Chess Noob #8 – Descriptive Notation

If you play chess online against an opponent or against a chess program on your computer, you’ll notice that the software keeps track of all the moves made in the game with  combination of letters and numbers.  When you play chess in a tournament, you are expected to keep track of your moves and the moves of your opponent in much the same way.  This detailed list of every move made in a chess game is called notation.

There are two main types of notation: descriptive notation, and algebraic notation.  Algebraic notation is the more modern and widely used form of notation, but we’ll go over each type of notation and you can decide which you’d rather use.  In this blog, we’ll only be talking about descriptive.  In the next blog, we’ll talk about algebraic notation and compare it to descriptive and compare the two.

P is for Pawn.  This is used in descriptive notation ONLY.  You’ll understand why once we talk about algebraic notation.

R is for Rook.

B is for Bishop.

N is for Knight.

K is for King.

Q is for Queen.

is the symbol for movement.  This is used in descriptive notation ONLY.

x is the symbol for capturing a piece.

+ is the symbol for Check.

++ is the symbol for Checkmate in descriptive notation.

= is the symbol for Pawn promotion.  After the = will be the symbol for whichever piece you’ve turned the Pawn into (usually Q for Queen)

0-0 is for Castling on the kingside. (The Rook moves 2 spaces)

0-0-0 is for Castling on the queenside. (The Rook moves 3 spaces)

1-0 is the symbol for black resigning (1 win for white, 0 for black)

0-1 is the symbol for white resigning (0 wins for white, 1 for black)

1/2-1/2 is the symbol for a draw (1/2 win for both sides) either by draw offer, stalemate, 50 move rule (the 50 move rule says that if the opponents have both made 50 moves and not a single piece has been captured, then the game is a draw), or 3-move repetition (if the two opponents make the exact same moves 3 times consecutively, the game is a draw).

Now that you know the symbols, let’s talk about how to write your moves using….

Descriptive Notation

Descriptive Notation is also known as English Notation.  It was the widely used form of notation by chess players and authors of chess books up until the 1970’s. It is still used by some chess players, though Algebraic has become the widely used form of notation (infact FIDE does not even allow Descriptive Notation at international events).

In descriptive notation, you are using the aforementioned symbols for all the pieces.  The location of each square is annotated by 1) if it’s Kingside or Queenside, 2) Which piece’s starting location corresponds to that file/column (for instance if it’s the file of the starting position of the Rook on the Kingside, every space in that file would be KR), 3) how many ranks from the player it is (this can be tricky… the 5th rank for white is only the 4th rank for black).

So, from our starting position (I’ve taken out the numbers and letters so you won’t be confused):

If white moves his King Pawn 1 space forward, and then black moves the Pawn in front of his queenside Bishop one space, like this:

It would be written as follows:

 P-K4          P-QB4

As you can see, the tricky part comes from a) recalling if the space is on the Kingside or Queenside, and b) counting the ranks from each opponent’s prospective, not just your own (because, as said, white’s 5th rank is black’s 4th rank).

When capturing a piece, you denote it as X.  On the plus side, you only piece is doing the capturing and what piece is being captured.  in most cases this is simple:

The white Pawn taking the black Pawn would be written simply as


The only time you have to go into more detail is if a piece (or multple pieces of the same type) can take multiple pieces of the same type.  For instance

Here you have 2 white Knights that could each take 2 Pawns.  Therefore you cannot simply write NxP because the question of “which Knight took which Pawn” comes up (although, in this case you’d want to move your Queen to saftey, but for the sake of this lesson, let’s just say you were going to take a pawn with a Knight and do a queen trade.  So our intended move for this is:

Which is written as


Which means: the kNight in the file where the Queenside Bishop started is capturing (x) the Pawn in the file where the Queenside kNight started.

Placing someone in Check will be denoted by the move of the piece putting someone in check followed by a + and a Checkmate will be the move followed by a ++.  For instance, in our first quiz question a couple weeks ago:

The queen was at KB3 before the positon and took the pawn at black’s KB pawn for a Checkmate which would be written like this:


We don’t need to say which Pawn because it was the only Pawn the Queen could take from where she was.

In the next blog, we’ll talk about algebraic notion and compare it to descriptive using the same examples we used here.

Have a topic you’d like me to cover or a question you’d like to ask? send me an e-mail at

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