I'm reading a very old chess book ("The Chess Pocket Manual" by G.H.D. Gossip, copyright 1894), and I find this passage in it's section on "The Laws of Chess":

When a Pawn has reached the eighth square, the player has the option Of selecting a piece, whether such piece has been previously lost or not, whose name and powers it shall then assume, or of deciding that it shall remain a Pawn.

There is a footnote on this that reads:

This is the famous " dummy " Pawn rule laid down in case of a position where a player, compelled to take a piece, would thereby lose the game, whereas, by refusing promotion to his Pawn, he could draw it. Need less to add that such positions, although possible, are extremely improbable, and do not occur in the course of a lifetime to most players.

When was this ever a rule? I've never heard of this.

If it was a widely recognized rule at some point, when did it change?

  • 3
    You are asking here only a historical question (whether such rule really existed or not). (This might be difficult to answer, considering that FIDE was founded only in 1924, so I am not sure if there were official rules in 1894). But your book passage contains another very interesting question: find a chess position where promoting a pawn to a piece would lose the game, while moving the pawn to the eight rank and leaving it a pawn would draw. I cannot think about such a position now, but if it exists, I would like to see it. – Knight of the Square Table Mar 26 '18 at 5:35
  • The answer posted by Rosie F to this question includes such an example. Very interesting! – patbarron Mar 26 '18 at 13:20
  • I've added in my answer a timeline of known events. Had the heresy run its course by the 1895 Hastings Congress? – Laska Mar 27 '18 at 6:42
  • I do remember that in Indian style chess, it was totally upto the individual to promote or not. Also, the pawn promoted to the same square piece, the queen pawn promoted to the queen, king pawn promoted to the queen as well; rook pawn promoted to rook. – ABcDexter Mar 28 '18 at 8:48

Dummy Pawns

Today, it is little known that for forty years at the height of the British Empire, Dummy Pawns were the scourge of tournament play, and even grandmasters ran scared. (Possible exaggeration here.)

The heresy raged from 1862-1904. See Eminent Victorian Chess Players: Ten Biographies by Tim Harding.

Timeline of known events

(+/- indicate events pro/con Dummy Pawns)

1860 - Staunton's Chess Praxis - "no one will consider [Dummy Pawns] 
                                   worthy of serious consideration"
1862 + International London Congress - provides rule for Dummy Pawns
1865 + Letter by a Mr Pavitt, UK - "an exquisite stroke of chess legislation"
1870 + Baden Congress - follows London Congress of 1862
1876 - New edition of Staunton's Chess Praxis - rules still say no Dummy Pawns
1879 - American Chess Journal - "a frivolous and undesirable innovation"
1883 - London International Chess Congress - Dummy Pawns banned
1889 + Steinitz - follows London 1862, and reports that so have many Congresses
1894 + "The Chess Pocket Manual" - "famous Dummy Pawn rule"
1898 + spectacular Sam Loyd #3 composition
1895 - the legendary Hastings congress - Dummy Pawns banned
1903 - unsupported statement that the reign of Dummy Pawns ended in this year
1904 - Founding of BCF, which according to Harding published the rules 
       that finally exiled the monstrous Dummy Pawns to history.
2018 + chess.stackexchange.com diagram editor still supports Dummy Pawns!  

See Dummy Pawns in action in our own heretical diagram editor below! (Except for the Ponziani game which is even more bonkers, and cannot therefore be shown.)

1860: Staunton, bastion of orthodoxy

The "Dummy Pawn rule" was not part of the official rules up to 1860. See "Chess Praxis" by Howard Staunton 1860. Staunton was a very influential player and author, and in this book codified the Laws of Chess, in a way which is still recognizable in the style of the FIDE Laws today. On page xi, in the Introduction he lists chronologically the many antecedents of his work from Ruy Lopez in 1561, to the 1850s.

Page 6, Queening a Pawn

When a Pawn has reached the eighth or last square on its file, it immediately assumes the name and power of any Piece its player may select, except a King, whether such Piece have previously been lost or not; and, if the player does not select a Piece, such Pawn is always to be considered a Queen.

On page xii, he had defined "Piece" to explicitly exclude pawn. The real fun comes later:

Chapter 4, "A Queened Pawn"

On this subject great difference of opinion prevails, but the rule laid down in the text is that universally observed in practice. In the middle ages, as we have previously explained, the Queen could only move one square at a time diagonally. She was, therefore, by far the weakest piece on the Board. And the ancient law, which required that every Pawn pushed on to the eighth square should become a Queen, was really a restrictive enactment, since it gave the promoted Pawn as little additional power as the conversion could offer. But the spirit of the modern game is to regard the Queening of a Pawn as the highest feat a player can accomplish, and to reward it with the greatest possible advantage. So that a player in the present day is not only allowed to select a second or third Queen with its enormously extended power, but may choose any other Piece that would be more advantageous in a particular position.

Various modifications of this law have existed in different places and at different times. It has been held, for example, that the Pawn should only acquire the power of the Piece on to whose square it had been played, or of a Piece already lost. It has also been proposed to limit the conversion to either a Knight or a Queen, as the latter comprises the power of Rook and Bishop; and the Pawn has sometimes been required to perform certain additional moves before becoming entitled to the privileges of a Piece. The most plausible of the regulations is that the Pawn should only supply the place of a Piece already lost, so as to avoid, what Philidor so violently denounced, plurality of pieces. But then comes the difficulty of providing for the case where a Pawn has reached the eighth square before any Piece has been lost. It has been proposed to leave such a Pawn, as it were, dormant, until a capture should have made among the Pieces a vacancy for it to supply. Ponziani, an advocate of this regulation, has given the following little game as an example of it,

Example of non-standard castling & promotion

[title "White to move - Ponziani Scheme"]
[fen "Bn1qk1nr/p1p2ppp/8/8/4P3/5N1b/PPPP1b1P/RNBQ1rK1 w - - 0 1"]
  1. e4 e5
  2. f4 exf4
  3. Nf3 Be7
  4. Bc4 Bh4+
  5. g3 fxg3
  6. Kh1&Rf1 d5 Italian style castling!
  7. Bxd5 Bh3
  8. Bxb7 g2+
  9. Kg1 gxf1 without promoting
  10. Bxa8 Bf2# only now does pawn f1 promote to rook

In this game the black Pawn, which attained the eighth square on its ninth move, neither gave mate nor check, because the player had lost no Piece into which it could be converted, and it was not in a situation to check as a Pawn. But as White chose to capture the Rook on his tenth move, Black plays down the Bishop with one check, giving another and mate, with the Pawn now become a Rook in place of that captured. There is so much of the absurd about such a finale as this that no one will consider it worthy of serious examination, and it is only mentioned as a matter of curiosity.

1862: The Madness Begins

As described in the Edward Winter link in another answer, the dummy pawn rule was codified in the International Congress of London in 1862, despite Staunton's outrage. For a generation, the war raged between the two camps, echoing the chaos in the European political space at this time.

1870: Baden

A typical data point from this dark time is the Baden Chess Congress of 1870, which adopted the 1862 rules (source). An article covering begins attractively:

Unmoved by the shrill notes of the war trumpets sounding in their ears, the Chess players have commenced their mimic strife in Baden.

1876: Staunton

In the mean time, Staunton came out with another edition of his Praxis (source). He did not mention the 1862 rules, but he did give an example, by Petroff:

[title "White to move and draw - Petroff's Offense"]
[fen "rn6/pp2n3/2p5/P4k2/8/6p1/6Pp/7K w - - 0 1"]

1. a6 Nd7  
2. axb7 Ne5  
3. bxa8  

1883: London Congress

Another data point is the London International Congress of 1883, where the rules include:

  1. A Pawn reaching the eighth square must be named as a Queen or Piece, at the option of player, independent of the number of Pieces on the board. The created Queen or Piece acts immediately in its new capacity. Until the Pawn has been so named, the move is incomplete.

In almost all other cases in these rules, Pieces and Pawns are taken to be distinct, but this is the first occurrence I've ever seen of a usage of Piece to exclude the Queen! However, I think it is clear that Dummy Pawns are on the retreat.

1895: Hastings Congress

By the time of the famous Hastings Congress in 1895, Dummy Pawns are clearly gone from serious play. The Congress rules adopt exactly the same wording as London 1883.

1898: Sam Loyd #3

However, as a last hurrah, no discussion of the Dummy Pawn period would be complete without the following beautiful problem by the American composer Sam Loyd.

[title "White to move and mate in 3 - Sam Loyd - American Chess Magazine"]
[fen "N1Br4/2Pb1P2/3k4/1P2R3/1P2K3/B7/8/8 w - - 0 1"]  

1. cxd8!  
(1. cxd8=Q/R? stalemate)
(1. cxd8=B? Bf5+)  
(1. cxd8=N? Bc6+)
threatening 2. f8=Q/B#
(1... Bf5+ 2. Rxf5 Ke7 3. f8=Q#)  
(1... Bc6+ 2. bxc6 Kxc6 3. b5#)  
(1... Bxc8 2. f8=Q+ Kd7 3. Qe7#)  
(1... Bxb5? 2. Re6#)  

1904: the Nightmare Ends

But it was only with the arrival of the British Chess Federation that the final nail in the coffin was driven home. There is still some lack of clarity as to the precise year, but around 1904.

2017: just for fun

Here is perhaps the minimal material where the Dummy Pawn draws.

[Title "White to move and draw - version of Ichai, matplus 13-Nov-2017"]
[fen "8/2P5/8/8/8/2r5/p1r5/K1k5 w - - 0 1"]

1. c8!  
(1. c8=Q? Rb3    
2. Qxc2+ Kxc2  
3. Kxa2 Rc3/d3/e3/f3/g3/h3    
4. Ka1 Ra3#)  

Ref:problem composers at play.

|improve this answer|||||
  • 1
    Google Books has the 1876 edition of Staunton's book, where he discusses the "difference of opinion" (including a problem by Petroff illustrating the use of dummy pawn) but his version of the rule doesn't allow dummy pawns. There's no mention of the 1862 Congress in the timeline he gives in the introduction (p. xii), so maybe this edition wasn't significantly revised since 1860? books.google.com/books?id=UpECAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA41 – itub Mar 28 '18 at 14:46
  • @itub thanks: incorporated Petroff into the answer. There was also a London congress in 1866, but I can't find the rules for that one. – Laska Mar 29 '18 at 3:55

Edward Winter cites Owen J. Clarkin (Ottawa, Canada) who quotes from The Modern Chess Instructor by W. Steinitz (New York, 1889) which in turn cites this example from Lowenthal's Book of the London Chess Congress, 1862:

[Title "Dummy pawn motivation"]
[fen "r/1Pp5/2P3p1/8/6pb/4p1kB/4P1p1/6K1 w - - 0 1"]
[StartFlipped "0"]

1.bxa8=Q gxh3

If 1 bxa8 and White promotes to a piece, then 1 ... gxh3 and mate next move. But with 1 bxa8 with no promotion, White stalemates himself.

|improve this answer|||||
  • 3
    The book of the London Chess Congress 1862 is available in full in Google Books if anyone's interested: books.google.com/books?id=GN0WAAAAYAAJ&pg=PR72 – itub Mar 26 '18 at 11:44
  • I don't quite understand it, yet. By not promoting white runs out of moves, since the only piece, that could move on h3 will be captured. Does that mean White safes itself from checkmate by being unable to move and the game ends in a draw? – Minix Mar 26 '18 at 13:53
  • 4
    @Minix, right, if black takes the bishop after White's non-promotion, it is stalemate and therefore a draw. Black can chose some other, non-stalemating move, but the resulting endgame with bishops of opposite colors is expected to end in a draw anyway. – itub Mar 26 '18 at 14:09
  • There's a lot more to this amazing period in chess history than Edward Winter reports. I try to track the main events in my answer. – Laska Mar 28 '18 at 4:19

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