Why do chess players write down their moves? Full explanation

Chess game

If you are new to chess then you must have been wondering why people keep on writing down their moves in tournaments, this is true if you go on youtube or something. Every single move made by the player will usually be accompanied by a scribble of some sort, isn’t this weird?

What is the point of writing down your own moves? This might seem weird to some beginners but this is a crucial element of competitive chess, this is necessary. A chess event without a mandatory written notation can be problematic fast, keep on reading to understand what I mean by this.

Chess players write down their moves due to fide’s competition rules 

Mostly the recording of chess notations has been around since the birth of fide (formal chess international body), but it was only officially conceptualized in tournaments when fide took the scene. Some players before the advancement of fide do not write down their moves as it is not a tournament requirement, that has changed today.

Players write down moves since it is a mandatory guideline laid out by fide, specifically referring to the competition rules of article 8.1.1. In casual games of chess this might not be necessary since there are no rules in doing so, this is in fact why cheating is rampant in chess hustling games.

Nowadays competitors are required to write down their moves due to fide’s intervention, players can literally be penalized if they do not do this. They have made a system by which it is a necessity due to the key reasons that will be discussed in this article.

If you go to a chess game proposed by a hustler you are likely to see many cases of cheating, people are quick to take advantage when there isn’t a single record. This is actually one of the main reasons why chess players write down their moves, so that there is a documentary that can verify cases of cheating.

The record of chess moves are used to prevent cases of cheating

Primarily, the use of scoresheet/algebraic notation has been implemented to prevent cases of cheating such as switching the placement of the pieces. This ensures that competitive tournaments are clean and free of cheap tricks, this is necessary to maintain order in a playing hall.

There are also many other ways that players can cheat in order to get a dirty win, such as promoting to a different square, changing the color of the bishop, taking back a move, or downright making illegal moves. If there are no records of the game there isn’t a reliable source to verify any cases of cheating.

The chess games would be thrown into chaos, especially in competitive tournaments where participants are drooling for the prize money. Most chess players are actually broke, it will not be unusual to see cheating at top tier events if players don’t write their move.

Even chess computers are being used to get an easy win, if one can easily lie in order to win games the barrier to cheating would not be hard to overcome. We also have to remember that not all chess games are being monitored by a camera, this means that low-tiered tournaments will also have cases of cheating if there are no records.

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Chess notations are used for conflict resolution

In competitive chess people are going to be arguing all the time, winning is the difference between having a career in chess or not. This is why the recording of moves becomes mandatory, so there is something to look up to when a conflict arises.

Chess players write down their moves in order to resolve any disputes that may come up in games, false accusations have happened before after all. In a competitive setting people are willing to do whatever it takes to get an advantage, the scoresheet serves as an evidence for conflict resolution.

Written evidence of the moves are some of the reliable methods for conflict resolution, real laws for example have been written down in exact detail. If a newly passed law has even a stint of complication it will definitely cause problems, everything has to align with the truth.

It is the same with the record of games, whenever someone tries to “sue” someone to the chess arbiters, the records are used to settle the concern. It is solid evidence since both players will write down the moves as they play, therefore verifying the entire picture of the chess game.

Players record their moves in order to fill the databases

Another reason why people document their moves on the scoresheet is because it serves as a record in the library book maintained by databases, basically to show the game to the public. Chess games that are being analyzed today wouldn’t exist if people are not writing down their moves, it is necessary for documentation.

Unlike basketball or baseball games, recording chess games with a camera is impractical. If we are talking about blitz then it is usually fine, the length wouldn’t matter that much and everything can be captured.

But what if the game in question happened to be a classical game? It would be a disaster, the game would last for hours with clips of players staring at the chessboard. One could even argue that rapid games are also too long for a camera recording, it is impractical to record the beauty of the games on video.

Moreover this point doesn’t even matter that much since people didn’t have cameras back in the day, during the era of Morphy people cannot video occurrences. But why do we have records of games played by Morphy? or Steinitz? It is because people have written down their moves to be remembered by the next generation.

Records of chess notations can be used by the player to analyze their games

The records of moves are used to fill the databases, but I have the suspicion that notations were created for self-reflection rather than publicity. When chess masters have a record of the games that they have played, they have an opportunity to find improvements in their understanding.

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How else can a chess player improve if they are unable to see what made the lose a particular game? or what has made them lose many games in general? It’s like trying to see if your face is ugly without being in front of a mirror, you can only believe third party biased opinions of people who have seen your face.

You can never truly understand what made you face so ugly, is it the nose, the eyes, or perhaps the jawline? You can only guess if you never step in front of a mirror. The record of games is like that mirror, it allows players to address their specific needs that they can review for themselves.

Personally for the player, there is also something to be gained from writing their moves down. They are able to analyze their own mistakes afterwards and improve on them, there isn’t any replay in chess like what we see in basketball for example, notations serve to fill that hole.

Chess notations can be used to verify a threefold repetition

Records of chess notations are also necessary to keep any threefold repetition legitimate, players can just claim otherwise after the fact. By keeping a record of the exact moves, the players are able to verify with the arbiter that a threefold repetition did occur.

Threefold repetition is a condition in competitive chess where the game is automatically drawn when the same moves are repeated 3 times, a key element of modern chess. If players were to repeat their 3 times it would be considered perpetual, basically where players move back and forth without progress.

This is why a threefold repetition has been created, to prevent players from stalling and reaching additional time in classical games for example. However there is a downside to this, it is easy to claim that a threefold repetition didn’t occur, by saying that the moves weren’t truly repeated.

One can say that they actually moved to a different square making the repetition null, and in the heat of the moment their opponent may not remember everything correctly. The recording of moves easily solves this, as both players write down their moves it is as if they are putting signature to the game’s true nature, one cannot dispute a threefold repetition this way.

Chess notations can be used in enforcing the 50 or 75 move rule

Adding from the threefold repetition, recording down moves is also necessary for verifying a 50 move/75 move draw by default. The 50 move and 75 move rule states that a game is considered drawn if no pawn is pushed or captured in the last 50 to 75 moves, this is to prevent stalling.

Chess tournaments have to abide by a particular time schedule which means that stalling should be prevented, the playing hall can only be accommodated at a certain time frame. This rule is implemented to prevent excess playing when a draw is the only conclusion, this is to preserve the player’s energy as well.

There are certain endgames that may theoretically be possible to convert but can be hard to win in real games, this rule is to target those endgames. In competitions where players want to do everything in order to win, they might not give up a hard to convert endgame, even if it is beyond their abilities.

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This is where this rule comes in, the only downside is that it can be hard to verify, players don’t count each of the moves they have played. Most would only focus on the game without really counting how many moves has passed since a pawn is captured or push, this can lead to confusion.

Also there is usually a time constraint in endgames like this, players have to notice the clock instead of counting the moves. This is where the record of the game comes in, it can be used to verify whether 50 or 75 moves have really passed, therefore enforcing the rule when necessary.

This is one of the uses of written records, if a pawn was not pushed/captured in a particular span of time, it could be counted in the scoresheet how many moves have actually been made afterwards.

Records of chess notations can be used to verify the loss on time control

Lastly, written records can be used as evidence that a player did not run out of time. If one were to suddenly argue that their opponent lost on time it could be verified in the written scoresheet, this makes the game fair.

If somebody really loses on time, both players will write such a result at the scoresheet, this will confirm the time control loss. If the game however reaches the final move then it can be seen, the final move can be observed at the scoresheet.

If a player really loses on time the position wouldn’t even be a conclusive endgame most likely, it would be a middlegame to early endgame where anything could still happen. This can be used by more experienced players to verify the loss on time, or one could just look up at the time control loss verification on the scoresheet.

One could falsely accuse a winning player of running out of time, the arbiter can review the notations to tell if this is true. If there were no recordings it is really hard to tell who is right in the matters of time control, with this it can ensure that no wrong accusations can be made.

Providing a written document containing both player’s moves is necessary for a fair game of chess, it ensures that claims can be verified via the viewing of notations. Casual games where the games are not recorded will always be full of trickery and deception, people will do anything in order to get a win. 

You can see this in games with chess hustlers, they will do anything just to convert a losing position into a winning one, even if they have to cheat. This is disgraceful if it ever reaches competitive chess, there are so many useful benefits in writing down the moves.

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