The Language of Chess

All but the most casual chess players are familiar with Algebraic or Standard Notation such as 1. e4  e5  2. Bc4  Nf6 and all serious students of the game are conversant in the Descriptive Notation that is still found in classic chess books:  1.  P – K4,  P – K4  2. B - QB4,  Kt – KB3.  But how many players are aware of the great cacophony of voices that have cried out for recognition as The Language of Chess?   

There are interesting and sometimes surprising stories behind these two common notations, but there are far more notations that have been invented than just Algebraic and Descriptive.  Some of you will at least recognize the name of Forsyth-Edwards Notation (FEN) or Portable Game Notation (PGN) because they are also widely used for different purposes (or purpi as the more educated prefer to write for that plural).

And yet there are more.  For example we may choose to describe chess in any of the following:  Correspondence Notation, Uedemann Code, Gringmuth Notation, Universal Notation, Universal Chess Notation (different from Universal Notation), Prince Notation, Dynamic Chess Notation, Extended Position Description, Smith Notation, Concise Reversible, the Guy-Blandford-Roycroft code and a Babel of others.  Some of these are mainstream in the sense that they are used today for specific purpi (or purposes, if you insist).  Others are not mainstream at all and have died a merciful, though generally deserved death.

The desire to create new notations is evidently an insatiable compulsion that afflicts the chess body, as a narcotic afflicts the addict.  Chess junkies continue to invent new systems to describe the game.  As an example of such an invention-in-progress, the reader is invited to click on this link to discover the crack-high of Steno-Chess.

When faced with an otherwise unordered set of objects, in this case notational systems, the scientist in me wishes to create a classification system so as to place these objects into emotionally satisfying groups that share common characteristics.  I have had the experience more than once in my scientific career whereby what seemed a creative and brilliant idea had already been conceived and described years before by others more creative and brilliant than myself.

Thus, I have spent some time to see if such an existing taxonomy exists for chess notational systems, but I have not been able to discover any existing broad classification system.  The Oxford Companion to Chess does refer to some notational systems as being ‘coordinate’ whereby each rank and file has its own unique label, allowing any of the 64 squares to be described by indexing it with those labels.  Standard or algebraic notation is the best-known example of a coordinate notation since each square is uniquely identified by a name such as ‘e4’ or ‘f5’.  Some of the other notations cited above are also coordinate systems, but others are not coordinate at all, the best-known of those being, of course, Descriptive Notation. 

In Descriptive Notation the same square has two differing names and a given move description is ambiguous, as is shown in the first paragraph above where P – K4 means either pawn to e5 or pawn to e4, depending on whether the player is Black or White.  To disambiguate, one must know which side is moving, Black or White. 

In natural languages like French, Farsi or Frisian ambiguity can be a source of beauty or humor, but in a formal language for chess it is an abomination that must be exterminated for the same reasons that it is not allowed in the formal languages of mathematics or logic.

But returning to the notion of a typology for chess languages, the concept of a coordinate system of notation is a useful one.  What other classifications do you think would be useful? I intend to write about that topic in a future blog, but I thought I would first solicit my readers’ own ideas for interesting and useful categories, so please leave your ideas in a comment.   View this as an experiment in the wisdom of crowds and let us see what we can come up with collectively.


  • 7 years ago


    I wonder what would happen if I walked into school one day and told everyone I speak "chess".... My popularity would plummet Wink

  • 7 years ago


    The notation I would like to be seen used is a long algebraic or coordinate system.  It does not have the ambiguity of which piece from what square moved where that can sometime arise from either the descriptive or the short algebraic systems.  Each square on the chessboard has an unique identifier understood by both White and Black.  You know the identity of the piece that is moving, its starting square, and its ending square.  When you capture a piece, it is written much the same as it would be in short algebraic.  Check and checkmate are the same also, appending a '+' for check and '#' for mate to destination square.  My example below is for a Ruy Lopez Opening.


    Example: Descriptive:

    1. P-K4  P-K4   2. N-KB3  N-QB3   3. B-B5  P-QR3   4. BxN  QPxB

    Example: Short Algebraic:

    1. e4  e5  2. Nf3  Nc6  3. Bb5  a6  4. Bxc6  dxc6

    Example: Long Algebraic (at least that is the name I have heard for it):

    1. Pe4-e5  Pe7-e5   2. Ng1-f3  Nb8-c6  3. Bf1-b5  Pa7-a6  4. Bb5xc6  Pd7xc6


    Anyway, thanks for letting me express my opinion,


  • 7 years ago


    Deep blue thinks Tyrone's notation is abstruse

  • 7 years ago


    I fully agree with phobetor, Tyrone's suggestion looks far superior to both algebraic and descriptive notations.

    After all, there is a huge difference in capturing protected or unprotected pieces, something the soon-to-be-outdated description systems fail to capture.

  • 7 years ago


    Purpi? are you serious?

  • 7 years ago


    why fix what isnt broke? algebraic notation is just fine with me.

  • 7 years ago


    When you play an official game the algebraic notation seems to be the reliable.

    You also can study a game easy, since you recall moves from your memory.

  • 7 years ago


    tyrone, I never saw that notation before, but it looks very practical! Such simplicity, such clarity. Maybe you could write a letter to FIDE to make it the official standard for chess notation? :)

  • 7 years ago


    I prefer the algebraic notation. The other notation (It is actually called the "English Notation") gets confusing sometimes.

  • 7 years ago


    I think the new chess language should be the B-Method Descriptive Squares Notation, since the B-method instructional Chessbase software was so clear and instructive. It goes something like this:

    33. N + SQc(b) + R(4) + L(lr) = SQc(w) + R(5) + L(rl) * (p+ SQc(w) + R(5) + L(rl)/x, B R(2))

    This would mean that on the 33rd move, a Knight moves from a black square on the 4th rank located on the left-hand side of the rightside of the board to a 5th ranked white square, located on the right-hand side of the leftside of the board (currently being occupied by a pawn which will be taken by the knight, yet is being protected by a bishop on the 2nd rank).

  • 7 years ago


    i had some books by euwe i read in older notation, and it was quite hard to get at first, but you pick it up fast

  • 7 years ago


    Anybody tried chess with Mors signals? BRAVO alphabet?

    Maybe Binary code? Just asking i just play.

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