What happens when a pawn reaches the other side?

By Gary Flores •  Last Updated: 5 months ago •  6 min read

Need help about what to do when your pawn reaches the other end of the chess board?

That other side is the 8th rank of the chess board, also referred to as the back rank where all the pieces besides the pawn are placed from the start of the game.

I do suggest you read an article I wrote about chess pawn rules.

If you have watched chess games that seem to have excess chess pieces of one type, you might want to learn how it is done.

In this article, we are going to learn what happens when your pawn reaches the other side.

What happens when a pawn reaches the other side?

So, what do you think happens with Pawn?

When a Pawn reaches the other side of the board, it has to be replaced with a piece of the same color that is not a Pawn or a King. This process takes place in the same move and is called pawn promotion. A Pawn can be promoted to a Rook, Knight, Bishop, or a Queen. Usually, the piece involved in the promotion is already captured. 

Also read how to learn how to play chess online.

However,in informal chess games, if such a piece is unavailable, a stand-in piece (coin, token, or other agreed-upon objects) can be used. For example, if the player's Queen is already on the board, a formerly captured upside-down Rook can be used as the player's second Queen.

The process of replacing a Pawn with a Rook, Knight, or Bishop is called Underpromotion.

Underpromotion is a rare move, particularly in tournaments, because the pieces involved — when compared to a Queen — have more limited moving potential. The process of replacing a Pawn with a Queen is called Queening. Queening allows the most moving possibility for the promoted piece and is the more common move. 

You may also be interested in learning if you can have more than one Queen here.

After the promotion, the new piece has all the potential moving capabilities of the selected piece (Rook, Knight, Bishop, or Queen) in all available directions. However, the player's move ends directly after the promotion, and it is now the other player's turn.

Underpromotion can happen with pawn on the other side

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As stated before, Underpromotion is a relatively rare move as the Queen has more moving potential as Rooks, Knights, or Bishops. 

There are scenarios, though, when Underpromotion makes sense. If you are trying to avoid a stalemate by promoting your Pawn to a Queen, for example, choosing a Bishop or a Rook will help you. A player's Queen holding the opposing King in check might have to be ready to provide a defense to a newly promoted Pawn. 

This leaves the Queen open to attack by the opposing Queen. Should the Pawn be made into a second Queen, the first Queen has to leave its defensive post. Without holding the King in check, this can result in a potential stalemate.  

However, this is not the case if the Pawn is promoted to a Bishop. The promoted Bishop has renewed angles of attack and defense and can harass the opposing Queen. At the same time, the opposing King can be challenged. If positioned correctly, the Bishop can survive the opposing Queen and work collaboratively with the King and Queen already on the board, resulting in a checkmate.

This is what happened in a match between Aron Reshko and Oleg Kaminsky in the 1972 Leningrad Championships.

The second scenario you may want to use Underpromotion is to use the Knight's unique capabilities. A Knight can jump over other pieces and provide offensive and defensive holding moves.

In a 2009 4th FIDE (Federation Internationale des Echecs, International Federation of Chess) Grand Prix match between Vladimir Akopian and Sergey Karjakin, the White King was subject to check. 

Had the White Pawn been promoted to a second Queen, the Queen would not have been able to defend the White King adequately. Such a scenario would have resulted in a Black win. But promoting the White Pawn to a Knight allowed for a defensive endgame, resulting in a checkmate for the Black King.

Pawn Queening on the other side of the board

Queening is the promotion of a Pawn to a Queen. If there is more than one Pawn that makes it to the other side of the board, there can be more than one promotion resulting in a Queen. There is no limit to the number of Queens (or other promotion-ready pieces) you can have on the board. 

So long as the Pawns make it safely to the other side, those Pawns can be promoted. Queens have the widest potential for moving on the board.

It is a likely event that you will Queen a Pawn (in fact, the word “Queening,” for some, is synonymous with “promotion”). Even if you choose another type of promotion, make sure you move your Pawn ultimately to the square you intend to before promoting it. 

Replacing your Pawn one square away, or not moving it entirely to the other side of the board, is an illegal move. There have been arbiters that have declared these moves illegal in tournaments, so make sure you, your opponent, and the arbiter come to an understanding about the rules of promotion. Finally, make sure you stop the clock (if you are using one) to promote a piece.

Wrapping Up

So, what percentage do you think Pawns are more likely to be promoted? 

A 1977 study addresses this. This was a study of 89 Queenings (i.e., promotions) witnessed in a total of 70 games over fourteen chess competitions between 1867 and 1970. It turns out that the King and Queen Rook Pawns were the most likely to be promoted, at 34 percent. The next likely was the Knight Pawns at 25 percent. Finally, the King and King Bishop Pawns were the least likely, at about 18 percent each. 

Although this is from a specific sample of a limited number of tournament games, these statistics could still be useful. A player wanting to build offensive or defensive strategies around these promotion statistics may find them beneficial.

The same study found that Queenings (promotions) took place in about 5.5% of the matches played. Also, the side that promoted their Pawns first usually won the game. 

So, in a way, a short answer to the question, “What happens when a Pawn reaches the other side?” could be “the player who uses and promotes their Pawn wins the game.” 

However, it should be noted that this is not always the case. Two of the games resulted in the promoting side losing, while 13 out of the 70 “promotion” games ended in a stalemate. 

These are all things to consider before, and after, a Pawn reaches the other side. But for all purposes, the Pawn gets promoted.    

Related article: Can a promoted pawn be taken immediately?

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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