Chess Notation

Chess notation is the way to write down chess moves. The usual way in modern chess is to use algebraic chess notation which uses letters a-h for the files (from Whites left to right), and the numbers 1-8 for the ranks (starting nearest the White player). The a-h letters and 1-8 numbers are from Whites perspective, even when Black is writing down the game.

This algebraic notation is the method we will describe. There are older types of alternative chess notations called classical chess notation. Occasionally youll see an (older!) player using the classical chess notation.

Algebraic Chess Notation

So the usual King Pawn Openings where both players move up their King pawns two squares means that White has moved their pawn to the e4 square (from the e2 square), and Black has moved their pawn to the e5 square (from the e7 square).

Diagram: Double King Pawn Opening

So the long-form way to write these moves down would be:

  • 1. Pe2-e4 Pe7-e5

This uses P for the pawn. And shows the starting and ending squares for the move. A dash letter is used to signify the movement. (Other punctuation letters are sometimes used.)

Lower-case letters are typically used. You could write PE2-E4 or PE7-E5 if you like, but its not the usual style.

Letters for the Pieces

The P can mean pawn. The letters used for all the pieces are:

Note that the N is used for Knight rather than K (which means King). Just dont tell your English teacher about that! (Actually you can use Kt as short for Knight rather than N if you like, but thats the old style.)

The piece letters are written in upper case. And both Black and White pieces use the same upper case letters for the pieces.

Shortening the Notations

Also note that you can omit the P for a pawn. In fact, thats the usual style, to simply not have any piece letter if its a pawn. The moves above can be shortened to:

  • 1. e2-e4 e7-e5

So if you want to write a game with Scholars Mate, you get:

  • 1. e2-e4 e7-e5
  • 2. Bf1-c4 Nb8-c6
  • 3. Qd1-h5 Ng8-f6
  • 4. Qh5xf7 checkmate

Diagram: Scholars Mate

So youll notice a few things about these notations:

  • Pawn moves dont use P. But the Queen is Q, Bishop is B and Knights are N.
  • Captures are x rather than -. This is optional. If you take a piece with a move, you can use x or X to signify a capture. (But its optional. You could just write white Qh5-f7 checkmate too. The fact that its a capture is then implied from the board position).

This above set of moves is pretty complex and wordy. There are a lot of ways that this is actually shortened in practice. For starters, the main way is that the starting square (origination square) and the dash character is often omitted from the move, only the destination square is written:

  • 1. e4 e5
  • 2. Bc4 Nc6
  • 3. Qh5 Nf6
  • 4. Qxf7 checkmate

The x capture symbol can also be omitted. The last move could just be written Qf7. But some players prefer to leave the x in, as it makes the scoresheet a bit more readable.

Capture Moves: It is optionally allowed to state the piece being captures, although it is usually omitted. For example, if you are swapping queens from d1 to d8, you could write Qd1xd8 without the piece (the usual way), or you can also specify what youre taking via Qd1xQd8. A similar notation called Reversible Algebraic Notation actually requires the captured piece to be specified, but the usual human-written notation does not.

Ambiguity Removal

Ambiguous Notation: If there is some ambiguity by leaving out the starting square, then it must be included. For example, if you play e4 and Nc3, then you have two Knights on c3 and g1 (its starting square). If Whites next move is to move a Knight to e2, then you cannot write Ne2 because its ambiguous as to which Knight is moving. Suppose that you moved Ng1-e2. You can resolve the ambiguity in the chess notation by any of these methods that specify the starting square fully, or just the starting file (letter), or the starting squares number (rank):

  • Ng1-f3
  • Ng1f3
  • Ngf3
  • N1f3

Pawn Capture Notation

Pawn captures: the capture moves by a pawn are also abbreviated in a few different ways from other non-pawn captures. Lets use an example. Consider the start of the Center Counter Game opening:

Diagram: Center Counter

  • 1. e4 d5
  • 2. e4xd5

Note first that we dont need to use a P as in Pe4xd5. And that its usually lower case, although we could also write upper case E4xD5 if preferred.

But the pawn capture is a bit long, since we specified the starting square e4. But we cannot just omit the e4 square, as writing just d5 is a bit unclear (it looks like a Black move). So pawn captures can be abbreviated to partially avoid specifying the starting square. The abbreviations allowed include:

  • e4xd5 (the full way)
  • e4d5 (omits the x)
  • exd5 (omits the 4)
  • ed5 (omits the x and 4)
  • ed (the shortest way)

Any of these are fine. It is personal preference whether you write e4xd5 or ed or something in between. Note that you cannot write a pawn capture that is ambiguous, as occasionally, if there are two possible pawn captures matching ed then you need to write it a bit more verbose like e4d5.

Bad Handwriting: theres sometimes a problem with chess notation that some letters look similar: c and e look similar in handwriting. The written moves c4 and e4 can be confused. Sometimes theres confusion between a move like Re8 vs Rc8. Theres not much to be done to resolve this, just use neat handwriting!

Special Move Notations

Special Moves: There are 3 special types of moves with special notations:

Castling is written in a weird way using O characters. King-side castling is written as O-O (two Os), whereas Queenside castling is written as O-O-O (three Os). Thats the modern way. The older style was to write Castles or Castles K/Castles Q (to specify which side).

For castling, it doesnt really matter whether the Os are upper case or lower case They can even be zeroes. The dashes can be omitted for brevity: OO and OOO if you prefer. It only matters whether there are 2 or 3 circles.

Pawn Promotion

Pawn promotions are written using an = and then the new piece name. So e8=Q means that you moved from e7-e8 and then made a Queen. Usually a capital letter is used for the promoted piece, but lower case would be ok too: e8=q. The equal sign could be left out too with e8Q but thats not usual. You could even possibly leave out the suffix completely and just write e8 thereby assuming a Queen promotion, but its not the usual notation style. More common is e8=Q.

Pawn promotions that result from pawn captures also simply add the =Q suffix. So we can get moves like e7xf8=Q, or other versions of pawn capture notations. Using the shortest one, it could just be ef=Q.

Underpromotions are signified by a different piece letter. You can write: e8=N, e8=B, e8=R or e8=Q. Captures with underpromotions would be like e7xf8=R or ef=R.

En Passant Moves

En Passant: an en passant pawn capture could be written without any special notation. You could just write e5xd6 (or the shorter ed style) where its clear from the board position and move history that its an en passant move. But the usual style is an explicit mention of this weird rule, so people usually put (en passant) or (e.p.) in brackets after the move. The most common style is: e5xd5 (e.p.) or ed (e.p.).

Special Notations and Symbols

Special Symbols: There are a number of special symbols used in the written record of the game.

  • Dashes: the moves to a square are (optionally) signified by a - character: e2-e4. Some people like to use colons (:) instead of dashes: e2:e4 style. The dash or other char is optional: e2e4 is fine.
  • Captures: a capture is optionally signified by a x character.
  • Checks (+): If a move is a check, you can put a + after the move, which means check.
  • Checkmate: a move that causes a checkmate can be written as a # which means checkmate. Or you can just write out checkmate or mate.
  • Resigns: if a player resigns you can write Resigns on the move.
  • Draws: a draw is often written as 1/2-1/2 but you can also just write draw or drawn.
  • Draw offers: if either player offers a draw, you are supposed to record it on the sheet with a * character, if the offer is not accepted.
  • Win/Loss: the result of the game is often written at the bottom of the scoresheet after the last move as 1-0 (White wins) or 0-1 (Black wins)
  • Stalemate: just write stalemate or - on the sheet.
  • Spaces: whitespace in the chess notation doesnt usually matter. If you write e2 e4 instead of e2-e4 then its still basically the same. There are probably some cases where a space makes it more ambiguous, and spaces are usually avoided.

This is the English language system for chess notation. There is a lot of differences in various other countries and other languages.

Other Types of Chess Notation

There are also other types of chess notations. The modern chess algebraic notation is actually relatively recent, and a lot of older chess books use the older style notations. Other chess notations include:

Computer programs use some other more rigorous and concise formats for storing and sharing chess games and chess positions. For example, there is PGN (Portable Game Notation) and FEN Diagrams.

Related Chess Rules Topics

Read more about these related chess rules, chess puzzles, and other chess tactics and strategies: