How Do Pawns Move In chess?

You start every chess game with a total of 8 pawns. And although a single pawn might seem rather weak, together all the pawns have a huge impact on the game.

So making the most of your pawns is crucial for winning the game.

At first glance, the rules around moving pawns seem pretty simple. But there are actually quite a few special rules and exceptions to the rules that you won’t find with any other chess pieces.

Let’s take a look at how to move pawns and all the related rules you need to know.

Pawn moves in chess

Pawns in chess can move one square forward 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. However, if another piece is in front of the pawn, you can’t move it 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, there is an exception to this rule!

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. 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).

Can pawns move backwards?

No, unlike the other chess pieces, pawns can’t move or capture backwards. This means you carefully have to consider every pawn move you make, because you will never be able to take it back.

Every time you move a pawn forward, you are gaining control over new squares and losing control over old squares.

So every pawn move is a double-edged sword!

Moving a lonely pawn too far down the board without any support will make it an easy target to attack for your opponent.

Also read my article on which chess pieces can move backwards.

Can pawns move sideways?

No, pawns can only move forwards and cannot move sideways under any circumstances.

Can pawns move diagonally?

Pawns can only move forwards, so they can’t move diagonally. However, pawns can capture diagonally. I’ll go over pawn captures later in this article.

For more information, you this article on all pieces that can move diagonally.

Can a pawn move past or jump over another pawn?

No, when a pawn or other piece is in front of your pawn, you can’t move your pawn forward anymore or capture that piece with your pawn.

In most games of chess, your pawns will come face to face with your opponent’s pawns. In this case, neither player can move their pawns.

In the diagram below, both white and black can’t move any of their pawns because they are all blocked by pieces. You’ll have to capture or chase away the piece in front of your pawns first.

Since these blocked pawns often stay on the same squares for most of the game, they have a big impact on the rest of the game. These fixed pawns are also referred to as the “pawn structure”.

Several openings can share similar pawn structures. So learning the pros and cons of each pawn structure and how to play around them will help you improve your chess a lot!

How do pawns capture in chess?

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.

Can a pawn capture on its first move?

Yes, 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 more information and examples, you can read my article on pawn captures.

Special pawn move in chess

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.

Do you have to take en passant?

No, just like all other captures in chess, taking a piece en passant is not mandatory. However, you can only take en passant directly after your opponent moved his/her pawn two squares. So if you decide not to take en passant immediately, you don’t have the option to do it on a later move.

What happens when a pawn reaches the other side?

When a pawn reaches the other side of the board, it can promote to a stronger piece. This means that you can replace the pawn with a knight, bishop, rook, or queen.

And yes, a pawn can be promoted to a second queen. But you can’t promote to a second king.

So pawn promotion occurs when either a white pawn reaches the 8th rank, or a black pawn reaches the 1st rank.

Normally you want to promote the pawn to a queen, because the queen is the strongest piece on the board.

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.

However, in some cases you might want to promote to a knight, bishop, or rook to prevent stalemate. This is a more advanced concept that will deserve a more in depth article.

Keep in mind that you have to promote your pawn. You can’t let your pawn stay a pawn when it reaches the opposite side.

For more information, you can read my article on promotion and underpromotion.

Frequently asked questions

You now know how the pawn moves in chess. However, after reading the explanation, you might still have a few questions. Or some of the rules might not be clear to you.

So here are some of the most common questions I get about pawn moves.

When can a pawn move diagonally?

The only time a pawn can move diagonally is when it captures an opponent’s piece. However, you can only capture pieces 1 square diagonally forwards, not backwards.

Can all pawns move 2 spaces?

Yes, all pawns can move 2 spaces forwards, but only the first time you move that pawn and if nothing is blocking your pawn. After that, the pawns can only move 1 space at a time.

Can a pawn take a king?

No piece in chess is able to take a king, because the game would end in checkmate before you have the option to take the king. However, you can use a pawn to give checkmate to the opponent’s king.

If you threaten to take the opponent’s king, he/she has to move the king to safety immediately.

For more information, read my article on how the king moves in chess.

Can a pawn take a queen?

Yes, a pawn can take the opponent’s queen. However, it’s not very common for a pawn to capture a queen outright on its own.

The queen has a lot of mobility, while the pawn can only move forward one step at a time. So it’s easy for the queen to escape an attack by a pawn.

For more information, you can read my article on how the queen moves in chess.

You’ll have to use your pawns together with your other pieces to capture the opponent’s queen.

Can a pawn take a rook?

Yes, the pawn can take a rook if it is close enough. However, it’s not very common for a pawn to capture a rook on its own, since the rook can easily run away from an attack by a pawn.

For more information, you can read my article on how rooks move in chess.

You’ll have to use your pawns together with your other pieces to capture the opponent’s rook.

Can a pawn take a bishop?

Yes, the pawn is able to take a bishop. This can happen when the bishop is close to the edge of the board and no longer has any retreat squares.

Keep in mind that both pawns and bishops capture diagonally. So if your pawn is able to capture a bishop, the bishop is also able to capture your pawn.

If you aren’t familiar with bishops, you can read my article on how bishops move and capture.

However, in most cases you’ll have to use your pawns in combination with your pieces to capture the opponent’s bishops.

Can a pawn take a knight?

Yes, a pawn is able to take a knight if it’s not too far away. However, keep in mind that knights can jump over your pawns. You’ll have to take away all the squares a knight can jump to with your other pawns and pieces.

This is most likely to happen with a knight on the edge of the board, because the knight can move to fewer squares from there. For more information, you can read my article on how the knight moves in chess.

Can a pawn attack backwards?

No, a pawn can only move and capture forwards. So a pawn can never attack a piece that is besides or behind it.

Yes, taking en passant is a completely legal move that many beginners and grandmasters alike use frequently.

But keep in mind that you can only take en passant on the next turn. Taking en passant two or more turns after your opponent moved his pawn two squares is not a legal move.

Can a pawn move diagonally without capturing?

No, pawns can only move diagonally when capturing an opponent’s piece. In all other cases, a pawn can only move forwards.

Can a pawn capture forward?

A pawn can only capture pieces diagonally forwards and not linearly forwards. This means if a piece is placed directly in front of your pawn, you can’t capture it with that pawn.