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Understanding Chess Notation: Algebraic, Descriptive, and Computer

Written By Light

Last updated May 24, 2023

Understanding Chess Notation: Algebraic, Descriptive, and Computer

by | Board Games, Chess, Games | 0 comments

Chess is a complex game that requires strategizing, critical thinking, and sometimes, note-taking. One of the most vital aspects of learning and advancing in chess is understanding chess notation. Chess notation is a way to record games, analyze moves, and share your strategies with others.

What is Chess Notation Used For?

Chess notation is a system used to record chess games. It allows players to review their games, study openings, analyze positions, and learn from the games of others. Each move is written down, and special symbols are used to note specific types of moves or events in the game.

What is the Algebraic Notation in Chess?

Algebraic notation is the most common method for recording chess games. It’s the standard used by the International Chess Federation (FIDE) and is employed in most modern chess books and periodicals.

In algebraic notation, each square is identified by a unique coordinate pairing – a letter (a-h) and a number (1-8). The letter represents the file (column) and the number represents the rank (row). For example, the bottom left square from white’s perspective is “a1,” while the top right square is “h8.”

Each piece is represented by a letter: “K” for king, “Q” for queen, “R” for rook, “B” for bishop, and “N” for knight. Pawns are not given a letter. For example, if the queen moves to the “d4” square, it’s written as “Qd4.”

How to Correctly Write a Chess Record?

A chess game record consists of a series of turns, with each turn consisting of one move by white and one by black. The turn number is usually written followed by a period, and then the moves. For example, “1.e4 e5” means it’s the first turn, white moved a pawn to “e4” and black moved a pawn to “e5.”

Examples of Special Symbols in Chess Notations

Chess notation includes special symbols to denote particular types of moves:

  • “x” denotes a capture. For example, “Nxe5” means a knight captured the piece on “e5.”
  • “+” indicates a check, while “#” signifies a checkmate.
  • “0-0” denotes kingside castling, and “0-0-0” queenside castling.
  • “e.p.” is written next to a move to indicate an “en passant” capture.

How to Avoid Ambiguity when Recording a Chess Game?

There can be situations where two identical pieces can move to the same square. In such cases, the notation includes the file or rank of the originating square of the piece to remove ambiguity. For example, if two rooks can move to “d4”, but the rook on the “a” file is chosen, the move would be written as “Rad4.”

What is the Descriptive Notation in Chess?

Descriptive notation is an older form of chess notation, and it’s less commonly used today. It’s more complex and less standard than algebraic notation. In this system, each piece is identified by a letter, just like in algebraic notation. However, each square has a name based on the piece originally occupying it, and it has different names depending on whether it’s from white or black’s perspective.

For example, the “e5” square in algebraic notation is “King’s 5” (K5) for white and “King’s 4” (K4) for black.

Other Notation Types that can be used to record a Chess Game

Other than Algebraic and Descriptive notations, the third common form is the Computer notation, also known as Forsyth-Edwards Notation (FEN). It describes a particular board position. It’s helpful for setting up specific positions on a board to study or to continue a game later.


Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced player, understanding and using chess notation is an invaluable skill. It enables you to record your games for future analysis, study historic games, share your games with others, and improve your overall chess strategy. It may seem daunting at first, but with a bit of practice, it will become second nature.

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