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Chess Notation

All chess games can be recorded and this means that anyone in the world can play through the moves of your games and you can also play over their games.  This is very good for training as it is easy to explain what are good moves and which are bad (mistakes!). This is possible because every one of the 64 squares on the board has a unique identification based on 1 letter of the alphabet (a to h) plus 1 number (1 to 8).  Millions of games now appear on the internet because of this universal way to record moves.

How to understand chess notation is shown below, based on the  training manual written by Mr. David Leslie of Mearns Chess. You can also see this type of information in The Chess Scotland Beginner's Guide by clicking here


The rows of squares that go UP AND DOWN the board are called FILES.

They are called the “a” file, the “b” file, etc.

The rows of squares that go ACROSS the board are called RANKS.

They are called the 1st RANK, the 2nd RANK, etc.

The rows of squares, of the same colour, which are joined together and go in the same direction, are called DIAGONALS.


Each square on the board is given a name, or symbol.

The first part of the name is the letter of the file on which the square stands.

The second part of the name is the number of the rank on which the square stands. For example, from the White side of the board, the name of the bottom left square is a1. The name of the top right square is h8.

THE BOARD (continued)

The four squares in the middle of the board are collectively known as

                           ‘THE CENTRE’

 These squares are d4, d5, e4, e5.

The a, b, c and d files are collectively known as the QUEENSIDE

The e, f, g and h files are collectively known as the KINGSIDE

Each time the board is set up, you must always make sure that



There is a saying to help you remember this: WHITE ON RIGHT

The chess notation for pieces.

So we can identify each square but how do we know which piece moves to that square?

This easily solved because each major piece is given a capital letter

K                       King

Q                      Queen

B                       Bishop

N                      Knight

R                       Rook

For pawns some people use

P                       pawn

But usually if a move just gives a square number then it is assumed that a pawn has moved to that square. So if the first move is 1.e4 then this means the pawn on e2 has moved two squares forward to e4 (as that is the only pawn that can reach e4 on the first move).  If later in the game (say move 7) the move 7.d4 is played then this must involve the pawn that is on either d2 (not moved yet) or on d3 (it moved to this square on a move between 1 and 7). It will be obvious from the earlier recorded moves whether the pawn takes 1 move to reach d4 or uses 2 moves.

Capturing and castling

For capturing the following symbol is used,

x                       captures

So the move  e4 x f5 means that the pawn on e4 takes whatever piece or pawn occupies the square f5. Often this is simplified to e x f5.

Similarly, the move Nf3 x Be5 means that the N on f3 takes a B on e5. In practice, for most of the time only one knight can exchange on e5 (which is occupied by a bishop of the opposite colour) and so the move can be recorded as N x e5.

Castling has two shorthand descriptions

0 - 0                 castles King side

0 - 0 - 0           castles Queen side


Check and checkmate

+                       check

++ or #           checkmate


Other notations

e.p.                 en passant (a special type of pawn capture)

=                       draw (or draw offered)

?                       poor move

??                     blunder

!                        good move

!!                      brilliant move

!?                     interesting (probably good) move  

?!                     interesting (probably bad) move

Test your notation knowledge

Set up the board for the start of the game and pretend you are White

Play the following game

                White    Black

            1.                   e4           e5

            2.                    Nf3         Nc6

            3.                   Bc4         Nf6

            4.                   Ng5        d5

            5.                   exd5      Na5

            6.                   Bb5+      Bd7

            7.                   Bxd7+    Qxd7

            8.                   O-O       O-O-O

            9.                   Nc3        Nxd5

            10.               Nxd5      Qxd5

            11.               d3           h6

            12.               Ne4        Nc6

            13.               Be3        Be7

You should now have the position below on your board, if not set the pieces up and try again – slowly!


If you have this position then well done! You can known follow games printed in the thousands of chess books on sale, or from games or positions given in newspapers at the weekend, or from lots of chess websites (see the LINKS page). More importantly, you can now start to record your own games and then play them back later with your parents, coach or friends.