When you’re new to the game of chess everything can seem quite confusing and the rules can be overwhelming. However, once you get familiar with the game, you’ll quickly come to appreciate that the moves each piece can make is relatively restricted. So, is it true that a pawn cannot attack on their opening move or is this not quite the case?
Can a pawn attack on their first move? There is no way that a pawn can attack on the very first move of the game because all the pieces, except that pawn itself, are in their starting positions. However, if white were to move any of their pawns 2 spaces on their first move then black’s response could result in a pawn attacking that pawn. So a pawn may attack on their first move as long as it’s not the very first move of the game.
Let’s take a look in more detail at how pawns can act in a game of chess.
How Do Pawns Move and Attack
Before we can begin to answer this question effectively, it’s very important to look at the rules that surround the use of pawns in the game of chess and how they may affect that pawn’s ability to attack another piece.
The Placement of Pawns In Chess
Firstly, the pawns begin the game on the 2nd rank of either player’s set up. For the player with the white pieces this is the rank labelled “2” on the score sheet and for the player with the black pieces, it’s the rank labelled “7”. Thus, they provide a defensive wall for all of the player’s more important pieces.
The Initial Moves Of Pawns In Chess
When the game begins there are four empty ranks spanning the gulf between the two sets of pawns and it is into this space that all the board’s pieces will begin to move, at least, at first.
On the first move of a pawn:
- A pawn may move forward along the file that they occupy by either 1 square or 2 squares. The pawn may not jump over any piece obstructing the move.
- AND a pawn may capture another piece of the opponent’s by moving one square diagonally to remove that piece from the square that it occupies. A pawn may not capture, even on the first move, by moving two squares diagonally.
Thus, the pawn is different from all the other pieces on the board, in that it captures another piece by moving in a different direction from the direction in which it would normally move.
After the first move of the pawn:
- A pawn may move forward along the file that they occupy by only one square
- A pawn may capture in the same manner as outlined before, by moving one square in a diagonal fashion
These are the standard moves that a pawn is permitted to make in chess. There are also two special moves that pawns may make.
The Special Moves Of Pawns
- En passant. This is achieved when a pawn has advanced 3 squares forward and thus sits on rank 5 if they are a white pawn or on rank 4 if they are black. Then the opponent moves a pawn on a neighboring file 2 spaces forward so that their pawn comes to rest side-by-side with the pawn on rank 5 or 4. At this point, the player who had advanced their pawn 3 spaces may act like the other pawn had moved only 1 space forward and not two. They move their pawn diagonally onto the square that the pawn would have occupied if moving 1 square and they remove the opponent’s pawn from the board. This may only be done on the turn following the opponent’s pawn moving 2 spaces, after this – the pawn may not capture “en passant” unless their opponent moves the pawn 2 spaces forward on the other adjacent rank.
- Promotion. This is a very important pawn move and involves the player’s pawn reaching the final rank (8 for white, and 1 for black) and at this point as the pawn can no longer move in a forward direction they must be exchanged for a bishop, rook, queen or knight of the same color. The player who promotes the pawn choose which.
It is important to note that neither en passant nor promotion can have any bearing on the question of whether pawns can attack on their first move as both of these moves require that the pawn has already moved (either by 3 squares on the file in the case of en passant or by a full 6 squares in the case of promotion).
What Do We Mean By “Attack” In Chess?
When we refer to a piece attacking another piece in chess, we are talking about a move in which that piece threatens to take another piece on its next move.
There is no obligation on a player who moves their piece into an attacking position to take that piece and, in fact, in many cases, a player may opt to do something else.
So, Can A Pawn Attack On The First Move Of The Game?
Clearly not. There are four empty ranks between each row of pawns and the white pawn may only advance two squares at most. They then attack the two squares diagonally in front of them (or one if the white pawn occupies the first or last file on the board) and as these squares are empty – they are not attacking anything.
When Is The Earliest A Pawn May Attack On The First Move?
The earliest a pawn may attack is on the first move by the black player, this would normally be a “gambit” that is a move that is expected to result in the loss of material at least temporarily in order to promote a more favorable position.
The most famous of these is the Englund Gambit which is 1. d4 e5
As you can see though black’s pawn is attacking from e5 to d4, in reality, the white pawn is attacking straight back, and it is possible for white to follow with.
2. d4 x e5
If you play a lot of chess and you are wondering why you’ve never seen the Englund Gambit in competitive chess, it’s because this is considered to be a real stinker of an opening. The idea behind it is to provide black with a more open game with more attacking chances.
In reality, the loss of the pawn and opening the white queen up are near suicidal and the opening is considered to be extremely unlikely to produce a good result for black. This means it’s almost never used at a serious competitive level though some amateurs may reach for it and it has been known for people to build games of correspondence chess around it for fun.
A Pawn Does Not Need To Move In Order To Attack
In fact, there’s no need for a pawn to move at all for it to attack another piece. If you can imagine a dreadful game of chess which goes something like this:
- kb3 kb6
- kc5 kc4
- kf6 kf3
Then you would have two knights being attacked by pawns with any pawns being moved on the board at all.
Can a pawn attack on their first move? It is impossible for a pawn to attack on the very first move of the game. Thus, if white moves a pawn on their first move, that can never lead to an attack. However, with that single exception there is no reason that a pawn cannot attack on their first move assuming that there is a legal move available to do so.
As we said, there’s no good reason that a pawn cannot capture another piece when they are taking their first move. The only exception to this is that a pawn may never capture using the “en passant” rule on their first move as it requires the pawn to have made 2 previous moves before it may be used. Thus, pawns can quickly become very aggressive pieces indeed.