We've discussed most of the particulars of how pawns move. But we also said that there were a couple of extra special moves that pawns can make. We're going to look at one of them here.

When you set up the pieces, you have rooks, knights, bishops, a queen, and a king. These pieces start out life in a chess game as what they are (rooks, knights, etc.), they fulfill their role in the game as determined by you, the player; and when they get captured, well, they're gone. That's it, end of story. That's all the life these pieces have to look forward to in your hands.

Pawns, however, are different. Although they're the lowliest pieces on the board (a lot of us chessplayers don't even refer to pawns as 'pieces'; we say rather that we have 'pieces and pawns'), pawns have one unique feature that NOTHING else on the board has. Pawns can get promoted up through the ranks. A pawn can be ambitious enough to work and strive towards becoming a knight, bishop, rook, or even an all-powerful, mighty queen! Pawns have a future!

But nothing comes free. I said that pawns have to work and strive towards their promotions. That's how it works in real life, too. We work hard, get good grades, and get promoted to the next grade level. Pawns have to do the same thing. And the way that a pawn gets promoted is to work its way down the board, one square at a time (remember?), until it reaches the last row or rank where it can't move forward any further simply due to being at the edge of the board. (What, you didn't think a pawn just sat there on the 8th rank with nothing to do, being unable to capture anything or move anywhere, did you?)

In real life with a real chess set and board, to make a move that involves promoting a pawn, you would take the following two steps as one move:

  1. Make the pawn move and place the pawn on the eighth rank, and;
  2. Immediately replace the pawn with the higher value piece of your choosing from off the board.

You may already be wondering if you have to hold off promoting a pawn to a queen if you've still already got your queen on the board with which you started. And I think you're going to like the answer to the question. No, you don't.

You can promote a pawn to a queen, and have more than one queen on the board!

How does that sound? Boy, if you think one queen is a powerful piece (and it is), think what you could do with TWO QUEENS! Yeah, now we're starting to understand that pawn promotion is a pretty wondrous move!

Now, pawns can promote to any other piece on the board, mostly. Pawns can promote to knights. They can promote to bishops, rooks, and as we've already seen, even to queens. But a pawn can't be promoted to a king. It just doesn't work that way. (So if you had any initial thoughts about getting a second king so that your opponent would have to checkmate TWO kings instead of just one, sorry, forget it.)

Now, when you're just setting out learning how to play chess, more likely than not, if the rare opportunity comes along to get a pawn all the way to the 8th rank, you're probably going to promote it to a queen. After all, you want the most bang for your buck. But I'm just going to show an example position where you might consider promoting a pawn to something OTHER than a queen.

              bn.gif (1074 bytes)
          wp.gif (1037 bytes)   bk.gif (1133 bytes)
            bp.gif (986 bytes)
    wb.gif (1107 bytes)     bp.gif (986 bytes) wn.gif (1081 bytes)
    wk.gif (1135 bytes)          
Here, its white's move and he's obviously in control. After all,  he's going to promote his pawn to a queen and probably have checkmate in a couple of moves.. 

But is there something else that would end this game immediately? Is there a one-move mate here for white?

        wn.gif (1081 bytes)   bn.gif (1074 bytes)

  bk.gif (1133 bytes)
            bp.gif (986 bytes)
      wb.gif (1107 bytes)     bp.gif (986 bytes) wn.gif (1081 bytes)
    wk.gif (1135 bytes)          
There sure is! White moves his pawn to the 8th rank, and promotes it to a KNIGHT, not a queen! The newly-created knight places black's king into check, and with the combination of the two white knights and the white bishop covering all black's escape squares, there's no where to which black's king can run. Black's king is in checkmate, and that's the end of the game. White wins!