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How to Use the Pawn in Chess

Learn how to use the pawn in chess from Chess NYC in this Howcast video.


Hi, this is David Sullivan for Chess NYC, here are pawns and how to use them. In a game of chess, we begin with each side having a row of 8 pawns. The big pieces start behind the pawns. The pawn are actually one of the hardest pieces to teach, especially for little kids because they move in one way, they capture in a different way, they can also promote, and there's also something called en passant, which can make things extra confusing.

Let's see if I can make this simple. Pawns move straight ahead, one square at a time, except when they're on their starting square, when they're allowed to go 2 squares forward. This pawn, because it's no longer on it's starting square can only go 1 square forward, but if it went 1 square forward, the black pawn can capture 1 square forward diagonally. Pawns capture 1 square forward on the same color. So, if white's pawn were here and black moved it's pawn here, this white pawn can move forward 1 square, capturing the black pawn.

Pawns never move backwards. You should never see a pawn moving backwards like this or backwards like this during the game. If a pawn moves here and another pawn moves here, then these pawns block each other. This pawn wants to move forward, but the square in front of it is occupied and it has nobody to capture.

When a pawn, if a pawn, during a game, reaches the other side of the board, it promotes, it becomes a more powerful piece. Usually a queen, but sometimes it can become other pieces as well. Pawns are strong enough to help checkmate. We can reach a position like this, and if white pushes his pawn 1 square forward, I add a pawn for black to make this a legal position, I push this pawn 1 square forward, this pawn which captures 1 square forward diagonally is threatening the black king, saying check to the black king. The black king cannot take this pawn because then he would be in danger from the white king. Kings can never stand next to each other. The king cannot capture this pawn, because then he would be in danger from the white king. He cannot go here because of the white king, he cannot go here because the pawn would threaten him, he cannot go here because the pawn would threaten him as well. This is check mate, there's no way to block, no way to capture, no place you can run.

The last thing we have to learn about pawns is perhaps the most confusing thing, and it's called en passant. In the olden days of chess, pawns could only move 1 square forward at a time, even when they were on their starting square. But then they sped up the game about 500 years ago and allowed pawns to go 2 squares forward on their starting square. But then we'd reach positions like this, where let's say black has a pawn on the 4th rank and white pushes his pawn up 2 squares. Well the white pawn has gone past the square where this pawn can normally make a capture. However, they made up a room called en passant, which is French for in passing, which allows this pawn to capture this pawn as if it only went 1 square forward. And you have to do that on the following rule. So, if white plays like this, black could capture that pawn and then white could capture black's back. Or if white had a pawn here on the 5th rank, and black advanced his pawn 2 squares, right, it looks like this pawn has gone past the square where white could make a capture, but white could capture in passing, en passant.

And, hopefully that's all you'll never need to know about pawns.

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