Chess Oldies – Really Descriptive Notation

You’re probably familiar with descriptive notation, the once standard manner of writing down games. With this form of recording a battle, the moves are described from the vantage point of the player on the move and in relation to their pieces starting squares. It’s also often referred to as simply old notation, ever since the advent of the current standard, algebraic form.

Many people who did not grow up on descriptive notation find it difficult to grasp. Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that each square has two names depending on whether it is a White or Black move. For example, the d4 square is either Q4 (Queen 4) from White’s point of view, or Q5 from Black’s.

Further complicating the situation is the apparent necessity of remembering from whence each piece came. This is because, when, say, two knights can both land on the same square, the piece making the move is distinguished by whether it is the KN (King’s Knight) or the QN that is to occupy that space.

You may find it interesting to learn there’s an even older, even more descriptive chess notation that was once the way games were recorded. It looked a little like the following pulled from Philidor’s classic instructional entitled Chess Analysed.

White. The King’s Pawn two Steps.
Black. The fame.

W. The King’s Bifhop at his Queen’s Bishop’s fourth Square.
B. The fame.

W. The Queen’s Bifhop’s Pawn one Move.
B. The King’s Knight at his Bifhop’s third Square.

W. The Queen’s Pawn two Moves.
B. The Pawn takes it.

W. The Pawn retakes the Pawn.
B. The King’s Bifhop at his Queen’s Knight’s third Square.

W. The Queen’s Knight at his Bifhop’s third Square.
B. The King caftles.

W. The King’s Knight at his King’s fecond Square.
B. The Queen’s Bifhop’s Pawn one Move.

W. The King’s Bifhop at his Queen’s third Square.
B. The Queen’s Pawn two Moves.

Seriously, each move pair took up three lines(!), one for the move number, and full sentences for both the White and Black moves. Notice also the almost arbitrary capitalization throughout and the ‘f’s in Bishop and castles. These latter are, of course, the letter ‘s’, but in olden times, they were more like long f’s.

Here’s that same start in our beloved algebraic notation.

1.e4 e5
2.Bc4 Bc5
3.c3 Nf6
4.d4 exd4
5.cxd4 Bb6
6.Nc3 0-0
7.Nge2 c6
8.Bd3 d5

To read the rest of this classic book, and others, painstakingly converted for you, be sure to visit

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