En passant is a rare chess move that refers to a unique way of capturing a pawn. Once a pawn advances two squares forward, the enemy pawn in the adjacent square can capture that pawn. It is a one-time “take it or leave it” opportunity, and if not taken in that turn, it will not be valid in the next turn. The name describes how the move works in French, which translates to ‘in passing’. It is shown as a normal pawn takes pawn in the notation sheet.
En Passant Origins
The original version of chess did not involve the pawns going two squares forward. Instead, the pawns could only advance two squares after 1300s. En passant’s origins are unknown. However, it is thought that it was introduced at a similar time as the mentioned new rule. It was widely used around the world in the 1500s. Many records show that it was used all over Europe in the 1800s.
How does En Passant Work?
This special move works once White has a pawn on the 5th rank (also, symmetrically, 4th Rank for Black). If Black plays a pawn move two squares forward and it lands adjacent to that pawn, White can take the adjacent pawn and move their pawn one square diagonally to the square where the opponent’s pawn would have landed if they moved only one square forward. It has to be done in the first turn. The next turn will not allow en passant.
En Passant Rules
1) En passant is not a mandatory move. The player doesn’t have to make it if they don’t want to.
2) It can only work for White if they have a pawn on the 5th rank. Similarly, it can only work for Black if they have a pawn on the 4th rank.
3) It is not legal to apply in the next turn if the chance of taking en passant is passed.
4) For it to work, the opponent has to play a pawn two squares forward. That particular pawn has to land on the adjacent square of the pawn on the 5th rank (4th rank for Black).
5) To take en passant, the player has to capture the pawn in the adjacent square and move their pawn one square diagonally to the square where the enemy pawn would have landed if it was pushed only one square.
En Passant Examples
This section will show several different En Passant situations.
In the example above, Black pushed the d7-pawn to d5. It landed next to White’s e5 pawn. This creates an en passant chance for White. If the pushed pawn was the f-pawn (f7 to f5), White could also have an En Passant opportunity. If taking is intended, first the d5-pawn should be removed from the board. Then, the e5-pawn should be placed on d6. It is also notated as ‘exd6’ (same as the pawn captures).
The diagram above shows that the Black side pushed their b7-pawn to b5 in the last move. This creates an en passant possibility for White. White can take the b5-pawn off the board. Then, they can put the c5-pawn on b6. If White doesn’t capture en passant this move, the next move they will not be able to.
In the third example, Black played g7-pawn to g5. This pawn push (two squares forward) allows the adjacent h5-pawn to capture En Passant. White can play hxg6 move. The next move will be too late.
Not En Passant Example #1
For passant to work, Black has to push the pawn from the 7th rank two squares forward. In this example, the Black side played the h6-pawn to h5. Even though it lands on the g5-pawn’s adjacent square, the h5 pawn cannot be taken en passant.
En Passant in Chess Openings
En passant captures play a crucial role in the openings. By being aware of this move, players can strategically position their pieces to take advantage of any opportunities that arise. It can occur in most chess openings (such as French Defense, Caro-Kann, etc). Especially the openings where one side tries to have a pawn break. Since it immediately changes the pawn structure, it should be assessed wisely. Once there is a chance, capturing en passant is likely to be at a high level. The moves made with En Passant could be game-changing if the enemy did not plan the scene carefully. Players may deliberately provoke en passant captures in some openings to gain a positional advantage.
En passant in real action (by young Magnus Carlsen)
This position is from a real game (Sicilian Defense) played by Magnus Carlsen when he was 16. Magnus moved the b7-pawn to b5. This Queenside expansion aimed to give the White a one-time ticket. Here, Magnus’s rival took the b-pawn with En Passant (axb6).
En passant is a unique rule in chess where one side can unusually capture the opponent’s pawn. It only works if the pawn resides at the 5th rank (for White) or the 4th rank (for Black). It is notated similarly to the typical pawn captures. New players might have a difficult time applying this rule to their game. It should be totally understood, and its existence should not be forgotten.