Chess notations

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There are so many ways to record a game of chess that I decided to create a short summary of these. There are three main systems: algebraic, descriptive and numeric. Other systems are different kind of variations of these. I am using the Sicilian Defence’s Najdorf Variation, a very popular opening, as an example.


Algebraic notation

Algebraic notation is the most common and the official system to record a chess game. In this system you give each square on the board a name. The name consists of two factors: the code of the file (a-h) and the code of the rank (1-8); the board is like a coordinate system in which you put points (values for x and values for y). In the original algebraic system you put ‘p’ in front of every pawn-move and pieces are given names according to the files they stand on.

1. pe4 pc5 2. gf3 pd6 3. pd4 pxd4 4. fxd4 gf6 5. bc3 pa6

This “old system” didn’t become general because it wasn’t so easy to read the moves. People thought that it would be easier to give names to pieces and so they developed the short algebraic notation.

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6

Is this notation’s English version, N stands for a knight, B for a bishop, R for a rook, Q for a queen and K for the king. The old ‘p’ symbol for a pawn has almost become extinct. There is also so called long algebraic notation which is very similar, only starting square is included.

1. e2-e4 c7-c5 2. Ng1-f3 d7-d6 3. d2-d4 c5xd4 4. Nf3xd4 Ng8-f6 5. Nb1-c3 a7-a6

This is anyway much longer than the shorter one and now days people tend to shorten it even more.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf d6 3.d4 cxd 4.Nxd Nf 5.Nc a6


Coordinate notation

Using the same system than in the algebraic notation, coordinate notation is just more international because there aren’t any symbols for the pieces.

1. e2-e4 c7-c5 2. g1-f3 d7-d6 3. d2-d4 c5xd4 4. f3xd4 g8-f6 5. b1-c3 a7-a6

This is common with the chess programs; the notation itself isn’t so easy to read by human being.


Figurine notation

Again using the same basic idea than in algebraic notation but now the piece-codes have been replaced with “pictures”.

1. e4 c5 2. f3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. xd4 f6 5. c3 a6

Pawns are rarely marked. This is more international but it can be quite hard to draw the pieces...


Descriptive notation

This is maybe the oldest way to describe chess moves. Again the chess board works like a coordinate system but the “values” are different. First of all white and black have their own rank numbering and king side and queen side difference is very important. This notation uses the same symbols for the pieces than in algebraic notation but pawn is marked with ‘P’. For example the square e4 (in algebraic notation) is K4 (on the black’s side K5); meaning “king’s fourth”. With the same principle the algebraic move 2. Bc4 would be marked like 2. B-QB4; meaning “bishop to queen’s bishop’s fourth”.

1 P-K4 P-QB4 2 N-KB3 P-Q3 3 P-Q4 PxP 4 NxP N-KB3 5 N-QB3 P-QR3

Sometimes this is considered hard to read but it’s useful because lots of old chess books have been written using this notation.


International numeric notation

This is the most international because the squares are strictly named and there is no symbols for the pieces. Maybe quite hard to read also. Starting square is the first (52) and ending square the last (54).

1. 5254 3735 2. 7163 4746 3. 4244 3544 4. 6344 7866 5. 2133 1716


Well, these were the main systems. Feel free to inform me if there is a relevant system missing.

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