Can A Chess Pawn Capture On The First Move?

Chess is a very interesting game to play and as many new players will know – there are a few “special rules” which dictate how things must be in very specific circumstances. Think castling or “en passant” capture but is there any rule that says a chess pawn can’t capture on the first move? Is it possible for a pawn to do so?

Can a chess pawn capture on the first move? A pawn cannot capture on the first move of the game because the opponent’s pieces are still in their positions, too far away to be captured. However, a pawn can definitely capture on its own first move, whether that happens at the beginning, middle, or end of the game.

All chess pieces, including pawns, may take a piece on their first move. Let’s take a deeper look at pawns and what they do.

Can a pawn capture on the first move? - ChessPulse.com
Can a pawn capture on the first move? – ChessPulse.com

How Do Pawns Move And Capture In Chess?

In order to examine the ability of pawns to capture on the first move, we need to look at where they appear on the board and what the rules are surrounding how pawns move.

Firstly, all the pawns of one color appear on the 2nd rank for the player with that color. So, all white pawns are on the 2nd rank of the board at the beginning of the game and the black pawns are on the 7th rank.

This means that when they begin the game there are four ranks between the white and black pawns.

A pawn may then move one square forward, except on its first move when it may also move two squares forward – once a pawn has been moved whether it was moved one or two squares, it can only move one square forward in the future.

A pawn may also capture another piece, however, unlike most other pieces, the pawn does not capture in the same direction as it moves. It may capture a piece by moving one square forward diagonally to remove the piece that occupies that square.

These are the standard moves for pawns in chess and while there are other interesting moves for pawns (as we shall see in a minute) they do not affect our main question and its outcome. 

Does This Mean A Chess Pawn Can Capture On The First Move?

Firstly, it ought to be clear that a pawn cannot capture on the first move of the game (either black or white’s first move for that matter) as it is impossible for either set of pawns to find a piece that it threatens (e.g. can take on a single forward diagonal move).

In fact, the only way that the first move of any pawn could result in a capture is if the opponent moved their knight into a position of threat. Otherwise, the first move that any pawn on the board makes must be a move forward.


However, it is entirely possible for a pawn to capture a piece on its first move. Let’s say that the first move from white is 1. e4 and then black responds …c5, then white pushes their pawn forward e5 and black does the same with their pawn …c6, then white pushes to e6… there is nothing wrong with either the black pawn on d7 or f7 taking the white pawn on its first move.

You won’t see that specific situation in a game very often, but you will see pawns taking on their first move on a regular basis. It’s perfectly legal and whether the piece that they threaten is a queen or a pawn, a pawn may take it on its first move.


Other Interesting Moves From Pawns

There are a couple of other interesting moves open to pawns and while we’ve touched on these elsewhere on the site, it’s worth mentioning them here:

  • En passant. When a pawn has moved three spaces forward (so for white it sits on the 5th rank and for black it sits on the 4th rank), if the opponent pushes a pawn two squares forward to sit next to that pawn – it may be taken as though it had only moved one square forward. The pawn on the 5th rank is moved diagonally to fill the square behind the pawn that moved two squares forward and that pawn is removed from the board. It should be clear that, by definition, you can’t take using this rule on the first move as the pawn taking must have moved 3 spaces forward to use this technique.
  • Promotion. When a pawn reaches the final rank on the board, if it were to remain a pawn it would be useless – after all, there are no more forward moves for it to make. To ensure that this isn’t the case, when the pawn gets to that rank it is promoted instead. The pawn may be exchanged by its player for any major piece (queen, rook, bishop or knight). One a pawn has been promoted it becomes the piece that it was exchanged for. This piece may capture any other piece, as long as it is making a legal move, on its first turn on the board.

The History Of The Pawn (The Most Interesting Piece On The Board)

The very earliest game of chess was called chaturanga and a piece that was roughly equivalent to the pawn was found on the chaturanga board. In fact, it is surprisingly consistent in all chess variations, while other pieces have come and gone – the pawn has always been there.

The pawn moved the same in chaturanga too (one move forward and capturing one move forward to the diagonal). You’d be quite amazed at how many other pieces move in completely different ways in different version of the game of chess.

One really interesting thing about the pawn is that each pawn used to have its own name! Yes, in the medieval period there were 8 names for your pawns, and they were given based on the file in which the pawn appeared. So, from left to right they were called:

  • “The Gambler” (or perhaps another name for a rogue or scoundrel – this was because the left-hand square is quite literally “sinister” in Latin)
  • “The Policeman” (or possibly “the city guard” because at that point in time when a knight appeared in real life, he would be defended by a guard in front of him)
  • “The Innkeeper” (this appears to be a bit of a joke around where bishops enjoy spending their time)
  • “The Doctor” (who serves at the pleasure of the queen)
  • “The Moneychanger” (who else would precede the king?)
  • “The Clerk” (a more sober nod to the work of the clergy)
  • The “Blacksmith” (to care for the knight’s horse, of course)
  • The “Farmer” (who would have tended the lands of the castle they stood in front of)

However, while the pawn had undergone many names over the years, one thing has not changed, the pawn has never been able to take another piece on the first move of chess or any other variant of the game.

The name “pawn” is drawn from the French “peon” which means “foot solider” and not as popularly believed, “peasant”.


Conclusion

Can a chess pawn capture on the first move? Not on the first move of the game because as you can see from looking at the board, it is impossible for a pawn to capture anything one move diagonally and that’s how pawns capture other pieces. However, they absolutely can capture a piece on their first move, and they are not require to move forward before they take.

It’s worth noting that a pawn cannot capture another pawn “en passant” on its first move as the pawn must already have moved three spaces forward in order to legally capture an opponent’s pawn in this manner. However, ignoring this minor caveat there is no rule in chess that prevents a pawn from capturing another piece the first time that that pawn is moved.

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