How does algebra relate to this chess notation?

Why do they call this chess notation algebraic?

  • 7
    This is pure speculation, but co-ordinate pairs on a graph are integral to elementary algebra, and algebraic notation is entirely co-ordinate pairs. Commented May 2, 2013 at 13:18
  • 1
    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
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 10:06

3 Answers 3


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.

  • 1
    This is speculation.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented May 18, 2013 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
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 17:10

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".


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.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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