The good old (descriptive) days

Once upon a time (especially in the US and UK) chess games were recorded using the beautiful descriptive notation.  I'm sure most players at are well aware of this, but there may be some kids to whom this comes as a shock. 

This old method is less efficient and can more easily become ambiguous unless the author is careful, but it is nonetheless more poetic and compelling than the soulless algebraic notation that the young'uns insist on using because they know nothing else. Wink

When chess moves are portrayed in popular culture, you invariably hear moves announced as "Pawn to King's Four" or "Knight to Queen's Bishop Three", using the evocative descriptive notation.  For dramatic effect such language beats, "e2 to e4" and "Knight b1 to c3" hands down.

I'm not suggesting that we go back to descriptive notation - algebraic is neater, quicker and fits into the modern computer age better.  However, I would like to appeal to all those who ignore or disrespect the old notation - please make an effort to learn to read it.  It may be different from what you're used to, but it's not difficult to learn and many great old books in the descriptive format can be picked up cheaply.

Having been brought up with descriptive notation, I consider it my native chess 'tongue'.  I find that I can picture the moves of a game more easily if I read them in descriptive notation.  Hang on a minute, that's it - I've finally worked out my ultimate excuse for why I lose at chess - I'm playing in a 'second' language. Wink

Long live descriptive notation! Laughing


  • 9 years ago


    I learned algebraic notation when I first learned to play. While I can, of course, read descriptive notation, I don't find it easy and much prefer algebraic. But, the odd part is, if I'm playing with a friend who isn't so into chess that he knows any notation, I resort to descriptive notation in discussing the game. People for whom "Nc3" is meaningless, easily comprehend "Knight to Bishop three."

    One attribute of descriptive notation that you didn't mention is that it works exactly the same from either White's or Black's perspective. Unlike most people who seem to have no problem with this, when I play Black, I sometimes mess up the notation from looking at the board upside down. With descriptive notation, that's not an issue. "Knight to Bishop Three" is the same whether you're White or Black.

    A second reason to learn descriptive notation is that many fine books have been written in that notation and have never been, and never will be, modernized.

     Thanks for the posting.

  • 9 years ago


    When i 1st learn about chess  it was on algrebraic notation, i knew the exisence of descriptive notation but i've never see it, not even in books, after i saw this post and look to your diagram i tryed to figure out a good point of this description but i failed to do it. i dont see any good point about it compared to the algebraic notation. And the point about the nostalgic feeling seems to me like feeling sad becouse now we use calculator instead abacus, sorry i fail to see the point Foot in mouth.
  • 9 years ago


    the first language i learned was the descriptive .. but i soon transferred to the algebraic and for a long time never looked back .. however, i'm now completing chernev's .. logical chess move by move .. in the old notation .. and i have come to admire it  .. i know the algebraic is more efficient .. but when you say queen five .. it has a meaning which is the same for white and for black .. but to say it in in the algebraic .. you have to say one thing for white and another for black ..

     i know there is no going back to the old style .. but i can't help but feel something was lost in translation

  • 9 years ago


    I also grew up on the "old language". When I picked the game up again to teach my grandson, there was difficulty in not seeing an e4 from both sides. Even now with some of my posts I have to double check to make sure the numbers aren't xposed.
  • 9 years ago


    sorry ,like metric (i hate to admit some one french actually did something beneficial !)modern notation is simply better
  • 9 years ago


    Algebraic is just plain better....


    Who the f*** cares about 'poetry' when you can have ruthless efficiency?

  • 9 years ago


    I can only use algebraic and the descriptive frustrates me for some reason - but it is too bad, I've frequented used bookstores that have excellent reasources but it's not in my "language".

    I will admit I can understand the nostalgia for it. It is much more regal sounding - it's evocative of ownership (ie. "The King's Pawn") and it harkens back to the days before computers streamlined the system.

    I don't know if I'll ever learn it, but I do like to see it championed. Cool post, SonofPearl.

  • 9 years ago


    I personally like the descriptive notation better. It was hard for me to get used to the Algebraic, but that's what everyone uses today, and you know the deal; In this case you cannot beat them, you have to join them.
  • 9 years ago


    Very easy the beautiful descriptive notation. Embarassed But the old French notation in he journal La Régence? It is so difficult! Surprised
  • 9 years ago


    Very interesting, thanks.
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