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9- Pawn promotion


In the early days of chess, a pawn that had pushed its way through the opponent’s lines and reached the opposite end of the board was promoted to a “mantri” (the Sanskrit word for “counsellor”) a weak piece that moved a single square on the diagonal. In the European version of the game, the mantri would become the queen and see its movement greatly enhanced. And that is how a promotion to the weakest piece had become a promotion to the strongest one.

Once again this is a rule that has varied greatly over the ages. Many players objected earlier on to the king having two queens – some still do – and for a while the pawn could only promote to a piece that had already been captured. At other times, a pawn could only promote to the piece of the file on which it promoted, or on which it started, with the exception of the king’s pawn which was permitted to promote to a queen since one could not (of course...) have two kings.

Under the modern rules of chess, a pawn that reaches the last rank may promote to any piece (other than a king) at the player’s discretion. Known as the “unrestricted promotion rule”, it became popular in the 19th century and was almost universally accepted by the end of it. And since the queen is by far the most powerful piece of the game, it naturally follows that the vast majority of promotions are to a queen, a process that is usually referred to as “queening”.

A consequence of the new promotion rule was to make the material gain of a single pawn a much greater advantage than it initially was. Under the original rule, when a pawn could only promote to a mantri, a single pawn ending was always a draw since a mantri and a king could not force a mate. But with the introduction of the unrestricted promotion rule, a single pawn ending – if the said pawn could safely reach the last rank and promote – would usually translate into an easy win.

The rules of pawn promotion in Chess 99:

The rules of pawn promotion under Chess 99 return to the original philosophy of the game and promotions are now limited to the two minor pieces, bishops and knights, and nothing else!

Standard promotion:

  • A pawn that reaches the opposite end of the board – the“last rank” – whether on a single-square move or a two-square move, must then be promoted as part of the same play.

  • Promotion is to a knight or a bishop at the player’s discretion.

  • The choice of piece is not limited to knights and bishops that have been previously captured.

  • A pawn that reaches the last rank on a two-square move and promotes, may still be captured “en passant”. The promoted piece is removed from the board.

Do note the following:

  1. A player will never have two queens, two paladins, or three rooks.

  2. A player may however, have three [or more] knights and bishops.

  3. Since a king and a single knight or bishop cannot force a mate, a single pawn ending should be a draw.

  4. The capture “en passant” of a pawn that has reached the last rank on a two-square move may be executed by first demoting the piece back to a pawn and pushing it back one square where the capture actually takes place. (This will make it clear that the pawn never made it to the last rank and never promoted.)

Example of promotion:

White plays the d-pawn to the last rank and promotes it to a knight. Black is now in check and their bishop is under attack.


Black announces “en passant”, plays Bxd8 and removes the knight from the board. (Having been captured as it went through d8, the pawn never made it to the last rank and never promoted.) This game should end in a draw.

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