What is En Passant In Chess?

Whether you’re a chess beginner or a seasoned player, the en passant move is arguably one of the most misunderstood moves in the entirety of the game, and its rare occurrence means that some players aren’t even aware that it exists.

What is En Passant In Chess

This move is a good one to learn about, even if the circumstances for it to happen don’t occur very often, you might just be able to surprise an unsuspecting opponent with this move.

So, if you want to learn more about en passant, what it means, its origins, and more, then this guide will provide you with all of the information you need to know. So let’s get started!

What Is En Passant In Chess?

So, if you’ve never heard of en passant, then allow us to explain a little bit more about this rule, and exactly what it means in the world of chess.

Meaning “in passing” in French, en passant is a rule in chess that allows you to use a pawn to capture an opposition pawn on adjacent squares, but only under certain conditions. The governing body of chess, FIDE, phrases it as such:

“A pawn attacking a square crossed by an opponent’s pawn which has advanced two squares in one move from its original square may capture this opponent’s pawn as though the latter had been moved only one square. This capture is only legal on the move following this advance and is called an ‘en passant’ capture.”

Now chances are you’re as confused as we are after reading that description, so let’s take a look at this rule in terms of a hypothetical game, which should hopefully help you to understand the rule a bit better!

Step 1

Hypothetically, say you’re white, and you decide to move your e-pawn into the 5th rank over the duration of the game, so that it is on the square e5.

Step 2

For en passant to work, black needs to have not moved their d-pawn or f-pawn (the pawns on the tiles adjacent to your pawn on e5) forwards as of yet.

Then, they decide to bring forward their pawn two squares forward, so that their d-pawn is now on d5, making it directly adjacent to the pawn you moved earlier.

Step 3

On your next move, you now have the option to capture black’s pawn on d5 as if it was on d6, this will mean that you take black’s pawn, with your pawn now finishing on d6.

The circumstances in which this move is legal are oddly specific, which is exactly why you don’t see the move occur in more games.

It’s important to note that your opponent HAS to have made the two square move with their pawn in order for the move to be legal, and if you don’t decide to capture en passant, then you miss the chance to do so entirely for that pawn.

Where Did En Passant Originate

So, where exactly did this rule come from? It’s an especially strange rule, and is one that is often forgotten about entirely, so where did it originate?

Given its name, it’s widely believed that the move originated in Europe, more specifically, Europe during the 15th century, when the rules of chess as we know them today were still being developed.

The ability for pawns to move two squares on their first turn was an innovative one and was introduced to help speed up the pacing of the game.

However, this then leads to the complication that a pawn would be able to evade the capture from an opposing pawn after a player had managed to advance their pawn so far into the ranks, which then disadvantaged this player.

As a result of the introduction of this rule, en passant was also introduced as a type of counter-move, allowing the players who had managed to advance a single pawn so far the ability to capture an opposition pawn even if they had moved to the adjacent square.

Although this rule was made to help balance out the introduction of pawns being able to move two squares on their first turn, and to help to prevent players who advance a singular pawn so far into the ranks from being disadvantaged by this rule, it’s surprising that it’s been forgotten about for the most part.

But, because this move is so often overlooked and forgotten, it means it might just be the perfect move to unleash on your opponent when they expect it least!

When Should You Use En Passant In Chess?

Although an en passant scenario is a rare occurrence nowadays in chess, it can still prove to be an important move to have in your strategy.

But this doesn’t mean that you should en passant at every given opportunity, as it’s always important to consider the game and your position as a whole before you do so.

If you’re planning on pushing your pawn forward in order to promote it, then en passant is definitely a good move for doing so, although it’s not worth doing if the pawn happens to be the linchpin of your attack, so you should always carefully consider your strategy before deciding whether or not to en passant.

Final Thoughts

Overall, despite being a relatively overlooked and disregarded chess rule, knowing more about the en passant rule, and how to use it, is important for any chess player, even if it just helps to prevent you from being caught unaware by an opponent.

Being able to recognize when you are able to capture an opposition pawn en passant can be an important skill, and whether you catch opponents off guard with the move, or force the opposition to make a different move due to the threat of en passant, it’s definitely a handy trick!

Jenna Ostria
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