Chess: 4 Moves Of A Pawn That Can Change Your Game

Chess: 4 Moves Of A Pawn That Can Change Your Game

Even though their initial material value is much lower, they have infinite potential to define the game's course

Soumya SwaminathanUpdated: Thursday, February 01, 2024, 08:39 PM IST
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Pic: Freepik

“Your story may not have such a happy beginning, but that doesn’t make you who you are. It is the rest of your story, who you choose to be!”

If you ask a chess player to elucidate this inspiring quote, they will promptly introduce you to “Pawn-Promotion”! This special rule in chess allows a humble pawn to turn into a mighty Queen! Surprised? Chess has a few special rules and manoeuvres, that may come in as a pleasant surprise or a rude shock during a game, depending on which side we play. We have discussed one of these right from the beginning – Castling! Let’s get familiar with the others and spring a surprise or two on our opponent next time!

Stalemate: We know that the aim of the game is to capture the King and that Checkmate leads to an immediate victory of the side actualising it. On the other hand, Stalemate leads to an immediate draw. Stalemate occurs when the side whose turn it is to play, has no legal moves left on the board, and their king is NOT under check!

Black to play leads to Stalemate

Black to play leads to Stalemate |

Here, Black’s King on h8 is not under check, however, he is completely cornered since all the squares that the King can move to: g8, g7, and h7, are under direct attack by White’s pieces. The game rules do not allow a player to give a ‘pass’, but if it is Black’s turn to play in this position, then he does not have any legal move. So, the position will be declared to be ‘Stalemate’ and the game will end in a draw i.e. both the players will receive half a point each.

Q1: In the diagram position, White is a Queen up! If it was white’s turn to play, then what would you play?

Initial Pawn move: When a pawn is still in its initial position, i.e. on the 2nd rank as white and the 7th rank as black, we have the option of moving the pawn ahead by two squares instead of one. Opening a game with 1.e4 demonstrates this special manoeuvre. After a pawn is moved from its starting position, it moves ahead by the usual 1 square per move for the rest of the game.

En passant: This is the most misunderstood rule in Chess! This manoeuvre pertains to pawn captures. It is a French term, meaning ‘in passing’. Pawns usually capture diagonally, thus moving 1 square ahead on the next file after a capture. During en passant, the movement is the same but the circumstances are different. If a pawn advances two squares from its starting position i.e. goes to the 4th rank as white or 5th rank as black, and lands up beside an opponent’s pawn, the opponent can capture our pawn with their pawn in the same way as if it had moved only one square forward. This occurs only on the immediate move, it cannot be played later.

En Passant. Position after black played 3…f5 
allowing white to capture 4.ef6

En Passant. Position after black played 3…f5 allowing white to capture 4.ef6 |

For example, from the starting position, after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 here if black plays 3…f5, white can capture 4.ef6 (white’s ‘e’ pawn captures Black’s ‘f’ pawn). Black’s f5 pawn will be removed from the board and the white ‘e’ pawn will be placed on f6.

Pawn Promotion: A defining moment in a pawn’s journey occurs when it reaches the last rank. In the case of a white pawn, this is the 8th rank, and for black, this is the 1st rank. Here, the pawn is transformed into any other piece except for the King, and the pawn itself. Players usually chose to promote it to a Queen as she is the strongest piece on the board, though in certain exceptional positions, it might be more prudent to promote the pawn to a Bishop or a rook or a knight.

Pawn Promotion

Pawn Promotion |

Here, white will push forward his pawn on a7 to the 8th rank, and transform it into a Queen. While doing so that pawn disappears from the board and gets replaced by a White Queen on a8 (we physically remove the pawn on a7 and instead place a new Queen on a8) This move is written as “a8=Q” in notation.

Q2: Do you notice what happens after white plays a8=Q?

Most of these special rules are related to the unsung heroes over the board – the pawns. Even though the initial material value of a pawn is much lower than the rest of the pieces (1 point each), they have infinite potential within them to define the course of the game. Every once in a while, a pawn undertakes the long and arduous journey to the end of the board and is duly rewarded for it’s effort.

(Soumya Swaminathan is an International Master and Woman Grandmaster in Chess. She has been World Junior Champion and Commonwealth Gold Medalist)

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