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Chess Notation, 26 Symbols, & Electronic Notation Devices

By: Nathaniel_Fernandes | Posted: September 4, 2020 | Updated: 7/16/2021
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Chess Rules

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • If you are a class D player and above (1000+ rated), you must always notate except when in time pressure
  • Choosing not to notate results in a 5 minute time penalty
  • Notation helps you improve by letting you review your games.

Background

Paper is very useful. You can literally scribble something down and then an archaeologist 1000 years in the future can find this permanent record. Chess notation is useful because you can record your moves, the opponent’s moves, and other important information for posterity. 

Players usually notate on paper notation sheets but there are a few electronic notating devices (see below).  

The official rules of chess, 7th ed., by the US Chess Federation states in Section 15A:

“In the course of play each player is required to record the game […] move after move, as clearly and legibly as possible, on the scoresheet prescribed for the competition.”

Beginners who don’t know how to notate are usually not required to notate at the tournament director’s discretion (Section 15A1). Players not notating also usually receive less time because they don’t have to spend time writing down their moves – this works out to about 5 minutes less each game.

One of the main reasons notation is required is that the TD will look at your notation sheet if there’s a dispute on the board. For example, to verify 3-fold repetition, the TD will use your notation. Notating also deters cheating so people don’t randomly move a piece and claim it was always there. 

Why should I notate?

There are numerous benefits to learning to notate. 

  • It’s the language of chess – if you want to share your games or read chess books, you must be familiar with notation
  • Permanently records your games so you can analyze them later
  • Deter cheaters in tournaments

If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will!

Coaches Tip: Make your students “notate their age” when they first learn notation. If they’re 6 years old, they only have to notate the first 6 moves of a game. Or if they’re 10, only 10 moves. This helps them learn notation without overwhelming them.

How to Notate

Ahhh the meat and potatoes of the article. To notate you just use this fill-in-the-blank formula: _ _ _.

  1. The first blank is the piece name abbreviated to the first letter (i.e. King = K, Bishop = B). Note Knight is “N”.
  2. The second blank is the letter column the piece moved to
  3. The third blank is the row number the piece moved to.

This sounds very confusing but it’s really not. Try and guess the correct notation for the following pictures.

Tip: The 2nd and 3rd blanks of _ _ _ are just describing the square the piece is going to. Learn more about naming squares here.

Note: The abbreviation of Knight is N because King is K.

Capturing

When you capture a piece, you put an “x” in between the piece name and the square. Qxd5 or Bxe7. Think of it like the piece “takes” the square.

Pawns

When you notate pawn moves, you do not include the piece name abbreviation “P”. Instead you only list the column letter and square number like:  _ _. Like e4 or d4.

For pawn captures, you use the normal captures notation of _ x _ _ where the last two are the square name. However, the first blank is the letter of the column the pawn came from.

Annotation Symbols:

Chess players use a variety of symbols when they annotate (the process of commentating on a chess game). If you’ve ever looked at a scoresheet you’ll see those symbols which go behind the move.

But what do those funny symbols mean?

╔════════╦════════════════════╗
║ Symbol ║ Name               ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ !      ║ Good               ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ !!     ║ Brilliant          ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ ?      ║ Mistake            ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ ??     ║ Blunder            ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ !?     ║ Speculative        ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ ?!     ║ Dubious            ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ +      ║ Check              ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ #      ║ Checkmate          ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ N      ║ Novelty            ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ □      ║ Forced Move        ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ ⨀      ║ Zugzwang          ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ =      ║ Drawish            ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ ⩲      ║ Small edge (White) ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ ⩱      ║ Small edge (Black) ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ ±      ║ White's better     ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ ∓      ║ Black's better     ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ +-     ║ White's winning    ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ -+     ║ Black's winning    ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ ∞      ║ Unclear position   ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ ↑      ║ Initiative         ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ ↑↑     ║ Development        ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ →      ║ Attack             ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ ⇆      ║ Counterplay       ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ ⊕      ║ Time trouble      ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ =∞     ║ With compensation  ║
╠════════╬════════════════════╣
║ ∆      ║ "With the idea"    ║
╚════════╩════════════════════╝

Don’t feel pressured to learn what all the symbols mean. In fact, the bottom 8 are rarely used. I only included them for completeness sake.

Notation Sheet (PDF Download)

When you notate, write down both white and black moves in a table format – with White moves in the left column and black moves in the right (see picture below). You typically only number the white moves – 1 move = White + Black moving.

To make notation easy there are “notation sheets” that you can download or buy a notation book.

A picture of a typical chess notation sheet
A typical chess notation sheet

Tip: A single “move” by only White or Black is called a “ply” – 2 plys = 1 move.

Best Electronic Notation Devices

Electronic notation devices work by showing you a visual display and then you drag the pieces to the proper squares. The device automatically and painlessly records the move notation.

Electronic notation devices are by no means necessary for chess success. Most players don’t use one. However there are a number of benefits to e-notating.

Pros

  • MUCH faster – can even notate during time pressure
  • Lets you focus on the game instead of notating
  • Store all games in database so don’t have to keep track of paper notation sheets
  • Pgn exports for easy computer analysis
  • Can visually play through moves after game to analyze

Con

  • Payment – As with all services, you must pay. However, e-notating devices are durable and will last a lifetime.

Recommendations

If you are interested, I recommend you check out the MonRoi. I have personally used it for 8+ years and have only good things to say about it.

As per the MonRoi website, their device comes with the following features:

  • Enter moves on a sleek, portable device.
  • Store PGN files electronically in PGN for easy analysis.
  • Get a paper copy of your scoresheet, indicating time.
  • Replay chess games on the device.
  • Upload games to a computer and e-mail them to your coach.
  • Receive pairing information about the next round.
  • Broadcast games live on the Internet and get your piece of fame

The only downside is that it is fairly pricey at $359. If you want a cheaper alternative, check out the ChessNotateR which is $269.

Please note: Chess Intellect does not receive any compensation for these endorsements.

Cover Photo Credit

Image by moritz320 from Pixabay


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