Back to Basics: Promotion

By CEO National Master Evan Rabin

What happens when a pawn gets to the other side of the board? Despite what a lot of beginners say, you do not “get your queen back”. While 99% of the time a player will promote to a queen, he could also transform his pawn into a rook, bishop or knight.

Here are some common conceptions beginners have about promotion: 

  1. One can only promote to pieces that have already been captured.A pawn can promote to a queen, rook, bishop or knight, irrrespective of what pieces have been captured. One can in theory have up to nine queens on a chess board, one that he started with and eight that started as pawns. In practice though, it is rare to have two or more queens as usually queens will have been traded by the time one player is able to promote.
  2. Pawns should remain on first or eight and rank and the promoted piece should be placed on its starting square ( for instance white queen on d1). 

When promoting, one needs to take the pawn off the board and replace it with the piece it is promoting too.

Why would one ever underpromote to anything but the queen, the most valuable piece?

…..These are the two types of instances: 

  1. Avoid Stalemate
    In the Saavedra Position, if Saavedra played the obviously looking 6. c8=Q, black would be play 6… Rc4+!, forcing 7. Qxc4, which would be stalemate. Therefore, Saavedra found 6.c8=R!  Most of the time, king and rook vs king rook is a dead draw but but after black plays 6…Ra4, which is forced to stop Ra8# and mate in two, white plays 7.Kb3 with double attack, threating 8. Rc1# and 8. Kxa4.
  2. Checkmate in 2

    While white of course has many ways to win this game, the best move here is f8=N#.Promotion is one of the rules that most of beginners have heard of it but do not fully understand. It’s important to review the basics! As our 27th podcast guest National Master Elliott Neff writes in A Pawns Journey, pawns are like people; they constantly improve themselves. While one normally promotes to queen as it is the most valuable piece, there are some exceptions! Rules are not the same things as guidelines.

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