What is en passant? – And Other Extra Rules

The first post outlines the really basic rules, but to become a fully equipped chess player, there are some other things you need to know…

This first extra rule is perhaps one that many beginners dont know, and I would say that for every 100 games, it occurs just once – this does vary depending on what openings you play. The question is what is en passant? It is essentially another pawn move, which can be played only in some positions.

En Passant

This phrase originates from French I believe, and translates literally as ‘in passing’. The general idea is that the price of bypassing an enemy, and not confronting them, is that you are stabbed in the back. I could hardly imagine William the Conqueror leading his army round Harold Godwinson`s by the cover of night. He would have found that further inland there would be more armies, and being surrounded like that is not much fun.

The rule: When one player has a pawn on the fifth rank (that is to say advanced 3 squares forward of the starting position) and the opposing player moves a pawn on an adjacent file (vertical column) the maximum advancement, then the fifth rank pawn may capture the enemy pawn as if it had moved just 1 square.

It is easier to understand with diagrams:

white has a pawn on the 5th rank.

black advances an adjacent pawn 2 squares.

white is able to (and does) capture en passant

However, this move – en passant – may only be played immediately after your opponent`s move. If you are white in the diagram above, and when you reach position 2, you play a different move, then on your next move you want to take en passant, that is not allowed.

For further reading, I would recommend this article on chess.com.


Now after learning an obscure rule, it is time to learn a very practical one that you can use in almost all games. The king is the one piece that you are trying to defend, and if it is in the middle of the board, then it will be subject to attacks from all angles, so we want to keep him safe. One easy way of doing this, is to tuck him away in the corner. Now, first of all we have to have moved our pieces off the back rank, so that there is just empty space between the king and the rook, and then you have the option of performing this move.

The king always moves 2 squares towards the rook, and the rook jumps over the king. When you make this move in a game, you should use only 1 hand, and move the king first, then the rook, otherwise your opponent will say “aha, you touched the rook! Now you have to move that piece…” This is unfortunately a very valid statement.

Kingside Castling

before castling

after castling

Queenside Castling

There is also another way of castling – Castling queen-side. This is often a riskier option, and can lead to more aggressive games, because if you castle one way, and your opponent castles the other, then it is a real race to see who`s attack comes first. Who delivers the first blow. Anyway…

before castling

after castling

When You Can’t Castle

There are however certain positions where it is not okay to castle, even though you have moved all the chess pieces out of the way. Firstly, you can`t castle when you are in check. You also can`t castle into check, or through check.

You can’t castle when you are in check

You can’t castle into check

You can’t castle through check

It is okay for your rook to move through the line of fire, but your king can’t. The only other time that you can`​t castle, is if the rook has already moved in the game. You can`t move your rook up the board, then a few moves later move it back, and try to castle – it is just not allowed. Here is an article on a grandmaster game, where they castled incorrectly. Yes, even the best players sometimes have a mental block.

Pawn Promotion

When a pawn has ran all the way down the board, and can go no further without dropping off the board, the pawn in question becomes a piece of higher value – almost always a queen, although you can promote a pawn to any piece you want to as long as you are not currently in check. 

The vast majority of the time, you will be promoting to a queen, because it is the best piece. However, there are certain stalemate themes, where promoting to a knight or a rook is the way to win.

When a pawn reaches the end of the board it is promoted…

…to a queen

… or a knight

… or a rook or a bishop (but this is less common).

How the game can end

At the end of every game, there are 3 possible outcomes: You either win, lose or draw. To win, you can either checkmate your opponent, or they might simply resign (give up), because they don`t want to waste time and energy fighting a losing battle. Below is a position where black can checkmate white next move, and win the game:

It is black to move and checkmate white.

Ne2# checkmate is the end of the game.


In the second position, the white king is in check – it is being threatened by the black knight, but there is no way of white getting out of check. There are three ways to deal with check, you either move your king, block the line of fire or take the enemy piece.

  1. In this position, white can`t move his king anywhere, because there are white pieces in the way, and the h-file is controlled by a black rook.
  2. White can`t block the line of fire, because naturally knights can`t be blocked.
  3. The knight cannot be captured by any white piece.
  4. Therefore it is checkmate.

Moving on, there are many ways to draw a game of chess, so  I think that topic deserves its own post. If you have any questions about how these rules work, then please do leave a comment below, and I will respond within a couple of days.

2 thoughts on “What is en passant? – And Other Extra Rules”

  1. I can feel the passion and love you have for the chess game, just by reading this article. It’s so detailed, that even a begginer can learn how to make this move.

    Chess is one of my favorite games ever; learned how to play it from the best: my father. We used to play it together especially during winter, when the cold weather and long hours of dark don’t allow you to go out. I had forgotten these moves, thank you for refreshing my memoria.

    1. Thank you 🙂

      Chess is indeed an all weather sport. No matter whether it is raining, snowing, windy or sunny, you can always get the chess set out and have a game.

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