Chess Notation: How To Write Down Your Moves
Chess notation refers to the process of writing down (i. e. recording) all chess moves played in a game. This is both mandatory in a lot of tournaments, as well as helpful for improving your chess 📈. Being able to replay your games and learn from mistakes is essential to becoming a better chess player. So let’s take a look at how exactly you can write down your chess moves.
Nowadays, the gold standard of chess notation is called algebraic notation – don’t worry, it has nothing to do with math 🧮. There are a few other methods of noting chess moves, such as:
- Descriptive notation
- ICCF numeric notation
- Smith notation
- Coordinate notation
But we’ll just focus on algebraic notation, as it is the one most commonly used and accepted. So for this guide: chess notation = algebraic notation.
The Basics of Algebraic Notation
Algebraic notation notation is based on a coordinate system, which allows us to uniquely identify each square on the chess board. You might have seen the letters and numbers on the edge of a chess board – those are critical for algebraic notation.
Alongside the uniquely identifiable squares, we abbreviate each piece with a capitalized letter. That way we can accurately track what piece moves to which square on a certain move.
So much for the basics. Let’s dive into how to write down your chess moves✍🏻.
Naming the Squares for Chess Notation
As we said, each of the 64 squares on the chess board gets a unique combination of a letter and number.
From White’s perspective, the squares are ordered left-to-right with letters from a to h. Obviously, the order is reversed for Black: the left-most squares start with the letter h, while the right-most are “a-squares”.
The same concept is applied to the numbers. Each square gets assigned a unique number from 1 to 8. The rank closest to the Black player are all “8-squares”, the rank closest to White are all “1-squares”.
To make it more understandable, we paid our graphic designer extra, so he could create this beautiful graphic ✨ (ok, maybe it was just slapped together in Excel):
The white queen for example, starts the game on d1; the black king on e8, and all of White’s pawns start on the second row.
Naming the Pieces for Algebraic Notation
Okay, so much for the squares. But for our notation to make sense, we need to take a look at how each piece is identified. Here is the full list:
The abbreviations are not very difficult to remember. Usually, it is just the first letter of the piece. There are however, two exceptions:
The Knight is abbreviated with the letter N, since the K is already used by the King. The pawn remains without a capital letter in chess notation. Please do not ask why chess players do this; we also don’t have a clue.
Notation for the Moves
The basic principles behind recording chess moves are easy. Essentially, we write down which piece moved to which square. So if our queen moved from a6 to a3, we would write down: Qa6-a3. This is called the long algebraic notation, as we write down both the starting, and end squares of the piece.
Usually it is enough to just use the end square, so the previous example would be written as Qa3. This is the preferred form of notation, as it is faster and requires less writing.
However, in certain cases two of our pieces can reach the same square. When using short algebraic notation, it might not always be clear which piece exactly we mean. How do we solve this? 🤔
When two identical pieces can move to the same square, we need to uniquely identify the correct one, by naming either
- the file of departure
- the rank of departure
- both rank and file of departure
in that order. Let’s look at an example:
Both of our rooks could move to the e4 square. Hence, we need to specify which rook we mean. If the rook on the e-file were to move to e4, we would note: Ree4 (Rook on the e-file moves to e4). If the rook on the b-file were to move to e4, we would note: Rbe4 (Rook on the b-file moves to e4).
Whenever a piece captures another, we indicate that by adding an “x” just before the end square. For example, the notation Qxf3 indicates that the queen just captured a piece on f3.
Since the pawn doesn’t have a capitalized letter as an abbreviation, we specify the pawn used for the capture by adding the file from which it departed. fxe4 means the pawn on the f-file captured a piece on e4.
A check is indicated by adding a plus sign (+) right after the destination square. For example, a bishop checking the king by moving to g4 would be noted like this: Bg4+.
Similarly to a check, whenever a piece delivers a checkmate, it is represented by adding the symbol “#”. Sometimes, a double plus sign “++” might be used.
- En passant: is noted by adding “e. p.” (for en passant). For example: fxg6 e. p.
- Castling: A king-side castle is indicated as 0–0, while a queen-side castle is written down like this: 0–0–0
- Pawn promotion: The piece the pawn promotes to, is simply added after the move. When a pawn promotes to a queen on a8, we note: a8Q. Sometimes equal signs or a forward slash might be used: a8=Q or a8/Q.
End of the Game
Generally, we indicate a game won by White with the notation “1–0”, while “0–1” means that Black won. ½–½ is the common notation for a draw.
Combination of Notations
While the individual notations for moves might not be very difficult, it can get quite overwhelming for beginners, once we start to combine them. When a bishop captures a piece on g5 and delivers a check by doing so, we would note: Bxg5+.
Interpretations of Moves
In analysis it can be quite useful to comment on special moves. For that, chess players have derived a unique system, which classifies each move. Those interpretations are simply added to each move that might seem worth commenting on.
- !! – brilliant move
- ! – good move
- ? – bad move
- ?? – terrible move
- !? – unusual move
- ?! – dubious move
Those are simply added behind the actual notation, for example: Rxe4 !!.
Now that we’ve got the theory down, there is one key question left unanswered: Where do I write down my moves (especially during a tournament)? Well, obviously you could just use a plain sheet of paper, but that would become a pain in the butt rather quickly. Luckily, there is a tidy solution: chess notation sheets.
You can find those by simply googling “chess notation sheets”!
Chess Notation: Full Example
Now you should be well equipped to properly write down your chess moves. Solidify your newly-gained knowledge by replaying the first game of the 1996 match between Deep Blue (a chess computer) and then-reigning chess champion Garry Kasparov.
Deep Blue – Kasparov 1:0, Game 1, 1996 Match
1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.Be2 e6 7.h3 Bh5 8.0-0 Nc6 9.Be3 cxd4 10.cxd4 Bb4 11.a3 Ba5 12.Nc3 Qd6 13.Nb5 Qe7 14.Ne5 Bxe2 15.Qxe2 0-0 16.Rac1 Rac8 17.Bg5 Bb6 18.Bxf6 gxf6 19.Nc4 Rfd8 20.Nxb6 axb6 21.Rfd1 f5 22.Qe3 Qf6 23.d5 Rxd5 24.Rxd5 exd5 25.b3 Kh8 26.Qxb6 Rg8 27.Qc5 d4 28.Nd6 f4 29.Nxb7 Ne5 30.Qd5 f3 31.g3 Nd3 32.Rc7 Re8 33.Nd6 Re1+ 34.Kh2 Nxf2 35.Nxf7+ Kg7 36.Ng5+ Kh6 37.Rxh7+ 1–0
You can either set up your own board and pieces, or use a free analysis tool like lichess to replay the game.