Mastering the Art of Underpromotion in Chess: Tips and Strategies

Chess is a game of strategy and foresight, where every move can make or break a player’s chances of victory. One intriguing aspect of chess is underpromotion, a tactic where a pawn is promoted to a piece other than a queen.

When should you consider underpromoting, and how can you do it effectively? We will explore the reasons behind underpromotion, when to employ this tactic, and provide tips on how to make the most of underpromotion in your chess games.

What is Underpromotion in Chess?

Underpromotion in chess refers to the move during pawn promotion when a player promotes to a piece of lesser value than a queen. Some underpromotions to knights instead of queens and rooks are the most common.

Underpromotion is a strong chess tactic used in very specific and rare cases and is the strong case of underpromotion to a nigh which you can find here.

Why Underpromote in Chess?

Underpromotion in chess refers to the selection of an impotent piece such as a second queen or additional rook when the rules for pawn promotion afford the player the option to choose any piece. Underpromoting in chess is a very rare choice afforded to the player when there are extraordinary needs. It becomes under-promotion when, in spite of those needs, a player does not promote to a new queen which is nearly always the best selection.

Underpromotion in chess has two general explanations: the measure and the why. The measure is that ask whether promoting to a queen is almost always the best choice in terms of winning the game because a higher percentage of games are won when an underpromotion is selected versus when the player selects an additional queen. It is important to understand that under-promotions of pawns are extremely rare.

The rare forms of underpromotion we saw today have unique arithmetic motivations and are indicative of very unusual situations. At the moment of analysis, this article finds no positional reasons to underpromote pawns. If you find some, please write in the comments for us to share with the community.

To Avoid Stalemate

Under promotion can be done in the case of avoiding a stalemate under the chess rules in order to keep the game alive with future possibilities. Placing the game pieces properly helps avoid stalemate outcomes, guarantees a better chance of a favorable outcome, and places more pressure on the opponent. Under the chess rules, keeping a game alive with future possibilities in the event of minimizing compensation for an opponent’s blunder is a potential merit.

To Gain Material Advantage

Players often underpromote to gain material advantage in chess. The figure of speech ‘time is money’ lies at the bottom of this strategy for underpromotion. Specifically, it is the realization that TO have more material is economical in the long run – as having more material means that the player has more options to gain more material. Players strive to underpromote to keep pieces on the board that would otherwise not be available if they had kept progressing AQ or A Rooks.

Here are some examples. On Move 21, Hungarian chess Grandmaster Zoltan Almasi faces no serious threats and promotes a pawn to his opponent not nicely chooses a Bishop to have a powerful frontal teammate. When grandmaster Larry Kaufman plays the computer program Fritz and promotes a pawn to save time. In the 1964 FIDE World Championship, Mikhail Tal promotes a pawn and doesn’t choose Queen in order to keep an extra one in his pocket for when he might need to reinforce his attack.

To Create a Stronger Piece

A similar strategy to increasing mobility is underpromoting in order to take control of squares. When a pawn promotes to a heavy piece (queen, rook, bishop, or knight), it prevents the original pawn from moving or attacking, which reduces its square control. The original pawn had control over mobility and square control positions that are not able to be controlled by the heavier piece.

By promoting to a weaker piece that maintains access or control, it maintains the square control and remains stronger even though the underpromoted piece can be captured and immediately removed. In the following example from a 1997 game between Lukowitsch and Strobl, white promotes to a knight at d8. White’s d-pawn could never become a bishop or rook, and as a queen would be exchanged quickly. The knight at d8 could contest with black’s knight for control of the central d square and other important squares, which would have been lost if a heavy piece had been promoted.

Defending against checkmate with 1. … b1=N. It’s 13 moves to checkmate from this position, but the underpromoted knight can last for 7 of them. Take a moment to try to find the checkmate solution.

When to Underpromote in Chess?

When to underpromote in chess is the decision when promoting to a knight, bishop, or rook is best avoided. Most underpromotions occur when promoting to a queen would result in stalemate or losing the game, but that is not always the case. You may want to underpromote even if the only promotion square besides the queen would result in a favorable mode of conversion.

It is quite rare to underpromote to a bishop or knight. When underpromotion to either a bishop or knight results in a draw, it offers yet more logic to the underpromotion. The International Chess Federation includes underpromotion as a rule under Article 3.7 of the Laws of Chess (booklet). The only key point is that time is taken to decide on a crucial underpromotion strategy.

When Promoting to a Queen is Not the Best Move

The most common situation that arises in chess when promoting to a queen is not the best move is when there are sound reasons that promotion to a rook, bishop, or knight might enable a stalemate. Chess expert Alexandra Botez explains the most simple example of when a player’s only option to avoid stalemate is to underpromote to a rook which can move backwards. She gives this example of a situation where promoting to a knight/scenario might be the best move. If you only have a king and two knights against an opponent with a king and no pawns, Kenny Solomon and J. J. Gilinsky’s book Advanced Chess Tactics advises underpromoting to avoid a stalemate as the most intelligent play.`

If one has crafting chess skills, as pointed out by the Peterson, this is the better move. This is more plausible to achieve in the endgame than in the middle-game. Another situation where promoting to a non-queen piece in the endgame is beneficial is when it will enable an adversary’s pawn to be promoted upon their turn.`

Botez highlights that this is a very rare occurrence that generally will not factor into the decision`s regarding what piece to promote to. In such a scenario, however, setting the opponents up for promotion moves protects against the potential for their underpromotion, and increases the probability of their ultimate loss. NELL Visual Analysis highlights a noteworthy underpromotion example from the 2021 Can Torrens Memorial Rook promotion versus Earoos Streamer featured as its top daily chess clip.

When Promoting to a Knight is the Best Move

It makes sense to promote to a knight only when you are giving checkmate and must limit the piece options of the king. This is because a knight is the only piece that cannot deliver check by itself. It helps to play with the underpromotion idea if you are trying to practice it. Anjali Bazar has two more matches where pawn promotion played a pivotal point.

When Promoting to a Rook is the Best Move

It is generally best to promote to a rook in the majority of almost impossible (draw or loss) endgames. A study published in the ‘The SKAKbladet of the Fédération Internationale des Échecs’ (FIDE) discussed evaluation settings by 32 piece endgame tablebases. The tablebases are theoretical, have all 32 pieces left, and can analyze the results of every legal move. The study determined that 88% of the positions promoted to a rook.

How to Underpromote in Chess?

To Underpromote in chess is to choose promotion to a knight or a rook instead of to a queen when your pawn reaches the eighth rank. Underpromotion is far less common than promotion to a queen, as a queen is such a powerful piece. To underpromote, follow the same steps for promotion to a queen as we have described in greater detail on the chess rules for promoting pawns page. Underpromotion to rook-promotion or knight-promotion should only be considered when the situation specifically calls for it to be successful.

Identify the Best Piece to Promote to

When implementing an underpromotion strategy, the best piece to underpromote to is usually the most active piece. This could mean promoting to a bishop if a protected passed pawn is advancing the best chance of victory. Advancing a knight to its full potential can best work towards a stalemate or if an illegal continuation will lead to a player losing the advantage. In any case, the key is to select a square out of ranges of enemy pieces and to only underpromote after careful consideration of the risk. Other less common reasons to underpromote in chess exist but are dependent on creative circumstances during a game.

Consider the Position and Opponent’s Pieces

When underpromoting to control the center, in order to not be better off captured, it is important to consider what the opponent’s hit man looks like and where it’s target is. Technically this is all part of the of underpromoting analysis. Position and other pieces are more important to an underpromotion strategy than the typical rook, bishop, knight, and queen logical values (5, 3, 3, 9).

When the queen promotes when a rival knight is anywhere near the center you are effectively up only plus one. When there is a rival bishop near a protected passed pawn, the cost of promoting is roughly minus 2, so an underpromotion is a good course of action. When there is an enemy rook nearby promoting comes with a loss of roughly minus two and a half points. With a rival queen nearby, promoting is a cost of around minus three. The more a center is fought over, the more the enemy pieces come to rest on the board’s middle square, and home base, the more an underpromotion strategy is a good one.

Putting a new piece into play with under-promotion ideally removes control from a key rival piece, even if that removes a greater value piece of your own. So always Calculate positions out when looking at competitive board stances such as these chess midgames to understand whether this trade of your queen improves or weakens the enemy’s situation.

Calculate the Possible Outcomes

Underpromotion in chess is a promotional technique where a pawn promoted to its penultimate rank (e.g. a1 for WHITE, a8 for BLACK) is not promoted to its queen rank (ranks b1 through h1 for WHITE, or ranks b8 through h8 for BLACK), but instead promoted to a rook, knight, or bishop.

To execute an underpromotion in chess and not waste a move and piece, calculate whether you will be able to get a stalemate or checkmate after the opponent’s expected responses. This is only possible if the pawn has made a move that puts it in an attacked position, and promotions are usually carried out within 4-8 moves of the best option after the attacking move. Nonetheless, you should take notice of the potential outcomes if you underpromote.

Tips for Underpromoting in Chess

There are many strategies to underpromote a pawn in chess. The most common is underpromoting to a knight because a knight is the only piece that the opponent cannot block with pawns if it threatens the most advantageous underpromotion square.

Underpromoting a pawn to a , , , and even sometimes a (although very rarely) are the next most common strategies.

Since before the 15th century there have been people underpromoting chess pawns, and it has developed into a strategic and tactical part of the game. The strategic decisions for underpromoting your pawns revolve around extreme (usually only in the endgame), or unique tactics that arise based on the unique square you underpromote to. Most of the time, underpromotion is simply unnecessary, and merely for the fun of players who hope to see the underpromoted piece help win the game.

Roeland Pruijssers is the highest-rated FIDE player to try to implement underpromotion tactics to his playing style. He has introduced both underpromotions to bishops and to the opponent’s Bishop by utilizing the following tactics:

  1. Underpromotion as Defense: Promoting pawns to knights when it is necessary to disrupt a beautiful tactic from the opponent.
  2. Using underpromotion as a Trap.
  3. Underpromotions to Queens because there is no special reason behind it.
  4. Promotion for underpromotion’s sake.
  5. perfect timing and location for an underpromotion will mean the most beneficial piece is brought in (almost always a queen for its power)

Keep an Eye on Potential Stalemate Situations

Keeping an eye on potential stalemate situations is a key part of underpromoting in chess. Underpromotion is most helpful in achieving a stalemate in difficult endgame positions where there are only pawns or a single knight, light Bishop, and rook. When your king doesn’t have much space to retreat and avoid a checkmate, a stalemate with an underpromotion can be useful.

Name: Underpromotion for Stalemate, Author: Narayanan.S. Here is a good example. This position is a win for white but black has a subtle idea. Any queen-moves by white would be deadly. To avoid this potential threat, playing b8=R allows white to bypass any particular threat, ultimately leading to a throwing-away black’s pieces followed by a successful stalemate.

Black has very limited material to draw the game against a white king with limited mobility. He has only one option: to set up a stalemate. White can learn from these types of positions that whenever he has powerful material against very little material from his opponent, the opponent’s goal is probably not to win but to set up a stalemate, where underpromotions can be more helpful. Be aware and on the lookout for potential stalemate positions as you play games, because an underpromotion might provide the solution.

Look for Opportunities to Gain Material Advantage

Once you have underpromoted in chess, you should switch your focus in the game to look for opportunities to gain material advantage. While moving your remaining minor or major pieces closer to the promotion rank, also look at how you can prevent your opponent’s attacks on your unpawned pieces in the adjoining files. Similarly, try to trade off any pieces that are in the way of a potentially successful underpromotion plan, even if it involves giving up material, to make the promotion process faster and protect the new piece you are promoting into the piece under promotion.

If the underpromoted piece is a new queen trying to attack or support other pawns under promotion, moving the underpromoted piece further and further to the ranks of promotion will work even if it results in losing the new queen at the end of the process, as according to exactly how under promotion is calculated, the underpromoted units rarely return. The point at which these dynamics play out is very situational and heavily depends on the state of the board, the positional nature of the game, and the opponent’s skill in thwarting underpromotion strategies, so is left largely up to the discretion of the player to judge the best course of action to underpromote effectively.

Use Underpromotion to Create Unexpected Threats

The opponent may expect that you are planning an attack that relies on their taking your pawn or promotee with check, so when you make a surprising underpromotion move to a rook, bishop, knight, or even queen threaten their pieces, the opponent will usually lose at least one of their attacking pieces.

But it can be hard for the opponent to realize in the time necessary that instead they will promote and lose their attacking pieces or even provide an opportunity instead for you to mate them with check. Let the opponent spend their time carefully looking at all the threats against their pieces. Reduces your own time when you use underpromotion to create these unexpected threats.

Common Mistakes to Avoid when Underpromoting in Chess

  • how to underpromote in chess to a queen?
  • how to underpromote in chess to a rook?
  • how to underpromote in chess to a bishop?
  • how to underpromote in chess to a knight?

The key to successful underpromotion in chess is to not make these four most common mistakes when underpromoting in chess:

  1. Not promoting to the best piece for the situation.
  2. Exchanging a pawn for a queen when there was a mate in one.
  3. underpromoting when the goal should be overpromotion for a pawn of two squares distance form the other side.
  4. underpromoting when it results in a stalemate or in insufficient material.

Thus, the key to successfully underpromoting is to make the right decisions in the first four areas.

Underpromoting without Proper Calculation

Underpromoting without proper calculation is generally considered the most damaging option among the most expensive mistakes in chess. Most of the time the right strategic move is promoting to a queen. This is because, despite the surprise factor, one of the best statistical moves in chess is promoting your pawn to the queen to a value of +9. The margin of error that comes with losing that +9 can be high since most of the time, if you are in the position of promoting, you have the game won as it is. It is most practical to not underpromote without having properly calculated the subsequent moves.

By overthinking the underpromotion move and not promoting to a queen while overlooking variants where a queen would change the expected outcome (in those rare situations), you could be jeopardizing your advantage, leading to a lower success rate in your games. Therefore, do consider underpromoting at times, but if you know you are already winning, or cannot manage to win by underpromoting, stick with promoting the defensive pieces.

Underpromoting without Considering the Position

Moving/ recommends sometimes underpromoting, potentially without even thinking. But in general, such a deviation from the pro forma is a long alleged suboptimal accomplishment of the suboptimal. Meaning one is supposed to do it only when there is a clear tactical or strategical reason advanced by the skeptical stickler against the site’s AI which is informed by the specific position at hand saying they are incorrect. But they let such unrealized ideal visions hang over the board influencing every single decision.

Underpromoting at the Wrong Time

Underpromotion in the wrong situation where promoting to a queen is the best move can cost a player an advantage. If a player promotes with check or if the resulting queen position causes a fork, being able to check or fork the opponent with the unpromoted advanced pawn still on the board can be useful. This happens occasionally, but if you don’t have a good reason for underpromoting other than to be tricky, you are probably doing it at the wrong time.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to Underpromote in Chess?

What is underpromotion in chess?
Underpromotion is a move in chess where a pawn is promoted to a piece other than a queen, typically a knight, bishop, or rook.

How can I underpromote in chess?

What are the conditions for underpromotion in chess?
Underpromotion can only occur when a pawn reaches the last rank of the board, and the player chooses to promote it to a non-queen piece.

Why would someone choose to underpromote in chess?

Is underpromotion a common move in chess?
Underpromotion is not a common move, but it can be strategically beneficial in certain situations.

Can I underpromote to a queen in chess?

Is it possible to underpromote to a queen in chess?
No, underpromotion specifically refers to promoting a pawn to a non-queen piece.

What are the benefits of underpromotion in chess?

How can underpromotion benefit me in a game of chess?
Underpromotion can surprise your opponent and throw off their plans, as well as provide more flexibility in your piece placement.

Are there any specific situations where underpromotion is recommended?

Are there any well-known chess strategies that involve underpromotion?
Yes, underpromotion can be used in endgame scenarios to create a stalemate or draw, as well as in situations where promoting to a queen can put the promoting player at a disadvantage.

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