Descriptive chess notation

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Descriptive chess notation, or just descriptive notation, is a notation for recording chess games, and at one time was the most popular notation in Britain and America for doing so. It has been superseded by abbreviated algebraic notation, as the latter is more concise and requires less effort to avoid ambiguity. However chess players may find older chess books using this notation. Descriptive notation exists in many language-based variants, the most prevalent being English descriptive notation and Spanish descriptive notation. Howard Staunton, in The Chess-Player's Handbook (1847), uses a cumbersome early version, viz., "P. to K's 4th." (later written P-K4). Notably, in the back of the book he offers brief descriptions of long algebraic chess notation, which he calls that adopted by "Alexandre, Jaenisch, the 'Handbuch,' and in Germany generally", (Staunton 1847:500–502) and of ICCF numeric notation, which he calls "Koch's Notation" (Staunton 1847:502–3).


Naming the pieces

Each piece is abbreviated to the first letter of its name: K for king, Q for queen, R for rook, B for bishop, P for pawn. Knight begins with the same letter as king, so to get around this it is abbreviated to either Kt or N. "Kt" was used in older chess literature. "N" is used in the examples in this article. In 1944 Chess Review received many letters debating the change from Kt to N (Lawrence 2009:10).

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 file is named "Q" and the king's file 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 on the queen's side of the board (left for white, right for black) 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", "QN" and "QB" respectively. Similarly, the pieces on the king's side (right for white, left for black) 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", "KN" 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 corner square nearest white's left hand ("a1" in algebraic chess notation) is called "queen's rook 1" (QR1) by white and "queen's rook 8" (QR8) by black.

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