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  • Writer's pictureIndy Chess

Notating chess moves

Notating chess moves can seem daunting. It uses your time! It interrupts your concentration! What if you do it wrong!?

But notating has obvious benefits, or else why would the most experienced players do it?

  • Allows you to review your game later on your own, with a coach, or with a chess engine (i.e., computer software);

  • In the middle of a game, if there is a dispute as to whose move it is, or what squares pieces should be on, notation is a written record to resolve claims;

  • If you want to claim a draw by threefold repetition of the position, or by the 50-move rule, you better either 1) notate, or 2) pray your opponent agrees with your claim.

  • When you become a grandmaster, you can auction off your old scoresheets for a hefty some and donate it as summer camp scholarships for Indy Chess!

So here is a crash course in how to notate, broken down into just THREE easy things to write for each move (with a handful of exceptions you can learn at your leisure). Remember first, though, when you notate a move, first mark it down in the correct column ("White" or "Black").

The THREE simple things you write for each move:

  1. What piece moved? (e.g., K for King)

  2. Did it capture another piece or not? (e.g., "x" or no "x")

  3. What square did it end on? (e.g., f7)

All notated together: "Kxf7" means the King captured the piece on square f7.

Let's take those three steps one by one...

1) What piece moved?

Every piece has a capital letter we abbreviate it with, and just write that letter of the piece that moved first:

K = King

Q = Queen

R = Rook

B = Bishop

N = Knight (figure out yet why we can't use the "K?")

P does NOT equal Pawn. Pawns you just leave blank (more on that in exceptions below).

2) Did it capture another piece or not?

If it did, write a lowercase "x." If it did not, don't write an "x." You don't have to notate anything about the piece captured if it did capture a piece. Nothing at all!

3) What square did that moving piece end on?

Every square of the 64-square board can be identified by writing the lowercase letter of the file (i.e., column) and the number of the rank (i.e., row). File "a" is to White's left, and file "h" is to Black's left. Rank "1" is the edge with White pieces, and rank "8" is the opposite edge with Black pieces. If the piece that moved ended in the square in the "g" file and the 7th, you simply write "g7."

Examples of complete notated moves:

  • A Bishop moves to the 4th rank and "e" file without capturing a piece: Be4.

  • A Bishop captures a pawn on the 4th rank and "e" file: Bxe4.

  • A Knight moves to the 2nd rank and "c" file without capturing a piece: Nc2.

  • A Knight captures a pawn on the 2nd rank and "c" file: Nxc2.

  • A pawn moves two squares forward without capturing a piece in the "e" file from the 2nd to the 4th rank: e4. (The most common first move of the game.)

  • A pawn moves one square forward from the d7 square to the d6 square: d6.

Congrats, you know basic notation and can now fake it till you make it!

For those still reading, let's quickly review the exception to the three steps above:

  • Check: If the move is a check of the King, add a "+" sign at the end of the move (e.g., Bxf7+). Some people write a "++" if the move was a double check (i.e., check by two different pieces).

  • Checkmate: If the move is a checkmate of the King, add a "#" sign at the end of the move (e.g., Ra8#).

  • Pawn capture: If a pawn captures a piece, use the three-step method above, but add at the beginning the file the pawn came from (e.g., exd6 or cxd6).

  • Kingside castle: Just write 0-0.

  • Queenside castle: Just write 0-0-0.

  • Rook/Knight Clarifications: What if both White's (or Black's, doesn't matter) Rooks are on the "a" file (e.g., a1 and a8) and one moves to a4? Just add the rank of the Rook that moved before the ending square (e.g. R8a4). If they both began on the 8th rank and one moved to d8? Add the file of the Rook that moved (e.g., Rad8). The same treatment goes for Knights that could have both moved to the ending square for the move--use the file to differentiate by default, but if that doesn't suffice, use the rank. Though you might need this clarifying rank or file added for Queens or Bishops, that is much rarer as those would have to be promoted pieces (formerly pawns), since Bishops are always on different colored squares so don't need to be differentiated.

  • Promotion: Follow the three steps above, but add the piece it promoted to add the end (e.g., e8Q or if promoting on a capture, fxe8Q).

  • En passant: Really just uses the three steps with the pawn capture exception above (e.g., exd6, exd3, axb6, fxg3, etc.).

  • Draw offer: Some people write an "=" sign after a move if a draw offer was made.

Ok, maybe that sounded like a lot, but remember the THREE STEPS is the easiest way to start, then exceptions can come later.

And if you thought this "algebraic" notation we just reviewed was hard, you should have lived when they used "descriptive" notation! Talk about difficult...

Happy notating! -Mike

Note: My cheat sheet below I made for my kids in 2019 had promotion wrong, but hopefully the photo still helps you!

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