I have several chess books, all of which use the P-K4 type of notation rather than the e4 type. I am still more used to the older form, since those books were my first introduction to chess literature.

I'd like to find out if anyone still uses it or can read it (1 P-K4, P-KB4; 2 N-KB3, N-QB3; etc). As far as I've seen, it's only in books.

7 Answers 7


The new way of notating - algebraic notation - has pretty much completely replaced the old way - descriptive notation. Most people nowadays use algebraic notation, except old players who are very stuck in their ways.

However, there is still a purpose in learning descriptive notation: reading old books. Some of my favorite old chess books are only available in descriptive notation, so you have to be able to keep track of long series of moves in descriptive notation.


It's much easier to work the game in your head with descriptive notation, so it's good if you're reading the game. Descriptive notation lets you know overtly which piece took which, like PxQ. Having said that, it's not used much anymore, you'll only see it in old references.

Algebraic notation was adopted by FIDE because most of the world used it, so it was international, even if the letters used were different in different countries. It was pushed in the US in the 70s with Fisher's success, since chess was booming then, and so were book sales. The book publishers didn't want to have to print two different versions of the book for different notation markets. It really caught on in the US once chess-playing computers and software came out, since most of those used it.

Algebraic notation's first recorded use was in The Noble Game of Chess by Philipp Stamma in 1745:

First Algebraic Notation Recorded

  • Actually, I find it much easier to use algebraic notation than descriptive notation in my head - that is just preference, I suppose. Algebraic notation's popularity has nothing to do with internationalization - every language uses different characters to represent the pieces in both forms of notation. See here. Very often on chess forums, I'll see non-native english speakers using D for Queen and T for Rook. Jun 19, 2011 at 5:08
  • @Blue, see update. Jun 19, 2011 at 5:23

I prefer Descriptive Notation, mainly because it's what I grew up with, and I can visualize the moves without the board (though not good enough to play blindfolded). I have to translate (at least in my head), when reading algebraic notation (and do that easier if I have a picture of a board in front of me).


I still use descriptive notation, and I can read it, and I also have some old chess books with it. Algebraic seems to be used about everywhere now much more often; I play on the Internet Chess Club and that is all they use there. I put in a suggestion for them to have descriptive as an option but they haven't gone that way. It is like some of the other answerers said here, algebraic is International. But to answer your question: yes, I still use it and I like it. I am in the middle of 4 correspondence games with a friend of mine who lives about 200 miles away. They are rated games, and we have to use algebraic, but when we talk by phone, I discuss the games in descriptive. He understands both like I do. I would say just go with what you feel comfortable with, but algebraic is just about forced on us now. It is good to know both, in my humble opinion.


I could "almost" play "part of" a game, blindfolded, using Descriptive notation. I'm lost in Algebraic, without a chessboard in front of me, with the letters on the sides, ESPECIALLY when playing black. So, when I'm playing chess, I'm thinking the three or so moves forward, descriptively.

Thanks for asking. I'm happy Tournament Chess lets you use either.

By the way, I recently found two oldies, at "The Bookshop" [a Chapel Hill, NC Used Book Store]. The first is "Chess Strategy", by Edward Lasker. The other is 500 Master Games of Chess, by Tartakower and Du Mont. I purchased them immediately (even, when short, financially), because they both use Descriptive Notation.


Did well playing chess in early '70s H.S. tourneys. Always used Descriptive Annotation. IMHO Algebraic format removed a portion of humanity from the game and replaces with a metric type of system. Its one of the main reasons why my romance with the game ended. Why does everything always get squished down to its simplest form? Don't answer that.


Yes - I grew up with English Descriptive Notation and still use it. I don't like algebraic notation so I've never used it or felt inclined to do so.

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