Lesson 29: Punctuation, GM Tejas Bakre, Cyberchess Lectures, 2008

Oct 20, 2013, 1:06 AM |

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:    

??: Blunder  

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

player's strength.    

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.      

?: Mistake    

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. =[1]    

!: 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.    

Other symbols    

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  

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  

o: Space    

: Time or initiative    

These symbols indicate an advantage in the given area.    

??: Development  

Indicates a lead in development.    

??: Counterplay    

Indicates that the player has counterplay.    

: Countering    

Indicates the opponent's plan this defends against.    

: Idea    

Indicates the future plan this move supports.    

if you want to understand a Chess Game Analysis you need to know about these  


Last Updated (Friday, 01 June 2007)