Algebraic Chess Notation


What is notation?

  • Notation is a special way of writing and recording to track how your chess pieces move or to indicate their position on the chess board.
  • Notation enables you to read, describe and analyse or review a chess game.
  • Notation helps you to study chess books, computer programs and dvd’s.
  • Notation is proof of a game’s position and the number of moves, specifically in case of a dispute!

PS: During a chess game both players notate their moves on a notation pad or chess recording sheet (score sheet) or electronic chess score pad (check with the Tournament Director of a tournament before using it!).

What do you need to know about notation?

  • To understand the coordinates on the chess board.
  • To understand and apply the chess symbols.
  • Chess players use short notation when they notate (write) their moves. Notation indicates the square where a chess piece is standing on (the starting square) or where it is moving to (the destination square) The moves are written in algebraic form, eg. a Rook on square a4 moves to square a6 – written in algebraic form as Ra6.

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

The coordinates

The coordinates identify each square on the chessboard. Each square is a combination of a file and a rank (eg. a3 – the file is ‘a’ and the rank is ‘3’).

  • The files or columns are indicated by the letters a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h (all lower case letters!).
  • The ranks or rows are indicated by the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

The symbols

The major pieces are indicated by upper case letters:

  • Q (Queen), K (King)
  • R (Rook), N (Knight), B (Bishop)

The pawns are not indicated by a letter, but by their respective starting or destination squares (i.e. the squares they are standing on or the squares they are moving to, eg. the pawn on square d2 moves to d4 and is notated as d4).

Other symbols

  • Capture x (the letter ‘x’)
  • Check +
  • Checkmate ++

Checkmate is when your King is in a position from which it cannot escape and you cannot do anything to stop your King being captured. When your King is in checkmate the game stops and you lose the game!

  • Short castling 0-0 (Castling King side) (two zero’s)
  • Long castling 0-0-0 (Castling Queen side) (three zero’s)

The symbols

Please answer all questions. Some questions have multiple answers.

Castling is a special way of moving the King and the Rook simultaneously. The King moves 2 squares towards one of the rooks (King side or Queen side). The Rook moves to the square next to the King. Castling is done to bring the Rook out of its corner so that it can be more active in the game (Rooks work best on open files, especially on the d-file and the e-file). Castling also provides the King with extra protection.

Examples: In diagrams 1 and 2 the white King on square e1 moves two squares to square c1 and the white Rook on square a1 moves three squares to square d1 (Queen side castling or long castling). The black King on square e8 moves two squares to square g8 and the black Rook on square h8 moves two squares to square f8 (King side castling or short castling).

Diagram 1: Castling starting position

Diagram 2 : Castling completed (short and long)

Rules of castling

Castling cannot take place

  • if a player touches the Rook first.
  • if the King is in check.
  • if the King is in checkmate.
  • if the King moves through or into check.
  • if the King has moved before.
  • if the Rook has moved before.
  • if there are other pieces between the King and the Rook (King side or Queen side).

Castling has a dual purpose

  • to move the king to a safer position (away from the center).
  • to move the rook to an active position (towards the center).

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

Promotion is when a pawn reaches the eighth rank (white’s pawn) or the first rank (back’s pawn) and is immediately substituted and replaced by a Queen, Rook, Bishop or Knight, eg. White’s pawn reaches the 8th rank and promotes to b8Q or b8R or b8B or b8N. Black’s pawn reaches the 1st rank and promotes to f1Q or f1R or f1B or f1N.

Diagram 3: Promotion

The pawn on b2 (f7) reaches b8 (f1) and promotes to a Queen, Rook, Bishop or Knight.

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

  • En passant (e.p.)

En passant is the French meaning for “in passing“. When you move one of your pawns two squares from its starting position and it passes a pawn of your opponent this pawn can now capture your pawn as if it had only moved one square, eg. white’s pawn on c2 moves to c4 passing black’s pawn on d4. Black’s pawn on d4 (file of departure) can now capture (x) white’s pawn on c3 (the destination square) as if it had only moved one square (d x c3 e.p.).

Examples: In diagrams 4, 5 and 6 the pawn on square a2 (g7) moves two squares to square a4 (g5) so that it is next to the opponent’s pawn. The pawn on square b4 (h5) may now capture White’s (Black’s) pawn as if it stood on a3 (g6). The en passant capture allows you to capture your opponent’s pawn as if the pawn only moved one square! This action must be executed immediately – you cannot make a another move and then return to en passant! You can only execute en passant on your opponent’s side of the board!

Diagram 4: En passant starting position

Diagram 5: The pawns on a2 & g7 evade capture!

Diagram 6: En passant is completed

  • The pawn on a4 (g5) is captured as if it is standing on a3 (g6)
  • The pawn on b4 moves to a3 and the pawn on h5 moves to g6

  • Your Score:  

    Your Ranking:  

  • Mistake Blunder ??

  • Interesting move !?
  • Dubious move ?!
  • Good move !
  • Brilliant move !!

How do you notate?

When you play in a big chess tournament (at provincial and national levels) it is the rule that you notate (write) every chess move (both players also notate each other’s moves).

The major pieces, King, Queen, Bishop, Knight and Rook, are indicated by an uppercase letter (K, Q, B, N, R) and the coordinate of the destination square, eg. the Rook on a1 moves to c1 notated as Rc1. PS: Pay special attention when notating the Knight (N not K)!

  • Uppercase letter eg. R (Rook).
  • Coordinate eg. e4 (the square is indicated by a lowercase letter!).

The starting square of the Rook is e4 notated as Re4. If the Rook moves to e6 the destination square is notated as Re6. If the Rook captures a Bishop on e6 it is notated as R x Be6

The pawns are only indicated by the squares they are standing on (the starting squares) or the squares they are moving to (the destination squares), eg. the pawn on square e3 is notated as e3 or the pawn on square d7 moves to square d6 is notated as d6.

Examples of notation

  • The pawn on square a2 moves to square a3. The answer: a3
  • The Bishop on square c1 moves to square g5. The answer: Bg5
  • The Queen on square a1 moves to d1. The answer: Qd1
  • The Rook on square d1 moves to square d7. The answer: Rd7
  • The Rook on square d4 captures the Bishop on square d5. The answer: R x d5
  • The pawn on e7 moves to e8 and promotes to a Rook. The answer: e8R
  • White’s King castles on the King side. The answer: 0-0
  • White’s King castles on the Queen side. The answer: 0-0-0
  • Blacks Queen on d5 puts white’s King on d3 in check (checkmate). The answer is: Qd5+ (Qd5++)
  • The pawn on f5 does en passant on e6. The answer is: f x e6 e.p.

Let’s work through a short example how to notate:

Scholar’s mate

Player name  Player name

John            Prudence

WHITE          BLACK

  1. e4            e5

White moves his pawn to square e4. Black moves her pawn to square e5.

White notates (writes) his score first (e4) followed by Black’s (e5)

PS: Both players notate both scores on their notation sheets!

2. Bc4           Bc5

White moves his Bishop to c4. Black moves her Bishop to c5.

White notates his score followed by Black’s.

3. Qh5          Nf6

White moves his Queen to h5. Black moves her Knight to f6.

White notates his score followed by Black’s.

4. Q x f7++

White moves his Queen (Q) to f7, captures (x) Black’s pawn on f7 and puts Black in checkmate (++)!

White notates his final move. John wins the game (1 point), but Prudence loses the game (0).

  • Win: 1 point (***the score is written on the notation score sheet as 1-0 if white wins or 0-1 if black wins. If white wins by default, i.e. the opponent did not arrive or came late, the score is written as [+] – [-]. If black wins by default the score is written as [-] – [+]
  • Draw: 1/2 point each (the score is written on the notation score sheet as 1/2-1/2 or 0.5-0.5).
  • Loss: 0 points (***).

PS: Once the King is in checkmate the game is over! Some games only last a few moves (eg. Fool’s mate and Scholar’s mate), others games can last 30, 50, 80 or even more moves!

  • The strength of your opponent and how you apply your own strength play an important part in how many moves a game will end.
  • As well as the duration of a game, eg. 15:15 (each player has 15 minutes on the chess clock, total 30 minutes), 30:30 (each player has 30 minutes on the chess clock, total 60 minutes), 60:60 (each player has 60 minutes on the chess clock, total 120 minutes). Some players love to play short games (like a 100 meter athlete) and others love to play longer games (like a marathon athlete). Players notate their games on a notation pad or notation sheet.

PS: Notation helps you to read chess books and study the chess games you have played against opponents.

Notating your moves

Please answer all questions. Some questions may have more than one answer.

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

  • A chess set in every classroom in every school in every community – a child who can’t pay must be able to play!
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