Chess Notation

Notation systems for humans

Correspondence chess card showing algebraic notation and ICCF notation

In recognized competitions, all players are required to record all the moves of both players in order to resolve disputes about whether a player has made an illegal move and what the position should now be. In addition, if there is a time limit rule that requires each player to complete a specified number of moves in a specified time, as there is in most serious competition, an accurate count of the moves must be kept. All chess coaches strongly recommend the recording of one’s games so that one can look for improvements in one’s play.

The algebraic and descriptive notations are also used in books about chess

  • Algebraic chess notation


  •  is more compact than descriptive chess notation, and is the most widely used method for recording the moves of a game of chess. It has been in use in some regions since the early 19th century, and is less prone to error than the English descriptive system. Algebraic notation is the official notation of FIDE which must be used in all recognized international competition involving human players TheU.S. Chess Federation prefers the use of algebraic notation but still permits descriptive notation.


  • Standard algebraic notation (SAN) is the notation standardized by FIDE. It omits the starting file and rank of the piece, unless it is necessary to disambiguate the move.
  • Figurine algebraic notation (FAN) is a widely used variation of standard algebraic notation that which replaces the letter that stands for a piece by its symbol, e.g., ♞c6 instead of Nc6 or ♖xg4 instead of Rxg4. Pawns are omitted as in standard algebraic notation. This enables the moves to be read independent of language. To display or print these symbols on a computer, one or more fonts with good Unicode support must be installed, and the document (web page, word processor document, etc.) must use one of these fonts. For more information see Chess symbols in Unicode.
  • Long algebraic notation (LAN) includes the starting file and rank of the piece, followed by a dash.
  • Minimal algebraic notation (MAN) is similar to SAN but omits the indicators for capture (“x”) and check (“+”). It was used by Chess Informant.
  • Reversible algebraic notation (RAN) is based on LAN, but adds an additional letter for the piece that was captured, if any. The move can be reversed by moving the piece to its original square, and restoring the captured piece. For example, Rd2xBd6.
  • Concise reversible algebraic notation (CRAN) is like RAN, but omits the file or rank if it is not needed to disambiguate the move. For example, Rd2:B6. This notation is recommended by Gene Milener in Play Stronger Chess by Examining Chess 960: Usable Strategies for Fischer Random Chess Discovered.
  • Figurine concise reversible algebraic notation

    (FCRAN) is a form of CRAN with non-Staunton figurines, used by Gene Milener during Chess960 tournaments.

  • Descriptive chess notation, English notation or English descriptive notation. Until the 1970s, at least in English-speaking countries, chess games were recorded and published using this notation. This is still used by a dwindling number of mainly older players, and by those who read old books (some of which are still important).
  • ICCF numeric notation. In international correspondence chess the use of algebraic notation may cause confusion, since different languages have different names for the pieces. The standard for transmitting moves in this form of chess is ICCF numeric notation.
  • Smith notationis a straightforward chess notation designed to be reversible and represent any move without ambiguity. The notation encodes the source square, destination square, and what piece was captured, if any.
  • Coordinate notation is similar to algebraic notation except that no abbreviation or symbol is used to show which piece is moving. It can do this almost without ambiguity because it always includes the square from which the piece moves as well as its destination, but promotions must be disambiguated by including the promoted piece type, such as in parentheses. It has proved hard for humans to write and read, but is used internally by some chess-related computer software.

Here is an example of the same moves in some of the notations which may be used by humans:

Chess notation examples
# Algebraic Figurine algebraic Long algebraic Reversible algebraic Concise reversible Smith Descriptive Coordinate ICCF
1. e4 e5 e4 e5 e2-e4 e7-e5 e2-e4 e7-e5 e24 e75 e2e4 e7e5 P-K4 P-K4 E2-E4 E7-E5 5254 5755
2. Nf3 Nc6 ♘f3 ♞c6 Ng1-f3 Nb8-c6 Ng1-f3 Nb8-c6 Ng1f3 Nb8c6 g1f3 b8c6 N-KB3 N-QB3 G1-F3 B8-C6 7163 2836
3. Bb5 a6 ♗b5 a6 Bf1-b5 a7-a6 Bf1-b5 a7-a6 Bf1b5 a76 f1b5 a7a6 B-N5 P-QR3 F1-B5 A7-A6 6125 1716
4. Bxc6 dxc6 ♗xc6 dxc6 Bb5xc6 d7xc6 Bb5xNc6 d7xBc6 Bb5:Nc6 d7:Bc6 b5c6n d7c6b BxN QPxB B5-C6 D7-C6 2536 4736
5. d3 Bb4+ d3 ♝b4+ d2-d3 Bf8-b4+ d2-d3 Bf8-b4+ d23 Bf8b4+ d2d3 f8b4 P-Q3 B-N5ch D2-D3 F8-B4 4243 6824
6. Nc3 Nf6 ♘c3 ♞f6 Nb1-c3 Ng8-f6 Nb1-c3 Ng8-f6 Nb1c3 Ng8f6 b1c3 g8f6 N-B3 N-B3 B1-C3 G8-F6 2133 7866
7. 0-0 Bxc3 0-0 ♝xc3 0-0 Bb4xc3 0-0 Bb4xNc3 0-0 Bb4:Nc3 e1g1c b4c3n 0-0 BxN E1-G1 B4-C3 5171 2433

In all forms of notation, the result is usually indicated at the conclusion of the game by either a “1-0”, indicating that white won, a “0-1” indicating that black won or a “½-½”, indicating a draw.

Annotators commenting on a game frequently use question marks (“?”) and exclamation marks (“!”) to label a move as bad or praise the move as a good one.

Notation systems for computers

The following are commonly used for chess-related computer systems (in addition to Coordinate and Smith notation, which are described above):

  • Portable game notation (PGN). This is the most common of several notations that have emerged based upon algebraic chess notation, for recording chess games in a format suitable for computer processing.
  • Steno-Chess. This is another format suitable for computer processing. It sacrifices the ability to play through games (by a human) for conciseness, which minimises the number of characters required to store a game.
  • Forsyth–Edwards notation (FEN). A single line format which gives the current positions of pieces on a board, to enable generation of a board in something other than the initial array of pieces. It also contains other information such as castling rights, move number, and color on move. It is incorporated into the PGN standard as a Tag Pair in conjunction with the SetUp tag.
  • Extended position description (EPD). Another format which gives the current positions of a board, with an extended set of structured attribute values using the ASCII character set. It is intended for data and command interchange among chessplaying programs. It is also intended for the representation of portable opening library repositories. It is better than FEN for certain chess variants, such as Fischer Random Chess.

Recording positions

Chess kdt45.svgChess klt45.svg King That’s what it’s all about.
Chess qdt45.svgChess qlt45.svg Queen The strongest piece to Attack and defend the King (9 Points)
Chess rdt45.svgChess rlt45.svg Rook (5 Points)
Chess bdt45.svgChess blt45.svg Bishop (3 Points)
Chess ndt45.svgChess nlt45.svg Knight (3 Points)
Chess pdt45.svgChess plt45.svg Pawn (1 Point)

Positions are usually shown as diagrams (images), using the symbols shown here for the pieces.

There is also a notation for recording positions in text format, called the Forsyth–Edwards notation (FEN). This is useful for adjourning a game to resume later or for conveying chess problem positions without a diagram. A position can also be recorded by listing the pieces and the squares they reside on, for example: White: Ke1, Rd3, etc.