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Chess Notation

by Roger McIntyre

Chess notation is a way to record a game of chess. Every serious chess player should learn how to score (record) a chess game. This will allow them to go back over their games and learn from them. It will also allow them to be able to read chess books. There are a number of different types of chess notations but the most popular type used today is called Algebraic Notation. Practically all new chess books use this type of notation.

In Algebraic Notation the chessboard is divided into ranks and files. The ranks are the horizontal rows of squares labeled 1 through 8. The files are the vertical columns of squares labeled a through h. Each square on the chessboard can be identified by a unique combination of file and rank. For example, the highlighted square on the right is called c7 because it lies on the c file and the 7 rank. Some boards do not have the ranks and files labeled so it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with it. From the perspective of the White side, the files are always labeled a through h going from left to right and the ranks are always labeled 1 through 8 going from bottom to top.

Pieces are identified by a single capital letter. This is usually the letter their names start with. The exception is the Knight. Since the K is used for a King, the Knight is identified by an N.
K - King
Q - Queen
R - Rook
B - Bishop
N - Knight
To notate a piece moving on the chessboard first write the piece identifier and then the square the piece is moving to. In the diagram on the left the Knight is moving to square f3 so this is written Nf3.

What if a Pawn moves? In case you didn't notice, there is no piece identifier for a Pawn. Pawns don't need an identifier. If no piece identifier is used then it is assumed that the moving piece is a Pawn. To notate a Pawn moving, just write the square it is moving to. In the diagram on the right the Pawn is moving to e5 so this is simply written e5.

Captures are indicated with an x between the piece identifier and square where the capture takes place. When the Bishop captures the Rook in the diagram on the left it will be written as Bxh8.

When a Pawn captures a piece, instead of using a piece identifier you use the file identifier of the Pawn's location before the capture. The Pawn capture on the right would be written cxd4.

Occasionally identical pieces can move to the same square. To distinguish between them include either the file identifier of the piece that is moving if the ambiguous pieces lie on the same rank, or the rank identifier if they lie on the same file. For example, both rooks can move to the square b5 in the diagram on the left so Rb5 would be ambiguous. In order to distinguish the Rook on b2 from the Rook on b7 the notation should include the rank identifier of the b2 Rook as in R2b5.

A King-side castle is represented by O-O. A Queen-side castle is O-O-O. When a move attacks the enemy King the notation is followed by a +. When a move checkmates the enemy King the notation is followed by a ++ or a #. When a Pawn makes it to the opposite side of the board and promotes to another piece you would notate the move as usual followed by the piece identifier for the piece the pawn promoted to. For example, when the Pawn at right captures the Queen and promotes to a Queen itself, thus checking the enemy King, it would be written cxd8Q+.

Sometimes additional commentary is added to the end of the notation to describe the move in more detail. Here are a few symbols along with their meanings:
!!- Brilliant move
!- Good move
!?- Interesting move
?!- Dubious move
?- Bad move
??- Blunder

Now that you are an expert on Algebraic Notation, see if you can follow this game:




There are many other methods of recording a chess game besides Algebraic Notation. Just a few years ago the most popular method used here in the U.S. was a method called Descriptive Notation. Instead of having the files labeled a through h the chessboard is divided into a Queen-side and a King-side and the file names take on the name of the piece that occupied the file in the initial setup position. So the files are QR (for Queen Rook) through KR (King Rook). The ranks are labeled 1 through 8 but unlike Algebraic Notation, the labeling is with respect to the player. 1 represents the row of squares closest to the player and 8 represents the row of squares farthest away. Descriptive Notation does have a piece identifier for a Pawn and it is what you probably thought it would be, a P. A game that begins: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 in Algebraic Notation would look like: 1. P-K4 P-K4 2. N-KB3 N-QB3 in Descriptive Notation. It is a good idea to learn this type of notation if only to be able to read the older chess books that use it.

Many books and computer chess programs use a notation called Figurine Algebraic Notation. This is exactly like normal Algebraic Notation except that the piece identifiers are replaced with graphic symbols of the pieces. This looks nice in books and on computer screens but you probably wouldn't want to use it while scoring your own games by hand.

Last modified: 10 August 2004
David Hayes