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How does algebra relate to this chess notation?

Why do they call this chess notation algebraic?

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    This is pure speculation, but co-ordinate pairs on a graph are integral to elementary algebra, and algebraic notation is entirely co-ordinate pairs. – Jonathan Garber May 2 '13 at 13:18
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    May be because in algebra, symbols (x,y,z,a,b,c, etc...) are used, with numbers, to represent things, and since positions in this notation make use of symbols (and numbers) for position locations or coordinates (e4,c5, . vs. just pure numbers as in (5,6) and (4,7) etc.... so it is algebraic notations. i.e. uses symbols as in algebra. (we can't have algebra if all what we had is numbers) – Nasser May 13 '13 at 10:06
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I think that Jonathan Garber is right. Much of algebra has to do with equation in an x y coordinate plane which is very similar to the way that algebraic notation denotes specific squares on the board. I have however not been able to find any specific source of the information.

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  • This is speculation. – Tony Ennis May 18 '13 at 13:31
  • This is the correct answer according to the paper The Mathematical Knight (ps file) by Elkies and Stanley at MIT, published in the Springer Journal Math. Intelligencer 25 (2003). – Pål GD Jul 20 '13 at 17:10
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Algebra is more than simply a branch of mathematics. The central element of it is using symbols as abstractions, the way the notation uses letters and numbers to represent the squares, as opposed to the systems where the square is more concretely described, as "King Bishop 4" for example.

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Algebraic notation is quite old. It is based on a system created by Philipp Stamma (c.1705–55) before descriptive notation started to evolve. There is no indication that anyone with a mathematical background had anything to do with its development or spreading, so my best guess is that they called it "algebraic" simply because it uses coordinates. The funny thing is that there is nothing algebraic about coordinates. If anything, it should be called "geometric notation", but somehow "algebraic" sounds better; as if it is more accurate.

In brief, I strongly suspect that they just called it "algebraic".

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