What is Notation in Chess? – Keeping Score

With a view to look over your games again, it is often important to record your games – strong players do this to analyse them (with the aid of chess engines). To spot where their mistakes during the game were, and to learn from them, so as to not repeat them. To do this, you need to answer the question ‘What is notation in chess?

The good news is that it is very logical and easy to pick up. I am going to focus on the most common notation (algebraic), which is used by FIDE, ECF and chess.com, although I will include a bit about the other type in case you come across an old chess book and you can`t understand a word of it. Here goes:

The chess board is made up of 8 files and 8 ranks. Every file has assigned to it a letter (a-h). For example the kings are on the e-file at the start of the game, and the queens are on the d-files. The ranks are always from white’s perspective, with the closest to the white player being rank 1. Therefore, all of black`s pieces are on rank 8, and all of black’s pawns are on rank 7. Here is a diagram:


A general rule for notation is the piece that moves always comes first, and the pieces are described in the following way:

  • Kings – K
  • Queens – Q
  • Rooks – R
  • Knights – N (to avoid confusion for K which is king)
  • Bishops – B
  • Pawns – a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h (depending on which file they occupy). The leftmost pawn is the a-pawn.

If a piece is moving somewhere you can put  ” – ”  after the piece you move, but it is common nowadays to not include this. If a piece is capturing another piece, then it is denoted by ” x ” in between the piece and the square (of destination), the first letter always represents the piece that is doing the action. The second part of the move is which square it is going to, and for this we use the coordinates as given on the board above…Here are a few examples:

  • Na4 – Knight moves to a4.
  • Qe8 – Queen moves to e8.
  • Bxd1 – Bishop takes the piece on d1.
  • Rxb6 – Rook takes the piece on b6.

The question may have arisen “what if there are 2 knights that could both move to a4, how does someone know which one is moving if all I write down is Na4?”

The answer to this question is simple, in these situations, you put a letter or a number after the piece to describe which one it is, for example: Nbd7.
There were 2 knights that could move to d7, but it was the one on the b-file that moved.

before the move

after the move Nbd7

If there are 2 pieces that could move to a square, but they are both on the same file, then you use the rank instead to distinguish the one that moves, for example: R8xb7. There were 2 rooks on the b-file, but the one that was on the 8th rank made the move.

before the move

after the move R8xb7


For castling, there is a unique notation:

  • 0-0 = kingside castling
  • 0-0-0 = Queenside castling

When a pawn promotes, you use an ” = ” to denote promotion, and the last part is what piece the pawn becomes, for example:

  • a1=Q – A black pawn lands on a1 and becomes a queen.
  • e1=Q – A black pawn lands on e1 and becomes a queen.
  • b8=N+ – A white pawn lands on b8 and becomes a knight and checks the white king.
  • h8=Q# – A white pawn lands on h8 and becomes a queen, which checkmates black.


By this point, you could score a game well, but there are a few last things that will give extra detail, which either reinforces what you think or gives further description:

After the move, ” + “ means that it is a check, and ” # “ means that it is checkmate. In the case of a resignation, I tend to put “resigns” on their move, but you can also put “1-0” for white wins, “0-1” for black wins; “0.5-0.5” for a draw.

More descriptive ones, which may also be subjective are as follows:

  • !! – Winning move
  • ! – Excellent move
  • !? – Interesting move
  • ?! – Dubious move
  • ? – Mistake
  • ?? – Blunder
  • +- White has the advantage
  • -+ Black has the advantage

What a Scoresheet looks like

Descriptive Notation: The old Fashioned Way

Note: You might not have to know this unless you have an old chess book.

There is one other main type of notation; commonly used in old English chess books called ‘descriptive notation’. This notation is based on white and black having a different perspective on the chess board, and so all moves are scored from the perspective of the player who moved. This means that black’s 8th rank is white`s first rank, and vice versa. The squares on the board are described not algebraically, but are described in terms of the location of the pieces at the starting position. It is easier to understand with examples:

  • P-K4 – pawn to the 4th square on the king’s file (the file in line with the king at the start of the game) = e4/ e5 (depending on whose move it is)
  • P-Q3 – pawn to 3rd square on the queen`s file = d3/ d6
  • B-QN5 – bishop to the 5th square on the queen`s knight file = Bb5/ Bb4
  • KN-KB3 – king’s knight to 3rd square on the king’s bishop file= Ngf3
  • KxP – King takes pawn = (e.g) Kxd5
  • R(N8)xP – rook on the 8th square on the knight file takes pawn = R8xb7

You may also rarely see Kt being used to represent N for knight, which actually baffled me for several months, when I didn’t know what this t stood for…

To improve your vision of the chess board, and to ingrain the notation, you could use vision trainer on chess.com.

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