Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People


The Scottish journalist and chess player, David Forsyth (1854-1909), created a simple system for describing chess positions. It was later extended by Steven J Edwards so that computers could use the notation to store more detailed information about a position.

Forsyth's system

Examples of common positions

Starting position rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR
Italian game r1bqk1nr/pppp1ppp/2n5/2b1p3/2B1P3/5N2/PPPP1PPP/RNBQK2R
Mate for Black 8/8/8/8/8/6k1/8/3q3K
Stalemate 1k6/1P6/1K6/8/8/8/8/8

Edwards adaptations

Braille books and websites describing positions will often only use the notation as described above. The rest of the notation gives more specific information about the game and is normally used by computers.

There are six fields used in the full notation, each separated by a space.

1. Position

The previous section outlines how this works.

2. Player to move

A lower case "w" means White to move and a lower case "b" means Black to move.

3. Castling rights

A single hyphen means that neither player can castle. If this is not the case, a combination of four letters shows what castling rights both players have. The letters K and Q are used to show whether king-side or queen-side castling is possible. As with the position notation, upper case means white and lower case means black. Examples:

- Neither side can castle
KQkq All castling is possible
Kk Both sides can only castle short
kq Black can castle either way
Qk White can castle long and Black short

4. En passant square

This field is used to show if a pawn has just moved forward two squares. If no such move has been made it shows a hyphen, otherwise it will show the square behind the pawn where a pawn would land if capturing en passant.

5. Half move clock

This number increases by one each time either player moves until a pawn is moved or a piece is captured at which point it is set to zero. It is used to determine if a 50 move draw can be claimed.

6. Move number

This shows the move number as written down in a score sheet. The first move of the game for both white and black is 1, the second is 2, the third is 3, and so on.