Pawn Moves

Pawn moves are slow but quite complicated. The key points summarized are:

  • Pawns move 1-square forwards.
  • Pawns can also move 2-squares forwards, but only on the first move for each pawn.
  • Backwards move by pawns are illegal.
  • Pawns capture diagonally (forwards) with a 1-square diagonal move. But they cannot move diagonally into an empty square.
  • Pawns cannot capture moving forwards, they can only move forwards into an empty square.
  • Pawns become Queens when they reach the end of the board (“pawn promotion”).
  • En passant is a very advanced rule about pawn captures.

Pawn Forwards Moves: Pawns can move forwards 1 or 2 squares, into an empty square. They cannot capture by moving directly forwards, so that any piece directly in front of a pawn blocks its.

Pawn First Moves

Pawn Starting Move: Pawns have a 2-square move on their very first move. This means that each pawn can do this 2-square move at some time in the game. It doesn’t have to be the first move of the game, but it must be the first move made by that pawn. But each pawn can only do it once, and only from its starting square on the 2nd rank. If your pawn has moved forward 1-square or captures diagonally 1-square, then it loses the right to a 2-square move. Note that the 2-square move is not a jump move, and requires 2 empty squares in front of the pawn.

Pawn Captures

Pawn Capture Rules: Pawns only capture diagonally, 1-square only, and only in a forward diagonal direction. Pawns cannot move diagonally into an empty square, they can only capture. Hence, pawns are weird in that the non-capture move into empty squares is totally different from the capture move diagonally to take a piece.

Pawns Move Only Forwards

Pawn Backwards Moves: Backwards pawn moves are not allowed. Pawns also cannot capture backwards. Pawns must always move forwards, until they reach the other side of the board (the 8th rank), which is where they get “queened”.

Pawn Promotion

Pawn Promotion Rules: Queening of a pawn, called “promoting a pawn”, occurs on the last rank of the board (i.e. on the other end of the board, in enemy territory). On the move of a pawn into the 8th rank, the pawn is then replaced with a new Queen. The pawn can also capture an enemy piece to get to the 8th rank. The Queen is put there as part of the same move, so that moving the pawn to the 8th and putting down a new Queen is considered a single move.


Pawn Underpromotion: Pawns can also promote to pieces other than the Queen. This is called “underpromotion” but isn’t used that often (why wouldn’t you want a Queen?). The pawn can be promoted into a Knight, Bishop, or Rook if you like. It cannot stay as a Pawn, and you cannot get a second King. Underpromotion doesn’t happen often in tournament games, but is often used in puzzles to avoid stalemate or to do a fancy knight fork with a newly promoted Knight.

En Passant

En Passant: There is also a very odd move in the official chess rules called an “en passant pawn capture”. Basically, an enemy pawn that has just jumped past your pawn by using its 2-square starting move, can sometimes be captured even though it looks like it’s gotten past your pawn. The details of en passant moves can be found in that section.

Pawn moves, as is true of all moves in chess, must obey the General Move Rules, such as Check Rules and Self-Capture Rules.

Related Chess Rules Topics

Read more about these related chess rules, chess puzzles, and other chess tactics and strategies: