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How to Record Chess Moves

Correct recording of the moves made on the chessboard is as important as making the right moves. In this aspect, the most effective and consequently the most well known systems of recording chess moves is the renowned Algebraic chess notation introduced by Philipp Stamma. To understand the efficiency
and simplicity of this system, we have to look back into the past a bit and try to take in the fact that one of the most popular methods of recording moves prior to the introduction of the Algebraic system was the method of descriptive chess notation. Only this little excursion into the past can aid us in appreciating the magnitude of simplicity and effortlessness that Philipp Stamma brought into the world of chess.

There are many reasons why you should be well versed in the Algebraic system of recording chess moves. For one, this takes your degree of understanding of the game to a completely new level. There are huge amounts of books and other literary works on chess, which treat the Algebraic system as an integral part of the chess world. Learning this system will open up your horizons in this aspect like never before.

It is also immensely helpful in assisting you in studying and analyzing your own game. Chess, like any other discipline, is an area where constant review and introspection are the keys to excellence. It will aid your post-game analysis immensely if you can understand and make use of the Algebraic system. In this section, I will try to convey the technique of reading, writing, and thereby understanding the Algebraic system of recording chess moves. We shall tackle this subject by way of a systematic methodology so that you may find this comprehensive and easy.


Step 1: Setting up a Chessboard

Strictly speaking, the process of learning the Algebraic system does not actually require you to sit in front of a chessboard, but, having said that, the process and its underlying concepts will be infinitely easier to grasp if you are sitting before a completely laid out board. This is because when you try to grasp the various connotations that come under the Algebraic system, the process of comprehension will be aided a lot if you can immediately trace the description on a board in front of you instead of trying to visualize it.


Step 2: Naming the Squares

The first and foremost step will be to learn the naming of the squares. This is the most fundamental aspect in this whole process. This is perhaps because this process mirrors the entire concept of the Algebraic system. In this system, all 64 squares on the chessboard are assigned their own specific connotation. This is done in a very simple and logical fashion. The vertical files on the board — columns — are named based on the letters in the English language, from left to right. So starting from the white’s side, the squares will be named as “a”, “b”, “c” all the way to “h.” Note that these will always be in lowercase. A very similar system is adopted for the horizontal ranks too. Numbers, starting from the bottom on the white’s side, going all the way to the top, denotes the rows. The numbers will start at “1” and go until “8.” An example of this nomenclature will be “g7”. This denotes the square that comes at the seventh horizontal rank of vertical column “g.”

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Step 3: Naming the Pieces

At this point you may be wondering how the individual pieces are named. The process adopted here is deceptively simple. The uppercase form of the letter that comes first in the name denotes the pieces. Hence, “K” will denote the king, while “Q” will refer to the queen. Now, before you jump up and cry foul, let me make it clear that there are two exceptions to this rule: the knight and the pawn. Both the king and the knight begin with the letter “K.” To avoid the ambiguity associated with this, “N” denotes the knight. The pawns on the other hand do not share the first letter in their name with any other piece and, yet, under the Algebraic system of nomenclature, no letter represents the pawn. However, all this will undergo a change if the Algebraic system makes use of figurines. In such a scenario, each piece will be denoted by a small pictorial representation that is easier to understand.


Step 4: Labeling Conventional Moves

There are some simple, yet key, tips you will have to keep in mind while labeling conventional moves.

  • First label the move number. Ideally, each pair of moves is prefaced by a number that will be followed by a period that denotes the ordinal number of the pair of moves.
  • Once the white player has made his move, write his move after the move number followed by the details of black’s move. Record certain conventional moves in the following fashion:
  1. Denoting a move to an open square: First write down the letter that denotes the piece
    you are going to move followed by the details of the square to which you are planning to move your
    piece to. For example, if you intend to move your knight to the square f3, then you should write it
    down as Nf3.
  2. Denoting a capture: A capture move is denoted by first writing down the letter that
    denotes the piece followed by the alphabet ‘x’ in lower case and finally the details of the destination
    square. For instance, if you wish to capture a piece on the c4 square using your bishop, then you
    should write it down as Bxc4.
  3. When you use a pawn to capture a piece, then the file from which the pawn is departing is
    written down first since the pawn does not have a letter assigned to it. This is followed by the
    alphabet ‘x’ in lower case followed by the details of the destination square. For instance, if you are
    using the pawn on e4 to capture a piece on d5, then it should be written as exd5.
  4. En passant: When you are making an en passant move, first write down the file from
    which the pawn is departing followed by the details of the destination square. Optionally, you may
    include the abbreviation ‘e.p.’ at the end of the move. For instance, if you want your pawn on e5 to
    capture the pawn on d5 by virtue of en passant, then you should write it down as exd6 e.p.
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Step 5: Labeling Special Situations

Let us look how to write down the moves in case of special situations:

  1. When two or more identical pieces can move to the same square:

    When this situation arises, first the letter denoting the piece is written down. This is followed by one of the following details:
    * File of departure (if it is different).
    * Details of the rank from which the pieces are departing if the pieces belong to the same file but different rows.
    * Both the rank and file if neither of them can be used to define the piece in isolation.

  2. Pawn promotion:

    In case of pawn promotion, first write down the details of the destination square. The letter indicating the piece to which the pawn is promoted follows this. For instance, if you wish to promote your pawn to a knight by moving it from e7 to e8, write it down as e8N. Some players use an equal (‘=’) sign or a parentheses or a slash (‘/’) before the letter denoting the piece to which it is promoted, so the above move can be denoted as e8=N or e8 (N) or e8/N.

  3. Castling:

    When you are going to castle along the kingside, you may write it down as O-O. If you are going to castle along the queenside, you may write it down as O-O-O.

  4. Check:

    When you are putting your opponent in check, include the ‘+’ sign after writing down the notation for the move. If you are giving a double check, then include the ‘++’ sign after writing down the notation for the move. In case of a checkmate, first write down the notation for the move followed by the symbol ‘#’.


Step 6: Learn to Use Punctuations

In the game of chess, punctuation marks are usually used to denote the effectiveness of the moves. These are used to comment on the skills of the player. Some examples of using the punctuation are as follows:

  • ! A good move
  • !! An amazing move
  • ?? A blunder
  • ? A questionable move
  • ?! A dubious move but worth your consideration
  • !? An interesting move but looks unclear and vague

Step 7: Learn How to Put It All Together

Numbered pairs by white followed by black usually denote the list of moves. For example, you may represent a series of moves as follows:

  • e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5. You may use comments in-between moves. When you start recording after resuming with a black move, the white move is denoted by an ellipsis (…). For example, you may represent a series of moves in this case as follows:
  • e4 e5 2. Nf3 Black now defends his pawn. 2…Nc6.

I hope you will have understood the concept of recording your moves by now. As I mentioned earlier, recording your moves is one of the rules of a chess tournament, so there is no way by which you can avoid writing down your moves. You may wonder why it is important to record your moves correctly.
During the course of the game, if there is a dispute between you and your opponent, your record of the precious moves can be used to resolve the problem.