Home Acadiana Chess Club Learn how to write chess notation

Learn how to write chess notation

Chess notation looks scary at first glance, but once you read through this guide and give it a try for yourself, you’ll realize it’s actually fairly easy. Chess notation is required in most tournaments, so it’s useful to learn it now so that it can come second-nature to you when you enter into a tournament. It’s also very useful to know when evaluating games or watching chess streamers.
For this guide I will be following the FIDE and USCF regulation on algebraic chess notation. Let’s get started!

Learning the chessboard

When you look at a notated chess board, you’ll notice letters indicating the columns (a.k.a. files), and numbers indicating the rows (a.k.a. ranks). Each square is named by its file and rank. The square at the bottom left for example, is known as a1. At the starting position, the a1 square will be white’s Queen-side Rook.

When notating your chess moves, you record the square where the piece moved to, and specify which piece made the move. [Piece] [Square]

King = K
Queen = Q
Bishop = B
Knight = N
Rook = R
Pawn = 

Here are some examples:

  • White’s pawn moves to d4: Notated d4
  • Black’s Knight moves to f6: Notated Nf6

On a notation sheet, each turn will be numbered in rows, and both White and Black will have their own column. So the first move of the game contains both White’s first move and Black’s first move.

Based on the above example, your notation sheet should look like this:

Move White Black
1 d4 Nf6
2    
3    
4    
5    

Notation when capturing a piece

Capturing another piece is notated by x. If a Knight captures a piece on e4, it would be notated Nxe4. If it were a pawn capturing on that square, simply xe4

NOTE: You never need to notate which piece was captured. Only notate the piece that moved. You can determine which piece was captured by referencing previous moves in the notation sheet.

Example: Bxd6

Notating pawn promotions

When a pawn is promoted to a piece, it is notated with the square as usual, followed by = [piece]. For example, if a pawn moves to g8 and promotes to a Queen, the notation would be g8=Q

Notating check, checkmate, draw, resign, and special moves

Check: +
Check from two different sources: ++
Checkmate: #
Draw offer: (=)
Draw outcome by agreement or insufficient material: ½–½

A few examples: 

  • Bishop to a3 and then offering a draw: Ba3(=)
  • Pawn promotes to Queen on c8 resulting in checkmate: c8=Q#
  • Knight captures on g4, placing the King in check from both the Knight and a Bishop: Nxg4++

Visual example of check: Qb4+

How to notate when two of the same type of piece can move to the same square

Sometimes two of the same type of piece will be able to move into the same square. For example: If both of your Rooks are able to move into square d1, you will need to distinguish which Rook moved to that square. To notate this, clarify the rank or file of the piece that was moved.

In the following examples, both Rooks are able to move to the same square. In order to clarify which Rook moved into the square, you need to clarify the file. 

Example: Rbd1

Example: Red1

In the following examples, both Rooks are on the same file. So in notation, we will clarify them by their rank.

Example: R1e2

Example: R3e2

Notating good moves, bad moves, and blunders

Sometimes you later realize that a move was brilliant, or possibly a blunder (a bad move that gives away a pieces for free). Other moves are more complicated, like sacrificing a piece that may or may not provide an advantage. You can add notation to these moves so that when you or someone else is reviewing the game, they can see when someone considers a move to be a good move, a blunder, or anything in-between. 

! Good move
!! Excellent move
? Bad move
?? Terrible move (blunder)
!? Interesting move
?! Dubious move

For example: Your Queen makes a move, lets say to d8, so you notate Qd8. Then your opponent moves their Knight, forking your Queen and King which loses your Queen. You may want to go back to your notation sheet and add ?? to the end of your notation, indicating that you made a blunder that resulted in the loss of your Queen. This would result in your final notation of Qd8??. Alternatively, your opponents move might be notated with ! or !! to indicate that forking the King and Queen was a great move.

Dubious move (?!): However, sometimes losing a piece to a fork isn’t bad. Perhaps you noticed the fork, but saw how it could lead to your advantage despite losing an important piece. In cases like this, you can instead notate it as a dubious move ?!. This indicates that it was potentially a blunder but has potential to be a good move. 

Interesting move (!?): Alternatively, an interesting move is when you have a very clear “best move” (!!) such as forking the Queen and King to win the Queen piece, but made a different but good move. In this case you can mark it as an interesting move !?, meaning you played a great move, but you missed or avoided what seems to be the best move.


Exercises for learning chess notation

I have three recommendations for how to learn chess notation. If you do one or more of these exercises, you’ll know chess notation in no time.

#3 Study the automated notation on your chess.com games

A great way to learn notation is to pay attention to the automated notation on chess.com. The default notation on chess.com shows chess figures instead of actual text notation, so I recommend going into the settings and changing this so you can get used to reading actual notation. To change this setting, go into the chess.com settings, click Board and Pieces and change Piece Notation from Figurine to Text.

#2 Play out a game based on notation

This is an exercise I give to all of my young students when they’re first learning notation, and it seems to help them understand it very quickly. Set up your chess board and then find a completed game on chess.com. Using only your chess board and the notation sheet, play through the entire game by following the notation sheet.

Here is a good example game to start with:

Move White Black
1 e4 e5
2 Nf3 d6
3 d4 Bg4
4 d4xe5 Bxf3
5 Qxf3 d6xe5
6 Bc4 Nf6
7 Qb3 Qe7
8 Nc3 c6
9 Bg5 b5
10 Nxb5 c6xb5
11 Bxb5+ Nd7
12 0-0-0 Rd8
13 Rxd7 Rxd7
14 Rd1 Qe6
15 Bxd7+ Nxd7
16 Qb8+ Nxb8
17 Rd8#  

#1 Notate your own games

This one is obvious, but the best way to learn chess notation is by doing it. Once you’ve done the other two exercises and feel confident that you know the notations, notating your own games will solidify this knowledge. Keep a pen and pad next to you and notate your games. Once this is second-nature, you won’t be distracted by notation when you get into tournament play.