En Passe Chess Explained

How do Pawns Move in Chess?

En passe chess is the capture of a horizontally nearby enemy pawn that has just made a two-square move by a piece. The pawn never moves backward or to the side, just forward. Pawns move one square ahead each time you move them, though they may move two squares forward the first time. 

Pawns capture a piece that is diagonally forward one square. Even though pawns cannot ordinarily move sideways, this is the only method they can capture. Pawns are the only pieces that capture and move in diverse ways.

chess pawn

What is an En Passant in Chess?

You must be conversant with the term en passant if you play chess. En passant in chess is a special rule that allows pawns on adjacent tiles to capture pawns in certain situations. The rule, according to FIDE, the governing body of chess, is as follows:

“A pawn attacking a square crossed by an opponent’s pawn that has advanced two squares from its original square in one move may capture this opponent’s pawn as if it had only progressed one square.” This type of capture is known as an ‘en passant’ capture because you can only do it while on the move after this advance.”

That may seem like a dull explanation, but consider what it implies in the context of a fictional game: you can only do it. For example, assume you’re playing white, and you advance your e-pawn three ranks during the match to the fifth rank, e5.

Let’s pretend black hasn’t yet advanced its d- or f-pawns (the pawns on adjacent files) forward. Instead, it moves its d-pawn two squares ahead from its starting square to d5, where it is right adjacent to your e5 pawn.

You now have the option to capture black’s d-pawn as if it were on d6 on the next move. You will take black’s pawn if you make a move, and your pawn will finish on d6. It’s worth noting that extraordinary captures are only legal after the opponent completes the two-step move. You will lose your chance if you don’t capture en passant (at least with that particular pawn).

What is the En Passant Rule?

En Passant Rules

People use en passant capture in only exceptional circumstances; it is impossible to capture en passant all of the time. You must meet a couple of conditions per the rules of the game to execute an en passant capture:

  • Your pawn must be by one square in the opponent’s half of the board. So, if you’re White, your pawn must be on the 5th rank, and if you’re black, your piece must be on the 4th rank.
  • Only after your opponent makes the pawn move do you have the chance to capture en passant. You can’t wait until the next turn; else, you’ll lose your privilege to capture en passant!
  • After a two-square hop, the opponent pawn must land right next to your pawn.
white chess pawn

The Requirements for En Passe Chess to be Legal

There are a few conditions for the move to be legal:

  • To conduct this move, the capturing pawn must have advanced three levels.
  • In addition, the captured pawn has to move two squares in one movement to land next to the capturing pawn.
  • You need to complete the en passant capture on the turn after the pawn’s movement is captured. If a player fails to capture en passant on that turn, they will not be able to do so later.

The History of En Passant in Chess

Pawns were able to advance two squares forward on their initial move as early as 1200 A.D. The question was whether a pawn could make this two-square move to avoid an enemy pawn’s control, and numerous local rules developed throughout the centuries. 

Some regions would not allow the two-square move if it entailed passing an opposing piece, while others would not allow it if they were defending a check.

By the early nineteenth century, two variations authorized or forbade en passant capture. Capturing en passant was permitted in England and its environs, but not in Italy or Germany. The rule change impacted opening theory; in Italy, for example, following 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5, black could play…f5 without fear of being captured right away.

Capturing en passant has several distinct advantages. For starters, it’s the only method a pawn may strike an opposing pawn without the opposing pawn being able to retaliate. Furthermore, it is the only move available for one turn only, after which it becomes impossible. 

As a result, when an en passant capture is involved, several combinations that rely on an “in-between” move may not function.

There were arguments regarding its proper form in the regions where en passant captures were permitted before the present norm became universal in the mid-1800s. Some people wondered why it only applied to pawns: after all, pawns pass pieces, and pieces pass each other with impunity, so why not pawns? 

Surprisingly, several printed regulations omitted to state that it was confined to the immediate response, even though some clearly expressed the concept, implying they understood.

However, they clarified the rule in recent decades to indicate that a position in a triple-occurrence draw claim is not a duplication of an earlier position if an en passant capture was conceivable in that initial position.

chess pawn advances

The Final Say

En passant can be a terrific technique to advance a pawn you want to promote, but if that pawn is the linchpin of your position, moving it off its file could bring your entire strategy crashing down. En passant isn’t necessarily the most substantial move just because it’s rare and under the rules of chess. 

Learning the en passant rule will help you avoid being surprised by your opponent during your games. It can also help you avoid losing materials and provide you with more attacking options.

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