Chess Notation is Easy | Improve Your ELO rating too!

Knowing how to read and write chess notation will help you boost your chess-playing abilities, ELO rating, and allow you to participate in club and competition matches. With this skill, you’ll finally be able to read and understand the games of the best players.

What is Chess Notation

Chess notations are systems developed to record individual moves in a chess game. Algebraic notation is the standard and is essential to participate in official competition whilst other forms such as Figurine are also used

The starting point for notation is derived from a number and letter matrix for the chess board, and Identifying letters [in capitals] for the chess pieces.

You will Improve Your Chess Rating Once You Learn To Read And Write Chess Notation = 100% Guaranteed!

This article is going to run through both written and visual guides to chess notation, from very simple moves to the more nuanced moves and how they are recorded in Algebraic notation on chess score sheets.

Why are Chess moves recorded?

Chess moves are recorded at all competitive levels, including amateur, to clarify the position of the game at any dispute, also recorded are the final score, result, and time allotment notes. Chess Scoresheets provide the story of historical matches that can be used for study or to recreate famous matches.

Chess notation is quite different from many other sports scoring whereby a score keeper or referee would be expected to keep a record of what happens in a game, when points were scored and decide on the final result.

Chess is almost unique in that the players themselves are required to make these records, even up to the highest level of championship matches

How chess moves are written

There are a few different ways that chess moves are recorded, but the most commonly used and most recognised is ‘Algebraic Notation’

This article will exclusively used this method as it is the most widely recognised method in which to record chess moves and complete scoresheets

Algebraic Notation

The algebraic notation uses a letter to identify a chess piece and then a letter/number combination to identify the chess board square coordinate the piece has moved to.

The board is assigned letters and numbers through the two axis, so that each square has a unique identifier.

EG: Playing white and looking up the board the Bottom right hand corner white square is h1

Once you have your coordinated board, we then need to learn the chess pieces, which are easily identifiable by the first letter of their name, except the Knight which uses ‘N’ because the King already has the ‘K’. Finally, the Pawn has no identifier at all

Let’s make our first move and note

Here we are moving the Kings pawn two squares to the square e4 – So this is simply written ‘e4’ as the pawn does not need a letter

You can see, just from this first example how easy it is. A single square move from the pawn would be e3. If it had been the queens pawn 2 squares then d4 etc.

So let’s move things forward a couple of moves, here we have the response from black to make a first pawn move [e5] and white releases a Bishop to c4 – so this is written [Bc4]

Notice how the pawns are not identified by a letter, but the bishop is by the Capital B in addition to the square to which it has moved.

The score sheet will now read thus

  1. e4 – e5
  2. Bc4

How to Record a Capture in Chess Notation

with some basic moves down, you should be able to grasp how to record those quite easily, but what happens when there is a capture? How do you write chess notation when taking an opponents piece?

Nxe5 – Knight Captures Pawn on e5

In this example the Knight has moved to capture the red pawn on e5

When a capture takes place an ‘x’ is used to indicate the capture on the scoresheet. So in the example above, the Knight ‘N’, has captured ‘x’ on ‘e5’

Thus – Nxe5

We need not indicate the piece that has been captured as this is undestood from the scoresheet record by looking back or remembering which piece was on e5 at the time of the capture.

So remember, to record a capture you need

  1. Your piece identification letter
  2. an ‘x’ to signify capture
  3. The square cordinates of where the captre has taken place

[The exception to this is if a pawn is capturing, when you will indicate which line the pawn has moved from followed by the ‘x’ and then the square the capture has taken place. See Below

exd4 – Pawn Captures Pawn on d4

You can see that this is constructed like this

  • Red pawn is moving from e file – ‘e’
  • Making Capture – ‘x’
  • On square d4 – ‘d4’

and we have exd4

How to Record other Moves in Chess like ‘check’

There are many more moves in chess, that include, special moves like en passant, and castling, as well as positions where check and the ultimate checkmate are achieved. So how do we write special moves on the chess scoresheet?

What is Written when ‘Check’ or Check-Mate is Achieved?

Recording either check or checkmate on the chess scoresheet is a simple process of just adding a ‘+’+ sign to the end of the move record.

So for instance, in the image below we can see the Queen has moved from d1-e2, thus Qe2 and in doing so has put black into check

We write this as Qe2+ to signify the move has checked the opponent.

When checkmate is achieved, a double + sign is added

  • Check = +
  • Checkmate = ++

So now you know how to write checkmate, I bet you can’t wait for the first time you officially have to write it down!

How to Record Special Moves in Chess Notation

There are a number of special moves in chess and some others that are not as straightforward to write down in a logical or lateral thinking process, so they have to be addressed here

  • ‘en passant’ = ‘ep’
  • pawn promotions [to queen] = ‘=Q’
  • castling ‘0-0’ or ‘0-0-0’

En passant

En Passant requires a bit more information in the notation, as we have a pawn-on-pawn capture.

So here we need to first mention the root file of the attacking pawn [e], the capture [x], and the finishing position of the pawn [d3] – The addition of [(ep)] to this notation indicates that the white pawn that has just moved to d4 is the captured piece.

So here we have ‘exd3[ep]

Because ‘en passant’ can only be achieved after the opposing pawn has moved forward two squares, we know the preceding move on the score sheet will read ‘e4’

Pawn Promotions

With pawn promotions, it is a simple case of writing the move as you would, and then adding an ‘=’ sign and the identifier of the promotion choice, usually ‘Q’ for a Queen

So you would have something like g8=Q

Another scenario would be if the pawn was capturing at the same time, so now we would have to include the ‘x’ to signify the capture within the promotion move, so now we have

fxg8=Q if moving from the f file to make the capture.

There is of course the possibility of achieving check or even checkmate from this move too, so the addition of ‘+’ or ‘++’ is possible too

so – fxg8=Q++

That is about as complicated as chess notation gets, but as you can see, it is very logical and doesn’t take much to understand.


Writing chess notation for Castling is very easy, you have a choice of two options when making the move, and two simple ways of recording the move

  • Castling on King side = ‘0-0’
  • Castling on Queens Side = ‘0-0-0’

For more information on castling, take a look at my comprehensive guide on castling that not only describes how and when the move can be made but provides some example of when to castle, when not too, and also some example of recorded genius castling moves from history

And one final situation to identify which of two pieces the same has made a capture

This is a situation that you will rarely be faced with in that, you have two pieces the same with which you can make a capture of one of the opposing pieces.

In this example, the black bishop is on row 1, and is now open to capture from either the White Rook on a1, or e1.

In this case, it wouldnot be enough to simply write Rxc1, because it would not be immediatly clear which Rook had made the capture.

To avoid confusion and make it clear you have to indicate which Rook by way of noting the file letter, in the same way you would from a pawn capture.

So in this example, using the Rook on e1 to make the move, we note – Rexc1

  • R = The Rook
  • e = from file e
  • x = captures
  • c1 = on square c1

Annotating Chess Moves

To ‘annotate’ is to make notes to provide comment or explanation. Whilst recording moves in a chess game, you may want to add a little more than just the bare move itself, adding a comment or observation.

For this purpose there are common abbreviations, or ‘Annotations’ that can be added to the moves which serve as both your notes and notes that anyone viewing the scoresheet would understand.

List of Chess Annotation Symbols

!Good move
!! Excellent move
!?Interesting move
?!Dubious move

It is very possible to have annotations outside of these that mean something to you. indeed, a ‘???’ has been recorded for a very bad blunder and conversely, ‘!!!’ for an exceptional move. But these are personal choices rather than standard notes.

There are further annotations that may make a note of the ‘position’ of the game at the time the move has been made in terms of how the strategic balance of the game is perceived by the note maker.

=Equal on balance
+/= or ⩲Slight advantage for white
=/+ or ⩱Slight advantage for black
+/− or ±Clear advantage for white
−/+ or ∓Clear advantage for black
+ −A decisive advantage for white
− +A decisive advantage for black
∞ Unclear balance

What is Figurine Notation in Chess

Whilst this article has based around algebraic notation for chess there are alternatives, the most popular of which is Figurine Notation – Let’s find out the differences and what figurine chess notation is.

Figurine notation is chess is an alternative notation to algebraic which provides no language barrier for use. Capital letters are replaced by chess piece icons, the pawns are omitted as in standard algebraic and it is mostly seen utilized in online chess and computers.

Standard & Figurine Algebraic Notation Comparison Table

MoveStandard AlgebraicFigurine Notation
1.e4 – e5e4-e5
2.Nf3 Nc6♘f3 ♞c6
3.Bb5 a6♗b5 a6
4.Bxc6 dxc6♗xc6 dxc6

Why do players write down chess moves?

Chess moves are written down by players to have a complete record of all moves that have taken place in a match. In the case of a dispute all moves can be traced back to see where an illegal move or mistake has taken place.

If you do not know how to write chess notation or can not do so adequately, you will find many, if not most, chess competitions will be closed to you, as being able to understand chess notation is a fundamental criteria for entry.

Benefits of Chess Notation

Once you understand chess notation and not only how to write chess moves but how to read them, you will be in a superior position from which to learn chess even more quickly.

Because you will be able to read and understand written chess moves, you will be able to study more books and strategies and past games from grandmasters.

This will expedite your learning and give you the edge over players who have yet to master the skill of reading and studying past games from the scoresheets.

Chess Notation Sheet

The sheets used to record chess moves in comeptition are usually called Chess Schoresheet.

They do record scores of course, but also and most importantly, record each and every move within the games and match in which you have particpated.

Learn Chess Notation

You can not participate in competitive chess matches without completing a scoresheet by recording your moves.

Whether it is local club, league or national or international chess matches from the US Chess Federation or FIDE events, the recording of all moves within a match are an essential part of the game and provide proof of the outcome of any chess match.

I hope this guide has set you on the path to understanding and being able to write chess notation.

For me personally, it was something that for whatever reason, i was always concerned about. I had seen books with the notation written, bith in algebraic and figurine style, and despite looking, I didn’t either understand it, or thought that i would never uderstand it.

Within a few minutes of reading the very basics, I understood perfectly and realised it was nothing to be concerned about, and making notes of the moves was far more simple than I would have imagined.

What it did to my game is the key part. once i understood it, I was able to look back on my games, without having to play them through agai and see my mistakes.

If i had a board to hand I would play the moves through to see how bad some of my decisions were, and where I had made great moves.

It helped my chess improve no end, and in no time my rating was on the rise to levels never previoulsy achieved, simply because I was learning so much more and much quicker.

So, do please take a note of the date and of your current ELO rating right now.

Practice writing your chess moves, reading games and studying your own games retrospectively.

Revisit your first recording of your rating in one months time, and I bet it has increased not only quickly but to a level you have never recorded before.

Good luck, and go get those ‘++’s

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