History and Tips about Chess Pawns

Posted by Wholesale Chess on 11th Apr 2019

History and Tips about Chess Pawns

This is part one of our series on how chess pieces move as well as the history of chess pieces. Check back in two weeks for our next installment on the Rook.


The lowly pawn begins the game as the weakest piece on the board, but has the potential to dominate the game via promotion to a more powerful piece. Since the origin of the game, the pawn has had the same general movement. However, the abilities of the pawn to move two squares on its first move or to capture en passant was added in Europe in the 15th century. While the English origin of the word pawn is obscure, the word is thought to be derived from the Old French paon, which in turn comes from a Medieval Latin term for a foot soldier. Most other languages derive from the same terms, another word for a foot soldier, or a word for peasant. For example, French pion, Spanish peón, Italian pedone, Russian пешка (peshka), or German Bauer.

How the Pawn Moves and Captures

The movement of the pawn is unique in chess in several ways:

  • The pawn can never move backwards. 
  • It is the only piece that captures differently than its normal movement. 
  • The pawn also has a special capturing move available to it called en passant

Each player starts with 8 pawns, placed on the 2nd rank for white and the 7th rank for black.

The pawn may advance a single square unoccupied square forward on each move, but the first time each pawn moves, it has the option of advancing two unoccupied squares. The pawn may only capture one square diagonally forward to the left or right.

En Passant

If an opponent moves his or her pawn two-squares past your pawn, you may capture that pawn as thought it had only moved one square.


If a pawn reaches the other side of the board (the 8th rank for a white pawn or the 1st rank for a black pawn), the pawn may be promoted to a queen, rook, knight, or bishop of the same color. It does not matter if the piece to which a player wants to promote has been captured or not. For example, a player may have several queens on the board after promotions, even though he or she starts with only one.

We hope this has helped you learn more about pawns, their history, and how they move and capture during a chess game. Be sure to come back for more information on how other chess pieces move, too!