Lesson 10 – How chess notation works (and the 4-move checkmate)

Chess notation is a method chess players use to write down their moves. In chess tournaments notation is usually mandatory. It’s a good idea to notate your moves because you can then later show your game to a coach and they can help you understand where you made mistakes and what you should have done.

In the second part of this lesson you will also learn about the 4-move checkmate. (Chances are very good that people will occasionally try the 4-move checkmate against you). You will learn how it works and how to block it if someone tries it against you.

Below the video is a transcript (with diagrams).


How chess notation works (and the 4-move checkmate)

In this lesson I’ll show you how chess notation works. Chess notation is a method chess players use to write down their moves so that later on, they can look at their game again to see where they could improve. Also possibly, show the game to a friend or to a coach. Chess notation is very easy to learn. There is really only two things you should know. The first thing is, you should be able to tell the name of any square. And you already know how to do this – you simply look at the letters and numbers on the side of the board.

The name of this square is e4.
The name of this square would be e4 because this square is on the e-file and it’s on row 4.

And this square…

The name of this square is g7 (not 7g).
You always say the letter first and then the number. So you won’t say 7g, instead, you’ll say g7.

… would be g7 because it’s on the g-file and on the 7th row. Remember you always say the letter first and then the number. So you won’t say 7g, instead, you’ll say g7. That’s the first thing you need to know – how to name the squares.

The other thing you should then know, is the symbols of the pieces. Each piece has it’s own symbol and it’s easy to remember because it’s the first letter of it’s name.

The symbol of a piece is the first letter of its name.
The symbol of a piece is the first letter of its name.

So, the symbol for a king would be a K. And by the way, for the symbols we always use capital letters, except the pawn. For the pawn we use a small letter. The queen’s symbol would be a Q, the rook an R, the bishop a B, the knight an N and the pawn a small letter p. Just to clarify, a knight is actually spelled with a k, known as a silent k, but the K is already used as a symbol for the king, which is why we use a N for the knight.

I’ll show you a few examples so you can see how chess notation works in action and so that you can see how easy it is.

In this position, white moves his rook to c7:

We write Rc7. It means rook moves to c7.

The name of the square is c7 and the symbol for the rook is a capital letter R, so we write – Rc7 – it means, the rook moves to c7. Here’s the next example:

We write - Nd4. It means knight moves to d4.
We write Nd4. It means knight moves to d4.

White moves their knight to d4. The name of the square is d4 and the symbol of the knight is a capital letter N, so we write, Nd4.

Here’s the next example:

Bxf6. ("x" means capture).
Bxf6. (“x” means capture).

White wants to exchange their bishop for black’s bishop. When you capture a piece, you use an x to indicate the capture. So, you will write Bxf6, which means – bishop captures f6.

In this next example I want to illustrate a certain exception. And that is – when you notate your moves, you never actually use the symbol for a pawn. You leave it out. For example, if white moves here…

When a pawn moves we don't write the symbol. We simply write e4. No need to write pe4.
When a pawn moves we don’t write the symbol. We simply write e4. No need to write pe4.

… you won’t write pe4, but you will simply write e4. When there isn’t a letter in front of the name of the square, then you should know it means a pawn. If black moves here…

We simply write - d5
We simply write – d5

… you won’t write pd5, but you will simply write d5. And if white captures the pawn…

We write - exd5 (or pxd5).
We write – exd5 (or pxd5).

you will simply write e4xd5, or chess player usually makes it even shorter by simply writing exd5. And if the queen captures you back here…

Qxd5 - queen captures d5.
Qxd5 – queen captures d5.

… you write Qxd5, which means – queen captures d5.

So that is how chess notation works. However, there are a few special situations you should also know. I’ll use a few examples to illustrate them.

If you make a move that checks a king, then you put a plus sign after the move:

Bb5+ means Bishop moves to b5 and says "check".
Bb5+ means Bishop moves to b5 and says “check”.

If white moves his bishop here to check the king, you would write Bb5+, which reads – bishop moves to b5 and says check. If it is checkmate, then instead of a plus sign you will write the hash sign (#) next to the move, but in this case, it’s not checkmate, it’s only check, so will you use the plus sign.

Now I’ll show you how to notate the castling move. If you castle to the short side…

0-0 means castle short side.
0-0 means castle short side (king-side).

… you write zero dash zero; i.e. two zeros. And if you castle to the long side…

0-0-0 means castle long-side (queen-side)
0-0-0 means castle long side (queen-side).

… you add another zero, zero dash zero dash zero; i.e. three zeros.

There are a few more special signs used in chess notation. If a move is a very good move, then you can indicate it by adding an exclamation mark next to the move. In this position, if you move the queen to g2…

Qg2! A good move because you fork black's king and rook.
Qg2! A good move because you fork black’s king and rook.

… it would be a good move because you are forking black’s king and the undefended rook, which means on the next move you will win the rook. That is why when you write this move, you can write Qg2!

But a bad move gets a question mark next to it. If white moves the queen here…

Qg4? Bad move because black can simply capture your queen.

… it would be a bad move because white missed the fact that black can simply capture him. That is why you will write Qg4? It means, the queen moves to g4 but it’s a bad move.

Sometimes two of the same pieces can move to a certain square. Here’s an example:

You must write Rad1. If you write Rd1 then which rook moves to d1?
You must write Rad1. If you write Rd1 then which rook moves to d1?

White wants to develop this rook to d1 but if he writes Rd1, then later you might forget to which rook you actually referred because this rook could also move to d1. That is why in such case you will include more information. For example, you’ll write Rad1, which reads, the rook on the a-file moves to d1.

What happens when you promote a pawn?

You write g8(Q) to indicate the pawn promotes to a queen.
You write g8(Q) to indicate the pawn promotes to a queen.

If white promotes the pawn here, you will write g8 and in brackets (Q). This means the pawn moves to g8 and promotes to a queen. If you chose to promote to a rook, then you would of course write g8(R) to indicate the pawn promoted to a rook.

And how would you notate en passant?

fxe6 e.p. means f-pawn captures on e6 "en passant".
fxe6 e.p. means f-pawn captures on e6 “en passant”.

If black moved the pawn 2 squares, you would write e5. And if white captures him en passant, you would write, fxe6 e.p. This means – the pawn on the f-file captures the pawn on e6 en passant.

In the next part of this lesson I will show you how the 4-move checkmate works and how you can prevent someone from doing it against you. In the 4-move checkmate, you focus your attention on the f7-square.

The 4-move checkmate will focus on attacking the f7-sqaure.
The 4-move checkmate will focus on attacking the f7-square.

The 4-move checkmate is a combination of moves that chess players sometimes use to try win the game quickly. Unfortunately, this combination only works against inexperienced players and it’s usually not a good idea to try it against advanced players. Actually, I recommend that the only reason why you should learn the 4-move checkmate is so that you will also know how you block it if someone tries it against you. So, let me show you how it works.

Imagine you’re playing with the black pieces here and white starts the game by moving the pawn in front of their king two squares forward. So, we write e4.

e4
e4

This is a normal and good opening move – white puts a pawn in the center and at the same time opens-up these diagonals which will eventually allow the bishop and the queen to develop.

White will use their queen and bishop to attack on f7.
White will use their queen and bishop to attack on f7.

Black does the same; we write e5.

e5
e5

Now white makes an unusual move, he brings the queen out early to h5.

Qh5
Qh5

We write Qh5. Remember I said white is going to focus their attention on the f7-square and here you can see the queen already attacks the pawn on f7, but of course it wouldn’t be smart to capture it yet because the king will then simply capture the queen. However, black should also consider that white is threatening to capture the pawn on e5. So that is why black now moves their knight to c6 to protect the pawn.

Nc6
Nc6

We write Nc6. On the next move white develops their bishop to c4…

Bc4
Bc4

… which now also attacks the pawn on f7. We write Bc4. Black decides to develop this knight to f6…

Nf6?
Nf6?

… and attack white’s queen in the process. We write Nf6? Why the question mark? Because it’s a bad move. In fact, it’s so bad, we could even consider marking with two question marks – Nf6?? And the reason why this move is so bad is that white’s queen can now capture the pawn on f7 and say checkmate.

Qxf7#
Qxf7#

The king can’t capture the queen, otherwise he would be in check by the bishop, and in fact there is nothing black can do to get out of check. That is why we write – Qxf7#, which reads queen capture f7 checkmate. Notice that if you captured with the bishop…

Bxf7+ is not checkmate.
Bxf7+ is not checkmate.

… it wouldn’t be checkmate since the king could then move to e7. That is why white took with the queen. So, this is how the 4-move checkmate works and now I’ll show you how to block it if someone tries it against you.

We start again with the moves e4, e5 and Qh5.

This move is a sign your opponent wants to try the 4-move checkmate on you.
Qh5. This move is a sign your opponent wants to try the 4-move checkmate on you.

The moment your opponent makes this move, you should already know they probably want to try the 4-move checkmate. And the easiest way to stop white’s idea, is to move your queen to e7.

Qe7 is a simple and effective way to counter your opponent's 4-move checkmate attempt.
Qe7 is a simple and effective way to counter your opponent’s attempt.

This is a good move because the queen immediately defends the pawn on e5 and at the same time gives more protection to the f7-pawn, which is of course white’s ultimate target. So, if white now moves the bishop out, you can simply develop the knight now because if white captures on f7, your queen is there to deal with the problem. And even after Bxf7 Kxf7, black would still have more points in material, since white lost a bishop and a queen, whereas black only lost a queen and a pawn.

I want to go back a few moves again to show you something else. When white moves the queen to h5, it would be a big mistake to play this pawn to g6…

g6 would be a huge mistake. White can play Qxe5+ followed by Qxh8.
g6? would be a huge mistake. White can play Qxe5+ followed by Qxh8.

… because white will capture the pawn on e5 and say check – and at the same time white is threatening to capture the undefended rook in the corner. So, once black moves their king out of check, white will capture the rook and win 5 points.

To go back again, in this position…

This move is a sign your opponent wants to try the 4-move checkmate on you.
If white tries the 4-move checkmate on you, moving your queen to e7 is a simple and effective way to stop their attempt.

… if white moves their queen to h5, or even if they move the queen to f3 – the idea is the same – to attack on f7 – but usually white will put the queen on h5 because from here it also threatens the pawn on e5. And now, the easiest way to block white’s plans is to move your queen in front of your king. Qe7. This move is good because it defends the pawn on e5 and, also supports the pawn on f7. This is one way how you can block the 4-move checkmate if someone tries it against you. It’s simple and effective.

To conclude this lesson, I want to say that if you want to improve your game, then it’s a good idea to write down your games. There’s two reasons why this is important. Firstly, if you notate your moves, then you can look at your game again at a later stage and by doing so you will see where you made bad moves and what you should done instead. And the second reason why it’s useful to notate your game is that you can show your game to a stronger player or to a coach and they can help you understand your bad moves and what you should have done. Of course, if you’ve never notated your games before, then it will initially feel a bit strange but you will get used to it very quickly once you’ve done it a few times. And then if you ever want to play in an official chess tournament then you will have the confidence to notate your game because at tournaments it’s usually mandatory to notate your game.

I hope you enjoyed this lesson and all the other lessons in this course and that you learnt a lot from it. It would be a good idea to review the lessons again, particularly the lessons on the opening, the middle-game, the endgame, tactical patterns and of course the lesson on the common mistakes chess players make. And remember, the most important thing is that you enjoy playing the game. Cheers.

End of Lesson 10 – How chess notation works (and the 4-move checkmate).