The pawns are often thought of as the weakest pieces on the chess board but if you can get a pawn to the final rank, it can instantly transform into a most powerful piece. A pawn that makes it to the other side of the board can be promoted to a piece of any kind (other than a pawn or king). The question is, how does a pawn move to get promoted?
Can a pawn move diagonally to promote? Yes, a pawn can move diagonally to promote but only if it is capturing a piece on the final rank. If it is not capturing an opponent’s piece, a pawn cannot move diagonally at all, not even to be promoted.
If you’ve heard that a pawn “instantly” transforms just before it crosses the line to the final rank and thus, can move diagonally (as it’s really a queen), that is incorrect. Here’s what you need to know about pawns and promotion.
What Is Promotion In Chess?
The pawn is only able to move forward either one or two squares along a file when it starts to move and then only one square forward along the file from them on. It may also capture by taking another piece on a single forward diagonal square (to either side of the pawn) usually by occupying the square that piece occupied but, occasionally, by bypassing another pawn “in passing” and capturing a pawn as though it had moved one square rather than two.
This means that all pawn moves are in a forward direction. If a pawn reaches the final rank (rank 8 for white or rank 1 for black) then it would become useless at this point because there would be no forward direction for it to pursue.
This seems like a poor reward for a foot soldier that has managed to occupy the enemy’s most prized rank and deepest territory. So, instead, the pawn is promoted. That is the player whose pawn reaches the final rank must choose to swap that pawn for either a queen, a rook, a knight or a pawn.
The History Of Pawn Promotion
This concept of promotion comes from real life. If a foot solider in the middle ages were to reach the back of the enemy lines, they would be rewarded with a promotion that awarded them rank (the lowest possible officer grade, mind you, they wouldn’t suddenly become royalty).
However, in chess the queen used to be a much weaker piece – it could only move one square diagonally in any direction, so a pawn was promoted to a “farzin” when promotion was first introduced to the game. “Farzin” meant “vizier” and not “queen”.
Then the “queen” was introduced along with her powerful move set and at this point, there was a huge uproar in chess. Surely a king could not have 2 queens? And, in fact, for a period of time it appears that he could not, and pawns were only allowed to be promoted to pieces already captured.
There was even a period of time when this could result in a “dead pawn” where a pawn would have to wait to be promoted until a piece had been captured that it could be promoted to. Howard Staunton, one of the all-time greatest players, was a fan of this rule.
It wasn’t until 1828, that the idea of pawn promotion as it is today – unrestricted by pieces on the board came into being. And it wasn’t until 1862, that these rules were formalized at the London Chess Congress. The rule, however, didn’t specify which color you had to promote the pawn to and there was much hilarity in developing chess problems during that time period in which the “joke” was you promoted your pawn to the other player’s piece. In 1883, the rule was revised to make it clear that you had to pick your own color.
What Are The Specific Rules Of Promotion?
The rules of promotion are:
- A pawn must reach the final rank
- When it comes to rest in the final rank the pawn must be promoted, on that move, to a queen, a knight, a rook or a bishop
- Once the pawn has been promoted the player’s turn ends (this is important as it means that the new piece cannot move until the next turn)
And that’s it. Promotion is actually a pretty simple business in chess. The hard work is getting your pawn to the other side of the board in the first place, not learning the rules surrounding promotion.
Does That Mean That A Pawn Can Move Diagonally To Be Promoted?
Yes, it means that a pawn can move diagonally to promote but only if the move it makes is already a legal move in chess. That means in order to move diagonally to reach the final rank, the pawn must capture a piece occupy a square one move forward to either side of the pawn.
There is no special rule that says a pawn may take diagonally in any other fashion and despite the belief by some players that the pawn “magically transforms” as it crosses the line from the penultimate rank to the final one, this is pure nonsense. The pawn only becomes another piece, once it has come to rest on the final rank.
The player may not delay promoting a piece at this time either. And occasionally, a player may end up forcing stalemate when they promote their pawn to a queen or other piece.
What is Underpromotion?
The concept of “under promotion” is the idea of converting the pawn into any other piece than a queen. Given that the queen is, by far, the strongest piece on the board, it follows logically that most players will choose to promote to a queen.
However, as noted above – sometimes this might result in a stalemate and thus, the player may opt to take a lesser piece to continue to pursue victory in the game.
What About Promoting Pawns In Other Variants Of Chess?
There are countless variants of chess and it is not possible to speak categorically about all of them. However, in general:
In Western variations, pawns can be promoted diagonally as long as the move is legal, and the rules do not forbid such a move. Even when the board is larger than usual – a pawn will normally be promoted when it reaches the final rank. Pawns may also be promoted to “fairy pieces” (that is a non-standard piece) or even to a king in some variants of Western chess.
In other variations of chess, mainly regional variations, not all of these variations incorporate promotion and if they do, the rules may constrain which piece the pawn is promoted to, they may change the rank on which a pawn gains promotion and the pawn may or may not be allowed to be promoted by moving diagonally.
Thus, you would need to consult the individual rules of most variants to be certain of the rules for promoting pawns either diagonally or in any other fashion.
Can a pawn move diagonally to promote? A pawn may always move one square diagonally to capture another piece as long as your pawn is doing this then if that capture leaves your pawn on the final rank – it must be promoted as per the rules of promotion. However, this is the only circumstance under which the pawn is able to move in a diagonal direction to secure promotion to another piece.
There is no special rule that states pawns “instantly” become a new piece as they cross from the penultimate rank to the final one. In fact, the rules state quite clearly that a pawn is promoted once it is resting on a square of the final rank. So, there is no special move that allows a player to diagonally slide his pawn around a blocking piece and convert the pawn into a queen. This is probably for the best as it would reduce the challenge of promoting a pawn considerably and upset the balance of the game.