Besides chess (which I had no idea, was a designated term), "en passant" is a commonly used expression for "by the way" in French. As in:
    En passant, mon nom c'est Eric.
    By the way, my name's Eric.
Very useful in picking up boys...uh...or girls.

En Passant is published every two months by the Chess Federation of Canada, and is available to all members as part of their membership. The magazine features chess news, games, and commentaries by various chess masters. Non-members can pick up En Passant at their local magazine shop (in Canada only) for $4.50 an issue. You can also have En Passant delivered to your door for $23.00 a year.

The en passant capture

The least known chess move.

En passant capture is an intricate chess move where one player (Black or White) has moved their pawn from starting position (Whether it be from the 2nd rank to the 4th or the 7th rank to 5th) two squares forward passing the attacking square of their opponent’s pawn, and this pawn may be captured as if it had moved only one square. (Capturing the shadow of the pawn.) As I would always tell my students.

    What happens?
  1. A player moves their pawn two squares, from its starting position (2nd or 7th) row to their (4th or 5th) row.
  2. The opponent to this player has a pawn on the (4th if black) or (5th if white) rank. It is good to point out that if the player had moved one square instead of two their opponent could have captured this pawn regularly. Instead, by moving two squares the player passes over this attacked square.
  3. The opponent has the right to capture en passant in the directly following move.
  4. To capture en passant, the opponent’s pawn goes to the square passed over by the pawn (capturing the passing pawn), thus moving diagonally forwards. The captured pawn is taken from the board.

  • To capture en passant it must be done following the pawn moving forward two squares, when it has passed over the attacking square.
  • En passant is optional.
  • Only the pawn may commit en passant.
  • There is no limit on how many times en passant may occur in a game. Either person may choose to capture en passant, but because they are not required to, it may not occur even once during a game.
  • As stipulated earlier, en passant must occur precisely on certain ranks. If a player moves a pawn two squares forward to e4 and the other player moves a pawn two squares forward similarly to d5, and then the first player moves the pawn to e5 - the other player cannot capture this pawn with en passant (nor by any other means by the pawn residing on d5).
  • If a pawn has captured a piece before it may still commit en passant. This reminder may sound overstated to some but remember that the change in files by a pawn can confuse things.

Algebraic Notation
Because Algebraic Notation is a system of writing chess moves down so that the game may be replayed - there are many styles. Algebraic Notation has also been around for a while and thus has evolved several times. One could write a pawn move e2-e4 (What square it came from, moving to what square?). Other ways and formats include the use of the letter “p” standing for “pawn” in moves pd2-d4. As society speeds up the less we write the “better” so the format for moving a pawn has been simplified to stating what square it moved to (and how, whether it captured a pawn “e x c7" or promoted “e8 = Q.”)

    With this in mind the notation for en passant is as follows:
  1. What file did it move from? (a-h)
  2. State that it captured a piece with the “x” symbol.
  3. What square did it end up on? (ex. e3, g6, a3)
    • One move Examples
    • cxd6
    • axb3
    • fxg6

En passant is French
As stated by previous users the term “en passant” is a non chess related French saying that means, “By the way.” If by putting this French saying into a chess game it may make a bit more sense when you tell your opponent, “By the way I just took your pawn because it passed a square I could have taken it on if you had only moved it one square.” The literal chess meaning of the French phrase en passant is "in passing," the pawn is preventing the opposing pawn from passing the attack square.


The French Defense is an opening where en passant is common. In the advanced variation a book opening is as follows:

    Advanced French Defense
  1. e4 e6
  2. d4 d5
  3. e5 c5
  4. Nf3 cxd4
  5. Bd3 Nc6
  6. O-O Nge7
  7. Bf4 Ng6
  8. Bg3 Be7
  9. Nbd2 f5
  10. exf6 gxf6
    Without en passant black would take complete control of the center in this position leading to the further pushing of white's dark colored Bishop out of play and to the distinct win of black. An example of further play without en passant would continue as follows:
  • 10. h3 f5

  • Noticing now that White's dark colored Bishop is out of play, it is apparent why en passant is necessary.
  • 11. Bh2 Ngxe5!

  • Black, already up a central pawn that white would have later recaptured after en passant, now is up two pawns - and has the complete central board!!! Notice also that White's light colored Bishop will now be at the disposal of Black's knight if they so choose.

During the 13th game of the World Championship Match in Moscow of 1963, Tigran Petrosian (white) and Mikhail Botvinnik (black) have a great example game where en passant occurs. I present the full game to show context.
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Bb7 5. Bg2 Be7 6. O-O O-O 7. Nc3 Ne4 8. Nxe4 Bxe4 9. d5 Bf6 10. Ne1 Bxg2 11. Nxg2 exd5
12. cxd5 c5 13. dxc6 dxc6

This position was necessary for en passant to take place as well. If white had not captured the pawn via en passant Black would have left white's d-file pawn isolated, weak, and open for attack, while Black's pawn structure was supperior and were connected. Black pushed the pawn expecting it to be captured with en passant, had he decided to not push the pawn his Queen-side would have been weakened with a Knight that has to jump around to find a home and a pawn structure with no purpose.

14. Qc2 c5 15. Rd1 Qe8 16. Bf4 Nc6 17. Bd6 Be7 18. e3 Rd8 19. Bxe7 Qxe7 20. Nf4 g6 21. Qa4 Ne5 22. Rxd8 Rxd8 23. Rd1 c4 24. e4 b5 25. Rxd8+ Qxd8 26. Qxb5 Qd1+ 27. Kg2 Qf3+ 28. Kg1 Qd1+ 29. Kg2 Qf3+ 30. Kg1 Qxe4 31. Qd5 Qxd5 32. Nxd5 Nd3 33. b4 cxb3 34. axb3 f5 35. b4 Kf7 36. b5 Ne5 37. b6 a5 38. Kf1 Ke6 39. b7 Nc6 40. Nc7+ Kd6 41. Na6 a4 42. Ke2 a3 43. Nb4 Nb8 44. Kd3 Kc7 45. Kc2 Kxb7 46. Kb3 Kb6 47. Kxa3 Kc5 48. Kb3 Kd4 49. Kc2 Ke4 50. Kd2 Kf3 51. Ke1 Kg2 52. h4 Kf3 53. Nd3 Nd7 54. Kf1 1/2-1/2

A good website that shows diagrams with pictures of two examples on en passant.

Previous chess writeup: Schoolhouse Chess. Next: Damiano's Defense

En` pas`sant" (?). [F.]

In passing; in the course of any procedure; -- said specif. (Chess), of the taking of an adverse pawn which makes a first move of two squares by a pawn already so advanced as to threaten the first of these squares. The pawn which takes en passant is advanced to the threatened square.


© Webster 1913

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