This is the sixth in my series of articles for the absolute chess beginner. In this article, we’ll see how the chess pawns move and capture.
The Pawn in Chess
The pawn is the foot-soldier of chess. Each side has 8 pawns, and they start the game lined up in front of the more powerful “officers” of the chessboard. Although the pawn is the “weakest” of the chess pieces, each pawn is very important; the loss of even a single pawn without compensation may mean the loss of the game! And by advancing to the other side of the chessboard, the pawn may become the most powerful piece on the board! (See my article on pawn promotion.)
Normal pawn movement
The pawn normally moves one space vertically, i.e., “up” the board, toward your opponent’s first rank. The pawn never moves horizontally (i.e., from side to side) and never moves backward. If the pawn moves forward and meets another pawn or piece, it’s movement is blocked until the other piece is moved or captured.
Very often one pawn from each side will meet in the middle of the board and block each other’s movement. Unlike the other chess pieces, the pawn does not capture enemy pawns or pieces that obstruct its normal movement; if the pawn’s normal movement is obstructed, the pawn is effectively stopped in its tracks.
Normal pawn captures
Although the pawn does not capture if its normal movement is blocked, it can capture. The pawn captures ahead one square diagonally.
(The pawn never captures “backward” diagonally.) The pawn may capture any enemy piece (even the Queen!) that dares to stand one square diagonally from the pawn.
The initial two-square move
The first time that you move each of your pawns, you may move it ahead two square instead of one. This is optional; you may also move your pawns ahead one square on its initial move. This option only applies to the first move of each of your pawns, but it does apply to the first move of each of your pawns. Thus, you may make 8 two-square moves, one for each pawn.
If you’re interested in learning the basics of chess, I recommend Learn Chess: A Complete Course, which will teach you all about the fundamentals of good chess play. If you’re interested in some more advanced material on the pawn, I highly recommend Pawn Power in Chess, one of the great classic books on chess strategy! It will teach you about pawn structure in chess and how the other pieces depend on and use the pawns to their advantage.
Look for the next article in this series, about the “special” chess moves, including pawn promotion and the “en passant” pawn capture.