Writing Chess, Part 1

GM Bryan Smith 30 May 29, 2010 35056 reads

If you have been looking at the articles on this site for a little bit, you might have noticed that there are a lot of funny little "words" which don't seem to make sense. Words like "Ng5" and "Qc7". What are these?

These are called "chess notation". It is a way of writing down chess moves. Why do we need to write down chess moves? There are a bunch of reasons:

1. When people are playing (especially in a serious game) they usually write down their moves on a scoresheet. This is so nobody can cheat, and also some other reasons like...

2. If you write down a game you play, you can look at it later. If you have a teacher, that teacher can look at it with you, and tell you where you could have played better! This is one of the best ways to improve. But if you don't write down the game, it will be lost forever.

3. If you have ever seen a chess book, you will find lots of chess notation in it. How else can somebody writing something "tell" you the moves? Arrows are too difficult. In order to read a chess book, you need to know chess notation.

So, let's learn it! It is not too tough. First, you start out with a board:

Each square on the board has a "name". The name is a letter, like "b" and a number, like "8". The up-and-down lines ("files") have letters, and the side-to-side lines ("ranks") have numbers.  Now, most chess boards don't have the name of each square written on the square; but a lot of them have it written on the side, like this:

So it is easy to figure out the name of a square. You just draw a line down to the letter, and over to the number. The square shown here by a red star is "e4".  The letter is always written first, and is written in lowercase.

Now that you can name a square, in order to write a whole move, you just need to write which piece is moving there. This is easy, we have a letter for each piece:

K = King

Q = Queen

B = Bishop

R = Rook

N = Knight

   = Pawn

Notice that the last two are funny. Why "N" for knight, which starts with a letter "k"? Well, we use "N" for knight because "K" is already used by the king. We don't want any confusion! Cool

Also, notice that there is no letter for pawn. We just leave a blank for a pawn move. There are so many pawns that it doesn't make a lot of sense to be writing "P" each time. That means that in the starting position, moving the pawn in front of the king is written "e4".

Now, try playing the move "Nf6" for black:

When there is a capture, that is shown by an "x" in between the piece and the square it moves to. So if after Black plays Nf6, white plays d3 (pushing the pawn in front of the queen one square), then Black can take White's pawn. This is written "Nxe4". Check it out on the board below:

Now, if you are an experienced chess player, you might wonder why Black would take the pawn on e4. After all, now White can take the knight! And that is correct. So how do we write the pawn capturing the knight?

It would make sense to write "xe4", since for pawn moves we don't write "P". But actually this is written "dxe4". That's because we say which line (file) the pawn came from. This pawn came from d3 to capture on e4. So it came from the d-file. So it is written "dxe4".  

We say where the pawn came from when they are capturing because there are a lot of pawns. There could easily be a position like this:

This is from a game by the current U.S. Champion, Hikaru Nakamura. He chose to take the pawn by dxe4. But fxe4 was also legal. If you wrote "xe4", then you would never know, would you?

You now have the basic information about how to write and read chess moves. There are still some special rules - we need to learn such things as how to write when two pieces of the same kind can go to the same square, and how to write castling, and some others. For those, check out Part 2. So long for now!