Bryce Gallo · May 25, 2021 · 9 min read
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Want to be able to read and write Algebraic chess notation in 15 minutes or less?
Hello and welcome to your crash course in chess notation! Today I'll be giving you everything that you need to know in order to read, write, and understand chess notation.
The following is an edited excerpt from my book '101 Chess Tactics from Amateur Games'.
Introduction to Chess Notation
'Algebraic Chess Notation' is the most used language in chess and helps chess players to record their games, share games, and annotate past matches. Another type of chess notation is called 'Descriptive Notation' which is a little bit different from the Algebraic form we use today and ceased to be used sometime during the 1980s.
Today we will be covering Algebraic Notation since it is the go-to method for modern chess players. (Although learning the other style wouldn't hurt!) In each section, I have included an easy-to-remember formula to help you master the steps for reading and writing chess notation. The basics of this notation are quite simple. Let's start off with the gameboard squares.
Naming the Board Squares
A chessboard with notation letters and numbers on its X and Y axis.
A chessboard is an 8x8 grid that has 64 squares that alternate between light and dark. With Algebraic chess notation every square is given a name. This name is made up of a letter 'file' and a number 'rank' which intersect to give each square a letter and number name. The vertical rows (files) are labeled with lowercase letters that run from βaβ to βhβ. The horizontal rows (ranks) are labeled with numbers that run from β1β to β8β. When a file and a rank intersect at a square, we get that squareβs name. Take the diagram below for example.
Can you name the squares that each piece rests on?
Formula: FILE + RANK
The White King is sitting on a square where the βbβ file intersects with the β3β rank, so we say that the King is on the b3 square. How about the Black King? The Black King is sitting on the square where the βgβ file intersects with the β5β rank, so we say that the King is on the g5 square. Now you try! What square is the Black Pawn on? Here we see that the Pawn is on the square where the βfβ file meets with the β7β rank, so we say that the Pawn is on the f7 square. How about the White Pawn? In our diagram the White Pawn is on the square where the βdβ file meets with the β2β rank, so the Pawn is on the d2 square.
Great job! Now that you know how the squares are named and how to find each square's name, let us move on to the names of the chess pieces.
Naming the Pieces
Every piece on the chessboard is given a special uppercase letter used to identify each piece. Below is a list of the letters. Pay special attention to the difference between the Knight and King!
King = K
Queen = Q
Rook = R
Bishop = B
Knight = N (Here we use βNβ since the King already uses the letter βKβ)
Pawn = No letter. For this piece, we simply say the square that the Pawn moves to.
If you need more practice naming the squares, scroll up and practice naming each square on the board until you've got the process down.
*Make sure that the letters representing each piece are capitalized so we don't confuse the pieces with the squares!*
Writing a Move
When writing out a move played in a chess game, we always write the piece that is moving by using the piece's unique letter and then the square that they are landing or stopping on. If the piece captures another piece we put "x" in between the piece's letter and the square it is moving to. Let's see a few examples:
How did you do? Leave a comment below this blog!
1. Rg7 - What happened here?
A: A Rook moved to the g7 square.
1. Bf4 - What happened this time?
A: A Bishop moved to the f4 square.
1. Nxc7 - What happened on this move?
A: The Knight moved to the c7 square, taking the Rook in the process.
*Remember this: The moving pieceβs letter always goes first*
Let's get a little more practice with a different position. (Feel free to skip ahead if you've already got this section down!)
Writing a Move Part 2
Take a look at the diagram below. Letβs say that White wants to move their Rook to c1. How would we write out this move? To move the Rook to c1 we would say βRc1β. What would we write if White wants to move their Queen to g5? We would write Qg5.
Now White wants to move their Bishop to h7, how do we write this move? Answer: Bh7. Lastly, letβs say that White wishes to move their Knight to e4. What do we write in this scenario? Answer: Ne4.
This is actually a 'Mate in 2' puzzle, can you solve it? White to move.
Formula: PIECE-NAME + ("x" if a capture occurs) + DESTINATION-SQUARE
When Pawns move it is very simple to notate. All you have to do is write the square that the Pawn lands on. So, in this diagram shown below, White hasnβt yet moved their Pawn and wants to go two squares forward. How do we write this?
Can White win this game? Answer at the end of the blog post.
Answer: d4. Now, what about the Black Pawn? This Pawn also hasn't moved, so it can go either one or two squares forward. How would we write out this move? Answer: g5. Pretty easy right? Now letβs see what happens when a Pawn captures a piece.
Writing a Move Part 2
- Pawn Takes Piece
When a Pawn captures a piece we indicate the vertical file that the Pawn is leaving (using its letter name) and the square that the Pawn is arriving on. When a piece takes another we must also remember to add an "x" between the piece's letter and the square that the piece moved to.
In the diagram below we can see that the White Pawn has the option to capture either the Rook or the Bishop. First of all, which piece should we take? That's right, we should take the Rook because it is valued at 5 points whereas the Bishop is valued at a mere 3 points. Additionally, taking the Rook results in a draw but taking the Bishop means that Black can win the game, but that is getting a little too far ahead of ourselves. :)
Using the image below, how would we write "Pawn takes Rook"? How about "Pawn takes Bishop?
One capture for White results in a draw, the other ends in a loss.
Formula: FILE-EXITED + βxβ + DESTINATION-SQUARE
If the d4 Pawn takes the Rook on e5 we write dxe5. If the Pawn wishes to take the Bishop on c5, we write dxc5. This one is probably the most difficult part about chess notation. If you've got this down already, great job! If not, just give it some time and practice. You'll get it!
Next, letβs take a look at what we write when a Pawn promotes!
In the following diagram, White wants to promote their g7 Pawn by moving it forward one square to the g8 square, then promoting it to a Queen.
When we have a promotion, we write the destination square name, an β=β sign, and the piece's letter name that we are promoting the Pawn to. So, how do we write this pawn promotion?
"Good Game" - Somebody Better Than Me
Formula: DESTINATION-SQUARE + β=β + NEWPIECE
If you said g8=Q, then you are correct!
Sometimes when writing down the moves of a game you find that there are two pieces of the same type that can move to the same square. If we write the move as normal, nobody would know which piece we moved to the square.
Consider the diagram below. White would like to move his Rook that is beside his King to the c1 square. However, simply writing βRc1β could be confusing since we donβt know which Rook moved to c1 when reviewing the game days, months, or even years later!
It's easy enough to checkmate in 3 or more moves, but can you find Mate in 2?
Formula: PIECE + FILE OR RANK EXITED + DESTINATION-SQUARE
In these types of scenarios, we add the file letter or rank number that the piece left, whichever is most defining. Here we add βfβ to indicate that the Rook moving to c1 came from the f file. So, Rfc1 is the correct notation.
In Algebraic Chess Notation, there are special types of moves that require special notation. These are the Kingside and Queenside castling moves.
When a King castles on the Kingside, we write βO-Oβ and when a King castles on the Queenside we write βO-O-Oβ. The number of "O"s we put tells us the number of squares the Rook has moved during castling. (The King always moves two squares to the side of the board that he wishes to castle on.)
Now that we know how to write down moves from a game of chess, letβs see what annotations can be added after a written move to describe the quality of the moves! All of these symbols are added at the end of a move for example Qd5# or Nh6+.
+ = Check
# = Checkmate
! = Good Move
!! = Brilliant Move
!? = Unusual Move
?! = Dubious Move
? = Bad Move
?? = Blunder (Loses material or the game)
These symbols are called annotation symbols and help describe in your opinion whether or not a move played was a good one. These are always written after the notation of a move.
I really hope that this has helped you to better understand Algebraic Chess Notation in 15 Minutes or less! If it's helped you then please share this post with your chess-playing friends and leave a comment below letting me know what you liked (or didn't like) about today's post.
Thank you very much for reading and I hope to see you again very soon.
Posted May 25, 2021 by Bryce Gallo