Chess notation

Chess notation is a method of recording the sequence of moves in a game of chess.

Learning chess notation is invaluable to learning to play better chess. The ability to read chess notation makes it possible for the student of chess to access instruction in chess books and on chess websites. The ability to write chess notation gives the player the ability to record and analyze his or her own games.

The most popular style of chess notation is called the algebraic style of chess notation. The following is a tutorial for reading and recording algebraic chess notation.

(Later I will make a post with instructions for reading descriptive notation, which is the old-school way of annotating chess games, making it useful for reading old chess books. You can find it here.)

Vertical rows (going from your side of the chess board to your opponent’s side) are called files. Files are labeled with a lowercase letter, a-h, with the a file on white’s left and the h file on white’s right.

Horizontal rows (going from the left side of the chess board to the right side) are called ranks. Ranks are labeled with a number, 1-8, with the first rank being the horizontal row that contains white’s king and the eighth rank being the horizontal row that contains black’s king.

Official tournament chess sets have the rank and file coordinates around the edges of the board:

The coordinates make is so that every square on the chess board has a unique label that corresponds to the file and rank on which it sits. The label of a square is written with the letter for the file first, followed by the number for the rank.

For example, the white king starts on e1, and the black rook on the queen’s side starts on a8.

Pieces are indicated with a capital letter corresponding to the name of the piece: B for bishop, N for knight, R for rook, Q for queen, and K for king.

A move is indicated by listing the letter of the moving piece, followed by the destination square. For example, Qe2 indicates that the queen was moved to square e2.

The only exception to this rule is the pawn. Pawn moves are indicated by listing the destination square only. For example, e4 indicates that a pawn was moved to the square e4.

Sometimes multiple pieces of the same type can move to the same destination square. In that case, the piece is distinguished by listing the rank or file from where it started after the capital letter for the piece and before the destination square.

For example, in the diagram below, both of white’s knights can go to d5. The move Nfd5 indicates that the knight on the f-file is the one that moved. If the other knight was actually the one that was moved, that move would be recorded as Nbd5.

Similarly, both of black’s rooks can move to h6. If the rook on h1 is actually the rook that was moved, we would record that move as R1h6.

A capture is indicated with an “x” between the capturing piece and the destination square.

For example, if a bishop at b5 captured a knight at c6, the capture would be indicated by Bxc6. This reads “the bishop took whatever piece was at c6.”

Castling on the king’s side is indicated by O-O. Castling on the queen’s side is indicated by O-O-O.

Check is indicated by putting a “+” after the move. For example, Bb5+ would indicate a bishop move to square b5 that puts the opposing king in check.

Checkmate is indicated by putting a “#” after the move. For example, the move Rc8# indicates a rook on the c-file being moved to the eighth rank, resulting in checkmate.

When a pawn is promoted, the piece that replaces the pawn is listed after the move. For example, b8=R indicates that a pawn in the b-file moved to the eighth rank and was promoted to a rook. Sometimes promotion is notated as “b8R” or an arrow is used in place of the equal sign.

If a pawn is captured en passant, the move is often recorded with an “e.p.” after the move, especially in chess material for beginners. For example, the move 11. dxc6 e.p. indicates that white took the black pawn on the c-file en passant with her pawn on the d-file. The black pawn attempted to move to c5, but the capture occurred at c6, so that is recorded as the resultant destination of the capturing pawn.

Please note: an en passant capture may simply be recorded as a regular capture.

Sometimes you will see the symbols “?” for bad move and “!” for good move are used, as well as some others. These symbols are used primarily by chess analysts for instructional purposes. It is a good idea as a beginner to leave these out, as they are not necessary.

An ellipsis, or “…”, is often used as a placeholder to indicate picking up a game from the last move. For example, the move 4. … Nf6 indicates that black moved his knight to the square f6 after whatever move white made for turn 4.

As an example, here is the notation for the first ten moves of a chess game. Move pieces on your chess board according to this notation:

The board position after these ten moves looks like this:

Did you get the same results? Great!

As we’ve said, learning to read chess notation puts a world of chess instruction at your fingertips. If you can understand chess notation, you can follow chess instructions in a book or on the internet. You can also follow the classic games from grandmasters from the past.

Here are some games (from ) to follow using the chess notation. See if you can play out the game and get the same result.

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