The Beginner's Guide To Understanding The Chess Notations


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When you are learning how to play a spirited game of chess, the first thing you do as a beginner is to understand the chess notations. It makes it easier for you to follow a descriptive game of Grandmaster face-offs and allows you to understand quick moves when studying different openings, mid-game, and end game moves.

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Today, we will dedicate some time to having chess board notation explained. Every chess game has the same elements, similar chessboard layouts, and pretty much the same setup. What the differences are in the gameplay and moves. The best way to understand these moves and the best strategies is pivotal to understanding chess annotation since the popular chess games are explained best with the appropriate chess notations.

There are also chess annotation symbols that may be used in certain descriptive game strategies but understanding the chess symbols’ notations is enough for most people.

How does chess notation work?

Chess notations have a singular function that can divert into multi-level functionality. They allow people to record the movements and development of a chess game so that people in the future can learn from these strategies.

Basically, there are 3 types of popularly used chess notations and they help record the chess games for posterity. You can read the chess notation books and the chess notation symbols to understand how a certain player may have made the best possible moves or got out of a difficult situation on the game board.

There are chessboard notations and chess notation symbols for the pieces. There are also chess move notation techniques to teach strategies and discuss previous gameplays for developing your chess game.

One of the best chess notation examples is the opening move of NF3. The N signifies the knight and the opening F3 makes it clear that it is a black knight since the 3 indicates the black side of the chessboard. The F stands for the chessboard notation to identify the files.

Chess notations

Why use chess notation?

Chess notations are majorly used to describe the gameplay so it makes sense.

The chessboard notations make it easier for people to understand the chessboard layout and the way each chess piece moves.

Chess move notations help you identify where the pieces may have moved and which are the popular movements. They also help keep track of the game, especially if you are playing against a computer AI for practice. You can simply contemplate where you may have gone wrong and retrace your steps with these chess move notations.

Chess symbols notations are used to identify which piece goes where ad avoid confusion.

Chess notation helps you improve

Chess notations are useful tools that help you improve your gameplay by identifying the moves that you make or while studying the best moves made by chess masters through history.

Chess notations are an incredible way to read the moves used during a chess match to pick up pointers for a strategy. When learning how to play, you can use the chess notations to replicate certain gameplay and study it scrupulously. It will help you develop good opening moves, transpose to better middle game moves, and use the best strategies used by grandmasters in endgames.

Chessboard numbers

The chessboard numbers are part of the chessboard notations to signify the algebraic representation of each square on the game board. The chessboard is marked from 1 to 8 on the side arms and indicates where the chess pieces from either side are moving. The side for white is marked 1 and the numbering extends to the last line of black’s side of the board where it ends with 8.

The chessboard numbers

The chess pieces

There are designated chess notation symbols that you will find in chess notation books as well as online gameplays. These symbols signify the chess pieces as follows:

  • King – K
  • Queen – Q
  • Bishop – B
  • Knight – N (since King is K)
  • Rook – R
  • Pawn – no chess symbols notation is assigned so you only refer to the algebraic representation of the square from where it moves to where it goes.

One important thing about chess notation symbols for pieces is that you must capitalize the chess notation for the particular piece and use small letters for the chessboard alphabetical notation followed by the number. This helps signify that a major piece was moved.

However, when moving a pawn, the chess notations are written as small or capitalized letter representations of the square on the chessboard. Thus, the lack of chess notations for pieces will indicate that the move in discussion is that for a pawn.

You will often see chess notation symbols like Qb6 or Nf3. These chess annotation symbols signify that the Queen moved to the B6 square or the Knight moved to F3 from G1. As we explain the chess algebraic notations, this will start to make more sense.

Chess algebraic notation

The chess algebraic notations are the most popularly used chess notations worldwide. They are simple to write and follow during any match, which is why chess notation books most often use these to represent the gameplay, especially those popular chess moves that every player needs to learn for successful strategizing.

Chess Algebraic notations may sound like a complicated set of numbers and figures but they are actually the simplest form of chess notations. When you learn chess notations, you will often come across moves like 1.D4, D5; 2. Nf3, E5, 3. Nxf3… and so on. These are chess notation examples that are common and you will find them when you learn chess notations from books. They have indicative phrasing, which makes it simpler to read, implement, and understand the underlying strategy of each move.

In order to read these chess move notations in algebraic form, you need to identify three things:

  • The chronological number of the move is indicated sequentially with 1., 2., and so on.
  • The piece on the chessboard is being moved. It is represented as K, Q, B, R, and N. If no piece is shared in the Chess annotation then it is a pawn that was played.
  • The square to which the chess piece is being moved. It will display the assigned number for the square as D4, E6, F3, etc.

There are a few tricks in reading the chess algebraic notations that you need to keep in mind.

  • If the chess notation is displayed as Rd3, notice how the piece is indicated in capitals as R while the D3 is represented in mall letters after that. This is because a major piece, i.e., the Rook has been moved to the D3 position. So, importance is given to the representation of the piece.
  • When you learn chess notations and come across 1.D4, D5, it means that there were two pawns that were played. Since it is the first move, clearly white played the D-pawn to D4 and black reciprocated with the D-pawn to D5, meeting white head-on.
  • With chess notation explained, now you also need to bear in mind which player played what. So, assuming from the chess notation examples used above, when you see the chess move notation 2. Nf3, E5, you can tell who played what. White plays first so the Nf3 move was used by white while black played the E-pawn to E5.
  • In the net move in the chess notation examples, you can see 3. NxE3. The ‘x’ here indicates a capture. Therefore, this move signifies that the white knight captured the black pawn that was last played in the second move.

Chess algebraic equations are much simpler to read than their counterparts, and we will tell you why.

Other notations

There are two more popular types of chess notations aside from the algebraic chess notations. These are not as popularly used since their usage is limited more in amateur chess books For the most part, the world of chess has shifted over to the algebraic chess notations worldwide.

The two other variants of chess notations besides chess algebraic notations are:

1. Descriptive chess notations

The descriptive chess notations are used to represent the gameplay in more detail, which is particularly helpful for beginner chess players, although they are fairly confusing. These methods of recording the gameplay were widely popular up until the 1970s after which FIDE recommended the chess algebraic notations for clarity.

There are a few differences between the algebraic and descriptive chess notations that we will discuss shortly.

2. Numeric chess notations

The chess numeric notations popularly established by the ICCF is the official chess notation for chess games. They feature a double-digit designation for each square on the chessboard that starts from 11 and ends with 88.

The numbering starts at the A1 square which is marked 11 and continues along the A-file as 11, 12, 13, till 18. A similar pattern is used for the B-file starting with 21 and continuing as 22, 23, to 28. Up until the last H-file, the numerical representation continues till 88 for H8.

Chess notation in different languages

The chess notations, particularly the chess algebraic notations are popularly used in languages all across the globe. The intent behind creating chess notations was to simplify the representation of chess games everywhere.

Even though in different languages, the pieces may be referred to by different names, the chess annotation symbols are used to maintain uniformity. Thus, in any language, when writing the aches notation, you will still be using the same chess notation symbols.

Still, if you opt to notate your moves in regional languages, then you can simply substitute the chess piece notation such as K, Q, B, etc. with the first letter of the regional name for that piece. Therefore, in Spanish, R will be used for King as Rey and D for Queen as Dama.

These variations of chess notations are useful for the regional reading of the chess notation sheets. For universal use though, it is ideal to use the English chess notations.

Difference between chess algebraic notation and descriptive chess notation

There are several differences between the two popular chess notations:

  • Algebraic notations do not use any alphabetical categorization for pawns. However, in descriptive notation, the pawn is represented with P. The representational notation of the two chess notations differs. So, a move where the white plays the pawn before the queen and black plays the queen-side knight will read as:

D4, Nc6 in chess algebraic notation

P-Q4, N-QN6 in descriptive chess notations.

  • The steps of the game are represented numerically but the chess annotation symbols differ. Therefore, the above step would read as 1. D4, NC6 for algebraic notation and 1) P-Q4 for descriptive chess notations.

The representation in descriptive chess notations can be very confusing, especially for beginners. Thus, FIDE has exempted the use of descriptive chess notations in all FIDE events and major tournaments.

The chess notation sheet – Where to notate your moves

The chess notation sheet is a long sheet that has the chronological numbers for the moves already inserted in a tabular form. You will also find two columns beside the number to enter the chess move notation for white, then black.

You start filling the sheet by entering the name of the player with white pieces and then the one with black pieces. Then you must enter the name of the event ad specify if it is a time-controlled game along with the date.

Once the first move is made, you enter the chess notation for that move beside the number of that move and under the column for white or black. At the end of the game, you can fill in the ratings for each player’s moves and the result of the game.

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