Algebraic notation (or AN) is a method for recording and describing the moves in a game of chess. It is now standard among all chess organizations and most books, magazines, and newspapers. In English-speaking countries, AN replaced the parallel method of descriptive chess notation, which became common in the 19th century and continued with sporadic use as recently as the 1980s or 1990s. European countries, except England, used algebraic notation before the period when descriptive notation was common.
Algebraic notation is based on a system developed by Philipp Stamma. It exists in various forms and languages, as described below. Stamma's system used the modern names of the squares, but he used "p" for all pawn moves, and the original file (a through h) of the piece instead of the initial letter of the piece name.
Naming squares on the board
Each square of the chessboard is identified by a unique coordinate pair consisting of a letter and a number. The vertical rows of squares (called files) from White's left (the queenside) to his right (the kingside) are labeled a through h. The horizontal rows of squares (called ranks) are numbered 1 to 8 starting from White's side of the board. Thus, each square has a unique identification of file letter followed by rank number. (For example, the white king starts the game on square e1, while the black knight on b8 can move to open squares a6 or c6.)
Naming the pieces
Each type of piece (other than pawns) is identified by an uppercase letter, usually the first letter in the name of the piece in whatever language is spoken by the player recording. English-speaking players use K for king, Q for queen, R for rook, B for bishop, and N for knight (since K is already used). S was also used for the knight in the early days of algebraic notation, from the German Springer, and is still used in chess problems (where N stands for the nightrider, a popular fairy chess piece).
Different letters may be employed in other languages, for example, French players use F for bishop (from fou). In chess literature written for an international audience, the language-specific letters are replaced by universal icons for the pieces, resulting in figurine notation.
Pawns are not indicated by a letter, but rather by the absence of any letter it is not necessary to distinguish between pawns for moves, since only one pawn can move to a given square. (Pawn captures are an exception and indicated differently; see below.)
Notation for moves
Each move of a piece is indicated by the piece's uppercase letter, plus the coordinate of the destination square. For example, Be5 (move a bishop to e5), Nf3 (move a knight to f3), c5 (move a pawn to c5 no piece letter in the case of pawn moves). In some publications, the pieces are indicated by icons rather than by letters, for example: . This is called figurine algebraic notation (or FAN) and has the advantage of being language-independent.
Notation for captures
When a piece makes a capture, an x is inserted between the piece's letter and the destination square. For example, Bxe5 (bishop captures the piece on e5). When a pawn makes a capture, the file from which the pawn departed is used to identify the pawn, rather than a letter representing the pawn itself. For example, exd5 (pawn on the e-file captures the piece on d5).
A colon (:) is sometimes used instead of an x, either in the same place the x would go (B:e5) or at the end (Be5:). Often, the x or colon are omitted: ed5. When it is unambiguous to do so, a pawn capture is often described by specifying only the files involved: exd or ed.
En passant captures are notated by specifying the capturing pawn's file of departure, the x, the destination square (not the square of the captured pawn), and (optionally) the suffix e.p. indicating the capture was en passant. For example, exd6e.p.
Some texts, such as the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings, omit indication that any capture has been made. (For example, Be5 instead of Bxe5; ed6 instead of exd6 or exd6e.p.)
When two (or more) identical pieces can move to the same square, the moving piece is uniquely identified by specifying the piece's letter, followed by (in descending order of preference):
- the file of departure (if they differ); or
- the rank of departure (if the files are the same but the ranks differ); or
- both the rank and file (if neither alone is sufficient to identify the piece—which occurs only in rare cases where one or more pawns have promoted, resulting in a player having three or more identical pieces able to reach the same square).
For example, with knights on g1 and d2, either of which might move to f3, the move is specified as Ngf3 or Ndf3, as appropriate. With knights on g5 and g1, the moves are N5f3 or N1f3. As above, an x can be inserted to indicate a capture, for example: N5xf3.
Occasionally, it may be possible to disambiguate in two different ways - for example, two rooks on d3 and h5, either one of which may move to d5. If the rook on d3 moves to d5, it is possible to disambiguate with either Rdd5 or R3d5. In cases such as these the file takes precedence over the rank, so Rdd5 is correct.
When a pawn moves to the last rank and promotes, the piece promoted to is indicated at the end of the move notation, for example: e8Q (promoting to queen). Sometimes an equals sign (=) or parentheses are used: e8=Q or e8(Q), but neither format is a FIDE standard. (An equals sign is also sometimes used to indicate the offer of a draw when written on the scoresheet next to a move, but this is not part of algebraic notation.) In Portable Game Notation (PGN), pawn promotion is always indicated using the equals sign format (e8=Q).
In older books, pawn promotions can be found using a forward slash: e8/Q.
Castling is indicated by the special notations 0-0 (for kingside castling) and 0-0-0 (queenside castling).
While the FIDE Handbook, appendix C.13 uses the digit zero (0-0 and 0-0-0), PGN requires the uppercase letter O (O-O and O-O-O).
Check and checkmate
A move which places the opponent's king in check usually has the notation "+" appended. Or sometimes a dagger is used: " ". Or the abbreviation: ch. Double check is commonly notated the same as check, but is sometimes represented specially as dbl ch, or in older books as "++". The Encyclopedia of Chess Openings omits any indication of check.
Checkmate at the completion of moves can be notated as "#" (some use "++" instead, but the USCF recommends "#"). Or the word mate is commonly used. Occasionally the double dagger is seen: " ".
End of game
The notation 1 0 at the completion of moves indicates that White won, 0 1 indicates that Black won, and indicates a draw.
Often there is no indication regarding how a player won or lost (other than checkmate, see above), so simply 1 0 or 0 1 may be written to show that one player resigned or lost because of time control. Sometimes direct information is given by the words White resigns or Black resigns, but this is not considered part of the notation, rather a return to the surrounding narrative text.
Notation for a series of moves
A game or series of moves is generally written in one of two ways.
- In two columns, as White/Black pairs, preceded by the move number and a period:
- 1. e4 e5
- 2. Nf3 Nc6
- 3. Bb5 a6
- As horizontal text:
- 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6
Moves may be interspersed with commentary. When the score resumes with a Black move, an ellipsis (...) fills the position of the White move, for example:
- 1. e4 e5
- 2. Nf3
- White attacks the black e-pawn.
- 2... Nc6
- Black defends and develops simultaneously.
- 3. Bb5
- White inducts the Spanish Torture.
- 3... a6
- Black elects Morphy's Defence.
An ellipsis is also used when the series of moves starts with a Black move (when the score is not of a complete game but starts from a given position). However, helpmates usually use an opposite convention; Black moves first by default and White moves are indicated with an ellipsis if no Black move precedes.
An example of a full game in algebraic notation follows. The game is Kasparov versus the World, played over the internet by Garry Kasparov (as White) against the rest of the world (playing Black), with the World Team's moves being chosen by popular vote under the guidance of a team of grandmasters. The game demonstrates several of the notations described above.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.Bxd7+ Qxd7 5.c4 Nc6 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.0-0 g6 8.d4 cxd4 9.Nxd4 Bg7 10.Nde2 Qe6 (a novelty suggested by Irina Krush and considered a turning point for the World Team) 11.Nd5 Qxe4 12.Nc7+ Kd7 13.Nxa8 Qxc4 14.Nb6+ axb6 15.Nc3 Ra8 16.a4 Ne4 17.Nxe4 Qxe4 18.Qb3 f5 19.Bg5 Qb4 20.Qf7 Be5 21.h3 Rxa4 22.Rxa4 Qxa4 23.Qxh7 Bxb2 24.Qxg6 Qe4 25.Qf7 Bd4 26.Qb3 f4 27.Qf7 Be5 28.h4 b5 29.h5 Qc4 30.Qf5+ Qe6 31.Qxe6+ Kxe6 32.g3 fxg3 33.fxg3 b4 (the World Team did not trust 33...Bxg3 34.h6 Be5 35.h7 Bg7 36.Rf8 b4 37.h8Q Bxh8 38.Rxh8) 34.Bf4 Bd4+ 35.Kh1 b3 36.g4 Kd5 37.g5 e6 38.h6 Ne7 39.Rd1 e5 40.Be3 Kc4 41.Bxd4 exd4 42.Kg2 b2 43.Kf3 Kc3 44.h7 Ng6 45.Ke4 Kc2 46.Rh1 d3 (46...b1Q 47.Rxb1 Kxb1 48.Kxd4 and White will win) 47.Kf5 b1Q 48.Rxb1 Kxb1 49.Kxg6 d2 50.h8Q d1Q 51.Qh7 b5 52.Kf6+ Kb2 53.Qh2+ Ka1 54.Qf4 b4 55.Qxb4 Qf3+ 56.Kg7 d5 57.Qd4+ Kb1 58.g6 Qe4 59.Qg1+ Kb2 60.Qf2+ Kc1 61.Kf6 d4 62.g7 1 0
Naming the pieces in various languages
Here are names for all the pieces as well as the words for chess, check, and checkmate in several languages:
Besides the FIDE standard algebraic notation (abbreviation: SAN) already described, several similar systems are in use for their own particular advantages.
Figurine Algebraic Notation
Figurine Algebraic Notation (or FAN), as noted earlier, is a widely used variation of algebraic notation which substitutes a piece symbol for the letter representing a piece, for example: in place of Nc6. (Pawns are omitted.) This enables moves to be read independent of language.
The Unicode Miscellaneous Symbols set includes all the symbols necessary for FAN. In order to display or print these symbols, one has to have one or more fonts with good Unicode support installed on the computer, that the Web page, or word processor document, etc., uses.
Long algebraic notation
Some computer programs (and people) use a variant of algebraic chess notation termed long algebraic notation or fully expanded algebraic notation. In long algebraic notation, moves specify both the starting and ending squares separated by a hyphen, for example: e2-e4 or Nb1-c3. Captures are still indicated using x: Rd3xd7.
The long notation takes more space and thus is not as commonly used. However, it has the advantage of clarity, particularly for less-skilled players or players learning the game. Some books using primarily short algebraic notation use the long notation instead of the disambiguation forms described earlier.
In international correspondence chess the use of algebraic notation may cause confusion, since different languages employ different names (and therefore different letters) for the pieces; hence the standard for transmitting moves in this form of chess is ICCF numeric notation.
PGN for computer storage
Chess games are often stored in computer files using Portable Game Notation (PGN), which uses algebraic chess notation as well as additional markings to describe a game. As mentioned, PGN requires uppercase letter O to represent castling (e.g. O-O), while the FIDE Handbook uses digit zero (0-0).
Though not technically a part of algebraic notation, the following are some common symbols frequently used by annotators to give evaluative comment on a move:
! (a particularly good and usually surprising move)
!! (an excellent move)
? (a bad move)
?? (a blunder)
!? (an interesting move that may not be best)
?! (a dubious move one which may turn out to be bad)
TN or N (a theoretical novelty)
and many others.
The symbol chosen is simply appended to the end of the move notation, for example: 1.d4 e5?!
- Chess notation
- Descriptive chess notation
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