When I was young I used to play chess with the the old form of notation KB (King Bishop square number), even books used to have the same notation, then later found that everyone was using algebraic, is descriptive notation dead? Why?


Though the previous answers have made some solid points, I think they have not yet given the main reason why algebraic notation has generally come to be preferred over descriptive notation: it is more absolute, less relative, than descriptive notation. What I mean is just this: in algebraic notation each square on the chessboard receives only one name, while in descriptive notation each square receives a different name depending on whether a move by white is being notated or a move by black. This alone makes algebraic notation more transparent, because things aren't relative to which side is on the move.

Consider, say, the g4 square (in algebraic notation). When white moves a piece there, descriptive notation says it is headed to KN4. But if black is moving a piece there, it is headed to KN5. There is just no need to have two names for this square, and it serves only to sow possible confusion in a way that algebraic notation does not.

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    As a good example of the advantages of algebraic over descriptive, consider defining the concept of a fianchetto. In descriptive you'd have to say "a fianchertto is when you play P-N3 and B-N2; in algebraic you can simply say it's when White plays b3 and Bb2 or g3 and Bg2, or Black plays b6 and Bb7 or g6 and Bg7. – bof Jun 26 '16 at 19:40
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    Isn't this an example of advantage of descriptive notation – jf328 Jun 28 '16 at 15:24
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    The whole QN-B5 thing is annoying too. which knight is the queen's knight? You have to review the whole game history to find out, if there have been a lot of knight moves. – M.M Jun 30 '16 at 2:05
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    @jf328 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony – bof Jul 2 '16 at 1:05

The two forms of notation you are referring to are called Descriptive Notation and Algebraic Notation respectively. Descriptive notation was the most used form from recent antiquity up until about 1970 in English speaking countries. Algebraic notation has been around since the 19th century, but didn't rise to its current prominence until the 20th century. These days, descriptive notation is considered obsolete, though it is still permitted in tournament play in the FIDE. There are a minority of players that exercise this choice, though. Primarily, descriptive notation is learned and used for reading older chess books which were authored that way.

There are also some other interesting notations in use around the world. Hope that helps clear things up.

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  • I'm from Argentina (Spanish speaking) and learnt chess with (spanish) books with descriptive notation. – leonbloy Jan 18 '13 at 2:05

To answer your question if descriptive notation is dead, I would say YES. Even though it maybe more descriptive, it can be more confusing for newer players and the algebraic notation is so much more intuitive and simpler to understand. I have read books with the descriptive notation and sometimes I scratch my head.

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I used to read chess books in the 1960's. Then DN was the only commonly understood system. I didn't go looking for chess books again until this year 2018. Now everything is in AN. I have a book published in the 1970's bought recently second hand it actually uses both. I recently found some chess magazines in Spanish from the 1990's they all use AN.

For me DN is much more intuitive...not really intuitive ...just common sense. There are two people sitting at the board, so there really ARE two perspectives.


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    Welcome to Stack Exchange! Your answer provides an interesting commentry on the subject matter of the question, but does not tell us when and why the notation was changed. Could you edit your answer to include these details? If you haven't already, please also take the Tour and visit the Help Centre – Aric Aug 20 '18 at 15:13
  • I don't see what's intuitive about a square having more than one designation, or what's intuitive about having to disambiguate which BP or RP or whatever you're moving. I started chess in the 1980s, and learned both AN and DN at the same time, and always found AN far more elegant and intuitive, to the point that I've never used DN by choice. I don't think DN is intuitive to anyone who didn't learn it exclusively and use it for years before switching to AN. When you learn both at the same time, it's obvious that AN is far superior. – ddq1708 Oct 8 '18 at 15:31

"Descriptive" notation is only descriptive if you speak English. Algebraic removes some of the English and some potential ambiguities. Figurine Algebraic is even less language-centric, though it is still Christian-centric.

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    I'd rather say "science-centric", as it borrows from the concept of a coordiante system, which was formalized by Rene Descartes. I find it funny how many blessings of modern civilization are wrongly attributed to christianity. – Landei May 21 '12 at 12:40
  • If speak spanish, and grew up reading chess books in descriptive notation (in spanish). – leonbloy Jan 18 '13 at 2:04
  • @landei - I was speaking of the Cross on top of the King. That's a Christian symbol. – Tony Ennis Jan 18 '13 at 2:58
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    The cross was part of many crowns ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_crown ), so it is a reference to an emperor, and hence just an indirect reference to Christianity. – Landei Jan 18 '13 at 9:51
  • The Bishop figurine often has a cross as well (though in most languages the piece is called something else like elephant, runner, fool; Alfil is from Arabic al-fil = the elephant). – Noam D. Elkies Jun 26 '16 at 20:02

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