LESSON 29: Punctuation
Thursday, 24 May 2007
We have received many letters asking us about Chess punctuation which is used in Chess
Notation. Today we offer to give you the following details for the benefit of our readers.
Move symbols in increasing effectiveness of the move:
The double question mark "??" indicates a blunder, that is, a move so bad that it is clearly
a mistake given the player's skill. Typical moves which receive double question marks
are those that overlook that the queen is under attack or overlook a checkmate. Whether
a single or double question mark is used often depends on the player's strength. For
instance, if a beginner makes a serious strategic error or overlooks a tactical sequence,
this might be explained by the beginner's lack of skill, and the mistake will receive
only one question mark to indicate that the mistake is not at all indicative of the
However, a blunder does not necessarily mean that the move utterly destroys the position;
if a player overlooks the fact that he can checkmate his opponent in one move, but
instead decides to enter a winning endgame, that move may receive a double question
mark, even though the one being played still leads to a win.
A single question mark "?" after a move indicates that the annotator thinks that the move
is a poor one that should not be played. However, the nature of the mistake may be more
strategic than tactical in nature; or, in some cases, the move receiving a question mark
may be one that is difficult to find a refutation for.
?!: Dubious Move
This symbol is similar to the "!?" (below) but usually indicates that the annotator
believes the move to be objectively bad, albeit hard to refute. The "?!" is also often used
instead of a "?" to indicate that the move is not all bad. A sacrifice leading to a dangerous
attack which the opponent should be able to defend against if he plays well may receive a
"?!". Alternatively, this may denote a move that is truly bad, but contains an attractive trap.
!?: Interesting move
The "!?" is one of the more controversial symbols. Different books have slightly varying
definitions. Among the definitions are "interesting, but perhaps not the best move",
"move deserving attention","enterprising move" and "risky move". Usually it indicates
that the move leads to exciting or wild play and that the move is probably good. It is also
often used when a player sets a cunning trap in a lost position. Typical moves receiving a
"!?" are those involving speculative sacrifices or dangerous attacks which might turn out
to be strategically deficient.
Andrew Soltis has, in jest, called "!?" the symbol of the lazy annotator who finds the
move interesting but cannot be bothered to work out whether it is good or bad. =
!: Good move
While question marks indicate bad moves, exclamation points ("!") indicate good moves.
However, annotators are usually somewhat conservative with the use of this symbol, as
not all good moves deserve an exclamation point. Usually the move must demonstrate
the player's skill. For example, few annotators would comment a game in this way: 1.e4!
c5! 2.Nf3! d6!. All the moves of this mainline Sicilian Defence are good ones, but the
players have not really demonstrated much skill by playing through well-known opening-
theory. Once the players start making good choices when faced with difficult decisions,
however, some of the moves may receive exclamation points from annotators. Typical
moves receiving exclamation points are good opening-novelties, well-timed
breakthroughs, sound sacrifices, and moves which avoid falling into traps.
!!: Brilliant move
The double exclamation point ("!!") is used to praise a move which the annotator thinks
really shows the player's skill. Such moves are usually hard to find. These may include
sound sacrifices of large amounts of material and moves that at first glance seem very
Position evaluation symbols
00(Infinite symbol): Unclear
It is unclear who (if anyone) has an advantage. This is often used when a position is
highly asymmetrical, such as Black having a ruined pawn structure but dangerous active piece-play.
=: Even position
This symbol indicates that the annotator believes that White and Black have equal
+/=(=/+): Slight advantage
This symbol indicates that White (Black) has slightly better chances.
+/- (-/+): Advantage
This symbol indicates that White (Black) has much better chances.
+-(-+): Decisive advantage
This symbol indicates that White (Black) has a winning advantage.
Some annotators put together even more question marks and exclamation points. For
example "???" or ="????" =20 might indicate an outright horrid move, too horrid to give
a mere "??", for example, 1.f3? e5 2.g4??? Qh4# (Fool's Mate). However, use of such
symbols is not common.
There are some other symbols used in multilingual publications such as the Chess
Informant and Encyclopedia of Chess Openings. These include
↑: Time or initiative
These symbols indicate an advantage in the given area.
Indicates a lead in development.
Indicates that the player has counterplay.
Indicates the opponent's plan this defends against.
Indicates the future plan this move supports.
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Last Updated (Friday, 01 June 2007)