A comprehensive guide to Pawn

The most prevalent pieces on a chess board are pawns. They are regarded as this game’s essence. They build up an army and play a critical role in every phase of the battle. During this article, we will give all the elementary tips for you to rule the pawns. After covering its basic features, such as pawn chess rules, movements, and captures, we will dive into its value and strategic role.

chess pawns

Illustration of Pawns

What is a Pawn in Chess?

The weakest piece in the chess game is the pawn. This frequently enables them to form various configurations that reinforce the more valuable pieces. They shouldn’t be undervalued because they frequently contribute to both offense and defense.

chess pawns - initial chess board setup

Starting position of the game

Both parties start with eight pawns, as the image illustrates. They stand on the second rank (Highlighted in yellow) for the White player and the seventh rank (Highlighted in blue) for the Black player. They cover all the mentioned ranks and act as a shield for the upcoming dangers.

Pawn chess movement and captures

A pawn’s movement and capture are distinctive. They can only move forward within the same file. In contrast to the other pieces, they cannot move back. This is a huge deal and requires precision before playing them.

pawns movement

Pawns move forward.

Pawns can typically advance only one square. At the start of the game, there is an exclusive advantage for their advancement. If the player prefers, they can run two squares forward in their initial move. This is often done for the pawns that will play a role in the center (d- and e-files).

pawns on 3rd rank

After a pawn moves, it can only go one square forward.

If a pawn has moved, it no longer holds that privilege. Every pawn can, therefore, only advance one square after the third rank (for White), which is also the sixth rank for Black.

Pawn captures

Pawns capture diagonally.

Regarding its capturing ability, it covers the diagonal squares (only one square). It captures the piece located on one square diagonal and stands on that square.

In the above example, the e4-pawn can take the d5-pawn and stay there.

pawn captures using en passant rule

En passant is a pawn’s unique way of capturing

So far, everything might seem easy. As one last rule, pawns possess a unique way of capturing in certain cases. This capturing method is called ‘en passant’ and only works in the following scenarios:

When a White pawn is on the fifth rank and a Black pawn moves two squares forward from its starting position and ends up next to the White pawn, the White pawn can utilize the en passant rule to capture the Black pawn diagonally. This involves the White pawn moving one square forward diagonally to the same file the Black pawn initially jumped to.

en passant is about to take place

Black played f5, White to move.

The above example shows where White is able to execute ‘en passant.’ Black played f5 at the last move, and White can take the f-pawn with this unique capturing method.

White captured exf6, en passant.

The image above illustrates how White can capture the f-pawn with the e-pawn. En passant can only be played at the turn when the enemy pawn hops two squares forward. If White chooses to play something else, that opportunity will be gone forever.

white missed a chance to use en passant

White missed the chance of capturing exf6 en passant.

As shown above, White can no longer take the f-pawn because that ship has sailed.

there can be a better moves

There can be better moves than en passant.

Many beginners tend to play en passant because they learned this rule. However, it might not always be the correct way to play. In the above position, Qh5+ is checkmate in two, and en passant could lose that opportunity if executed.

black can capture

Black can capture en passant.

This rule applies to Black in a similar fashion. Instead of the fifth, Black pawns must be on the fourth rank (Symmetrical way) to capture en passant.

In the position above, Black can take the d4-pawn with the e4-pawn and place the e4-pawn on the d3-square.

white can promote a pawn

The e7-pawn can promote

Furthermore, soon after pawns arrive on the rival’s first rank, they can transform into any other piece (apart from the King). We refer to this unique occurrence as “promotion.” If a White pawn lands on the eighth rank, it can become a Queen, a Rook, a Bishop, or a Knight. Similarly, a Black pawn on the first rank can become any piece desired.

white transformed a pawn into queen

The e7-pawn has been promoted to a Queen.

Players often choose to promote to a Queen due to its dominance among the pieces. However, there might be times when the pawn can be promoted to another piece. This incident is called “underpromotion.”

Pawn’s role in chess

Pawn moves are a common way to start a game. Pawns are useful for controlling the middle of the board and for striking the more valuable pieces. They build a structure as the game goes on that permits other pieces to move in unison.

pawns role in chess

The e4 and e5 pawns are controlling the center.

Once there is a piece or a pawn in front of a pawn, that pawn cannot move until that piece or the pawn moves. If two pawns are stuck, as in the above example (The e4 and e5 pawns), they are called ‘fixed pawns.’ In those cases, both parties cannot move their pawns until the pawn captures a piece or a pawn is captured.

pawn castle

Pawns in front of the King is the fortress of the King.

The pawns in front of a King act as a fortress and protect the King. If White King resides on the g1-square, the f2-, g2-, and h2-pawns are crucial in King’s defense. Since the pawns cannot move backward, moving the pawns in front of the King is not recommended until all the possible dangers are out of sight.

pawns role in the chess center

Pawns can dislodge enemy pieces.

Since the pawns are the least valuable pieces, they can attack the enemy pieces with a concrete threat. The enemy would have to take precautions about these menaces.

As the above position shows, d4- and e5-pawns are ruling the center of the board. This allows White to navigate their pieces to the best location. Black, however, suffers from a lack of space for the developed pieces.

pawns can trap enemy pieces

Pawns can trap enemy pieces.

If the pawn versus enemy piece trade is inevitable, the player can gain huge initiative. In the above position, White can play b4 and a5 and trap Black’s dark-squared Bishop.

The value of the Pawn piece in chess

A pawn is worth one point. Compared to the other pieces, it is less valuable. However, this shouldn’t mean players should give them away for nothing. In a high-level game, a pawn without compensation would peter out to a victory for the side that possesses it.

the value of pawns

An example of pawn structure and piece harmony

When the pawns are in harmony with the other pieces, their value rises.

The pawns are strong together. If there are no other ally pawns in the adjacent files, that pawn is called an ‘isolated pawn.’

d4 pawn is an isolated pawn

The d4-pawn in the above position is an isolated pawn. No other White pawn can currently defend it. This often decreases the value of this pawn in endgames due to its vulnerability. Enemy pieces can easily target it in the later stages of the game.

the value of the pawn in thee endgame

The e6-pawn is a protected passed pawn.

One of the most valuable pawn types is the ‘passed pawn”. A passed pawn is a pawn with no enemy pawns forward in the adjacent files. As shown in the above diagram, the e6-pawn cannot be stopped by any other enemy pawn. If the passed pawns are protected by an ally pawn, they are called ‘protected passed pawns.’ These pawns are typically dangerous and can be even more valuable than a Rook in some cases.

What are the Pawn’s weaknesses?

Since the pawns can only go forward, anything in front of that pawn can stop it. If that structure is an ally pawn, that can be an undesired weakness.

pawns weaknesses

Pawn islands are one of the biggest weaknesses in pawn structures.

In the above position, the White pawns are split. The d2- and d3-pawns (Also the f3- and f4-pawns) are doubled pawns. This is an unwanted scene because Black can easily capture them.

d5-pawn cannot be protected

The d5-pawn cannot be protected.

The inability of the pawns to move backward is their greatest weakness. They can be lost if placed too far forward without any reinforcement. The d5-pawn in the above position is lost. Players must ensure not to overextend to avoid such cases.

Strategies and Techniques with Pawn

Since the pawns are less valuable than the other pieces, they force the opponent’s hands. If a protected pawn attacks a piece, that piece has to move. This is a great strategy to improve the position.

The e5-pawn forks the d6-Bishop and f6-Knight.

They are also great for tactical shots. A fork with a pawn is a decisive tactic to gain a massive lead.

c7-pawn is about to get promoted

The c7-pawn is too strong.

Their strength can be seen, especially in the endgames. A safe path to their promotion can force the opponent to give up a piece. Their power increases as they get closer to promotion.

In the position above, the c7-pawn is protected by the c1-Rook. A Rook behind a passed pawn can be a great protector. Black will lose the e7-Knight in a couple of moves due to this glorious journey.

Emre’s thoughts on Pawn

Understanding the pawn structure elements is vital to being a good player. I believe pawns are underestimated by beginners. They are present in different shapes in diverse openings and game stages. Without knowing what to achieve with them, someone can only hope for a blunder by the enemy.

Written by
Emre Sancakli, Сhess Coach
has a rating of 2400+ on chess.com and lichess.org, making him one of the top 5000 players in the world. He teaches many chess enthusiasts and even creates educational courses. As a writer, he keeps bringing his 'A game' to the content you will face on this website.
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Can a pawn move backwards?

It can’t. Pawns can only move forward and capture enemy pieces diagonally.

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