A chess promotion is a rule that requires a pawn that reaches the eighth rank to be replaced by the player's choice of a bishop, knight, rook, or queen of the same color. The piece chosen cannot be another king nor another pawn.

21. Pawns can be promoted with an inverted Rook

Can you promote a pawn to an inverted rook? It is illegal to promote a pawn to an inverted rook, and the arbiter should decide if this is allowed, especially if there is no available queen or piece for changing the pawn.

Related article: A helpful guide to pawn promotion

The rules for the game are very specific on what pieces you can promote a pawn into. You're allowed to promote them to queens, rooks, bishops, or knights of the same color regardless of how many pieces there are left on the board.

If a queen isn't available, then time is stopped, and an arbiter gets summoned in order to find one!

22. Promoted pawns cannot be captured immediately

Can a promoted pawn be taken immediately? Yes, a promoted pawn can be taken immediately. I have done this many times, especially during the endgame where my opponent is going to promote his pawn to a queen; my rook is ready to capture the promoted pawn immediately.

Do not forget this important reminder when your pawn moves to the other side you should be ready with the piece that you're going to use for the promotion. Also check article about pawn moves in chess.

Wrapping Up

Now that you are familiar with several useful pawn rules and some popular myths, it's time to start playing chess! 🙂

Hopefully, this article gave you the much-needed confidence to improve your pawn rules knowledge and help you turn into a better chess player. Think of this as a guide that you can easily refer to anytime you have questions or have some doubts during a game and it involves pawns.

This guide will be updated from time to time, so I suggest you bookmark this page!

You can always test your knowledge by playing online here! Enjoy learning pawn rules! 🙂

Gary Flores

Gary is a chess enthusiast and has three children who also enjoy learning the game. He is a co-author of the "Chess Fundamentals" digital interactive book a ChessDelights Edition. He founded ChessDelights.com in order to brush up on his understanding of this tactic and strategy game. He also enjoys encouraging those who are learning, re-learning, or instructing their children in the game of chess.
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