How Does The Pawn Move In Chess?

While a pawn seems like a simple chess piece, its moves can be complicated. With eight pawns moving around on the board, it’s important to learn about how they work. How does a pawn move in chess?

According to the rules of chess, pawns move one step forward in a vertical direction. The first move of a pawn can be either one or two steps forward. Pawns can only attack by moving one step forward diagonally (left or right). 

Once a pawn moves to the other side of the board, it becomes a queen, rook, bishop, or knight (this is called pawn promotion). If a pawn is denied attacking an opponent’s pawn because it moved two squares, that chess piece can still be captured by attacking past the pawn. This special move is called en passant.


The Pawn Moves Forward Vertically

The pawn’s goal is to move to the other side of the board where it can promote into a stronger chess piece. Normally, pawns will move up in a straight vertical line. They do so one step at a time each turn.

There is one exception: the first time a pawn is being moved it can move forward either one or two steps. The choice is up to the player. The visual diagram below shows all available pawn moves, and the pawn promoting into a queen once it reaches the far side of the board:


All Pawn Moves And Promotion
The possible pawn moves (and promotion)


Notice how the first step of the pawn can either be one step forward vertically, or two steps forward vertically. When a pawn bumps into another piece, it is no longer able to move forward anymore, though:


Pawn Stalemate Draw No Movement Possible
A pawn can’t move forward if a piece is blocking its path!


It doesn’t matter if the piece blocking the pawn’s path is from your opponent, or if it’s a piece of your own color. Unlike the knight, a pawn does not have the ability to ‘jump over’ other chess pieces. The only way for a pawn to circumvent being blocked in its line of movement, is by attacking another piece.


Attacking With The Pawn

Just like other chess pieces, pawns have the ability to attack and capture pieces of the opposing color. Pawns do not attack forward vertically, but they can only attack forward diagonally. The pawn can only attack pieces that are one diagonal square in front of them.

To visualize a pawn attack, look at the diagram below. The pawn is able to diagonally attack one of the knights. Diagonal attacks are possible in a left or right diagonal direction:


Pawn Movement Forward Diagonal Attack
The pawn can only attack diagonally forward (one square)


Remember that a pawn may only attack diagonally, but can only move vertically. This is why the diagonal attacks of a pawn will usually result in ‘doubled pawns‘. This means that there can be two pawns of the same color occupying the same vertical line:


Doubled Pawns
Doubled pawns occupy the same vertical line of movement


Similarly, ‘tripled pawns’ are also a possibility in chess. This is a situation in which three pawns of the same color occupy the same vertical line.

It makes moving with the pawn a lot harder, and weakens the overall pawn structure of the board. It is best to avoid doubled or tripled pawns (or even quadrupled pawns) where possible.


En Passant: A Special Pawn Attack Move

There are always exceptions to the rule. For the pawn, that exception is the ‘en passant‘ move. It’s a rare situation in which a pawn can diagonally attack past another pawn (if that pawn just moved forward two squares).

Let’s back up a bit, because that’s a lot of information to take in.

En passant starts with the opponent’s pawn taking two steps. Remember that a pawn can only move two steps if they haven’t moved yet. For en passant to happen, that pawn needs to move horizontally next to your own pawn:


En Passant 1
En passant starts with the opponent’s pawn moving two steps


After the opponent’s pawn took two steps, something special happens. Notice how the white pawn didn’t get an opportunity to attack and capture. That’s not fair! Pawns should get the opportunity to attack each other. So the en passant rule was added.

En passant is a special rule in chess that allows a pawn to attack past an opponent’s fast-moving pawn. As usual, the pawn attacks forward diagonally. But uniquely, the opponent’s pawn is not located on the square you attack:


En Passant 2
White pawn attacks past fast-moving pawn, and takes it like this!


Pretty weird move, right? En passant is an exceptional move for a number of reasons:

  • It allows a pawn to attack diagonally, while the attacked piece is located horizontally;
  • En passant the only attack where a chess piece doesn’t land on the square of the captured piece;
  • It always involves an opponent’s pawn moving forward two squares;
  • En passant must be taken immediately after the opponent’s pawn has moved forward two squares, it is not possible to wait a turn to execute the move.


Unless en passant is the only available move left, the special chess move is not forced. But judging from the chess memes about en passant attacks, it should have been a forced move!


Pawn Promotion: Transforming Chess Pieces

Another unique aspect about pawns is the opportunity to transform them into a stronger chess piece. This is referred to as pawn promotion. Promoting a pawn is forced when a pawn is moved to the other side of a chessboard:


Pawn Promotion Board
Pawns promote by moving to the other side of the board


You can read all the details about pawn promotion in this overview. In short, these are the most important rules:

  • Pawns can only promote into a queen, rook, bishop, or knight;
  • Players can choose themselves which chess piece is chosen;
  • The common choice is promotion into a second queen, anything else is referred to as ‘underpromotion’;
  • Moving and transforming the pawn into a stronger chess piece happens in a single turn.


It is possible for a pawn to attack an opponent’s chess piece and promote in a single turn. The rules of chess state that this is a legal move. This could happen in a situation similar to the one shown below:


Pawn Promotion And Capture
Pawns can capture pieces and promote in one turn


In other situations, a pawn promotion could result in a check or checkmate. This is also a legal chess move. For example, the situation below would result in an instant checkmate for white:


Pawn Promotion Checkmate
Promotion can result in an instant checkmate


It’s not difficult to see how promoting one of your pawns is a very strong move. Your opponent will put effort into preventing a situation like this. Similarly, you should aim to prevent an opponent’s pawn from promotion.


Pawn Movement Is Different From Attacking

Pawns are common chess pieces, but they can be quite complicated in their movement. With a total of 16 pawns on a chessboard, it is clear that learning its moves is essential. If you want to be able to play chess well, you need to understand pawn movements and attacks.

The most important thing you need to take away from this overview is this. A pawn moves vertically, but attacks diagonally. It always moves forward, no matter the circumstances. It is not possible for a pawn to move (or attack) backwards. Remember this!

The goal of a pawn’s movement can be summarized as follows: pawns try to reach the other side of the board. That’s where they can transform from a cute caterpillar, into a beautiful butterfly. Imagine a pawn instantly becoming an extra queen. That’s a pretty powerful move.

Let me know if this overview helped you understand pawn movement a bit better. If you have any additional questions, feel free to ask them in the discussion section below. I’ll try to reply to every question as soon as possible. Talk to you there!

2 thoughts on “How Does The Pawn Move In Chess?”

  1. Can a pawn, in it’s first move, move one block vertically then the second block attack diagonally in one move, on it’s first move?

    • Hi!

      No, it’s not possible to move vertically and diagonally in one move.
      Moving the pawn two squares vertical move is only possible the first time you move a pawn.

      Hope this helps!
      – Arnold


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