Notation

“Is that a dry erase board you’re using?” I said to a fellow chess player around 15 years ago.
“Yes, it is” he said with an overtone of how obvious my observation was.
“If you notate on a dry erase board, how do you save your games?”
“I don’t – I just do it because the rules say so. Good luck.”

Sitting next to his drink was a tissue. It would move slightly throughout the game due to the air vent above our heads. It only blew onto the board once and he removed it with an apology. After my he lost the game, he promptly used the tissue to wipe away the game score “preparing” for his next game. Whenever I teach kids or talk to people about analyzing their games, I share this story.

There are several different ways you can notate your games. The following list gives you an idea of the different ways people notate:

  1. Many people don’t notate at all
  2. Many tournaments provide individual score sheets for people to use
  3. Most use either traditional scorebooks (Scholastic version) or hardback scorebooks
  4. Some use electronic notation devices (search terms provided below)
  5. And some people have inventive obtuse methods like the dry erase board described above.

Refusing to Notate
The only advantage refusing to notate gives a person is they don’t have to be bothered with it. However, the disadvantages are numerous. Most importantly, you do not have a record of your game. This has two major implications. First, you will be unable to review the game later to find your errors and improve. Second, you will not be able to make any claims during a tournament game that require a completed scoresheet. If you are not notating, then you cannot make any of the following claims:

  1. 50-Move Rule
    The game can be declared a draw if neither player makes a pawn move or capture for 50 moves. You cannot prove how many moves have been played without a score sheet.
  2. 3-Fold Repetition
    If the same position occurs 3 times in a game then a player can claim a draw. You cannot claim the position of pieces without a score sheet.
  3. Illegal Moves
    If an illegal move was made a few moves ago and you notice it later, you can claim it and go back to the original position. Unfortunately, without notation, you have no proof it happened.

These are just a few examples of rules that do not work without notation. Therefore, you should always notate your moves, especially during tournament play. For a list of all the rules you may miss out on when not notating, see the 6thEdition of US Chess Federation’s Official Rules of Chess.

Scoresheets
These sheets are individual sheets of paper, sometimes with a carbon paper duplicate (commercially, these are often referred to as “carbonless” sheets but function the same way as carbon paper). The disadvantage to using these sheets is that they are not bound together in a scorebook. Therefore, they are easier to lose. Often, tournament directors at Open events (an open event is when anyone is eligible to play) will require people turn in their score sheets. The tournament director will provide carbon copy score sheets for everyone to use. Essentially, you keep the copy and turn in the white-paper part.

Scoresheets are good because they generally have space for you to keep track of all the game information such as who played white and black, the date, time control, and the event name. In addition to writing down the game’s moves, you are also allowed to notate the time used by either/each player.

Scorebooks
Scorebooks, which come in hardbackpaper back, and custom designs, have all the same advantages as scoresheets except they bind your games together in a book. The advantage of the hardback books over the paperback versions is that they always provide a surface to write on and they can be shelved like any book (especially for long term storage so you can go back and see your games years later which is a lot of fun).

The disadvantage to the paperback versions of scorebooks is the spiral binding used often falls apart. On some versions, the spiral binding is too tight and as you flip pages in the booklet, the paper wears down and tears often jamming up the binding making it tough to turn the pages. Therefore, I recommend these as a first-timer purchase, or for bulk purchases for a club, when learning how to notate. The disadvantage to the hardback scorebooks is at some tournaments they must remain open. Depending on table space, this can be a challenge. However, you can always transfer games into your scorebook later if you must use a scoresheet to notate instead of your book.

Electronic Notation Devices
These devices are becoming more popular as time goes on. They have two major advantages over other scorekeeping methods. First, you can easily transfer the games from the device to database programs such as ChessBase. Second, they can be given to people who have a hard time writing either due to a very young age, a disability, or other reasons. Otherwise, they keep score by using a stylus to move pieces on a screen removing the writing component of keeping score entirely.

There are a couple of disadvantages to these devices. First, they are quite expensive. For example, the Mon Roi costs around $350 (or more). The Ply Count costs around $170 and the eNotate costs around $130 if you can find one. Finally, the Chess Noter costs between $60 – $270 (and you must provide a touch screen capable cell phone as an additional cost). Note that because the Chess Noter requires a cell phone to host the software. I have seen people get questioned if they are cheating when they have used a Chess Noter at national tournaments.

The second disadvantage is they must be charged to be used; otherwise, they could lose power in the middle of your game leaving you without a scoresheet essentially.

Some of these devices can also be difficult to find other than the Mon Roi. If you wish to buy one, you must do so by contacting the manufacturer.

Notation Conclusion
In my opinion, the best notation method is a hardback scorebook. After that, I prefer the paperback score book. They are the most cost-effective means of scorekeeping and you do not have to worry about keeping up with electronic files as you buy new computers over time. If you are going to use a lot of computer analysis for your games, an electronic notation will save you about 3-7 minutes per game entering them into the computer manually.