22 Interesting Chess Pawn Rules and Popular Myths

By Gary Flores •  Updated: 02/26/21 •  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;

Chess pieces names, functions, equi...
Chess pieces names, functions, equipments & more