The Pawn Game: a Good Way to Learn Chess?

It’s very common. A parent or chess teacher shows a new player how to move and capture with the pawns, then they play the pawn game. It starts with this position:

To win, a player needs to capture all of their opponent’s pawns OR get a pawn to the end of the board. This seems like a fun, easy way to start learning chess…but there’s a problem.

The dark side of the pawn game

Hey…shouldn’t we bring out our pieces and castle early in the game?

Absolutely! Remember: pawns are not pieces! This is a foundation of chess strategy.

Move the center pawns, develop the minor pieces (knights and bishops), and castle.

This student is not stuck on the pawn game!
Child moving pieces during a chess lesson

If a new player gets too used to playing the pawn game, they can overestimate the strength of the pawns when the other pieces are introduced. That leads to making way too many pawn moves, and not getting the pieces out: a recipe for disaster.

Instead, I recommend teaching a new player how to move the straight-line piece pieces first.

Show them the pattern of the rook moving. Then, set up some pieces randomly and have them practice capturing with the rook. Repeat the process with the other pieces. In order: bishop, queen, king, pawn (now use the pawn game!), and finally the knight.

This approach takes a longer view of chess education. Yes, the student may learn to play a bit slower, but they won’t have the bad habit of making too many pawn moves. If you want your chess newbie to join the USCF and play chess competitively, don’t play the pawn game too much.

I’m sure some chess coaches will disagree with me. Share your thoughts!

Author: Andre Harding

Since 2003 I've taught chess to thousands of students in public, private, and charter schools in the New York City area, and have given countless private lessons. I also direct USCF- and FIDE-rated chess tournaments.

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