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I know that it is makes no sense to promote a pawn to a bishop or a rook as the queen can compensate for both but a knight is something different. However, the queen is still much more powerful. So what situations would provoke you into promoting your hard-labored pawn to just a knight rather than a queen?

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To avoid stalemate or to gain a tempo. –  Tony Ennis Jun 4 '12 at 22:07
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@MozenRath - Tony is right, there are situations where promotion a rook or bishop is the best course of action. A question I just recently asked has examples of top-tier players promoting a pawn to a bishop or rook: chess.stackexchange.com/questions/725/… –  Justin C Jun 5 '12 at 13:59
    
Thanks a lot guys! these examples helped change my perspective towards the game! –  MozenRath Jun 5 '12 at 17:47
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I will admit that I am a jerk in my online games and have regularly been in positions where my opponent refused to resign even though I was up a bishop and several pawns. I sac'ed all the pawns but one and promoted to a knight so I could practice the bishop and knight mate. I figure if I am going to have to play till the bitter end, I should at least get a learning experience from it. –  Robert Kaucher Jul 26 '12 at 18:26
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@RobertKaucher: I'm following your example ever since I read your comment btw. Thanks for opening the path! –  Mog Sep 10 '12 at 19:11
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6 Answers 6

up vote 18 down vote accepted

White to move:

[FEN "8/q1P1k3/8/8/8/8/6PP/7K w - - 0 1"]

Since my example is rather contrived and artificial, I'll also say that the so-called Lasker trap in the Albin Countergambit gives a more realistic setting, and one where a knight promotion is the best option as early as move 7:

[FEN ""]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 d4 4.e3 $2 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 dxe3! 6.Bxb4 $4 exf2+ 7.Ke2
fxg1=N+ $1 8.Ke1 Qh4+ 9.Kd2 (9.g3 Qe4+) Nc6 $19

Oddly enough, I happened across that line for the first time just earlier today.

Oh, and there are situations where underpromotion to a bishop or rook is necessary in order to avoid a stalemate that a queen might create. For instance, in the sequence of moves coming from the Saavedra position, if white were to create a queen with 6. c8=Q, this would allow black to draw by stalemate, and so white must instead play 6. c8=R in order to win:

[FEN "8/8/1KP5/3r4/8/8/8/k7 w - - 0 1"]

1.c7 Rd6+ 2.Kb5 Rd5+ 3.Kb4 Rd4+ 4.Kb3 Rd3+ 5.Kc2 $1 Rd4 $1
6.c8=R $1 (6.c8=Q $2 Rc4+ $1 7.Qxc4 $10) 6...Ra4 7.Kb3 $18
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Ok I love the pictorial depiction of the situation with knight but I did not understand the bishop/rook argument at all –  MozenRath Jun 4 '12 at 22:00
    
I think it could be a good precaution but not a necessity –  MozenRath Jun 4 '12 at 22:04
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Wow! that edit made my day! :D –  MozenRath Jun 4 '12 at 22:10
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After answering this question, I was reminded of another important situation where underpromotion is necessary:

Underpromotion holds the draw

In this position, 1...b1=N+ is the only move to draw. Any other move will allow a quick mate, but after knighting the pawn, black sets up a drawing fortress.

While this is a slightly contrived example, it does come in handy sometimes. As an anecdote, I was playing a rook and pawn endgame where I was up a pawn. In one variation, my opponent could sacrifice his rook for my last pawn and reach this position:

Rook vs Pawn Endgame where knighting is required

I was able to recognize that this is actually a draw because black can play 1...b4 2.Rh4+ Kc3 3.Kc5 b3 4.Rh3+ Kc2 5.Kc4 b2 6.Rh2+ Kc1 7.Kc3 reaching the position above. Due to this, I went into another variation and won. Without knowing this idea, however, it would have been very hard to resist winning my opponent's rook.

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During round 9 of the Instanbul 2012 Chess Olympiads, at the Nakamura-Kramnik table of the USA vs Russia match, we've witnessed another one of those promotions to knight at move 62 by white.

The relevant position (white to play):

Nakamura vs Kramnik. White to move.

We can see here that if

62. Kxe2

then

62. ... f3+

and the bishop on g3 will take the c7 pawn next move resulting in a draw.

To avoid that, Nakamura promotes his pawn to a knight with check to save his advantage.

Here are 4 different commentaries of the game, pick your favorite one!

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awesome!!!!! :) –  MozenRath Sep 10 '12 at 6:16
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White to move underpromote and win

When you said it made no sense to promote to a Rook or Bishop, it brought this position to mind. Here, if White promotes to a Queen, the game is drawn, but if White promotes to a rook, White wins.

on 1. c8/Q Black would answer 1 ... Rc4+ 2, Qxc4 stalemate. But on 1. c8/R 2. Rc4+ White can capture the rook without fear of stalemate.

Sometimes the queen is not the most powerful piece available. Every position is different, and the extra move possibilities of the Queen can work against you sometimes. Whenever you promote, think. Most of the time, yes, a Queen is the best choice; but not always. Look around and see if a different piece would be better, or if there is a danger of stalemate posed by the queen's extra moves.

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This example was already given in one of the earlier answers (mine, as it turns out :-). –  ETD Oct 22 '12 at 0:33
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If you are down on time, and see a mate-in-1 with an additional knight? :-)

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Here is a fun tactic, involving underpromotion, to finish off the game if you are two connected pawns up in a rook endgame. I saw this in an endgame manual a long time ago, but cannot find the source anymore. The tactic is totally unnecessary as white has other ways to win. Still, it's quite impressive.

[FEN "r6k/8/6PP/5RK1/8/8/8/8 w - - 0 1"]

1.Rf8+ Rxf8 2.g7+ Kh7 (2...Kg8 3.Kg6) 3.gxf8=N+!(3.gxf8=B!)(3.gxf8=Q??)(3.gxf8=R??)

After 1.Rf8+ Rxf8 2.g7+ black doesn't play 2...Kg8 because of 3.Kg6 and mate next move (4.h7#). Instead black plays 2...Kh7 hoping for stalemate. Then 3.gxf8=N+! and 3.gxf8=B! both win, while 3.gxf8=Q?? and 3.gxf8=R?? lead to immediate draw.

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In both the winning cases, the crux is for White to deny h8 to the Black King. Here's one variation with the knight promotion: 3... Kg8 4. Kg6 Kh8 5. Nh7 Kg8 6. Ng5 Kh8 7. Nf7+ Kg8 8. h7+ Kf8 9. h8=Q+ Ke7 10. Qf6+ Ke8 11. Qf7+ Kd8 12. Qd7# –  Tony Ennis Oct 22 '13 at 11:47
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