Chess Annotation


Chess Annotation is used to help describe the sequence of moves during a game of Chess, (no kidding!).

You may also hear it referred to as: "Annotated Chess", or the easier on the tongue "Chess Notation" ... ultimately, it's all one and the same thing.

While it can be tricky for some to learn, Chess Notation is very useful, as it allows accurate recording of a game, with the minimum of written work ...

This makes it easier to comment on games, or put Chess Puzzles in publications like Newspapers and Magazines.


Jump to one of the Chess Annotation sections:

The Chess Board | Three Types (Intro) | In The Modern Game

1. Descriptive | 2. Forsyth | 3. Algebraic

Chess Annotation And The Chess Board

All Notation systems, mentioned on this page, are based on giving a unique reference to the squares on a Chess board.

Chess Glossary - Chess Annotation - Article

You can see the board has an arrangement of letters (a to h) and numbers (1 to 8).

The Chess board itself has both Files and Ranks:

  • There are 8 Files, which are identified by the letters from a to h and refer to an individual, vertical column of squares.

  • And there are 8 Ranks, which are identified by the numbers from 1 to 8 and refer to an individual, horizontal row of squares.

Jump to:

The Chess Board | Three Types (Intro) | In The Modern Game

1. Descriptive | 2. Forsyth | 3. Algebraic

Three Types of Chess Annotation Systems

Okay, there have been many more attempts at recoding moves during a game, but three versions were definitely more popular:

  1. 1) Descriptive Notation;
  2. 2) Forsyth Notation;
  3. 3) Algebraic Notation.

Watch this video, which shows a few, random opening moves and then we'll compare those three systems:


Jump to:

The Chess Board | Three Types (Intro) | In The Modern Game

1. Descriptive | 2. Forsyth | 3. Algebraic

1) Descriptive Chess Annotation System

Also known as English Notation, The Descriptive system's last revision named the individual chess pieces like this:

P = Pawn
N = kNight
B = Bishop
R = Rook
Q = Queen
K = King

As for the board, the chess annotation reference dependeds on the view of the player ... this actually led to two descriptions for each square:

Chess Glossary - Descriptive Notation - Chess Annotation - Article
Descriptive Notation
(Move. White ... Black)
  1. P-K4 ... P-K4
  2. KN-KB3 ... KN-KB3
  3. P-KR4 ... P-QR4
  4. P-KR5 ... P-QR5

What that all means is:

Move 1, White advances the Pawn on his King's File, to the 4th Rank; with Descriptive Notation, Black's view-point is the same as White's, so Black advances the Pawn on his King's File, to what he sees as the 4th Rank.

Move 2, White bring's out his King's kNight to his King's Bishop's 3rd Rank; Black also sends out his King's kNight to what he sees as his King's Bishop's 3rd Rank, from his view of the board.

Move 3, White advances the Pawn on his King's Rook File, to the 4th Rank; Black advances the Pawn on his Queen's Rook File, to what he sees as his 4th Rank.

Move 4, White again advances the Pawn on his King's Rook File, which now takes it to the 5th Rank; Black also advances the Pawn on his Queen's Rook File, to what he sees as his 5th Rank.

And so the game continues, following this system of Chess Annotation ...

In favor of the Descriptive Chess Annotation system, you get to know that a Pawn has been moved - the Algebraic system only provides a square's reference; there's no letter 'P' to highlight a Pawn has been moved.

The same goes with the other pieces ... take Move 2, for White or Black, and you can immediately see it was the King-side Knight that got moved.

The failings of the Descriptive system are, firstly, the cumbersome recording of each player's move, in comparison to the cleaner Algebraic system.

Secondly, it involves having to rotate the board around in your mind to juggle with the priority-view of each player ... The Algebraic system, on the other hand, has the notation fixed, just ONE WAY (as you'll see shortly).

<<< Back to the Chess Glossary (Descriptive Notation)


Jump to:

The Chess Board | Three Types (Intro) | In The Modern Game

1. Descriptive | 2. Forsyth | 3. Algebraic

2) Forsyth Chess Annotation System

The most common way the Forsyth system named the pieces was CAPITALS for White; lowercase letters for Black:

P (White) ... p (Black) = Pawn ... pawn
N (White) ... n (Black) = kNight ... knight
B (White) ... b (Black) = Bishop ... bishop
R (White) ... r (Black) = Rook ... rook
Q (White) ... q (Black) = Queen ... queen
K (White) ... k (Black) = King ... king

As for recording positions of the pieces on the board, the Forsyth system really earned it's points for being unique:

Chess Glossary - Forsyth Notation - Chess Annotation - Article

If you were living in Scotland in 1883, and happened to pick up a copy of the Glasgow Weekly Herald, on turning to the Chess games section, you'd be confronted with David Forstyh's system:

rnbqkb1r/1ppp1ppp/5n2/4p2P/p3P3/5N2/PPPP1PP1/RNBQKB1R
Forsyth Notation
(Rank. WHITE ... black)
  1. 8. rnbqkb1r/
  2. 7. 1ppp1ppp/
  3. 6. 5n2/
  4. 5. 4p2P/
  5. 4. p3P3/
  6. 3. 5N2/
  7. 2. PPPP1PP1/
  8. 1. RNBQKB1R

Forsyth, when creating this Chess Annotation system, basically did-away with both Ranks and Files and recorded what piece was on each Rank, by entering its corresponding letter - albeit, CAPITALS for White; lowercase for Black.

As for the numbers you see, they represent the number of squares, per Rank, without any pieces on them.

Finally, there's the use of the '/' forward-slash to note the end of a Rank.

The order of notation begins at the 8th Rank and works its way down to Rank 1.

Put it all together and it goes like this:

Rank 8 has Black's Queen-side rook, knight, bishop, queen, king, then King-side bishop, 1 unoccupied square, and rook / (end of Rank).

Rank 7 has 1 unoccupied square, then Black's pawn, Black's pawn, Black's pawn, 1 unnocupied square, Black's pawn, Black's pawn, Black's pawn / (end of Rank).

Rank 6 has 5 unoccupied squares, Black's knight, 2 unnocupied squares, / (end of Rank).

Rank 5 has 4 unoccupied squares, Black's pawn, 2 unoccupied squares, White's Pawn, / (end of Rank).

Rank 4 has Black's pawn, 3 unoccupied squares, White's Pawn, 3 unoccupied squares, / (end of Rank).

Rank 3 has 5 unoccupied squares, White's kNight, 2 unoccupied squares, / (end of Rank).

Rank 2 has White's Pawn, White's Pawn, White's Pawn, White's Pawn, 1 unoccupied square, White's Pawn, White's Pawn, 1 unoccupied square, / (end of Rank).

Rank 1 has White's Queen-side Rook, kNight, Bishop, Queen, King, then King-side Bishop, 1 unoccupied square, and Rook (end of Rank).

And at this point, David Forsyth assumed you had a complete grasp of what pieces were where on the Board.

While the Forsyth System is no longer in use, with modern Chess Game reporting, it still has a very modern purpose ...

If you've ever Copied & Pasted games of Chess into Fritz (e.g. Fritz 12), you might see the linear* Forsyth notation in part of the code:

* e.g. rnbqkb1r/1ppp1ppp/5n2/4p2P/p3P3/5N2/PPPP1PP1/RNBQKB1R

It's how Fritz is able to determine where to position the Pieces, in any given set up. Good, eh?


There was another version for naming the pieces which, instead of CAPITALS for White, lowercase for Black, it had ALL CAPITALS, but Black's had circles around them.

Based on our 4 moves, it would look something like this:

Chess Glossary - Forsyth Alternative System - Chess Annotation - Article

<<< Back to the Chess Glossary (FEN)

<<< Back to the Chess Glossary (Forsyth Notation)


Jump to:

The Chess Board | Three Types (Intro) | In The Modern Game

1. Descriptive | 2. Forsyth | 3. Algebraic

3) Algebraic Chess Annotation System

This system names the pieces in the following way:

N = kNight
B = Bishop
R = Rook
Q = Queen
K = King

Note that there is NO letter to distinguish the Pawn. Instead, a Pawn's for this Chess Annotation system, recorded movement is shown by the grid-reference of the square it ends up on.

This can be seen in the following image, along with the format for noting the other pieces:

Chess Glossary - Algebraic Notation - Chess Annotation - Article
Algebraic Notation
(Move. White ... Black)
  1. e4 ... e5
  2. Nf3 ... Nf6
  3. h4 ... a5
  4. h5 ... a4

What that all means is:

Move 1, White advances his King's Pawn to e4; Black mirrors that and advances his King's Pawn to e5.

Move 2, White bring's out his King's kNight to f3; Black again mirrors that and brings out his King's kNight to f6.

Move 3, White advances his King-side Rook's Pawn to h4; Black advances his Queen-side Rook's Pawn to a5.

Move 4, White advances his King-side Rook's Pawn to h5; Black advances his Queen-side Rook's Pawn to a4.

And so the game continues ...

The advantage of the Algebraic Notation system is it's much quicker to write down, which is a good thing if you're using pen and paper to record your match during a live Tournament/Competition.


Jump to:

The Chess Board | Three Types (Intro) | In The Modern Game

1. Descriptive | 2. Forsyth | 3. Algebraic

Chess Annotation in the Modern Game

For a time, the Descriptive Notation system was considered best choice - and you can still find books that use this method to explain different strategies and cover historic games.

Penguin Book of Chess Openings - W R Hartston - 1981One such book is The Penguin Book of Chess Openings, by W. R. Hartston (published by Penguin Books, 1981).

Indeed, this was the book we referenced to recreate the Chess Openings that can be found on this website - in keeping with modern times, we altered these openings to the Algebraic system because ...

Of those three popular Chess Annotation systems, it was the third variant - the Algebraic Notation system - that finally rose to become the preferred method for recording matches in competitive matches.

It's the chosen method used by the World Chess Federation (FIDE), for its Tournaments and so, by default, the Algebraic Chess Annotation system is spreading itself across the globe as THE system to use for recording moves made during games of Chess.

And because FIDE uses it, we cover it in more depth, in our Beginner's Chess section (click here, to see!)


Jump to:

The Chess Board | Three Types (Intro) | In The Modern Game

1. Descriptive | 2. Forsyth | 3. Algebraic


Learn more about the Algebraic Chess Annotation system, Here.
<<< Back to the Chess Glossary (Annotation)

<<< Back to the Chess Glossary (Chess Annotation)
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