Chess Corner - Advanced Moves and Chess Notation

 +Last week, we saw a majority of the moves. There are also three other moves that are harder to understand than the rest. They are called castling, en passant, and pawn promotion. Here is an explanation of each move:


Pawn Promotion: A pawn cannot move backwards, so what happens when a pawn manages to fight its way to the end of the board? The answer is pawn promotion. When a pawn reaches the end of the board, it can promote into a knight, rook, bishop, or queen, but never a second king. In most cases, someone will want to promote into a queen, due to the queen’s power, and in most cases that is the right thing to do. However, look at the first position above.  If White promotes to a queen, that’s stalemate, and it’s a draw. But White can ‘underpromote’ to a rook and win. See how? Black’s king moves down one square and White moves his rook to the top-right corner. That’s checkmate!

Castling: Castling is the only move where you can move two pieces at once. It is smart to castle, as you will see in a later column. The move is done with the king and rook only. You do this by moving your king two spaces towards your rook and having your rook ‘hop’ over your king, placing it on the square next to the king. (For an illustration, see diagrams 2 and 3, Before and After Castling.) You cannot castle whenever you want, but you can when all of these are true:

  1. There are no pieces in between your king and rook.
  2. You have not moved your king or the rook with which you will castle.
  3. You are not in check.
  4. You will not be in check once you have castled.
  5. You will not move your king through a square that is currently attacked.

Note: Some people remember 3, 4, and 5 as, “You cannot castle while in check, through check, or into check.”

En Passant: This is a different type of pawn capture. If your pawn is directly to the left or the right of an opponent’s pawn, you can capture that pawn as normal. Move your pawn to the square in front of your opponent’s pawn (in your opponent’s view, it will be behind) and take that pawn off the board. For an illustration, see diagram 4 above. You can only capture en passant if your opponent’s pawn has moved two spaces forward on your opponent’s previous turn. You cannot delay an en passant capture; once your opponent’s pawn has moved, it’s now or never!

Now you know all the moves in a game of chess. You know what your goal is (checkmate), you know all of the moves and rules, and you can set up a chessboard properly. So now that you know how to play a game, you might want to know how to write one down.

There are multiple ways to write a game of chess down so that you can look back anytime and play it again by yourself.  When you do this, you can check for mistakes, see why you won or lost, and/or see what you or your opponent should have done differently.  One common way to write down games is called algebraic notation. (Algebraic notation has nothing to do with algebra; it isn’t hard to learn at all.)

When you write algebraic notation, you put the piece that’s moving first. Next, you put the square the piece is on before it moves. After that, put an ‘x’ if you’re taking a piece or pawn. Finally, put the square that the piece arrives on after moving.

How do we refer to squares? The rows of the chessboard are known as ranks, and individual ranks can be referred to as, from bottom to top in White’s perspective, the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth ranks. The columns of a chessboard are known as files, and from left to right in White’s perspective, they are known as the a-file, b-file, c-file, d-file, e-file, f-file, g-file, and h-file. We refer to squares by naming their rank and file. For example, the square in the fourth rank and the g-file is known as ‘g4’.

How do we refer to pieces? No one wants to write ‘bishop’ and ‘queen’ if there’s a shorter way.  So, we write one letter instead. We use ‘K’ for king, ‘Q’ for queen, ‘B’ for bishop, ‘R’ for rook, and ‘N’ for knight, since the K is reserved for the king. Pawns have no letter assigned to them; we just put nothing (e4 vs. Ne4). (Note: When a pawn captures, we refer to it by the file it is in, like, “exd4”.)

Here’s an example. If we see, “4. Nf3xd4”, we know it means that on White’s fourth move (4.) White moved his knight (N) from f3 (f3) to d4 (d4), capturing a unit (x). In this case, it was a pawn. Since people want to keep it brief, they would usually just write, “4. Nxd4” instead. (If you ever see something like 4. Ngxe4, it means that the knight from the g-file took the unit on e4. The ‘g’ was put there because there was another knight (in the c-file, for example) that could have taken e4. You can also write 4. N3xe4.) If it were Black’s fourth move (when describing Black’s moves we use “…”), you would write, “4… Nxe4”.

Here are some other signs to remember (with examples):

  +   check (26... Ra7+)

++   double check (45. Bb5+)

#   checkmate (4... Qxe4#)

0-0   castle kingside (7. 0-0)

0-0-0   castle queenside (5... 0-0-0)

e. p.    en passant (11. exf6 e. p.)


One more thing about notation: You can put exclamation points and question marks at the end of a written move to show if the move was good or bad. There is no rule to this; you can put them whenever you think it is necessary. Here are some examples:

!   good move (26... Ra7+!)

!!   excellent move (45. Bb5++!!)

?   mistake (4. Nxe4?)

??   blunder (7. 0-0??)

!?   probably a good move (5... 0-0-0!?)

?!   probably a bad move (11. exf6 e. p.?!)


One way to become more familiar with chess notation is to play out a written game on your chessboard.  So here I have put two sample games you can play. One is known as Fool’s Mate and is the shortest game possible (two moves). The other is known as Scholar’s Mate and is four moves long.

Fool’s Mate: 1. f3? e5 2. g4?? Qh4#

Scholar’s Mate:1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Bc5 3. Qh5?! Nc6?? (many moves will end in the same result as 3… Nc6) 4. Qxf7#

Now, you know how to play chess. You also know how to write chess, so you are able to read the answers to the chess puzzles. Since you know how to play, the next columns will be about how to play well.

Diagram 5 above is the weekly chess puzzle. This position is Scholar’s Mate after 3. Qh5. Instead of 3… Nc6??, Black can use White’s queen move to gain the initiative (initiative means advantage or better position). Your job is to find out how.

Answer to last week’s puzzle: This move was probably hard to find: 1. Qa2+!! After Black makes his forced capture, 1… bxa2, his pawns are suddenly weakened and cannot defend the king. White then plays, 2. Nc6!, preparing 3. Nd4. From d4, White’s knight can mate on c2 or b3. Black’s bishop is helpless to defend and his pawn cannot promote in time. This position was won by the Estonian grandmaster Paul Keres.  You can see this puzzle in Positional Chess Handbook, by Israel Gelfer (1991).