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Symbols/Notation

 


Diagram copyright Exeter Club, used by permission.

 

Notation vs. Analysis vs. Annotation

Notation, analysis and annotation of games are each important in studying chess, so it makes sense to have these terms well defined.  

Notation, also known as "scorekeeping," is the written record of the moves in a chess game (click here for a brief history of chess notation).  There are several styles of notation, including short and long algebraic, figurine algebraic, English descriptive, Spanish descriptive, international postal code, etc.  We require that our beginning students learn short algebraic notation, which is the most common style in current use (see How to Record a Chess Game, below, for instructions).   For an example, one of the variations of the Spanish Game appears like this in algebraic notation:  1) e4, e5  2) Nf3, Nc6  3) Bb5, Nge7  4) O-O, a6  5) Bxc6, dxc6.  To see what these moves look like on a chess board, click here.

Analysis is the process of thinking through and commenting on what happened or might have happened in a specific game.  It is important to discover how mistakes were made and explore alternatives you may apply to future games.  Analysis can be done in your head as you look over the moves of a game, but it's generally better to talk through the game with your coach or another player, preferably a stronger one.  

Annotation is analysis which has been written down.  This can be done in order to publish a game, or simply for a player's personal benefit, often in working with his/her coach.  Saving your annotated games in an organized fashion can be very helpful reference material.  Click here for examples of annotated games at the Logical Chess web site, or here for a game annotated by a 9-year-old girl (with a little help).  Of note on this subject, over the past several decades, strong players increasingly have been using the international annotation code developed by the staff at Chess Informant (see below for more info on this code).  

 

How to Record a Chess Game

Recording the moves in a chess game is important for several reasons:  in tournament play it could help settle a dispute, your coach or teacher may ask to see your game afterward, and it is very useful for you to look over your game yourself in order to see what you may learn from it--especially if it's a game you lost.  It should also be pointed out that keeping a scoresheet is a requirement in higher-level tournaments.  

The first thing to know is that when White moves (called one 'ply'), followed by Black (a second ply), it is considered one move (two ply).  Your game record needs to include the number of the move, followed by what White played on that move, and then what Black played.  Typically there are three possible pieces of information to note:  which piece is moving, what square it is moving to, and any additional specific action, such as capture or check, if applicable.  Here are the specifics used in short algebraic notation:

 

Piece Codes (these are all capital letters)

K = king
Q = queen
B = bishop
N = knight
R = rook
Note:  There is no piece code for the pawn.  Pawn moves are 
          recorded simply by naming the square they moved to,
for example, e4.                                            

 

Names of Squares (these are all lower case letters)

The diagram at the top of this page shows, for comparison purposes, how squares are named in both algebraic and descriptive notation.  The algebraic code is listed at the top inside each square, followed by the descriptive code from Black's point of view in the middle, and finally the descriptive code from White's point of view on the bottom inside each square.  Our students are required only to know the algebraic (top) name for each of the 64 squares.

The 8 vertical files of a chess board are identified by the letters a, b, c, d, e, f, g and h.  The 8 horizontal ranks are indicated by the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.  Thus, the lower left corner square is a1, the upper right corner square is h8, and the four center squares of a chess board are d4, d5, e4 and e5.

 

Symbols Indicating Specific Actions

x = capture*
0-0 = castle kingside
 0-0-0 = castle queenside
ep = capture en passant
+ = check
# = checkmate
=Q = pawn promoting to queen**

*When a pawn does the capturing, the departing pawn's file name
is added to the beginning of the move, for example, dxe5.
**Pawn promotion may also be indicated as, for example, a8(Q).

 

How to Record Ambiguous Moves:

In cases where algebraic notation is unclear, either the rank or file of the moving piece is added to the notation for clarity.  For example, if White has knights on both g1 and d2, writing down the move Nf3 doesn't indicate which knight was moved to f3.  Therefore, writing the move as Ndf3 indicates that it was the knight on the d file which was moved.  

 

Chess Informant Symbolic Annotation Code

In the mid 1960s, the first volume of Chess Informant (a three-times-per-year compendium of well-annotated games from recent top tournaments) introduced a symbolic code replacing written annotation with graphic images.  This code allowed players to share at least general ideas about a game, even if they didn't speak the same language.  The code system has been developed and refined in years since, and is now universally accepted by strong players throughout the world.  While not perfect, the code has made annotated games available to a much larger audience than previously possible.  The symbols are sometimes referred to as "international annotation code" or "languageless commentary."  The most common annotation symbols and their meanings are listed below:

!      an excellent move

!!     brilliant move

?     a bad move

??   a blunder

!?    an interesting move, probably good

?!    an interesting move, probably bad


    with (a specific move in an opening variation)  

    without (a specific move in an opening variation)

    ending         

    bishops of opposite colors

    bishops of the same color

−    the bishop pair  

    queenside

    kingside

+- White has a decisive advantage

    White is clearly better

    White is slightly better

=    The chances are equal

    Black is slightly better

    Black is clearly better

    with compensation (for the material)

    the position is unclear

    rank or file

    diagonal

    with an attack  

with the initiative

    time trouble

    center

    with counterplay

    space

    zugzwang

    with the idea

    aimed against (a specific move)

    development advantage

    the only reasonable move

    better is

    worse is

    stronger is  

1-0  White won

0-1  Black won

1/2-1/2  drawn game




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