The en passant rule is one of the most unique and intriguing elements of chess. Derived from French, “en passant” means “in passing,” and it allows a pawn to capture an opponent’s pawn when it advances two squares as if it had only moved one square forward.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the en passant move in chess, from its historical origins to its practical applications in the game.
Historical Origins of En Passant
The en passant rule has a rich history in chess. It was introduced in the late 15th century and has remained a fundamental part of the game ever since.
Its introduction came hand in hand with the rule allowing pawns to advance two squares on their first move. This rule allowed pawns to skip past enemy pawns on many occasions, avoiding confrontation altogether and not allowing the opponent a chance to capture them. This didn’t seem fair to many people, and so the en passant rule rose to the surface.
The rule has evolved over time and is now a critical aspect of modern chess strategy.
How En Passant Works
The en passant move comes into play when the following conditions are met:
1. An opponent’s pawn advances two squares from its starting position.
2. Your pawn is on the adjacent square, and it has not moved since your opponent’s pawn advanced two squares.
3. You choose to capture the opponent’s pawn with your pawn.
The capturing pawn moves to the square where the captured pawn would have been if it had only moved one square forward. This results in the captured pawn being removed from the board.
Remember that a pawn can advance two squares only on its first move.
Let’s take a look at a simple example.
Black’s pawn on f7 is on its home square. If it advances two squares and lands on f5, White’s pawn on g5 can take it en passant by moving to f6, capturing Black’s pawn as if it had moved one square forward.
A Common Misconception
One common misconception about en passant is that it can be played at any time. In reality, you must capture en passant on the very next move after your opponent advances their pawn two squares.
In our example, if White decides to move the king for the time being, they lose the right to capture en passant. It’s a one-time opportunity, take it or leave it.
Missing the opportunity can be a significant blunder, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, capturing en passant might be the worst option for you. Like almost any other move, it totally depends on the position in question. I encourage you to read on, we will be taking a close look at practical examples.
It also might be worth mentioning that en passant only applies to pawns; it does not work for other pieces.
In this position, White must be extremely careful not to advance the wrong pawn. While the a-pawn has a smooth path to promotion, the d-pawn can be captured en passant by Black’s pawn on c4. In that case, Black’s king will escort its pawn and help it promote, which will cost White the game.
In this position, Black advanced the f-pawn two squares, forking the White king and rook. White’s king cannot take the pawn, since it is protected by the pawn on e6. Had it not been for the en passant rule, White would have had no way to save the rook.
The question now is: which pawn should White capture en passant with? One option is much stronger than the other.
While capturing en passant with either pawn leads to checking the Black king, capturing with the g-pawn is the much stronger option. Why? Because the Black king will be in check while the g-file becomes wide open for the rook to take Black’s queen.
Black advanced their d-pawn two squares. White has the option to take en passant with the c-pawn. Should White use this opportunity?
Absolutely not. Capturing en passant would open the c-file for Black’s rook, allowing Black to play checkmate with rook to c1. Instead, White should safely capture Black’s pawn with the queen, checking Black’s king at the same time.
An En Passant Checkmate
One of the rarest and most beautiful moves in chess is delivering checkmate with en passant. Magnus Carlsen, the world’s best chess player, fell victim to this beautiful checkmate.
Magnus had the Black pieces, and his opponent played bishop to e4 check, so Magnus blocked with pawn to f5. Can you see the checkmate?
White used the e-pawn to capture the f5 pawn en passant, revealing the bishop’s check from which the Black king cannot escape. Checkmate.
White would’ve missed this beautiful checkmate had they chosen to capture en passant with the g-pawn. The difference is that the Black king would’ve been able to move to the h6 square. However, capturing en passant with the e-pawn leaves the g5 pawn covering the h6 square.
If you have any questions about the en passant rule or any other topic, please leave me a comment. I’d be more than happy to have a chat with you.