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Can a pawn take a king?

The king is the most important piece in chess. It is the piece that must be protected at all costs. But what happens if a lowly pawn makes its way across the board and threatens the opposing king? Can a pawn actually take a king?

The rules of chess

According to the official rules of chess, a pawn cannot directly capture a king. The king is not a piece that can be captured – it can be attacked and threatened with capture, but never actually taken off the board. If a player’s king is under attack with no way to escape, that is called checkmate and the game ends in defeat for that player.

So in short, no, a pawn cannot truly “take” a king. But there are some important caveats and special situations to consider.

Putting the king in check

A pawn most certainly can put a king in check. This occurs when the pawn is moved to a square where it directly threatens the enemy king. The king must immediately get out of check by moving out of the pawn’s range, blocking the check with another piece, or capturing the attacking pawn.

A pawn check can be very powerful. Since pawns capture diagonally but move straight ahead, the king may have limited options for escape. And if the check comes as a surprise, it can leave the king vulnerable in other ways.

Special move: en passant

There is one special situation in chess where a pawn can “take” a king in a way – through the en passant capture. This only occurs right after a pawn has moved two squares from its initial position, and an enemy pawn could have captured it if it had only moved one square.

On the very next turn, that enemy pawn has the option to capture the pawn as if it had only moved forward one square. This is the en passant “in passing” capture.

So if a king moves up two squares next to an opponent’s pawn, that pawn could take the king via en passant on the following move!

Promoting a pawn

Pawns have another special power – if they reach the farthest rank of the board, they can promote into a queen, rook, bishop, or knight of the same color. This pawn promotion can create an immediate new threat to the enemy king.

So while a pawn cannot directly checkmate a king, if it promotes at the end of the board, that new queen, rook, or other piece certainly can checkmate the king. In a way, the original pawn can be considered to have “taken” the king through its promotion.

Examples of pawn threats to the king

While we have established that pawns cannot technically capture a king, they can still create dangerous threats. Here are some examples of how pawn moves can put pressure on the enemy king.

Short-range threat

A pawn crossed the board and promoted to a queen just one square away from the enemy king. This new queen can easily checkmate the king:

Long-range threat

A pawn promoted to a rook or queen at the other end of the board puts the king in check from afar:

Discovered check

A pawn capture opens up a discovered attack on the king by another piece behind it:

If the pawn takes the opposing pawn, the bishop behind it can newly check the king.

Famous pawn threats against kings

There are several famous examples in chess history of pawn moves putting kings in peril:

Lasker vs Bauer, 1889

In this game, Black pushes a pawn to h2, threatening checkmate. White is forced to give up significant material to stop immediate defeat.

Karpov vs Kasparov, 1985

Kasparov used a pawn promotion to create a devastating threat and win material from Karpov in this world championship encounter:


While pawns cannot technically capture a king, they can still create devastating attacks in the endgame and be a serious threat to the enemy monarch. Pawns possess unique movement and promotion powers that allow them to put kings in grave danger.

Some of the most brilliant chess moves in history have involved pawn threats to the king. Players must always be mindful of seemingly harmless pawns, as they can quickly grow into deadly attackers.

So in answer to our original question – no, a pawn cannot directly take a king. But through checkmate threats, piece promotion, and other special techniques, a pawn can be used to decisively trap and defeat a careless opposing king.