En Passant Rule

The ďen passantĒ rule in chess is an advanced official rule of chess. To beginners it seems to be a very odd rule because you move your pawn to one square, but this means that you capture a pawn on a different square! Arenít you supposed to capture pieces by moving your piece to their square? Not for en passant!

What is en passant? Well, the term ďen passantĒ is French for ďin passingĒ and itís called that because it involves capturing an enemy pawn as its passing your pawn.

The way that en passant pawn captures work is:

  • Your opponentís pawn has just moved 2 squares forwards (itís initial 2-square jump move).
  • Your opponentís pawn has just gone past your pawn, and is now sitting right next to your pawn.
  • You pretend that your opponentís pawn has actually only moved 1-square forwards, and then you capture the imaginary enemy pawn with your pawn on the square where the enemy pawn would have been if it had moved 1-squares only.
  • Your pawn is now actually sitting behind the enemy pawn. It has moved 1-square diagonally onto a square that is actually empty now (but wasnít empty in your imagination).
  • Then you remove the enemy pawn (from the square where it actually is), because you captured it in your imagination as it was passing through the square where you could have captured it.

Make sense? No, not really! Itís a very odd rule. But itís a real rule. En passant is an official rule of chess.

Why does the en passant rule exist? Well, thatís a quite advanced question. It is a rule that is required to maintain the integrity of pawn structures and positional pawn play in chess. What this rule does is prevent pawns from jumping past each other by taking advantage of the 2-move starting move. It also makes sure that ďholesĒ in chess positions and ďbackward pawnsĒ actually stay consistent across all the ranks.

Thereís some more restrictions on en passant moves:

  • Pawns only: You can only capture a pawn. And it must be your pawn that does the capture.
  • Multiple Times Allowed: in theory, en passant can occur multiple times in a game, once for each pawn. Every time a pawn does a 2-square starter move, it could be captured en passant.
  • Only if the 2-move starter move: You cannot en passant capture a pawn if it only moved one square to get passed you. (You should have taken it last move!)
  • Your Pawn on the 5th rank: since the enemy pawn must have just done itís 2-square move (up to its 4th rank), and must now be next to your pawn, then your pawn must be on your 5th rank (assuming your home rank is the 1st rank, even if you are playing Black).
  • Immediate move only: You only have one move to do en passant. You canít make some other move, and then do the en passant next move. It must be immediately after the enemy pawn did itís 2-move starter move.
  • General Move Rules: the other general rules of chess moves still apply. You canít do this if check would result. And you canít en passant take your own pawns.

Did you get all that? Beginners take some time to get used to this rule. But you are legally allowed to play it in most tournaments, even beginner or junior tournaments. But it might give your opponent a bit of a surprise if they donít know the rule, and if you try to explain about imaginary pawns, they might think youíre making it up!