Question: In general, is noting a check/checkmate sufficient to disambiguate moves in descriptive notation?

If for example two of the same type of piece could move to the same square, but one giving check and one not giving check while doing so, is it necessary to further distinguish between the moves when recording in descriptive notation?

Take for instance the following position:

r2k3r/pbp1bppp/1p3n2/2p3B1/3N4/2N5/PPP2PPP/2KR3R w - - 0 1

In algebraic notation, according to the FIDE Laws of Chess (Appendix C), we would write 1.Ndb5+ (or just 1.Ndb5) and 1.Ncb5. The '+' to mark checks is optional.

However in descriptive notation, what do we need to write? Is writing 1.N-N5ch for 1.Ndb5+ and 1.N-N5 for 1.Ncb5 sufficiently clear, or do we need to specify 1.N(Q)-N5ch and 1.N(B)-N5?

Further test cases to justify responses with:

1.Bb5+ and 1.Bg5: 1.B-N5ch and 1.B-N5, or 1.B-QN5ch and 1.B-KN5?

rnbqkb1r/pp3ppp/3ppn2/8/3NP3/2N5/PPP2PPP/R1BQKB1R w KQkq - 0 1

1.Qa8+ and 1.Qh8#: 1.Q-R8ch and 1.Q-R8 mate, or 1.Q-QR8ch and 1.Q-KR8 mate?

5k2/8/4K3/8/8/8/8/7Q w - - 0 1

1.Bxf7+ and 1.Bxc5: 1.BxPch and 1.BxP, or 1.BxKBPch and 1.BxQBP?

r1bq1rk1/p1bn1pp1/3p1n1p/1pp3N1/4P3/1BNPBR2/PPP1Q1PP/R5K1 w - - 0 1

Citations from sources (style guides for writing descriptive notation/actual books notating such a situation) to support answers would be appreciated.

  • 1
    It is not clear what you are asking. The FIDE Laws of chess, which you quote, do not allow descriptive notation. If an otherwise ambiguous move is disambiguated by recording the check then clearly the move with the indication of check is not ambiguous but this has nothing to do with the FIDE Laws of chess or chess played under FIDE rules.
    – Brian Towers
    Dec 22, 2018 at 11:33
  • I am asking how to properly record the moves in descriptive notation (for use in a few chess brainteasers I have in mind.) Nothing to do with the FIDE Laws or recording in an official game, but still related to chess. Chess under FIDE rules is not the only kind of chess activity.
    – Remellion
    Dec 22, 2018 at 12:23
  • But you answered your own question. Indicating if it is check or not disambiguates.
    – Brian Towers
    Dec 22, 2018 at 15:39
  • I did not. As an example, under FIDE rules, check does not disambiguate in algebraic notation. Thus, under (whatever the rules were at the time), it isn't clear a priori if check disambiguates in descriptive notation.
    – Remellion
    Dec 22, 2018 at 15:56

2 Answers 2


My understanding is that it's OK to use "ch" to disambiguate a move, but it's not OK to use the absence of "ch" to disambiguate. For example, in your first diagram, Ndb5 could be written as N-N5ch, but Ncb5 could not be written as simply N-N5.

I don't have a source stating that explicitly as a rule, but there is some support in Kenneth Harkness's Official Chess Handbook, "Approved by THE United States Chess Federation", David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1967. One of the games illustrating descriptive notation goes 1 P-K4, P-K4; 2 N-KB3, P-Q3; 3 B-B4, P-KB4; 4 P-Q4, PxKP; 5 NxP, PxN; 6 Q-R5ch, K-Q2; 7 Q-B5ch, K-B3; 8 QxP(5), P-QR3; 9 P-Q5ch, K-B4; 10 B-K3ch, KxB; 11 Q-Q4ch, K-N4; 12 N-B3ch, K-R4; 13 Q-R4 mate. The caption to the third diagram on p. 94 reads (emphasis added) as follows:

Position after 7 ...K-B3; 8 QxP(5). It is not advisable to write QxP, relying on the omission of check. QxP(5) shows that the Queen captures the Pawn on White's fifth rank.

  • 2
    A good source. However in the given game, 8 QxP would be ambiguous for a different reason: 8.Qxe5 and 8.Qxh7 are both 8 QxP no check. Hence the need to use 8 QxP(5).
    – Remellion
    Dec 22, 2018 at 15:58

The general rule back then was to disambiguate first rather than with the result of the move when two or more of the same pieces could have been moved to the square in question.

In your example n/4-n5+ [or n/3-n5] would have been used to show that the horsie on Q4 was the one that moved. The person moving the pieces while playing over the game needs to know which one to move as they only later will then look at the entire board to see if there was check or other things that might have otherwise disambiguated the pieces.

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