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How to read and write chess moves

In order to study chess properly, and also to play in leagues and tournaments, you need to be able to read and write chess moves. There are a few ways to record chess moves, but on this site we will be using standard algebraic notation, which is the notation required by FIDE (the international chess federation).

The board

In algebraic notation, we use a system of alphanumeric co-ordinates to identify each square. The ranks (horizontal rows) are identified with numbers starting from white's side of the board, and the files (vertical columns) are identified by letters, starting from white's left. On the board below, co-ordinates are displayed for every square.

The co-ordinates are the same whether you are looking at the board from white's perspective or black's.

Recording a move

With the exception of the knight, each piece is represented by the first letter of its name, capitalised. Knight starts with the same letter as king, so for the knights we use the letter N instead. When we record a move, we record the piece that is being moved, and the square that the piece is being moved to. For example:

  • Bc4 - Bishop moves to the c4 square.
  • Nf3 - Knight moves to the f3 square.
  • Qc7 - Queen moves to the c7 square.

The only exception to this is pawn moves. When a pawn moves, we don't normally bother to record the P, just the square that the pawn is moving to. For example:

  • e4 - pawn moves to the e4 square.
  • g6 - pawn moves to the g6 square.

If the pawn has reached the far side of the board and promoted, use an '=' sign to show which piece it was promoted to. For example:

  • b8=Q - pawn moves to the b8 square and promotes to a queen.
  • h1=N - pawn moves to the h1 square and promotes to a knight.

Simple enough so far. There are also a couple of extra symbols used to indicate certain things about a move. To indicate a capture, we place an 'x' symbol beween the piece and the square, for example:

  • Rxf5 - Rook captures a piece on the f5 square.
  • Kxd2 - King captures a piece on the d2 square.

When a pawn is capturing, we use the letter of the file it is moving from, then the x, then the square it is moving to. For example:

  • gxf6 - Pawn on the g-file captures a piece on the f6 square.
  • exd5 - Pawn on the e-file captures a piece on the d5 square.

If the pawn is making an en passant capture, we record the square that the pawn finished on, not the square of the captured pawn. You can also add 'e.p.' after the move to indicate en passant if you want, but this isn't mandatory. For example:

  • exd6 - Pawn captures a pawn on d5 en passant. The pawn finishes its move on d6.
  • gxh6 e.p. - Pawn captures a pawn on h5 en passant. The pawn finishes its move on h6.

To indicate that a move is check, just add a '+' symbol on the end. If it's a double check, you can add ++ if you like, but just one will do. If the it's a checkmate, use the '#' symbol instead. Here are some examples:

  • Ba3+ - Bishop moves to a3 and gives check.
  • Qxh7# - Queen captures a piece on h7 and checkmates the black king.
  • f3+ - Pawn moves to f3 and gives check.

Sometimes, two different piece of the same type could move to the same square. Look at the diagram below:

If it's white's turn, the move Rd1 could mean either rook. To specify which piece is to move, add the letter of the file the piece is moving from. Here are some examples:

  • Rad1 - Rook on the a-file moves to d1.
  • Nbxd2 - Knight on the b-file captures a piece on d2.
  • Rfe1+ - Rook on the f-file moves to e1 and gives check.

What about if both pieces are on the same file as well? Look at the diagram below:

White wants to move a rook to e4, but both rooks could make that move, and both are on the e-file. In this case, put the number of the starting rank for the piece that is moving, instead of the file letter. Here are some examples:

  • R7e4 - Rook on the seventh rank moves to e4.
  • N1xc3 - Knight on the first rank captures a piece on c3.

Castling is recorded differently to the other moves. For kingside castling, record it as O-O and for queenside castling, record it as O-O-O.

When a game has been annotated, some symbols are used to indicate that a particular move is good or bad. We don't normally use these when recording a game in a tournament (it might be offputting to your opponent to see what you think of his moves). The symbols are as follows:

! - Good move.
!! - Brilliant move.
? - Poor move.
?? - Terrible move.
!? - Interesting move.
?! - Dubious move.

When recording a move in a game, we indicate the number of the move as well as the move itself. Each pair of white and black moves is numbered, like so:

  1. e4 e5
  2. Nf3 Nc6
  3. Bb5 a6

If we are recording just a black move, then we still use the number, but use three dots to indicate that the white move is missing. For example:

  1. ... Rg6

Black moves a rook to g6.

Games

To test your knowledge, here are some complete games to play through. You can use the arrows to navigate through the game, or you can click on individual moves in the notation below to see that move on the board. If you're feeling confident, you could take out a real chess set and try to play through each game without using the online board.

Anderssen vs Kieseritzky, London 1851

This game, played between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky, is known as 'The Immortal Game', and is one of the most famous chess games ever played. It was played during a break in the first international chess tournament in London in 1851. Anderssen, playing white, sacrificed most of his pieces in a dashing attack that has been celebrated ever since.

Morphy vs Duke of Brunswick & Count Isouard, Paris 1858

This game is known as 'The Opera Game', and was played between the American genius Paul Morphy, and a team of two aristocrats, the Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard, during a performance of Norma at an opera house in Paris. Morphy, who was visiting Paris, was keen to see the opera but ended up seated with his back to the stage and forced to play chess instead. Maybe that's why he thrashed his noble opponents in such rapid and brutal style! Morphy is playing white.

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