There are move movement rules for pawns than any other piece. So it’s no wonder that many beginners get confused with this deviously simple looking piece.
Pawns are allowed to capture pieces on their first move, provided that one of your opponent’s pieces to close enough.
However, on the first move of the game it’s impossible for a pawn to capture anything, because your opponent’s pieces will be too far away.
Let’s take a look at how to move a pawn and when you are and aren’t allowed to capture with it.
How do pawns move
Pawns can move one square forward as long as they are not blocked by other pieces. But under no circumstances are pawns allowed to move backwards.
White’s pawns move from the 2nd rank to the 8th rank, whereas black’s pawns move from the 7th rank to the 1st rank.
However, if another piece is in front of the pawn, your pawn is blacked and can’t move any further.
Below, you can see a position in which both white and black have 3 pawns, and how each pawn can move forward.
However, if you move a pawn for the first time, you can move it either 1 space or 2 spaces forwards, as long as there is nothing blocking the pawn.
Phrased slightly differently: white pawns on the 2nd rank or black pawns on the 7th rank can move either 1 or 2 squares forward.
Let’s take a closer look at this special pawn rule with the example position below.
In this position, the white pawn on a2 didn’t move yet. So this pawn can move either 1 space to a3 or 2 spaces to a4.
The pawns on c2 and e2 also didn’t move yet. In principle, they should be able to move either 1 or 2 spaces forwards.
However, c4 is blocked by one of black’s pieces and e4 is blocked by your own king. So both the c2 and e2 pawns can only move 1 square forwards in this example.
Finally, the pawn on g4 can only move 1 square forwards because it’s no longer the first move with this pawn. (The g pawn started on g2 and moved to g4 earlier this game).
For more information, you can also read my article on how the pawn moves in chess.
How do pawns capture
Although pawns move forward, they can’t capture pieces directly in front of them. They can only capture one square diagonally forwards.
This means that pawns are the only piece on the chess board for which the movement rules and capture rules are different.
In the diagram below, you can see how the white pawn on c4 can capture the black pawn diagonally on b5, but can’t move forwards because it’s blocked by the bishop.
Whereas, the white pawn on f3 can either move forward to f4 or capture the black rook on g4. Keep in mind that capture is not mandatory in chess.
After the white pawn on f3 captures the black rook, the position will look as follows:
Note that when the pawn captures a piece, the pawn itself will also move diagonally forwards and not directly forwards!
Now the pawn that was originally on the f file will be on the g file for the rest of the game, until it can capture diagonally again.
Taking “en passant”
There is a special pawn move in chess called taking “en passant”. This is french for taking in passing.
This rule states that if white has a pawn on the 5th rank, and an adjacent pawn from black moves two squares from the 7th rank to the 5th rank, you have the option to capture it as if it only moved 1 square.
Similarly, if black has a pawn on the 4th rank and white moves an adjacent pawn two squares to the 4th rank, black could take this pawn as if it only moved 1 square.
This rule seems a little strange at first. So let’s look at an example. In the diagram below, white’s pawn is on the 5th rank and black decides to move his pawn two squares from e7 to e5.
Now the two pawn are directly next to each other. Normally, you wouldn’t be able to capture black’s pawn with your own.
However, thanks to the en passant rule, you have the option to capture black’s pawn, as shown in the two diagrams below.
However, there is a very important caveat here!
You can only capture en passant directly the next move after your opponent moves his pawn two squares. If you want to play a different move first, you won’t be able to take en passant in the future.
The en passant rule exists because in the original chess game, pawns could only move 1 square at a time. The rule that pawns can move two squares on their first move was added later to speed up the game.
However, this would mean that in some cases you would no longer have the option to capture your opponent’s pawn with your own pawn. Thus, the en passant rule was introduced.
It’s important not to confuse taking en passant with creating “passed pawns”. These are unrelated concepts.
You can read my article on passed pawns for more information.
Can a pawn capture on the first move?
A pawn can capture on its first move if one of the opponent’s pieces is close enough. However, the pawn can also move forwards one or two squares if you don’t want to capture.
For example, in the diagram below, it’s white’s turn and the pawn on d2 hasn’t moved yet since the beginning of the game.
White can capture the rook on c3, move the pawn one square forwards to d3, or move the pawn two squares forwards to d4.
But keep in mind, that although a pawn can move two squares forwards on the first move, it can’t capture two squares forwards on the first move.
So the white pawn can’t capture the black bishop on e4 or knight on f4.
Can a pawn move forward without capturing?
Since capture is not mandatory in chess, you can always opt to move your pawn forward without capturing, as long as your pawn is not blocked by another piece.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a pawn’s first move or if it has already moved before.
But you can’t move a pawn diagonally forward without capturing.
In the first position below, you can see how the white pawn can capture diagonally, move one square forward, or move two squares forward.
And in the second diagram, you can see how the white pawn on f3 can capture diagonally or move one square forward.
Of course, if you don’t want to capture or move your pawn, you can always move a different piece. But skipping a move is not allowed.
When can a pawn not capture?
You are not allowed to capture a piece with a pawn if that would expose your king to a check. Because you are never allowed to put your own king in danger.
If you are familiar with chess tactics, you know that this is referred to as an “absolute pin”.
In the position below, the white pawn isn’t allowed to capture the black rook or move forward, because that would expose the white king to a check by the black bishop on h7.
In the second example below, the white pawn is also not allowed to capture the bishop because this would leave the white king in check. However, the white pawn is allowed to move forwards.
Can a pawn take a piece in front of it?
Pawns can only capture diagonally and are not allowed to capture pieces in front of it.
This means that once a pawn is blocked by one of your opponent’s pieces, you’ll have to drive away or capture that piece, before you can push your pawn forward again.
This sounds like a bit of a strange rule, but a game of chess would probably just be a game of captures if pawns could capture forwards as well.
The fact that pawns can’t capture other pawns directly in front of them often leads to static pawn structures. And pawn structures are one of the most interesting and important strategic concepts in chess.
Pawns can capture diagonally forward, regardless if it’s the pawn’s first move or not. But pawns can’t capture pieces directly paced in front of them.
The only time when a pawn isn’t allowed to capture, is if doing so would expose their own king to a check.
However, chess is not checkers. So captures are not mandatory. If you don’t want to capture a piece with a pawn, you are also allowed to move that pawn forward, or move any other piece.