Can a Pawn Take a King in Chess?

If you’re new to the game of chess, you might ask yourself whether it is possible for a pawn to kill (or take) a king. The answer depends on your definition of the term taking (or killing).  So let’s do a deep-dive on whether a pawn can kill a king in chess!

Can a Pawn Capture a King in Chess?

First of all, we need to answer the question of whether the king could even be captured at all. The answer is very clear: no! The king can only be attacked (i.e. checked) and thus checkmated. There is no way for any piece to completely remove the king from the chess board.

In turn, it is not possible for the pawn to take the king in chess! 

Why Can’t The King Be Captured by a Pawn?

As we learned, it is not possible for a pawn to capture a king. But why is that?

Well, the king is a bit of a special piece in chess. The main goal of chess to checkmate the enemy king. A checkmate is a condition in which is the king is attacked directly, and has no legal moves left to make. A direct attack on the king (also known as checking the king) requires immediate defending, either by

  • Capturing the attacking piece,
  • Moving the king out of check, or
  • Blocking the attack with a piece.

So, once a king is attacked, the check needs to be defended immediately, which is why it is not even possible for a pawn to capture a king. If the attacked king is not defendable, the game ends in a checkmate, also making it impossible for the king to be taken.

If, however, your definition of “killing” the king is to checkmate him, the answer to our question looks different. Let’s investigate further.

Can a Pawn Checkmate a King in Chess?

Now that we’ve established that a pawn cannot take the king, you might ask yourself whether a pawn can checkmate a king in chess. The answer to that; yes, with some help! In fact, the only piece that cannot deliver a checkmate is the king itself.

A pawn on its own is not enough to checkmate an enemy king. Thus, it is also impossible to force a checkmate with only a king and the pawn itself. That said, there are two different possibilities for checkmating a king with a pawn:

  1. Pawn promotion: A pawn can promote itself into another piece, which can then deliver a checkmate.
  2. Checkmating with the help of other pieces: While a pawn on its own is not enough to checkmate a king, it is possible for a pawn to deliver a checkmate with the help of other people.

Let’s look at both possibilities in detail next.

Three Ways a Pawn End a Chess Game

There are a few possibilities as to how a pawn can end a game of chess. We’ll investigate and explain three of them.

Checkmating with a Pawn

As we learned, the pawn is actually capable of checkmating an enemy king with some help from its own pieces. Here is an example of a pawn checkmating and killing the black king:

can a pawn capture a king - checkmating with a pawn
Checkmating and Killing a King With a Pawn

While knight and king control all the squares around the black king, the g-pawn delivers the final blow: a check on g7. Since the black king has no squares to escape to, he is checkmated and the game is lost for Black.

Checkmating Through Pawn Promotion

As you probably know, the pawn has a special move it can perform, when reaching the other side of the board: pawn promotion. In case you don’t want to read up on the full details, here is a quick summary for you.

Whenever a pawn reaches the other side of the board, it is immediately exchanged for either a queen, rook, bishop, or knight of the same color. While you can choose which piece the pawn gets promoted to, it is not allowed to stay on the board as a pawn. Usually, the best choice is to exchange the pawn for a queen.

So, with that knowledge, let’s look at how a checkmate by pawn promotion could look like:

can a pawn take a king - checkmate through promotion
Checkmating a King With a Promoting Pawn

The c-pawn advances to the enemy back rank, thus allowing a pawn promotion. White chooses to queen his pawn on the c8 square, instantly checking the black king. Since the black king has no legal moves left, he is officially checkmated.

Stalemate

Finally, there is a third way a pawn can end a chess game. However, this time it is not a checkmate, but rather a stalemate. Stalemates often happen in king-pawn-endgames, as their outcome depends on the position of the enemy king when going into the endgame. Those types of endgames are usually easily converted into a win, or are clearly drawn. If the black king has time to place itself in front of the white pawn, the game will almost certainly end in a stalemate, if a draw is not agreed upon before:

can a pawn kill a king - stalemate
Stalemate in a King-Pawn-Endgame

The black king has no legal squares left, yet is not directly attacked (i. e. in check). In turn, the game ends in a draw.

Read More About the Pawn

Read More About the King

Read More About Pawn Promotion