Pawns may seem weak compared to a king or queen, but the ability to promote into another piece makes them surprisingly strong. Helping your pawns reach the other side of the board can pay off quickly in a chess game.
A pawn is not allowed to promote to a king, because having two kings would be a liability. FIDE rules state that players lose immediately once a king cannot escape check. Having a second king would not be a strategic advantage, but would cause a player to lose faster.
Pawn promotion can only happen whenever a pawn reaches the eighth rank on the board (line 8 for white, line 1 for black). Once a pawn reaches the other side of the board, it can promote to a queen, rook, knight, or bishop of the same color. The queen is usually the strongest strategic choice.
You Can’t Have Two Kings In Chess
An official game of chess can’t have two white kings, or two black kings. A second king makes it easier for an opponent to checkmate a player, because chess rules dictate that a checkmate of just one king would win the game.
Most people would think that having two kings of the same color is a strategic advantage. But it’s actually the opposite!
The thought process goes like this: if one king is checkmated, you still have the other one to continue the game. But that’s not the case under the commonly accepted FIDE chess rules. A single checkmate would be sufficient to complete the game.
Promoting a pawn to a king would be a very bad strategy under official chess rules. That’s why it is illegal to promote the pawn to anything other than the queen, rook, bishop, or knight. Promoting a pawn to a pawn is also illegal, as it wouldn’t allow the piece to move anymore.
The Rules Of Pawn Promotion
The official FIDE chess rules for pawn promotion are limited to the following conditions:
- If a pawn reaches the other side of the board (eighth rank), it promotes into a ♕ Queen, ♖ Rook, ♗ Bishop, or ♘ Knight of the same color;
- The promoted piece can be freely chosen by the player, but it cannot be a ♔ King or ♙ Pawn;
- Pawn promotion is always mandatory, it is not optional. However, a player may choose when to move their pawn to the eighth rank;
- The new piece replaces the pawn on the board, the promoted piece will take the board position of the promoted pawn;
- The promoted pawn chooses what to promote in, and is then allowed to immediately check or checkmate an opponent’s king;
- A pawn is allowed to promote in the same turn it attacks and captures another piece (example shown below).
Spartan Chess: A Variant With Two Kings
Some non-official chess variants like Spartan chess do allow two kings of the same color, but the win condition would be changed to checkmate both Spartan kings at the same time. The alternative win condition in Spartan chess is capturing one king and checkmating the other king.
In Spartan chess, having two kings is not a liability, but a standard way to play the game (for the Spartan side of the board). The Persian side (the other player) has other pieces and would not have to deal with a dual king situation.
FIDE chess rules don’t apply to unique chess variants like Spartan chess. That’s why having two kings wouldn’t be a liability. The player that plays with the Spartans would be able to survive a single king checkmate. That’s only allowed thanks to the unique win conditions of this chess variant.
Helping Your Pawn Reach The Other Side
Pawn promotion usually only happens in the midgame or endgame of a chess match. To walk a pawn all the way to the other side of the board, a lot of things have to happen. Here are some beginner tips to keep in mind around pawn promotion (on both sides):
- Every piece counts: Pawns might seem worthless, but look at them like caterpillars that can transform into butterflies. Once they promote, they can decide the whole game in an instant. So treasure every last one of them.
- Trade wisely: Sacrificing one of your pawns is a strategic choice, but keep in mind that you could need those pawns for promotion later on in the game. It can sometimes be better to pass on trades and keep pushing forward instead.
- Slowly push forward: If you’re constantly moving a single pawn forward, your end goal is too obvious. Slowly push all your pawns one step forward together. That’s more subtle and effective for potential pawn promotion, and they can protect each other.
- Chip away opponent’s pawns: Players usually won’t bat an eye when a pawn is lost. Use this to your advantage, take out the smaller pieces one by one. Soon enough, you’ll be ahead in the game.
- Protect your own side: Don’t forget that your opponent can also use these strategies in you. Keep an eye out for pawns that are being pushed ahead, and make sure to block any pawns that are too far towards your own side.
With these practical tips in mind, you will quickly master the pawn game. It’s a very underappreciated chessman that has the potential to evolve into stronger pieces. If you ever have the opportunity to save and protect a pawn on the board, do it! This will likely pay off big once some of your opponent’s pieces are taken.
While promoting a pawn to a king is not allowed with the traditional chess rules, I’d encourage you to try out some fun chess variants. Expanding beyond the traditional game will give you new insights and help a player think outside of the box. Trying out new ways to play the game of chess can be a really fun and rewarding experience!