This may sound incredibly naive, but all the time on T.V, movies, books, etc. People can be heard saying things like "Queen to Rook 5" or like "Knight to King 3" and things like this.

What is this? I found some "notation" stuff on Wikipedia but it was all about writing down the moves for like tournaments. Basically, I just ask because a friend and I occasionally play together and we've more than once expressed an interest in learning this verbal chess description bit so we could play on Vent (he lives 8 hours from here).

2 Answers 2


Your examples are using Descriptive notation. For example, "Queen to Rook 5" (Q-R5) means "move the queen to the fifth row of the board (viewed from my perspective), and to the same column that had a rook in the starting position". You may notice that "Rook 5" could refer to two different squares, one on the leftmost column of the board and one on the rightmost. If you needed to distinguish between the two because the queen could move to either square, you'd say something like "Queen to King's Rook 5" (Q-KR5).

Descriptive notation was popular in English-speaking countries for most of the 20th century, and if you buy a chess book written before 1980 the moves will likely be in this format, but it is now basically obsolete.

Everyone has now pretty much moved over to Algebraic notation, which is much simpler. The rows of the chessboard are numbered from 1 to 8 moving away from White, and the columns are lettered from a to h from left to right from White's point of view. So White's move "Queen to King's Rook 5" in descriptive would be "Queen h5" (Qh5) in algebraic, and Black's move "Queen to King's Rook 5" would be "Queen h4" (Qh4).

Algebraic notation is much simpler than descriptive and is also the overwhelmingly more popular method of describing chess moves today, so I recommend that you use it.

  • 4
    Simpler and uglier, like poetry reduced to prose.
    – Kyle Jones
    Commented Mar 31, 2013 at 20:47
  • 1
    We'll probably bother to learn both, honestly. We're both in our mid 20's but we're a nostalgic pair. We do things like hand write letters to each other on parchment with old fountain pens and then seal them with wax... and play MMO's on expensive gaming computers while chatting on ventrillo... SO yeah.. we'll probably just use both. Thanks.
    – Arammil
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 1:18
  • 1
    Some chess concepts are harder to talk/write about in general with algebraic instead of descriptive, so it makes sense to know both ("rook on the seventh" and the family of sacrifices on King Rook 7 -- KR7 -- to name two). But be forewarned that most TV/Movie dialog with chess notation gets it wrong, anyway.
    – Arlen
    Commented Jun 30, 2013 at 19:29
  • Descriptive notation was probably more convenient for players who would verbally announce their own moves, when using a chessboard without printed legends.
    – supercat
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 23:11
  • If the OP is really into old notations, old descriptive notation may be of interest, in which only squares on the lower half of the board are 'mine' (Queen to (my/white) King's Rook 4), whereas squares on the upper half are 'his' (Queen to his/black King's Rook 4).
    – user30536
    Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 6:34

I would say to just both learn Algebraic Notation. It is not so hard, and it will definitely benefit you in the long run.

8 |                 |
7 |                 |
6 |                 |
5 |                 |
4 |                 |
3 |                 |
2 |                 |
1 |                 |
    A B C D E F G H

There are 8 rows ( 1 - 8 ) and 8 columns ( A - H ). When moving, you use a prefix of the piece name ( pawn - no prefix, knight - N, bishop - B, queen - Q, rook - R, king - K ), and a suffix of where the piece will end up. Some examples: e4, Bg2, Nf6, 0-0 which means to castle king side, 0-0-0 which means to caste queen side, Qxf7++ which means Queen takes on f7 checkmate, a8=Q pawn promotes to a Queen, Re1.

The point of using notation is to speed up the recording of the game, but can also be used during blindfold chess or over vent, skype, or some other voip technology. As such, saying "my bishop takes your bishop" or "BxB" is perfectly acceptable.

One final note, when it is hard to figure out the exact notation, you can always say "a1 to e1" or "a1e1" ( see here for some explanation on ambiguities How are PGN ambiguities handled? ).

Usually people refer to 1. e4. If you were to tell most chess players you like to open with e4 they will know what you meant. The same would go halfway through the game if you said Nh6.

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