Both players can have 9 queens each, in theory, meaning there can be 18 queens on a chess board.
However, it never happens in a real chess game. The likelihood of all the 8 pawns reaching the eighth rank with the original queen on board is none.
To understand how you can have so many queens on board and why it’s not possible in real games, you’ll first need to know a special chess rule called pawn promotion.
Pawn promotion is when your pawn reaches the last rank, the player gets to promote the pawn to a major or minor piece. If you’re white, your pawn needs to reach the eighth rank; if you’re black, your pawn needs to reach the first rank for pawn promotion.
There are two types of pawn promotion:
- Under promotion
Queening is when a pawn converts to a queen when it reaches the last rank.
In the above example, c7 pawn reaches c8 and gets promoted to a queen.
On the other hand, under promotion is when a pawn promotes to any other piece besides the queen. These pieces can be a rook, bishop, or knight.
In the above example, f7 pawn reaches f8 and gets promoted to a knight to give a check and fork. Once the Black king moves, the White knight can capture the queen on c7.
Since the queen is the most powerful piece on the board, most players promote their pawns into queens. In fact, as per the ChessBase database of 3.2 million games, only 1.5% of games feature pawn promotion, out of which 96.9% resulted in queening.
That said, underpromotion with knights is the second most popular type of pawn promotion because of the knight’s unique moving pattern.
There are also certain pawn promotion rules you should be aware of. These rules are as follows:
- A pawn can’t remain as a pawn on the eighth rank and must promote itself to a piece.
- Once the pawn reaches the last rank, it must be removed from the board and replaced with a new piece.
- The new piece doesn’t necessarily have to be a captured piece. This means that if you have a queen on board, you can still promote your pawn to another queen.
How many queens can you have in chess?
Because of the pawn promotion rule, there can be 18 queens on a chessboard. However, for that to happen, all the 16 pawns on board as well the two queens should remain unscathed throughout the game, making it a highly improbable scenario.
Having more than three queens on a board is quite rare, especially in Grandmaster games. However, there have been 2 games where each player had 3 queens.
The first game was played between Emil Szalanczy and Nguyen Thi Mai in 2009, which ended in a draw.
And the second game played between David Antón Guijarro and Alejandro Franco Alonso in 2011 ended with White winning the game.
Key takeaways: How many queens can you have in chess
- Each player can have 9 queens, making it 18 in total.
- When a pawn reaches the last rank, it gets promoted to a queen, rook, bishop, or knight.
- If all the 16 pawns reach the last rank and the players promote them to queens, there can be 16 queens. If the two original queen pieces are still on board, there can be 18 queens in total.
- There hasn’t been a single game where all the 16 pawns were promoted to queens.
- The maximum number of queens recorded in a grandmaster game is 6 in total.