What Chess Pieces Can Move Backwards?

Each type of chess piece moves differently. Some pieces can move only one square at a time, some can only move diagonally, and some can jump over other pieces.

However, one of the most frequent questions I get is whether chess pieces can move backwards.

All the chess pieces can move backwards, except for the pawns. Pawns can only move and capture forwards. When moving a piece backwards, you are allowed to place it on the same square it came from the previous turn.

Let’s take a look at how each of the chess pieces can move backwards.

Can knights move backwards?

The knight can move forwards and backwards, as long as it adheres to its unique L-shaped movement pattern. Since knights can jump over other pieces, they can retreat from almost any dangerous position.

Below, you can see how the knight moves:

However, knights are much stronger and more valuable when placed in the center of the board compared to edges of the board. So you don’t want to move your knights backwards unless you have a good reason to.

Can bishops move backwards?

The bishop can move diagonally both forwards and backwards. Since bishops can move as many squares as they like, they can move from the opponent’s side of the board all the way back to your side in just a single move.

Below, you can see how a bishop moves:

Can a rook move backwards?

Rooks can move forwards, backwards and sideways for as many squares as they like. So a rook can easily move backwards from the 8th rank all the way to the 1st rank of the board.

Below, you can see how a rook moves:

Can a queen move backwards?

The queen is the most mobile piece on the board and can easily move both forwards and backwards. This means that the can quickly move in for the attack, and then move backwards to the safety of your other pieces.

Below, you can see how a queen moves:

Can a king move backwards?

The king can move forwards and backwards in any direction, but only by one square at a time. Additionally, you can not move your king backwards if that would move your king into a check.

Below, you can see how the king moves:

Can pawns move backwards?

Pawns cannot move backwards, unlike the other chess pieces. Pawns are normally limited to moving forwards a single square at a time. However, the first time moving a pawn, you can choose to move it either one or two squares forwards.

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.

Additionally, pawns can also only capture diagonally forwards. Pawns cannot capture backwards in any scenario.

Below, you can see how the pawns move and capture:

Which pieces can capture backwards in chess?

Every piece that can move backwards can also capture backwards. That means that the rook, knight, bishop, queen, and king can all capture backwards. However, the pawns cannot capture backwards.

Why move your chess pieces backwards?

Now that you know that you can move pieces backwards, the next logical question is why and when to move your chess pieces backwards.

As you can imagine, there can be lots of reasons to move a piece backwards.

The most obvious example is to defend a piece that is attacked. In the position shown below, white just played the knight to c3, attacking the queen. Black can save his queen by moving it back to d8

Another reason to move a piece backwards would be to prevent a checkmate and defend your king.

However, the most common reason to move one of your pieces backwards is to eventually move it to a better location. Take the position shown below as an example.

The white knight on g4 has advanced to the 4th rank. But to be honest, it’s not really doing anything from that square. It is staring at its own e5 and f6 pawns, and the black king is preventing it from infiltration through h6.

Now would be a good time to move the knight backwards to e3, with the idea of eventually moving it to c4 followed by d6. From the d6 the white knight will be defended by its own pawn and target the weak f7 pawn in black’s camp.

Of course, black will try to stop you from achieving this goal if he/she realizes your plan. In that case, you might have to reposition the knight to a different square, such as b4 or g5.

The position below shows another good example. The white bishop on b2 is blocked by the enemy’s pawn chain. It’s basically looking at a concrete wall. So by moving it 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.

Similarly, in the position below it’s a good idea to move your rook backwards to a1 and to e1 on your next move. On e1 the rook will be able to attack the weak e7 pawn, while the pawn it was attacking at a6 is well defended.