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Marc Cressac; Chess Fact-Checked by Marc Cressac | Updated 2022-06-11
Founder of Chessily.com

How Does The Pawn Move In Chess?

The pawn is the most numerous, but also the weakest piece in chess. Each player is equipped with eight of them, forming the front line of the battle on the board. Reason enough to learn more about the pawns movement and attacking possibilities! So; how does the pawn move (and attack) in chess?

Pawns Move One Square Forwards

The basic movement of the pawn is very easy to understand:

Pawns may move one step forwards in a vertical direction in a given turn. Here is an example of the pawn’s movement:

how the pawn moves in chess
The Regular Pawn Movement

Quite easy, isn’t it? The pawn always moves forward one square, never backwards. However, there are quite a few extra rules and exceptions that complicate the movement of the pawn. Let’s have a look at all of them.

A Pawns First Move

While a pawn can advance one square vertically under normal circumstances, there is one exception to this rule:

The first move of any given pawn can either be one or two squares forwards.

Meaning, you can decide whether you want to advance your pawn just one square, or two, to speed up your development:

how the pawn moves on the first turn in chess
The First Move of Each Pawn Can Be Two Squares Forwards

All following moves by that pawn have to follow the rule from above; allowing just one square forwards in a given turn.

Pawn Promotion

While not exactly a move itself, the pawn promotion is another special feature of the pawn. 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 (you cannot promote your pawn into a second king). Here is an example of a pawn being promoted to a queen, delivering checkmate in the process:

can a pawn take a king - checkmate through promotion
Checkmate Through a Pawn Promotion

If you want to learn more about pawn promotion, check out our full guide on pawn promotion on our website.

How Does The Pawn Attack in Chess?

The pawn is the only chess piece that does not attack the same way it moves:

The pawn attacks one square forward diagonally. Meaning, if you have two pawns standing in front of each other, they cannot capture one another and are essentially blocked from further movement.

In turn, the pawn always attacks the two squares that are diagonnaly in front of him, in both directions. As a result, the pawn is very good at forking other pieces, similar to the knight, but to a lesser degree.

En Passant: The Pawn’s Special Attack

The pawn has one last trick up his sleeve: capturing another pawn en passant. Essentially, this move allows to a pawn to capture another pawn that just moves alongside by advancing two squares (on its first move). This all sounds horribly complicated, so let’s look at an real-life example:

checkmating with en passant
Checkmating by Capturing En Passant

There are three conditions that need to be met, to be able to capture en passant:

  1. Both pawns must occupy the same rank (i. e. stand in line horizontally).
  2. Both pawns must occupy adjacent files (i. e. stand directly beside each other).
  3. The enemy pawn moved two squares on the previous move.

See if you can spot all those in the animation above!

Once all these three requirements are met, you are allowed to capture the enemy pawn en passant. However, this special move is only allowed on the turn immediately after the enemy pawn’s two-square advance. Meaning, you lose your right to capture en passant if you do not immediately exercise it!

Limits To The Pawn’s Movement

As with all other chess pieces, the pawn does face some restrictions in what it can do when moving across the chess board. Let’s look at all of them together! This section is split up into restrictions for all chess pieces, as well as ones specifically for the pawn.

Moves Chess Pieces Can’t Do In General:

  • Pawns are not allowed to move “half squares”. The pawn always has to move in full squares along the chess board. Meaning, he can’t stop in-between two squares or move “1.5 squares”. A pawn move is complete once it is placed on one of the 64 squares of the chess board.
  • Pawns are not permitted to share squares. You are not allowed to place two pieces onto one square in chess. For example, as pawn cannot share a square together with a king. This goes for both friendly and enemy pieces.

Moves The Pawns in Particular Can’t Do:

  • The pawn can only move vertically and diagonally while capturing. The pawn is only allowed to move vertically (or forwards), or diagonally when capturing another piece. He is not allowed to move sideways in any capacity.
  • Pawns cannot move backwards. Similiarly, the pawn is never allowed to move backwards. Once you advance a pawn by one square, he will never return to that square.
  • Pawns are not able to jump over other pieces. With the knight being the only piece that can jump over other pieces, it should come as no surprise, that the pawn is also not allowed to jump over other pieces.
  • The pawn can’t move more than two squares (ever). The last restriction the pawn faces is in the amount of squares in can advance in one turn. The maximum amount of spaces the pawn can move is two, on his first move. After that, the pawn always advances just one square at a time.

Read More About the Pawn in Chess

Read More About Pawn Promotion

Read More About En Passant

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