Most pieces in chess can move and capture both forwards and backwards. But pawns are an exception to this rule.
Pawns can only move and capture forwards and are not allowed to move or capture backwards.
This makes the pawn one of the most interesting pieces on the chessboard. Because you can never undo or retake a pawn move.
Let’s take a closer look at how the pawns move and capture in chess.
How the pawn moves
Pawns can move forwards one square at a time as long as they are not blocked by other pieces. 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.
Below, you can see a position in which both white and black have 3 pawns, and how each pawn can move forward.
However, there is an exception to this rule!
If you move a certain pawn for the first time, you can move it either 1 or 2 spaces forward, as long as there is nothing blocking the pawn.
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. So 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).
If you want to see more examples of how the pawn moves, you can read this article.
Can a pawn move backwards once it reaches the other side?
Since pawns can only move forwards, you might logically expect that the pawn can no longer move once it reaches the other side of the board.
But as soon as a pawn reaches the final row, it promotes into a stronger piece. Meaning you can replace the pawn with either a queen, rook, bishop, or knight.
In the two diagrams below, you can see how white’s pawn reaches the opposite side of the board, and the pawn promotes into a queen.
Your pawn isn’t allowed to stay a pawn when it reaches the other side.
So your pawn can’t move backwards once it reaches the other side, because it promotes into another piece. And other pieces can move backwards.
If you want to know more about pawn promotion, you can read this article.
How the pawn captures
Pawns 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.
Besides the standard capture, the pawn also has a special en passant capture. You can learn more about this special move in this article.
Can a pawn capture diagonally backwards?
Similar to how a pawn can’t move backwards, pawns can also not capture (diagonally) backwards.
Since pawns can’t attack any pieces placed behind it, you always have to carefully consider if you really want to move a pawn forwards or not.
Moving pawns forward gives you control over new squares, but can also leave squares on your side of the board unprotected and vulnerable.
What chess pieces can you move backwards?
The pawn is the only chess piece that can’t move or capture backwards. So queens, rooks, bishops, knights, and the king can all move and capture backwards.
In general, you want to move your pieces forward to attack your opponent. But sometimes you notice that one of your pieces is placed on a bad square, and you want to move it to a better location.
In that case, moving one of your pieces temporarily backwards can be a good idea.
For example, in the position below you can see that the white bishop on b2 is blocked by the enemy’s pawn chain. It’s basically looking at a concrete wall.
By moving the bishop backwards to c1, you’ll be able to move it to the other side of the board on your next turn, where it will be much more impactful during the rest of the game.
Pawns are the only pieces on the chessboard that are not able to move or capture backwards. All other pieces can move and capture backwards freely.
This means that pawn moves are permanent and can’t be undone by moving them back later.
So make sure that by moving your pawns forward you are improving your position, and not creating weaknesses for yourself.