The pawn (♙♟) is the most weak piece in the game of chess, standing for infantry, or armed peasants or pikemen. Each player starts the game with eight pawns, one on each square of the second row (or rank) from the view of the player. In the white pawns start on a2, b2, c2, ..., h2, while the black pawns start on a7, b7, c7, ..., h7.
Pawns move differently than other pieces. Unlike all the other pieces, pawns can not move backwards. Most of the time, a pawn moves by going up a single square, but the first time each pawn is moved from its starting place, it can go forward two squares. Pawns may not use the first two-square move to jump over a square with another piece on it or to capture. Any piece in front of a pawn, white or black, stops its moving. In the picture at right, the pawn on c4 may move to c5, while the pawn on e2 may move to either e3 or e4.
The white pawn at d5 can capture either the black rook at c6 or the black knight at e6, but not the bishop at d6, which blocks its straight way forward. Unlike other pieces, the pawn does not capture in the same way as it moves. A pawn captures diagonally, one square forward and to the left or right. In the picture to the left, the white pawn can capture either the black rook or the black knight.
An even more unusual move is the en passant capture. Suppose the first player is using white pieces. En passant happens when the white pawn uses its first-move option to move forward two squares instead of one, and passes over a square that is occupied by an enemy (black) pawn. The black pawn, which would have been able to capture the white pawn if the white one had moved forward only one square, can capture the white pawn in its next move- "in passing" as if the white pawn had moved forward only one square. The black pawn moves into the empty square over which the white pawn moved, and the white pawn is removed from the board. The option to capture en passant can only be used on the move right after the double-square pawn advance, or the chance is lost. The en passant move was added in the late thirteenth century to make up for the then newly added two-square first move rule.
The most simple piece in chess, the pawn was started in the oldest version of chess, Chaturanga. It is present in all other important types of chess around the world. The ability to move two spaces and to have an en passant capture were only started in 15th century Europe.
In medieval chess, players tried to make the pawns more interesting, giving each rank's pawn the name of a commoner's job, from left to right:
- City guard (in front of a knight, as they trained city guards in real life)
- Worker/Farmer (in front of a castle, for which they worked)
- Blacksmith (in front of a knight, as they care for the horses)
- Weaver/Clerk (in front of the bishop, for whom they wove or clericked)
- Merchant/Moneychanger (before the king)
- Doctor (the queen's pawn)
- Innkeeper (bishop)
- Gambler and other "lowlifes" (in the left-most rank, that direction being seen as sinister)