Richard Chen

Chess Basics 1: Algebraic Notation, Part 1

Last Edited January 3, 2016
Created April 9, 2016

a8
b8
c8
d8
e8
f8
g8
h8
a7
b7
c7
d7
e7
f7
g7
h7
a6
b6
c6
d6
e6
f6
g6
h6
a5
b5
c5
d5
e5
f5
g5
h5
a4
b4
c4
d4
e4
f4
g4
h4
a3
b3
c3
d3
e3
f3
g3
h3
a2
b2
c2
d2
e2
f2
g2
h2
a1
b1
c1
d1
e1
f1
g1
h1
Hello everyone, for those of you who have looked at the past couple of articles with confused looks on your faces because you didn't know what "Re4" means, this article is for you! Many a time, we feel the need to go through a game we played and recall the mistakes, and having a notation for the movement of pieces on the board can really help. Or, perhaps you're reading a book by a chess author and are going through some openings, tactics or endgames. Or better yet, you want to look cooler and nerdier at the same time than all of your friends :P Well in any of those cases, algebraic notation is for you!

The Board

In chess, the board is divided up into rows, called ranks, and columns, called files. The files are labelled a through h, while the ranks are numbered from 1 to 8. As you can see from the diagram below, to refer to any given square, we refer to it by the file letter, and then the rank. For example, the rightmost square on the bottom rank is called h1, and the square that White's pawn on the e-file can move to by moving two spaces is called e4.

It's a simple enough concept, but it takes time to get a hold of. For serious chess players, this is a must to be able to read games, study from books, etc. In tournaments, players write down virtually all of their serious games so they can go back on them later and read them. It's essentially a basic form of chess literacy.

Basic Piece Movements

Of course, we're still missing the pieces. What we're most interested in is to describe pieces movements on the board. To do this with the rook, queen, bishop and king, we prefix the square that piece moves to with the first character of the name of that pieces, written in uppercase: for example, a rook that moves to e4 is described as "Re4". Civil rights activists rejoice, for there is no distinction or separation segregation for describing White moves and Black moves (although for some disturbing reason, White still always goes first...)
.
The knight and the pawn work slightly differently. Since "king" already starts with K, we use the letter N for knight (because silent letters always go silently unnoticed). Since pawn moves are extremely common, we don't bother appending the "P" beforehand and just refer to pawn moves by the square name:

Capturing Pieces

We also have a special notation for capturing pieces: for all pieces except for the pawn1, we insert a small "x" in-between the piece initial and the square name. For example, if a bishop captures a pawn on c4, we say "Bxc4".



Pawns, however, work somewhat differently. Instead of simply writing "xe4" for a pawn capturing on e4, for example, we write the name of the file that the pawn is on before the x. Yes, the rules are a little inconsistent, but...that's how it works. So, a pawn capturing from the f-file onto the e-file would be represented as "fxe4".


I'm gonna leave it there for now, the article is long enough as it is. Next time we discuss special notation for various cool piece movements. Stay tuned!