Pawns are your frontline fighters in chess. Even though they are pretty basic, they stand out from the other pieces in a few unique ways. For example, pawns are the only piece that captures and move differently.
Can pawns move diagonally in chess? Here’s what you need to know.
Pawns can only move diagonally by capturing an enemy piece that sits diagonally in front of them. If they can’t capture a piece, they can only move straight ahead as per their default movement. Pawns can also capture diagonally via En passant.
In this article, I’ll answer all your questions about pawn movement and provide you with some helpful pointers to improve your pawn play. Let’s jump right into it.
Pawns Can Capture Diagonally
Let’s address the topic straight away. Yes, pawns can move diagonally, but only when they capture another piece.
See, by default, pawns can only move one square directly ahead. They can also move two squares ahead on their first turn, but the direction of their movement is straight either way.
It is only when pawns capture that they move diagonally. Pawns are the only chess piece with different attack and movement patterns.
The default pawn movement looks like this.
The e2 pawn can either move to e3 or e4 with its first move.
The pawn has a one-square move range except for its first move. Also, the pawn loses its ability to move two squares after its first move, regardless of whether or not it utilizes its two-square movement option.
By contrast, here is what a pawn’s offensive move set looks like.
The pawn attacks diagonally forward, with a one-square attack range.
Here, the e4 pawn can capture one of the f5 and the d5 black knights.
The pawn can also ignore the two knights and just move forward.
Pawns can’t attack directly in front. Your opponents can take advantage of your pawn’s blind spot by parking a piece in front of it.
In this position, the unfortunate d5 pawn can neither move nor attack. It has to sit by and wait for either the knight to clear out from d6 so it can move forward or another piece to land on either c6 or e6, so it can capture the said piece and continue its journey.
Pawns Can Capture Diagonally Via ‘En Passant’
Pawns can also move diagonally when they capture an enemy pawn via en Passant. This is one of the few special moves in chess. It exists because pawns can move two squares on their first go.
Here, the black pawn on f7 can move to either f6 or f5. Let’s say it moves to f5.
We get this position.
Notice something unusual? The white pawn on g5 never even had a chance to capture the black f5 pawn. Black just slipped his pawn by the white pawn.
Or at least, it would have been that way if not for the existence of en passant.
With en passant, the white g5 pawn can capture the f5 pawn as if it were on f6.
And that, my friends, is en passant. It looks a little tricky, and most casual players don’t even know about this move, but it does play an integral role in competitive chess.
You’ll get the hang of it once you get the opportunity to play this move a few times in your own games.
Pawns Promote Once They Reach The Opposite Side
You’ve probably noticed by now that pawns can’t move backwards. At all. They will advance towards the opposite end of the board whether they move or capture.
So, what happens when a pawn reaches the opposite end? Does it just hang out there until the game concludes?
Of course, and you probably already know this, the answer is no. The pawn promotes to a higher piece.
It can promote to any one of the four advanced pieces – the knight, the bishop, the rook, and the queen.
Since the queen is the most powerful piece, it makes the most sense to promote to her. And promoting to a queen is the best move in the vast majority of cases.
However, there are certain positions where under-promoting (not promoting to a queen) is necessary.
Sometimes, you need to promote to a knight instead to give the enemy king a timely check and keep the initiative.
Every once in a blue moon, you may even find yourself in a position where it’s necessary to underpromote to a rook or bishop to avoid stalemate. However, this is so rare that it may as well not matter at all.
Can a Pawn Promote Diagonally?
Yes! If you capture a back-rank enemy piece with your pawn, it will move diagonally forward and land on the back-rank. You can then promote this pawn.
Here’s an example of what something like that would look like.
In this position, the white pawn on b7 can promote diagonally by capturing either of the two black rooks. The same is true for the black pawn on g2.
4 Pawn Tips To Improve Your Pawn Play
Now that you know how pawns move and capture, here are some pointers to help you improve your pawn play and acquire winning positions.
Correct pawn placement is the foundation for a solid overall position.
- Use your pawns to occupy the center of the board. You’ll notice that most chess openings follow this rule. The 4 central squares – e4, e5, d4, and d5 – are important spots to occupy. Try contesting these squares with your pawns and pieces and do your best not to concede them to the enemy.
- Keep your pawns connected. Connected pawns are a wall that blocks off your opponent’s long-ranged pieces. Your opponent will have to push their own pawns to get through this wall.
- Don’t push pawns if you don’t have to. Remember: you can’t take back pawn moves. Moving pawns will create weaknesses on your side of the board. It is recommended to advance the central pawns in the early game and the flank pawns opposite your king in the mid-game.
- Don’t advance castled pawns. Generally speaking, you want to keep the three castle pawns where they are. They are important defenders of your king. Moving them forward will leave your king open to attack.
Use these tips in your next game, and you’ll feel the difference in your positional strength! Keep in mind that these are just guidelines, and it may be best to break or ignore them in some positions.
I’ll address some frequently asked questions in this section.
Can a Pawn Move Diagonally Backwards?
Pawns cannot move or capture backwards, be it diagonally or straight. They can only move straight ahead and capture diagonally ahead. You can promote a pawn by reaching the opposite end of the board and bring it back into the fight as a stronger piece.
Can Pawns Move Two Spaces?
Pawns can move two spaces but only on their first move. This applies to each pawn. If a pawn moves one space on its first move, it can no longer move two spaces. You can consider this a ‘use it or lose it’ move.
Pawns can move diagonally, but only by capturing an enemy piece diagonally in front of them. They can also move diagonally via en passant, a special move that allows them to capture enemy pawns that slipped past a face-to-face confrontation by jumping two squares on the first go.