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David Forsyth
Number of games in database: 2
Years covered: 1883 to 1894

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(born May-16-1854, died Dec-30-1909, 55 years old) United Kingdom (federation/nationality New Zealand)

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David Forsyth was originally from Scotland. He was New Zealand champion in 1901. While editing a chess column for a Scottish newspaper, he invented a system, known as the Forsyth notation (later Forsyth-Edwards notation), which became the standard means for recording chess positions as text.

Last updated: 2018-04-10 06:08:33

 page 1 of 1; 2 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Blackburne vs D Forsyth 1-0481883GlasgowC22 Center Game
2. Blackburne vs D Forsyth 1-0221894Simul, 20bD02 Queen's Pawn Game
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2) | Forsyth wins | Forsyth loses  

Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  Benzol: Is this David Forsyth inventor of Forsyth Notation?
Dec-29-04  MidnightDuffer: Surely you mean David Forsythe of Scotland,
Premium Chessgames Member
  Benzol: David Hooper and Ken Whyld in "The Oxford Companion To Chess" give his name as David Forsyth, no e. But yes he was born in Scotland and emigrated to New Zealand.
Jul-28-13  Caissanist: Chessgames page on Forsyth-Edwards notation: FEN Help Page .
Premium Chessgames Member
  Phony Benoni: Shouldn't FEN Help Page be known as the <Forsyth Saga>?
Jan-30-16  zanzibar: <MR. DAVID FORSYTH, who is Solicitor in the Supreme Courts of Scotland, at Edinburgh, was born at Ballachraggau farmhouse, Alness, Ross-shire, and is son of the late David Forsyth, farmer and Justice of the Peace. It was only in his twenty-sixth year that he learnt chess. Prior to then he was totally ignorant of anything connected with the game, but, like most persons who have an aptitude for chess, he rapidly attained great strength, as is shown by his appearance year or two afterwards (in July, 1884) in the Major Tournament of the first Congress of the Scottish Chess Association at Glasgow, where he won majority of games against the strongest and most experienced players in Scotland, and for time seemed first favourite for the championship.

Mr. Forsyth possesses in marked degree the rare faculty of blindfold play.

In reference to the invention of the Forsyth notation, we are informed that, at the earliest stage of his chess career, he had intuitively used for recording chess positions notation of his own, which, so far as he suspected, possessed neither originality nor utility. On showing it to some chess friends they pronounced it eminently useful and in order that the chess public might use it if they chose, he gave an explanation of it in the Glasgow Weekly Herald of February 10th, 1883. It has since been explained in many works on chess, among others in Steinitz's Modern Chess Instructor, Mason's Principles of Chess, and Rowland's Problem Art.

The notation is very simple, concise, and extremely useful for taking down end-games and positions of adjourned games. White pieces are denoted by capitals, the black by small letters, or the black pieces can be underlined to distinguish them from the white. Place the board before you as if playing the white pieces, and begin counting from the top left-hand corner (Black's QR sq.), and put down the number of squares which are empty till piece or pawn is reached, always counting any rank from the left side of the board. When piece or pawn is reached place its name as written by capital or small letters according as it is white or black piece, and continue till White's KR sq. is reached. All empty squares are thus denoted by numerals, while occupied squares will be indicated by letters. Problem No. would be represented thus

1 B 6, 2 kt 5, p 1 Kt 1 P 2 R, P 1 K 3 Kt 1, 4 P k 2, 1 Q 2 p 2 p, 6 kt P, 1 B 4 R 1.

(White mates in two)

click for larger view

(Mrs. W. J. Baird composition)

Mr. Forsyth modestly overlooks the great service he rendered to chess in inventing this notation, and rests his principal claim to usefulness in the sphere of chess on his qualities as an organiser. Shortly after joining the Glasgow Chess Club in 1883 he was appointed Secretary, and afterwards treasurer, both of which offices he resigned on removing to Edinburgh in 1887. He has been secretary and treasurer of the Scottish Chess Association since its inauguration in 1884. For several years prior to his removal from Glasgow, he assisted in editing the Glasgow Weekly Herald chess column, and since November 4th, 1893, he has conducted the well known column in the Weekly Scotsman. He avoids all gossipy or controversial matter, or attempts at wit, or poetry. Favouring no nationality or clique of players, but judging all by genuine merit, Jew, Gentile or Mahommedan, Mr. Forsyth can justly claim that his column is conducted on cosmopolitan lines.>

"The Chess Bouquet (1897)" p123

(PP's added)

Premium Chessgames Member
  TheFocus: Happy birthday, David Forsyth.
May-26-18  zanzibar: Not everybody recognized the usefulness of FEN notation immediately:


J.A. The Forsyth notation is of little use, for it does not record the moves, and does not indicate any particular square. It describes the position of the above diagram thus : 5 Kt 3 K 3 p 2 p 4 P 5 P k 3 R 2 p l R P P 3 b 1 p Kt 3 p 4 B 5 B 2.


tBOP v13 N645 (May 23, 1891) 544/576 (19)

Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: So what was Edwards' contribution to FEN?
Premium Chessgames Member
  Retireborn: <offramp> According to Wiki, "Steven J. Edwards extended it to support use by computers" - they don't say when, but I assume it was around 100 years after Forsyth. My 1992 Hooper & Whyld just call it Forsyth notation.

Likely it's become FEN because that's a more speakable acronym than FN, unless one is French, possibly.

Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: <Retireborn: ...Likely it's become FEN because that's a more speakable acronym than FN, unless one is French, possibly.>

LOL, too true. If the guy's name had begun with a consonant, FN wouldn't have been renamed.

But what if it had been Unwin or Urusov?

Would the world of chess have been ready to accept fun notation?

Premium Chessgames Member
  Retireborn: Let's just be grateful that it wasn't FECK or something even worse.
May-27-18  zanzibar: Having deftly stayed about the fray, I'm afraid I now do stray...

A picture of Forsyth, and a valuable pointer to further info, comes from C.N. 5051 .

The referenced BCM article is found here:

So, it appears that Forsyth's contribution is confined to that between the "lines", i.e. the positional part. Which means that Edwards contributed the <"w - - 0 1"> part of the equation.

And that means, in my estimation, that simply characterizing his contribution as an extension for computers is lacking. Due credit should be given for specifying castling rights, e.p. lanes, and fifty-move count not as just facilitating computer dictates, but as actually conveying important information also needed by those mobile water ballons.

(Aside- did any early problem compositions ever use castling, or ep captures? What was the first examples of a problem needing such an enhancement for the solve?)

Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: Um, question at the back here, Mr Zamzibar, from an actual mobile water balloon: Did the first Forsyth Notation have forward slashes ("/s" :-)) between ranks? They are absent in some examples given earlier.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Retireborn: <z> There's a famous puzzle by Shinkman (1887) which intends castling, unfortunately it's not quite perfect;

May-27-18  zanzibar: Dear Sir offranp:

Sorry, my BCM link would better have been:

(Inconvenient having to edit out the query in the url by hand, but I go the extra km)

If you read this you'll see the exchange of letters between Mr. Forsyth and a Mr. Rayner where they hashed out the notation a little - generally agreeing the /'s were a capital idea.

I wonder a little who, exactly, introduced the important improvement.

It would be nice to have someone post the scans of the original Glasgow newspaper columns giving genesis of the notation's public introduction.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Retireborn: Apparently Sam Loyd also did several castling problems back in the 19th C.
May-27-18  zanzibar: <RB> so, was it just assumed that if the pieces look OK, that castling was allowed?

PS- I think the Glasgow Weekly Herald deserves the credit for introducing the /'s, if my reading is correct/?/

May-27-18  zanzibar: PPS- I have to play through that game yielding Shinkman's problem! Whoowee!
Premium Chessgames Member
  Retireborn: <z> According to Krabbe, castling in studies and problems is assumed to be legal, unless you can prove (by retrograde analysis) that it is illegal. And that's a whole brain-scrambling field in itself....
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: One of those odd things: unintended alliteration:

<zanzibar: ...characterizing his contribution as an extension for computers is lacking. Due credit should be given for specifying castling rights....>

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