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How useful is that rule and how many times we can use that in one game?

Under what conditions can the en passant rule be used?

How often does it come up and is it a good idea to use it?

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up vote 29 down vote accepted

En Passant is when an opponent's pawn is two ranks away from your pawn row (either 4th or 5th rank depending on color), and you move your pawn two spaces forward with one move, so that is is next to his pawn. You are allowed to make your first move with a pawn two spaces, but the En Passant capture allows your opponent to capture you just as if you had moved one space. Note, that this capture is only allowed as the very next move. This prevents you from being able to sneak pawns by your opponent's pawns.

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It's not only useful, but chess would be a completely different game without it, since everyone would have to be very concerned about moving a pawn to the 4th or 5th rank, knowing that a pawn could get past them. The main way you could change it so that the game wouldn't change radically is to disallow 2-space moves by pawns, but that is still a substantial change from the way's it been*, and would eliminate the majority of standard openings. A less tumultuous change would be to simply prohibit double movement in the cases where an en passant capture would be possible. This would have almost the same exact effect as the en passant rule, since it happens more often that the threat of an en passant capture is enough to make an opponent not move two spaces, and actual uses of the move are rare.

* unless you go back to the 15th century, when the ability to move pawns two spaces was added to the game.

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It's worth noting that if pawns were only allowed to move one space at any time, the en passant rule wouldn't be required, and chess would still be the same game (albeit slower). – ire_and_curses May 11 '11 at 17:29
@ire, both good points, I'll edit the answer. – Lance Roberts May 11 '11 at 17:33
Great answer. I think that this move must be used very seldom, since its primary value is as a sort of preventive threat. – Andrew Vandever May 11 '11 at 22:18
It's interesting to note that pawns used to be restricted to single space moves - and consequently there was no en passant rule: – tttppp May 12 '11 at 7:08
@Andrew Vandever: It is rare, but definitely important, like promoting a pawn (queen isn't always the right answer). – Andy May 19 '11 at 15:25

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