Today’s article is about Pawn promotion. And along with the rules about Pawn promotion, we will take a little step into endgame strategy.
The pawn is the lowly foot soldier of chess. And though it is the weakest of the pieces, it can have a huge impact on the outcome of a game. The gain of a single pawn can be enough to ensure victory in many positions.
The big reason for this is that a pawn has an ace up its sleeve, so to speak. As you remember, the pawn can only move forward one step at a time (apart from its first move, when it can take two steps). But when it reaches the other side of the board (the “eighth rank”), it is allowed (required) to become a more powerful piece. On almost every occasion in practical play, the Pawn becomes a Queen.
Which piece should I promote the pawn to?
Which piece the Pawn becomes is up to the player. You can decide to make the Pawn into a Knight, a Bishop, a Rook, or Queen. You may not make a second King, and you may not elect to leave the Pawn unpromoted. (Put another way, you can’t elect to “promote” your Pawn to a Pawn.)
There are occasions … rare occasions when you may wish to promote your Pawn to some piece other than the Queen. We call that “underpromotion.” You may never in your chess career have the occasion to underpromote; this comes up more often in chess puzzles and tactics quizzes. But it could come up, and you should be aware of the possibility.
In the position below, it is White’s move, and his Pawn is on his seventh rank, ready to promote. If he promotes the Pawn to Queen, he will actually lose the game. But if he “underpromotes” the Pawn, he can win the game. Do you see what underpromotion will save the game for White?
Who promotes first?
For our first foray into chess strategy, I want to show you a simple way to determine whether you or your opponent will Queen your Pawn first. There are very many occasions when you will have to carefully count the moves to determine when and under what circumstances you or your opponent will reach the queening square. But in many cases, where its simply a question of which Pawn is faster, there is an easy way to tell.
First, you should recognize that no Pawn is faster than any other Pawn; they all travel at the same rate: one square per turn. I often see players pushing their Pawns in a frantic race as if somehow or other through some magic, their Pawn will get to the eighth rank faster than their opponent’s. But you can tell right away without all the panic. If it is your turn and your Pawn is even with or farther advanced than your opponent’s, your Pawn will get there first (provided you move your pawn!).
It’s a simple rule, but it may spare you some agony in counting moves in simple Pawn races.
What happens after the “race”?
You should be very aware, however, of what happens after your Pawn promotes! Your opponent might very well lose the race, but win the game. You should especially beware of checks. In the diagram below, if it is White’s turn, he will promote first; he’s won the battle! But he loses the war, because though Black loses the race, he promotes with check and will then capture White’s brand new Queen.
If you’re interested in learning more about the rules and elementary chess tactics, be sure to get the wonderful book, Learn Chess: A Complete Course