How to Read and Write Algebraic Chess Notation

  • August 19, 2022

In a few minutes you will understand how to read and write chess moves, called “chess notation”.

Being proficient at this will help you read and play through games of great players to learn and improve your own chess game! There is a wealth of materials both in book and digital form allowing you to study the chess moves of great chess players.

Chess Recording Sheets most often called scoresheets or scorebooks are a standard paper recording format for the game player, event, moves, and result. These are in use by the US Chess Federation as well as international organizations such as FIDE which overseas all world-class competitions.

Algebraic Chess Notation is the current and best form to learn of which Figurine Notation is a derivative swapping the piece names for figures to be langauge neutral.


Why should I write down my chess moves?

Replay them! Chess notation enables you to record your games for playback later. That day you played a superb game of chess… wouldn’t you like to be able to play through it later and show your friends?

Learn from them! Recording the game with chess notation enables you to review your game and analyze how you could make better moves or learn from a lost game. If you’re learning from an instructor, they will be able to quickly give feedback by looking at your recording sheet.

It’s required in competitive play! Chess competitions require move recording at scholastic to championship levels. The most basic reason is proof of the game’s specific position and number of moves in case there is a dispute. Timed competitive games often have a time allottment to reach 40 moves and it must be clear when that point is reached.


Chess Notation Explained

Chess Notation describes each move with the name of the pieces and the square to which it is moved.

Each piece has its own letter abbreviation, except the pawn. If no piece is named, it’s assumed to a pawn move, and Knight is “N” not “K”, which is King.

image of chess notation board and pieces


In the following diagram I made the first move pawn to e4. The name of this move is simply “e4”. (since the pawn’s name is not written)

how to chess notation image 3


Here’s how this would appear on a scoresheet used in clubs and tournaments.

chess notation pieces sample scoresheet


Now black has made a pawn move, written e5.

Next, White replied Nf3. Notice how the name of the piece is written as well as the name of the square.

How to chess notation 5 image


Now, we’re going to fast forward to some special moves. See in the next diagram how white has made a special move called castling kingside. This move is written as 0-0. If the King castles on the queenside (to the other direction on the chessboard) it would be written as 0-0-0.

How to chess notation 5 image


In the next diagram, White captures Black’s pawn on d5. This move is called exd5. For “capture” write an “x”.

How to chess notation image 7


Next, White captures the Knight on c6 with the Bishop. This move is written as Bxc6+. Notice the “+” sign. This represents “check” since Black’s King is now in check.

How to chess notation 8 image


White just moved his pawn to d4. Black’s next move exd3(ep), is a special move called “en passant” capturing white’s d4 pawn in passing while moving his pawn to d3 – as if the pawn had moved to d3.

How to chess notation 9 image


After several more moves, Black captures White’s Bishop on c1 with dxc1=Q. That’s about as complicated as it gets! This means pawn captures piece on c1 and promotes it to a Queen. Black could promote it to any other piece he chooses, but Queen’s are nearly always the best choice. In the rare game, a player has promoted the pawn to a Knight with checkmate.

How to chess notation 10 image

How to chess notation 11 image


The next move is Raxc1. Note that either the rook on A1 OR F1 can capture the queen. This means that the “a” must be included to indicate which rook was played.

How to chess notation 12 image


In this next position, black makes a winning move, d4++, pawn to d4 CHECKMATE!

By now you may have guessed that this game was created for moves illustration. It’s true, White has made some rather questionable moves.

How to chess notation 13 image


That’s all you need to know about standard Algebraic Chess Notation!

You’ve learned the notation standards and how to indicate the special moves

check (+)

en passant (ep)

castling (0-0 or 0-0-0)

checkmate (++).

If you wish to take this a step further, you can learn about annotating a chess game, a form of analysing the game in notation form so that others view the annotators opinions of moves that were made.


Extra: Chess Annotation Symbols

You’ll find that once you can read and write chess notation, your world is opened to a wide expanse of chess knowledge.

Diving into this will help you improve your game as a chess player and you’ll be able to advance strides ahead of your friends.

In addition to writing the moves themselves, chess players will comment on the strengths and weakness of chess moves with chess move annotation symbols.

These are some of the symbols you’ll see

… Black’s move

! Good move

!! Excellent move

? Bad move

?? Terrible move (blunder)

!? Interesting move

?! Dubious move

Notice how some of these comments have been placed on the scoresheet shown above.

With this introduction to chess notation you should be ready to record and reply games with condifidence.

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