Forsyth Notation – Keeping Record of a Chess Game

The Forsyth notation is a method used in order to record the positions of all of the pieces in a game of chess. In fact, it not only records where the pieces are situated, but also where there are spaces or empty squares on the chess board. Another and now more common name for the Forsyth notation is the Forsyth Edwards’s notation or FEN. The aim of the Forsyth notation is that it can be used to restart an old game from a specific position.

The Forsyth notation was originally developed by David Forsyth, a Scottish newspaper journalist who lived in New Zealand and was the chess editor of the Glasgow Weekly Herald. It became popular in the 19th century. More recently, it was adapted by Steven J. Edwards, with the help of commentators on the Internet, to support its use by computers and it thus became known as the Forsyth Edwards notation, an online Forsyth notation. The FEN has now become an integral part of portable game notation (PGN) for chess games and so Forsyth notation software is now common. The software Forsyth notation uses the ASCII character set.

Chess Forsyth notation works as follows:

Each square of the chess board is represented beginning in the top left hand corner (White's home rank) at a8. Each piece is denoted by its letter – King is K, Queen is Q, Rook is R, Knight and N, Bishop is B and Pawn is P. White is indicated in capital letters while black is indicated in lower case. Empty squares between pieces are represented by a number (the number of empty squares in a row). Each row is separated by a "/".

For example, if you have a row on the board with a space, then a white bishop, 2 spaces, 1 black pawn and then 3 spaces, it would be indicated as: 1B2p3

If you had a row with a white rook, 4 spaces, a white rook, a white king and a space, it would be indicated as: R4RK1.

In order to show these two rows one after the other, you would write: 1B2p3/ R4RK1 – this would represent a8 followed by a7.

One of the primary benefits of Forsyth notation lies in the ability to use it to resume games. One can begin a game of chess, stop in the middle and then resume the game at a later stage without having to worry that the board will have become muddled. It shows every position on the board, precisely. The other benefit that is related to your ability to re-set-up games is that using FEN allows you to set up past games in order to analyze them and attempt different moves leading to a different outcome.

You can also use it to set up past games of expert chess players in order to learn from their moves. Chess Forsyth notations have become an integral part of playing chess and all chess players should be aware of how the system works.