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9- Pawn promotion V3


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.


Basic rules of promotion:

  • A pawn that reaches the opposite end of the board – the“last rank” – may not be promoted as part of the same play.

  • A pawn standing in the last rank may be promoted whenever the player has the move.

  • Promotion may be 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 being promoted may be moved as part of the same play but that is not required.

  • If the player elects not to move the promoted piece, no other piece may be moved in its place.

  • If the promoted piece is moved, it may not capture an opponent’s piece as part of the same play.

  • The promoted piece will, on subsequent plays, have acquired all of the attributes of the piece it has promoted to.

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. A pawn reaching the last rank on a two-square move may be captured “en passant” like any other.

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

  5. Since a pawn that is being promoted may remain on its original square, this makes it the only play where a player is not required to actually move a piece.

  6. Unable to capture a piece on the play when it is promoted, a pawn standing in the last rank does not attack any square.

Example of promotion #1:

White has just played the a-pawn to the last rank and no promotion takes place at this time. Black plays Bd6 attacking both the pawn and the knight. White could promote the pawn to a bishop but since it is not permitted to capture a piece as part of the same play, it would be readily captured by black. White seems bound to lose a piece and this game will be a draw from lack of material.


White promotes the pawn to a knight and plays Nc8. Black finds themselves in check and must now rescue the king. White captures the bishop. This has become a two knight endgame. If white plays correctly, they will win this game.

Example of promotion #2:

White has just played Ke4 attacking blacks knight. Black plays Nb4 and attacks whites bishop.


White promotes the g-pawn to a bishop and forfeits the move. Black is now in check and must play the king. White captures the knight and this has become a two bishop endgame.

Example of promotion #3:

White has just played Nd6 attacking blacks rook on f5. Black responds with Rd5 and attacks whites knight. If white rescues the knight, the pawn is lost.


White promotes the pawn to a bishop and plays Bf7. Black is in check and will lose the rook. (Black could play Rc5 for a double-check but white answers with Kd4 and the rook must fall.) We now have a bishop and knight endgame.

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