Algebraic Notation is the modern standard for recording chess games. It is easily human-readable, yet it can be parsed by computers without difficulty.

Descriptive notation predates algebraic significantly. Essentially all English-language chess literature from 1960 or earlier records moves descriptively. The Wikipedia article doesn't provide sources for who developed this notation or when it emerged. There's an unsubstantiated reference on the Chess Notation Wikipedia page to 18th century usage, and it claims that Philidor's defeat of Philip Stamma stunted the growth of algebraic notation. Hence the question:

Is there any history as to when descriptive chess notation emerged, and who developed it?

  • "Essentially all chess literature from 1960 or earlier records moves descriptively." - I have a book of studies by Grigoriev printed in 1954. No descriptive notation... You must be referring to "chess literature in English". I am curious what notation Capablanca used when writing down his moves though!
    – Joe
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 20:16
  • You have a point. I've made that change. As to Capablanca, I don't know what he used to record his games, but note that in his Chess Fundamentals he uses descriptive notation. Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 20:32
  • Which 'descriptive notation'? I am sure every language (and maybe region) had its own.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 14:50
  • Perhaps. The Wikipedia page refers to English and Spanish descriptive notation. I'll do some digging tonight and see whether I can turn up any others to narrow the question a little. Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 13:44
  • Every language had its own notation based on that languages names of the pieces. In English B-N5 would be A-C5 in spanish with alfil for bilshop and caballo for horsie. D would be dama R would be Rey and T for Rook. Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 18:56

2 Answers 2


AFAIK, Edward Lasker (not Emmanuel) Lasker was the only master player resident in the USA to publish in Algebraic before the 1970s, substituting English initials for the German he would have used before immigrating. Not only are Bobby Fischer's books in Descriptive, so are his scoresheets.

I don't know about 18th Century usage, but I have read 19th Century British works that use a descriptive phrase like "King to his third square" for K-K3, either Ke6 or Ke3 (the color being obvious by whose turn it is to play). The transition from phrasing to a strictly symbolic Descriptive notation, I can't help with.


Descriptive notation was just the easy shorthand for writing out the moves in detail or even starting to abbrev them until the minimal amount of description remained.

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