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 Jan 11 '13 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. – Jonathan Garber Jan 11 '13 at 20:32
  • Which 'descriptive notation'? I am sure every language (and maybe region) had its own. – Tony Ennis Jan 12 '13 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. – Jonathan Garber Jan 14 '13 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. – edwina oliver Feb 19 '20 at 18:56

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.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.