Chess Notation

A game of chess is contested on a geometrical space divided into 64 squares of equal size. The first step towards chess success starts with recognizing these 64 squares. Therefore all chess players must start by learning the features of the chessboard.

Chess is played on a chessboard. When you look at a chessboard first you see “squares.” These squares line up side by side and overlap. The colours of the squares are contrasting light and dark, often called ‘white’ and ‘black.’ There are 64 of them in all. Half of them are light and the others are dark. We use the name “chessboard” for the big square consisting of all 64 ‘white’ and ‘black’ squares. The bottom right corner square (looking at a book diagram or a wall board), or the square nearest to each player’s right-hand side, must be a light square.

The richness of chess today owes much to the many valuable contributions and ideas of our ancestors. One of the most interesting ideas was that of chess notation. Today, nearly all countries accept the simple and convenient algebraic system of designating squares on the chessboard.

The shape of the chessboard is an equilateral square. Dividing a chessboard horizontally and vertically, eight ranks and files are formed. That way each square gets its own address.

Files, Ranks and Diagonals

These 64 squares got various combinations of squares called Ranks, Files, and Diagonals.

Rank or Row:

Let us learn about RANKS first: As you sit at the chessboard, there are eight horizontal rows stretching from your left to your right and these are known as Ranks. They are designated by the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, starting from White’s side.

In other words, the rank nearest from White’s side is called the first rank. The next rank is called the second rank, the next the third rank, and so on until you get to the rank nearest your opponent, which is the eighth rank. If you are playing the Black pieces, the rank nearest you is the eighth rank and the rank nearest your opponent is the first rank. So, the horizontal rows are known as ranks from first to eight.

Another combination of squares is knows as Files or Columns: As you sit at the chessboard, with a light square at your right and a dark square at your left, there are eight vertical rows of squares stretching from you to your opponent. Each vertical column of eight squares is called a “file.”

Files are noted with the letters ‘a’ through ‘h’ for identification, left to right from White’s viewpoint. Therefore files are designated by the first eight letters of the alphabet, a, b, c, d, e, f, g, and h, starting from the left on White’s side.

Assuming you are playing the White pieces, counting from your left, the files are a-file, b-file, c-file, and on to the file furthest to your right is the h-file. Assuming you are ready to play the Black pieces, counting from your left the files are the h-file, the g-file, the f-file, and on to the file furthest to your right is the a-file.

Thus, in the initial position White’s men are placed on the first and second ranks while Black’s men are placed on the seventh and eighth ranks. Thus there are 64 squares formed by the division of the chessboard into eight rank and eight file lines. Half of these 64 squares are white and the other half are of black squares.

The third long lines are Diagonals:A straight line of squares of the same colour, touching corner to corner, is called a `diagonal`. There are twenty-six diagonals varying in length from two to eight squares. While any rank or file contains both light squares and dark squares, the squares making up any given diagonal are of same colour, either light or dark.

Diagonals are designated by the names of their end squares. The longest diagonals are ‘a1-h8’ and ‘h1-a8’ and these two diagonals each consist of eight squares. Diagonals which consist only of light squares, e.g. h5-e8 and f1-h3, are called light-square diagonals, while diagonals which consist only of dark squares, e.g. a7-b8 and e1-a5, are called dark-square diagonals.

In other words, Diagonals are straight lines made up of individual squares that border at the corners rather than at the sides. They extend at an angle rather than straight.

While Ranks and Files are used by Rooks and Queens, Diagonals are used by the Bishops and Queens.

In this Algebraic system of Chess notation, each square on the board has a name which consists of one of the letters from ‘a’to ‘h’followed by a number from 1 to 8.  Thus, the corner squares which the White Rooks always occupy in the initial position are ‘a1’and ‘h1’, while ‘a8’and ‘h8’indicate the location of the Black Rooks.

How to Write Down A Move

A move is transferring a Chessman from one square to another. The following conventional order is used in writing down a move:

Piece symbol

Square of departure to square of arrival

If there is no prefixing piece symbol that means that the move is made by a pawn.Here is an example: If the first move is made by the White pawn in front of the King, the pawn starts its move on e2 and finishes it on e4. The move should therefore be recorded as 1. e2-e4. If Black replied to this move by pushing the pawn in front of his Queen two squares forward, that move would be written as 1. … d7-d5 (the three dots mean that the move is made by Black. They are only used when writing Black’s move alone, without White’s move in front of it). If White on his second move captured the Black pawn on d5 with his pawn on e4, that would be written as 2. e4xd5.

There are the four squares in the middle of the chessboard which are known as centre squares of the Board. These are the e4, e5, d4, d5 squares and it is really important to control these squares. Centre squares are the most important on the board. You canreach 27 squares from these squares along all rank, file and diagonal paths that pass throughone of them. You cannot reach the same number from any other squares.

The players must know the names ofthe squares. It is easy to learn the name of the squares. Firstly, you find the file of a square,and then you find the rank of the square. Then we will find the rank of the square. Look along the rank to the side of the board to findthe rest of its name.

It is important and imperative that you write down moves of your game in the tournaments.  That way later on you can analyse your games using various chess software.