While some might view the pawn as a weak chess piece, pawns are fully capable of attacking and taking other pieces. However, that is not the case for a king, because of an exception regarding the most important piece on the board.
Chess rules do not allow a pawn to take a king. No piece can take the king, since the game would end once the king is in a checkmate position. However, a pawn can assist in cornering the opponent’s king to force a checkmate (and win the game).
If you wish to kill the king in chess, the rulebook is one step ahead of you. Capturing any other piece is permitted. But that that one special piece is an exception. The reason is simple: the king determines if a player wins or loses the game.
A Pawn Can Checkmate (But Not Take A King)
While uncommon, the pawn can play the primary role in the process of cornering and checkmating the king. But a pawn is not allowed to kill, capture, or take the king. That’s against the rules of chess.
The game immediately ends at the moment that a king is unable to escape an attack from the opponent.
With a pawn, that would usually involve other pieces. Pawns have a limited attack range, just two squares on the board are within its range. The opponent’s king would need to be in a very silly spot for a pawn to effectively corner it on its own:
In almost every possible chess scenario, a pawn is most likely to checkmate a king through the process of pawn promotion. This is when a pawn reaches the other side of the board and can promote into a queen, rook, bishop, or knight.
The pawn can promote and checkmate the opponent’s king in a single turn. The example below shows the basic concept:
- Pawn moves from square f7 to f8
- The player chooses to promote the pawn into a queen, which replaces the pawn on f8
- The queen immediately checkmates the king on b8 to win the game
Again, the promoted pawn can’t take the king in any form. If it were to promote into a queen or rook in the above example, it can only corner and freeze it in position. That’s where the chess rules state the game finishes.
A Pawn Can Assist In King Checkmate
More common is the assistance of a pawn to corner the opponent’s king. Again, pawn assistance is provided in order to checkmate a king, not to actually attack and take the piece. The goal here is to protect a piece with the pawn, i.e. to make sure it can’t be taken.
For a pawn to assist in a checkmate, it needs to be positioned just right. The board position determines what is possible, i.e. if checkmate is allowed. In the example below, the pawn can help the queen to create a checkmate and win the game:
Since a pawn attacks diagonally, it would defend the queen on square b7 in the example above. Simply move the queen from square f7 into position b7 to threaten ánd corner the king.
The king is not allowed to take the queen in this situation, because the pawn would simply take it. Chess rules state that we have to end the game once it’s clear the king can’t avoid an attack. So the queen move Qf7 to Qb7 would force an instant checkmate and win white the game.
Why No Chess Piece Can Take The King
The king symbolizes leadership in chess, it is the win and loss condition of the game. No pawn, queen, rook, bishop, knight, or opponent’s king can even touch him. He is royalty, and he will forfeit a battle before being killed. It is the dignified way to go, this principle is firmly embedded into the rulebook.
While kings cannot move very fast on the board, they do get a lot of help. Both players should constantly question how to protect the most important chessman. Surviving is his main role, but the king is also able to attack in multiple directions. The reverse is a bit more complicated. Other pieces can only corner him.
That’s also what pawns can do. The smaller pieces can’t exactly move as well as a queen or rook, but a pawn does have some hidden powers. Promoting a pawn is one of the major benefits and win conditions attached to this seemingly harmless ‘foot soldier’.
The fact that kings are untouchable is even reflected in the pawn promotion rules. A pawn can’t promote into a king, simply because it makes it easier to lose a game. Having a king means being vulnerable, it forces a player to defend. The moment the defense is broken, the game ends. That’s why the game freezes after cornering a king into a checkmate.