Learning Algebraic Notation

Learning Algebraic Notation

Jan 19, 2008, 4:07 AM |

The guides I've found on the Internet for learning English Algebraic Chess Notation tend to be a bit lengthy, with loads of extraneous material that doesn't make any difference. So I narrowed it down into a handy little guide for anybody out there who still needs to learn. 


Chess games can be written down in a simple, easy to read notation, so that you can send games to other people or study your own games later.

Why Use Algebraic?

It's Quick to Learn

Most people can learn algebraic in a few minutes: it's just a question of learning the grid.

It's Precise

People who learned Descriptive Notation first may prefer it, but annotators tell us there are many fewer errors on score sheets, even by grandmasters, when algebraic is used.


How do you Read Chess Notation?

Algebraic Notation: One Square, One Name

In algebraic notation, each square has one and only one name (whether you are looking from White's side of the board or Black's).

Square names are given in lower-case letters;
Piece abbreviations are given in uppercase letters.
(K=King; Q=Queen; R=Rook; B=Bishop; N=Knight)

Getting Started: Set up the Chessboard

Set up the board in the starting position, so that you are on the White side.

The columns (files) are lettered from left to right,
a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h

The rows (ranks) are numbered from 1 to 8, from the closest to White to the farthest away.

So the White King starts the game on e1.
The Black King starts the game on e8.
The White Queen starts the game on d1.
The Black Queen starts the game on d8.

Although you can use the letter P for pawn, most people don't put in a "piece" name for a pawn move.

Writing Moves in English Algebraic
(Piece Abbreviation -
Ending Square

To write moves, give the piece first, then the square it ends up on.

Here's a typical Ruy Lopez Opening in English Algebraic:

1. e4         e5 
2. Nf3        Nc6 
3. Bb5        a6 
4. BxN 

[Note move 3, where the capital B means Bishop and the lower case b means the b file.]

Clearing Up Confusion: Which Rook Moved?

If there's any confusion about which piece is moving, just add the starting square information.

For example, if I had rooks on the two corner squares of the first row, and I wanted to show which one moved to the King's starting square: 
25. Rh1-e1 

You just give as much information as is needed to clear up any confusion.

Some people would just write 25. Rhe1, for example, because that's all you need. It's usually safest, though, to use the format:

Piece abbreviation (starting square if necessary) - ending square

Take that! (Writing Capture Moves)

While many people write captures using the names of both pieces, you can do this with the ending square as well. In our Ruy Lopez example, we could have written:

1. e4             e5 
2. Nf3           Nc6 
3. Bb5           a6 
4. Bxc6 

Again, just put in as much information as you need to make the move clear to the reader.

When a Pawn Promotes to a Piece

There's one more time when you need to use additional notation to clear up confusion about what actually happened during the game. When a pawn reaches the 8th rank, it turns into a piece (Queen, Rook, Bishop, or Knight)--but you get to decide which piece. So you need to record the piece chosen.

Before the 1970s, when chess database programs were not available, there were several ways of indicating which piece a pawn had been promoted to when it reached the 8th rank. All involved writing the move first and then putting the symbol of the new piece at the end.

So if you moved a pawn to b8 and made it a Queen, any of the following might have been used to record the move:

53. b8(Q)

53. b8/Q

53. b8=Q

53. b7-b8=Q


Additional Notation
(Castles, etc.)

There are a few more symbols used, but they're the same as the descriptive notation:

check                                   +  (as in Bxc6+) 
castles Kingside                  O-O 
castles Queenside                O-O-O 
capture en passant               e.p. 

A win for white is normally written 1-0
A win for black is normally written 0-1
A draw may be written as = or as 1/2-1/2 or DRAW