descriptive chess notation[ edit ]

Descriptive chess notation, descriptive notation, English descriptive notation or English notation is a notation for recording chess games, and at one time was the most popular notation for doing so. It has been superseded by algebraic chess notation, but is still important for understanding older chess books.

Naming squares on the board

In descriptive chess notation each square has two names, depending on black´s or white´s viewpoint. Each file is given a name corresponding with the piece that occupies the first rank at the start of the game. Thus the queen´s rank is named ´Q´ and the king´s rank is named ´K´.
Since there are two each of the remaining pieces on the first rank, it is necessary to distinguish between them. The pieces to the left of the queen are named with respect to the queen i.e. ´queen´s rook´, ´queen´s knight´ and ´queen´s bishop´ and have the shortened names ´QR´, ´QKt´ and ´QB´ respectively.
Similarly, the pieces to the right of the king are named with respect to the king i.e. ´king´s rook´, ´king´s knight´ and ´king´s bishop´ and have the shortened names ´KR´, ´KKt´ and ´KB´ respectively.
The rank is given a number, ranging from 1 to 8, with rank 1 being closest to the player.
This method of naming the squares means that each square has one name from white´s point of view and another from black´s. For instance, the bottom left square (´a1´ in algebraic chess notation) is called "queen´s rook 1" (QR1) by white and "king´s rook 1" (KR1) by black.

Naming the pieces

Each piece´s name in descriptive notation is based on its initial. English speaking players use K for king, Q for queen, R for rook, B for bishop, Kt or N for knight and P for pawn.

Notation for moves

Each move of a piece is indicated by a sequence of characters. Castling has its own sequence of characters and special indicators are added to the end of the sequence if relevant.

A move without capture is represented by the the piece´s name, a hyphen and the square at the end of the move e.g. Kt-QB3 (knight to queen´s bishop 3).

A move with capture is represented by the piece´s name, a cross (x) and the destination square is identified by the name of the piece captured e.g. QxKt (queen captures knight).

Special indicators that are appended to the move include e.p. (en passant), Ch (Check), Mate (Checkmate), Resign, and Draw.

The sequence O-O is used for a king side castle and O-O-O for a queen side castle.

Typically, the move will record only enough information to make the move unambiguous.
A pawn capturing a pawn may be shown as PxP if it is the only one possible, or as BPxP if only one of the player´s Bishop´s Pawns can capture another pawn, or as QBPxP, or PxQBP, or other such variations.

As a last resort, the location of a capture or the starting point of a move may also be shown, delimited with parentheses or a slash, as BxN/QB6, or R(R3)-Q3. Sometimes only the rank or file is indicated, as R(6)xN.

Parentheses are also used to indicate promotion: P-R8(Q).


By identifying each square with reference to the player on move, descriptive notation better reflects the symmetry of the game´s starting position ("both players opened with P-K4 and planned to play B-KN2 as soon as possible"),
and because the pieces captured are named, it is easy to skim over a game record and see which ones have been taken at any particular point.


Confusion can arise because the squares are named diffently.
In comparison, algebraic notation represents the same moves with fewer characters, on average, and can avoid confusion since it always represents the same square in the same way.

categories: myChess-Wiki | chess terminology | descriptive chess notation
article No 614 / last change on 2005-06-29, 05:13pm

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