Modern Chess Notation (English)

How do you record the moves of a chess game or read the moves of a game? It’s much easier to learn modern algebraic chess notation than to learn to write and read English. (And the chess code has nothing to do with algebra.) The following should help.

Algebraic Chess Notation

Most important are the names of the squares of the chess board:

names of chess squares for notation

Each square has a name, coming from the letters of files and the numbers of ranks of the board. These always relate to the point of view of the white side of a game.

An important difference between modern algebraic notation and the old descriptive notation is in the overall board perspective. For example, when a game of chess begins, the white pieces are on rank numbers “1” and “2” with black pieces on ranks “7” and “8” without regard to player perspective. If you never heard of descriptive notation or you never learned it, good for you. The following will be easier.

Notice the e4 square on the board shown below, with the beginning setup for a game:

highlighting e4 square on chess board

Notice that one of the center squares is designated “e4,” rather than “E4.” Lower case letters are used for the squares, and this may become important when bishop moves are recorded, for “B” (capital letter) stands for the bishop, and squares on the b-file might be confused if they were designated with capital letters.

The first thing to understand with algebraic chess notation is that a pawn has no abbreviation but all other pieces do. Consider the move “e4” as the first move, by white, in a game that is being recorded:

e4 played by moving a pawn

The above move (by a white pawn) is recorded thus:

1. e4   . . . .

The dots above simply mean that black’s move is not yet made or recorded. Notice that the only thing recorded is the name of the square. A pawn move is assumed when the following piece designations are absent:

K    [king]

Q    [queen]

R    [rook]

B    [bishop]

N    [knight]

Notice that “N” is not the first letter in the word knight. That’s the way we designate knight, for “K” is for the king. Now consider the position diagrammed below:

three pieces can move to f3Here are the moves so far:

1) e4    Nc6

Three of white’s pieces can move to the f3 square (shown with a yellow star). If the queen moves there, it will be recorded “Qf3” but if it’s the knight then “Nf3” is recorded. How would you record it if the pawn at f2 moved to f3? It would be simply “f3” for pawn moves usually are recorded with only the name of the square on which the pawn has landed.

early chess openingWhite has just moved a knight to f3 and black has moved a pawn to e5. The following are the moves played so far in this example game:

1. e4      Nc6

2. Nf3   e5

Next we come to a potential capture:

Scotch opening in chess

White has just moved d4, offering black the choice of a capture. When a piece on one side “takes” an opponent’s piece, we use “x” for that capture. Let’s now see how to record a pawn capturing something.

standard Scotch game - chess opening


A black pawn, that had been on e5, has just captured a white pawn: exd4. Now it’s white’s turn, and the knight at f3 captures that black pawn:

white knight has captured black pawn: Nxd4


The capture of the black pawn by the white knight is recorded Nxd4.

Let’s now look at a different position, in a different game of chess:

Which knight will capture the e6 pawn?

It’s white’s turn to move in the position above. The knight at g5 will capture the black pawn at e6, but how do we record that move? Either white knight could capture that particular pawn. The standard method, in the above case of that knight at g5 capturing the pawn at e6, is to record “Ngxe6” which tells us it is the knight on the g-file:

white captured a pawn at e6


The knight that was on the g-file captured the black pawn that was at e6. To show which knight moved, using standard algebraic notation, we include that “g” with “Ngxe6.”

If black now moves the rook at f8 to e8, it would need to be written Rfe8, for the other rook could also move to that square.

after black moved Rfe8


The designation for moving that black rook (which had been on f8) is “Rfe8” so we know that it was not the rook on the a-file that had moved. The above diagram shows the position after that move of the black rook.

Sometimes the rank number needs to be used instead of the file letter, and in rare cases both rank and file are needed.

Various Conventions

Kingside castling (which can be called short-side castling) is recorded 0-0 and queenside castling (or long-side castling) is 0-0-0.

When a pawn reaches the promotion square and changes into another piece, use the letter symbol for that new piece. For example, if a white pawn on the f-file gets to the f8 square and promotes to a queen, record it “f8Q” so it’s clear that it promoted to a queen.

When a pawn captures another pawn by en passant, the destination square of the capturing pawn (not the captured pawn) is given, followed by “e.p.” For example, when a white pawn is on e5 and a black pawn moves from d7 to d5, the white pawn capturing en passant is written “exd6e.p.”

In analysis of a game, “?” and “!” are sometimes used, although those two symbols are not part of the official notation. The “?” means a move was a mistake, and “!” means it was a great move. It could be considered inappropriate, however, to include such symbols during the course of a chess game. Wait till the game is over before writing down such things.

An example of a good move is Bxh7+! which means a bishop captured something on the h7 square, checking the opponent’s king. Notice that the presence or absence of “!” does not change what the move was, only the evaluation of its importance.

The end of a game may include the following forms for showing the result:

  • 1-0  (white won)
  • 0-1  (black won)
  • 1/2 – 1/2  (draw)

Check can be designated by “+” and checkmate by “#” although other forms have been used. Alternatives include “ch” for check and “mate.”



More Chess, Nonetheless

The only way for white to win is to rush the king to the left, to capture the black pawn. The black king will then be so much diverted in capturing the white pawn on f4  that it will not have time to later get to the upper left  corner of the board . . .

Chess Books

What other game or sport has as many nonfiction books as the subject of chess? From the opening to the  endgame, from advice to beginners to training for experts, from tips for the newcomer to tactics and  strategy for the tournament player, you’ll find no limit to the books written on chess.

Chess Benefits Children in New York

“The New York City Schools Chess Program Report is impressive, here is what Chrisine Palm writes in 1990. In its four-year existence, NYCHESS has proven that . . .”