Getting Started In Chess: Part 5 – Chess Notation

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this series so far and are playing some chess. One of the great things about chess is that those games that you’ve played don’t have to be lost once the game over.  You can record a game and replay it later to examine what happened. Replaying your games is the cornerstone of chess improvement. Without the ability to accurately document all the moves played during a game very little progress would have been made to advance our understanding.

Descriptive Vs Algebraic Notation

Recording the moves comes in two main dialects, Descriptive Notation, and Algebraic Notation. I’m not going to recommend spending too much time learning descriptive notation. It is obsolete in modern chess. Very few people use it and books are no longer published that use it. If your interest in chess takes you down the antique path of collecting memorabilia or old books then you may find a reason to learn this. The only other reason to learn it is for the cool factor. I can’t think of anything that sounds cooler than saying knight-to-king-bishop-three.

Algebraic Notation,  on the other hand, is what all the cool kids are using. It’s easy and straight forward to use. After you learn it you will ask yourself why wasn’t this the obvious method from the very start. It’s so straightforward and simple to master that most beginner books don’t even cover it anymore. My intention when I started writing this was to provide some deep insightful tidbits about the notation, but it is already covered extremely well on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algebraic_notation_(chess).  Take some time and read this from beginning to end. I have been playing for a long time and I still learned something new after reading it.

Keeping  Score

They’re a few things not mentioned on Wikipedia that are equally as important as understanding the semantics of the notation. First, the thing that you are using to record your moves on is called the score sheet. It can be as simple as a piece of paper, or as complicated as a dedicated electronic device approved by the chess governing body. I recommend when you first start out that you go old school and use paper. I recommend this to beginners for two reasons. The most important is that it will slow you down. Most people have a tendency to move too quickly. Having to stop and manually record the moves will slow you down. The other reason is that they are cheap. For about $10 you can get a really nice hardcover book to record your games in. These look great lined up on your bookshelf documenting your chess progression. If you need to have the latest technology I would suggest that you consider ChessNoteR. I don’t have one yet, but I’m seriously considering getting one very soon.

It’s Got To Be Right

Second, the notation is only useful if it’s accurate. I will be the first to admit that even with my many years of tournament experience I occasionally mess up the recording my game. For me, this usually occurs during games that have complicated positions that distract me from paying attention to recording these critical moves. These complicated games are exactly the ones that provide the most training potential so it is a tragedy to lose those moves. The only “cure” I have found for this is to establish a process or sequence of steps that you follow after every single move. My usual sequence is:

  1. Place scoresheet to my left.
  2. When the clock is hit move the scoresheet so it’s in front of me.
  3. Record move.
  4. Place notation book to my left.

Eventually, this will become second nature. It takes time and it may be a little distracting at first. However, if you commit to establishing a rhythm this will pay dividends for the remainder of your chess career. You don’t know disappointment until you have gotten home from a tournament and discovered that you didn’t get all the moves recorded accurately.

It’s The Law

Finally, it’s the LAW. This entire series is organized to prepare you for your first tournament. Part of that preparation is knowing the rules. One of those rules states that you must record the moves. The primary reason for this rule is to aid the tournament director in adjudicating any potential positional disputes between players. It’s usually something like enforcing the three move repetition rule. The scoresheet is your game documentation and protection. The official rule states:

In the course of play each player is required to record the game (both the player’s and the opponent’s moves), move after move, as clearly and legibly as possible, on the scoresheet prescribed for the competition. Algebraic notation is standard, but descriptive or computer notation is permitted. The player must first make the move, and then record it on the scoresheet. The scoresheet shall be visible to the arbiter (tournament directors) and the opponent throughout the game.

This can be found in section “15A. Manner of keeping score” in the US Chess Official Rules. The provided link only contains a small subset of the official rules and I recommend that you get a copy of the US Chess Federation’s: Official Rules of Chess.

Don’t Repeat The Past

Scorekeeping in chess is one of those topics that are easy to overlook. On the surface, it sounds rather trivial to perfect and move past. However, the reality is that it is an important part of the game that takes time and effort to master. It is your personal chess history book and a critical component for your improvement. To quote the writer and philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Thank you for reading to the end. I hope your day is blessed and your chess games sharp!

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