This article will cover the basics of chess notation, and how to write your moves down when playing in a tournament. It’s also helpful when following along with a chess book so that you can quickly work out variations.
A chess board is comprised of 64 different squares, and each one has its own special coordinate. As white, the bottom of the board is listed from A-H, from left to right. The sides of the board are listed as 1-8, from the bottom to the top. Therefore, the bottom left-hand square is A-1, and the bottom right-hand square is known as H-1. These are typically written in lower-case, so a1 or h1 is fine.
So, to name any square on the board, just follow the numbers and letters up to that square and you’ll find its name, just like reading a map. One popular first move is e4, which would be the pawn on the E-file moved up to the 4th rank.
Now, let’s talk about the pieces. Each chess piece, in algebraic notation, has its very own initial. Most of these are pretty self-explanatory, save for the knight, and we’ll talk about that in just a minute. Here are the algebraic chess notations for each piece:
The king: K
The king is always referred to as a capital K when writing down chess moves. The first letter in the word king is K and so logically, the notation makes sense. So, Kf1 would indicate that the king has moved to the f1 square.
The queen: Q
Again, we see the first letter denoting the most powerful piece on the board. Nothing too spectacular there.
The bishop: B
A common mistake when writing down bishop moves is not capitalizing it. bxa4 is a completely different move than Bxa4; bxa4 would be a pawn move, meaning that the pawn on the b-file captured whatever was on the a4 square.
The knight: N
This is the weird one. Because there’s already a K, algebraic notation instead went with the sound of the first letter in the word knight rather than the actual first letter. So, in the developing stages for the white player, one might write “Nf3”, which tells us that the knight was moved out to the f3 square.
The rook: R
Nothing complicated, here. R is the first letter of the word rook, and so it makes sense. Therefore, Rf8 would denote the rook moving to the f8 square.
The pawn: Now it gets a tad more complicated.
Descriptive notation, the type of chess writing used in days of old, would indicate the pawn as a capital P. So, P-K4 would be the same opening described above as e4. Today, however, we just use the square that the pawn can move to. So, that same opening would be written as 1. e4. Likewise, b5 would be moving the pawn on the b-file to the b5 square. Pawns capture diagonally, so bxc3 would be the b-pawn capturing whatever was on the c3 square. Get it?
Game results and special moves receive their own notation, as well. Let’s cover a few of those.
Castling: Castling is written as 0-0 (for king-side castling) and 0-0-0 (for queen-side castling), based on the number of square the king actually moves to the right or left, respectively.
Check: Check is written as +. If a bishop puts the enemy king in check, it will look something like this: Bf4+.
Checkmate: Checkmate is written as #. This ends the game, and so it will always be the last entry in written chess notation. If the queen delivered the checkmate, it could look like this: Qa8#. Game over.
En Passant: This is the special move where a pawn can capture an enemy pawn for not wanting to battle. If there is a pawn on g5, for instance, and black moves his pawn from f7 to f5, white can capture that pawn if he so desires. This move doesn’t necessarily need to be noted as En Passant when writing it down, but many people choose to write it as gxf5ep so that they know later when reviewing the game.
White wins: If white, sometimes called the “first player”, wins the game, it’s written as 1-0 since white makes the first move.
Black wins: For the same reason, when black wins it’s written as 0-1. Black moves second, so it makes sense.
Game is drawn: If the game is drawn, it’s written as 1/2, since in a tournament situation each player earns a half-point for the draw.
Now that you know how to write algebraic notation, practice it in your own games, whether they are played on the Internet or on a real chess board. It is difficult at first but with practice, it becomes second chess-nature.