The queen is the strongest piece in chess and the second most valuable, which is why many beginners are confused why the act of promotion is not automatically set to a queen.
Since the queen is the strongest piece it should be promoted all the time right? well no, chess is complicated you see.
This is a legitimate question, here is the answer:
Chess players might occasionally avoid promoting to a queen in order to avoid a stalemate, bringing pieces that are weaker rarely result in a stalemate. Some also promotes to a knight in positions where it is useful, the queen after all cannot move like the knight.
Just because the queen is the strongest does not mean that it will be the most useful depending on the situation, there are in fact many positions where it is not right to promote to a queen. This article will elaborate on it, keep on reading if you’re interested.
People don’t promote to a queen when the promotion will lead to a stalemate
There are positions where promoting to a queen can lead to a stalemate (especially if the only available move is promotion), promoting to a knight or a bishop instead is the better option.
You don’t want to draw (stalemate) a winning position right? In these positions it is better to make an underpromotion rather than bringing out a queen.
You will still have a material gain from the act of promotion while still keeping some tiles for the enemy king, a knight or a rook don’t cover as many tiles as the queen after all.
So while bringing a queen can lead to a stalemate, bringing another piece that is considered weaker might not necessarily cover the same squares that can lead to a stalemate.
In these situations promoting to a weaker piece is the right move since it is the one that does not throw the game away.
In most situations promoting to a queen is the most logical choice, one of the exemptions to this is of course if the promotion leads to a stalemate.
In chess a stalemate is an automatic draw, this is something to avoid if you are the one pushing for a win.
If the promotion does not lead to a stalemate (and some of the other conditions mentioned below), promoting to a queen is the right thing to do.
But in cases that the soon-to-be promoted queen will cover too many squares then it is rightful to bring a material that would not cause the position to be drawn.
Though I agree that this situation is rare, it is not totally impossible (people have encountered it on numerous occasions). I for example have encountered it on numerous occasions and have to under-promote in order to avoid a stalemate.
People don’t promote to a queen because the queen can’t move like the knight
So there are cases where people don’t promote into a queen because it can lead to a stalemate, but situations where this is the case are usually not observed. There is actually a more plausible situation where an underpromotion is preferred, this usually involves the knight.
The more common scenario is when a knight is promoted instead of a queen, this is because the knight is the only piece that has unique moves that the queen cannot do herself. There are extremely few positions where a player is going to promote a pawn into a bishop.
This is because the queen does the role of a regular bishop just as well, there’s no reason to bring out an inferior piece when you can bring out a superior one that has similar capabilities.
In cases where you want to avoid stalemate it is preferred to bring out a rook instead (since it is stronger), the bishop doesn’t really give a good reason for you to choose it over other pieces. This brings us to one anomaly, of course I am talking about the knight.
The knight is the only minor/major piece in chess that has its own unique moments that even a queen cannot imitate, the queen cannot jump over pieces and move in an L-shaped pattern. In situations where this ability is useful, a knight is to be preferred rather than a queen promotion.
Usually people promote to a knight in order to fork various pieces or deliver an instant checkmate. These are features that the queen cannot deliver in some positions (due to the lack of L-shaped movements), which the knight can.
This is why in some positions promoting to a knight is better than promoting to a queen.
People don’t promote to a queen in order to prevent forks
I have seen positions where promoting to a queen will just lead to a fork for the enemy knight, the right solution is to go for a knight instead in order to prevent the enemy fork.
This is a very specific situation and I have personally only seen it 4 times in my own games, however in those four times, I would have lost if there was a rush to promote into a queen. A queen just cannot hold up to a fork the way a knight can.
A knight cannot be forked since it can just capture the opponent knight who is supposedly making the fork, the queen however cannot do the same because it lacks the L-shaped movements.
Promoting to a queen when it will just be forked (basically captured) will get you nowhere, promoting to a knight instead will prevent the fork and the game can still go on.
Promoting to other pieces like a rook or bishop will yield similar results, the only one that can be useful in this situation (fork incoming) is the knight.
The position is not exactly won but it will not be losing either, the game will still play on and both players can still have chances. This is miles better than promoting to a queen which theoretically should be stronger, but will just be captured by a fork the next turn.
People don’t promote to a queen in order to make their opponent hesitant
Now there are positional reasons why a queen does not perform as well as the other pieces, however, I believe that there are also psychological reasons why some people choose to not promote into a queen.
One of these scenarios is if there are a lot of exchanges that are about to occur in the promotional square, promoting into a piece that is considered “lesser” might be a good idea.
This is because bringing out a piece that is considered lesser (such as a knight or a rook) will make an opponent hesitate instead of them making a choice that is simple and easy.
When an opponent is given more options they are also more likely to blunder and be taken advantage of, this can also throw away several minutes of calculation from an expected point of view.
If one were to promote to a queen automatically, then the opponent is likely to have expected this and incorporated it into their calculation. If you were to promote into a rook instead the opponent might make a mistake.
By giving your opponent the ability to choose between multiple choices you are also giving them an opportunity to make things easier for you.
This can also be a reason why some people don’t promote into a queen in promotional tile exchanges, they want to mess with their opponent psychologically.
Promoting a pawn to a queen is the most logical choice in most situations, however, there are conditions where it is better to promote into a knight/rook. One of this is when a queen promotion will lead to a stalemate, of course you do not want to do this since the game will be drawn instead of won.
Another is when the capability of the knight (and its L-shaped movements) is needed, it is the only major/minor piece that has movements a queen cannot imitate. There are some situations where this uniqueness is needed, promoting to a knight instead of a queen in these scenarios are better.
Hope you have learned something, thank you for reading.