Why is En Passant a Rule?
You see, En passant is one of the most intriguing and unique rules in chess.
It allows a pawn to capture another pawn that has just moved two squares forward, as if it had only moved one square.
The name “en passant” comes from the French expression that means “in passing”, which describes how the capture works.
But why does this rule exist, and how can you use it in your games? Let’s find out!
The History of En Passant
The en passant rule is closely related to another rule that was created centuries ago to make chess more interesting. In the olden times, pawns could move just one square at a time. This made the games slow and boring, as pawns would take a long time to reach the center or the enemy’s territory.
To make the games faster, people modified the pawn moves: they could now jump two squares when leaving their home squares. This made the game more dynamic and exciting, as pawns could quickly advance and create threats.
However, when the pawn moves changed, so did the balance of the game. A passed pawn, which is a pawn that has no enemy pawns in front of it or on adjacent files, is a great advantage for the player who has it. It can push forward and promote to a more powerful piece, or create pressure on the enemy’s position.
But since a pawn could now move two squares on its first move, it was easier to create a passed pawn. Sometimes, a pawn could even avoid being captured by another pawn by jumping over its attack square. This was unfair and illogical, as it gave too much power to the pawns.
To solve this problem, people invented the en passant rule. This rule ensured that a pawn could not use its two-square move to safely skip past an enemy pawn. It also restored the logic of the game, as pawns could still capture each other diagonally.
The Rules of En Passant
The conditions for a pawn to capture an enemy pawn en passant are as follows:
- The enemy pawn advanced two squares on the previous turn;
- The capturing pawn attacks the square that the enemy pawn passed over;
- The en passant capture must be performed on the turn immediately after the two-square advance; it cannot be done on a later turn.
The capturing move is sometimes notated by appending
e.p. or similar. For example, in algebraic notation,
bxa3 e.p. may be used to represent a black pawn on b4 capturing a white pawn on a4 en passant.
Here is an example of an en passant capture:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.e5 Ne4 5.Qxd4 d5 6.exd6 e.p.
Only pawns may capture or be captured en passant; other pieces with the ability to capture diagonally—the king, queen, and bishop—cannot perform the capture. The en passant capture is the only capturing move in chess where the capturing piece moves to a square not occupied by the captured piece.
The Strategy of En Passant
The en passant rule adds an extra layer of complexity and strategy to chess. It can create tactical opportunities for both sides, as well as influence the pawn structure and the endgame.
Here are some tips on how to use en passant effectively:
- Be aware of when your opponent can capture your pawn en passant, and avoid it if possible. Sometimes, moving your pawn two squares can expose it to an unwanted capture that weakens your position or loses material.
- Be alert for when you can capture your opponent’s pawn en passant, and consider if it benefits you. Sometimes, capturing en passant can open up lines for your pieces, create passed pawns, or prevent your opponent from creating threats.
- Be careful of when you decline to capture en passant, and make sure you have a good reason. Sometimes, not capturing en passant can allow your opponent to gain space, create counterplay, or simplify into a favorable endgame.
Here are some examples of en passant in action:
In this position, White can play 1.e5 and threaten to capture Black’s knight on f6. Black cannot defend the knight with 1…g5, because White can capture it en passant with 2.exf6 e.p. and win material.
In this position, White can play 1.c5 and create a passed pawn on the c-file. Black cannot stop it with 1…b5, because White can capture it en passant with 2.cxb6 e.p. and maintain the passed pawn.
In this position, White can play 1.g4 and create a passed pawn on the g-file. Black cannot capture it with 1…hxg3, because White can capture it en passant with 2.hxg3 e.p. and reach a winning king and pawn endgame.
Conclusion on Why is En Passant a Rule
En passant is a rule that makes chess more interesting and challenging. It allows pawns to capture each other diagonally, even when they move two squares forward. It also prevents pawns from avoiding capture by jumping over their attack squares.
En passant is a rule that you should know and understand, as it can affect your games in many ways. It can create tactical possibilities, influence the pawn structure, and determine the outcome of the endgame.
If you want to learn more about en passant, you can watch this video lesson by IM Danny Rensch:
I hope you enjoyed this blog post and learned something new. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. Thanks for reading! 😊
(1) En Passant – Chess Terms – Chess.com. https://www.chess.com/terms/en-passant.
(2) En passant – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/En_passant
(3) “en passant” in chess: why the move was invented and how it’s played. https://blog.chesshouse.com/en-passant-in-chess-why-the-move-was-invented-and-how-its-played/.
(4) En Passant (What it is, How it works, and what it means) – Simplify Chess. https://simplifychess.com/articles/what-is-en-passant-in-chess/index.html.
Benjamin Miller is the founder and editor of The Extra Game. He plays chess, scrabble and Monopoly at a masters level. He is a board game enthusiast, publisher, designer, and reviewer with over 10 years of experience in the industry. He loves to share his passion, knowledge, and recommendations for board games with the world.