I remember as a child the thrill of getting my pawn to the other side of the chess board to promote it to a Queen. It was as much my focus as it was winning. It is why chess sets come with extra queens. In this article, I am going to share everything there is to know about pawn promotion and why there are extra queens with many chess sets.
There are extra queens found in many chess sets to allow for the possibility of gaining and playing with a second queen on your side. Adding an extra queen and playing with two is achieved through the Pawn Promotion rule, where a pawn can be promoted to a queen or another piece that has been captured.
Let’s find out how often chess promotions take place, whether the queen is the best of chess pieces to choose, the correct etiquette, the rules, and how players should consider pawn promotion when they find passed pawn opportunities.
How Does Pawn Promotion Work
A pawn promotion in chess is when a pawn reaches the 8th rank or opposite side of the board without being captured and gains the ability to be exchanged for a Queen, Bishop, Knight or Rook. The chosen piece will replace the pawn on the same square. A King or Pawn are not options.
If you manage to successfully maneuver your pawn to the eighth rank, your opponents first, or in the most simple terms, the other side of the board, you have the option of changing the pawn into another piece. The choice of promotion pieces to switch within pawn promotion are 4
It will come as no surprise to find the most popular selection in standard chess or an International chess tournament, is the most powerful piece, the queen, given its higher value and versatility in the end-game, but the choice is there to select any of the four options.
It is obvious but of course you will be switching the same color. It is your promotion and your additional piece.
How Often Does Promotion Take Place?
In a study just 1.5% of games featured a promotion of a pawn. 97% of those promotions where to Queen whilst the other 3% was mostly made up of Knight and Bishop promotion. ChessBase undertook a study of over 3 million games, including Grandmaster level to arrive at this figure.
The percentage of grandmaster games in which promotion takes place is even less and for good reason. At this level should a player have the opportunity for promotion, it is usually at a point when the opposing grandmaster would have resigned given the decisive advantage the potential promoter would have.
Because of the resignation rule at the high grandmaster level of chess, pawn promotion is rarely a position the player with the upper hand gets to achieve the move.
On the rare occasion when a promotion does happen at this level in tournaments, it will be because both players have passed pawns with an opportunity to promote for one of the extra pieces leaving the game still in the balance.
In Standard chess games, even at local level, resignation often occurs before promotion is achieved, but certainly the Upside-Down Rook will appear from time to time.
In the abscence of an extra queen, often a rook will be used in place but turned upside down on the chess board.
What is Underpromotion in Chess [Wiki]
Note in the table above how few times a queen is NOT selected. This is known as Underpromotion. Whilst promotion only happened 1.5 times in every 100 games, Underpromotion happened only once every 2500 matches
‘Underpromotion’ in chess is when a piece other than the queen is selected at the pawn promotion stage. It makes sense to be called this as you will be promoting to a piece with less power and therefore ‘under’ the queen. The most common choice for underpromotion is to a Knight.
Let’s take a quick look at the other types of pieces that can be selected in promotion
Underpromotion to Knight
Regular knights are the second choice for promotion and can be useful when needing to utilize the unique movement pattern of the piece when it would be more advantageous than a queen.
An attacking combination of knights, especially three, can be quite a fearsome thing to face.
The extra knight can also be a strong defensive piece and may be chosen for this protection of pieces, namely the King.
Underpromotion to Rook or Bishop
Happening even less frequently and almost non-existant for the Bishop, it often makes no sense to promote to a piece that has half the ability of movement of the queen.
Given the Bishops are limited to a single color square, it is almost never selected.
On occasion, a lesser promotion to rooks or bishop may be undertaken when the promotion is the beginning of a trade, in the knowledge that the piece will be captured immediately after. At this point, the promotion choice really doesn’t matter.
What is the Etiquette of the Pawn Promotion Procedure?
Now we know how pawn promotion works, we should understand the etiquette, and who does what in a game of chess.
You will make your move as normal, pushing you pawn to the eighth rank, at this point the pawn gets replaced. but who does that?
You can select your piece from the captured pieces but are not limited to do so. In the event of you requiring a promotion to the queen but already retaining your queen, you will need another queen to be available. If there isn’t one, you can stop the clock and request one to be supplied.
You final choice of promoted piece is final only when it is placed on the square the pawn has vacated. Until then, the promotion choice remains open.
Chess players who have not read the rules of chess since 2014, and I am guessing that will be very few people coming across this post, should also know that previously illegal moves have now been legalised and incorporated into the pawn promotions rules. They are..
You can remove the pawn without moving it to the promotion square followed by replacing on the promotion square
You could also alternatively, place the promotion piece before removing the pawn from it’s incumbent square.
Just in case you end up playing someone who challenges either of those moves, you can inform them that the chess rules were updated in July 2014 to incorporate those two possibilities. Refer them to the Laws of Chess
Can You Promote More Than One Pawn?
In a single game it is possible to promote a pawn as many time as the opportunity arises, but in an actual game, as explained earlier, it is highly unlikely, unless there remains balance of advantage that this will occur.
How to Use the Clock on Pawn Promotion
In tournament chess, or any game according to the official rules, you must not press the clock until you have chosen your promotion piece. If you move the pawn and press the clock before selecting the piece, you will have no option but to promote to a queen.
So keep your fingers off until placing the replacement piece.
The clock can be stopped if an arbiter has to be consulted about finding an extra queen if is not readily available.
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