Back to Basics: En Passant

 

By National Master Evan Rabin

There are two types of special moves in chess- castling and en passant. Most beginners have heard of castling but do not know all the rules about it. Two years ago I was shocked when I was reviewing a 1200 rated student’s game and he didn’t realize that he had the opportunity to do en passant and be up a pawn for nothing.  En passant is a fairly rare type of move that means “in passing” in French.

Our 131st podcast guest FIDE Master Sunil Weeramantary explains en passant as “when your pawn moves up two squares and your opponent has a pawn on either of side of it, he could capture you as if you went only one square.” 

For instance in example up above, back moved his pawn two spaces to d5. White can play exd6,  as if black played d6. 

Later is too late; en passant needs to happen right after one moves his pawn two squares and his opponent has a pawn on either side of it.  For instance, if white plays Nf3 in position above, instead of exd6, he cannot do en passant on the next move.

Many beginners that do know en passant make the mistake of doing it at every opportunity. One should only make a trade, one of the three types of transformational moves, if it benefits his position.

Let’s take a look at this position:

Should white play 4 exf6?…….

No. 

Right now, white has a strong control of the center and black cannot develop his kingside knight where it wants to on f6. Playing 4. exf6 will allow black to start freely developing the rest of his pieces with 4… Nxf6.

While en passant does not happen often, it is important for all players to know the rule before they start playing in tournaments. It is best to teach it to children after castling and before basic strategy and adults in the beginning when teaching how the pawn moves.

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