General Jun 3, 2020 | 10:10 AMby chess24 staff

Chess in Scotland

Scotland's greatest claim to chess fame may be the 12th Century Lewis chessmen that were discovered on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in 1831, while in the 1480s an inventory of Lindores Abbey mentioned "twa pairs of thabills wt thair men" ("two chessboards with their pieces"). It took until 1992 for Scotland to produce its first grandmasters, but the country has a rich chess history that Alan McGowan chronicles in the 13th and final installment of the #HeritageChess campaign, supported by the Lindores Abbey Preservation Society.


There are only a few references about chess in Scotland in the distant past. Many will have read something about the Lewis chessmen, found in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides and dated to the 12th century. And some will be aware of a line in the King’s Gambit Accepted – the Cunningham Gambit – which H.J.R. Murray wrote about in A History of Chess (1913):

In the early eighteenth century, chess-players from all parts of Europe were attracted to The Hague by the fame of a great Scotch player, Alexander Cunningham, who was resident there from 1710 to 1730. 

At that time there were two Scots with the same name, both chess players and both resident in The Hague. Murray provided evidence to show that the line should be attributed to Alexander Cunningham (1654-1737), a historian, scholar and diplomat, rather than Alexander Cunningham (c.1655-1730), a critic and scholar.

Chess would have been played by the educated and the wealthy, but only in limited social settings. It would take the formation of chess clubs before there was an advance in the popularisation of the game.


The Edinburgh Chess Club was founded in 1822. It is the second oldest chess club in continued existence after Zurich (1809) and is the only club in Britain to own its own premises, a flat at 1 Alva Street.

In 1824 the club, led by James Donaldson, challenged the London Chess Club to a match by correspondence. This was an audacious move, as the opposing team included experienced players such as William Lewis and John Cochrane, a Scot. It took four years to complete, was won by Edinburgh, and saw the introduction of the Scotch Game; 1.e2-e4 e7-e5 2.Ng1-f3 Nb8-c6 3.d4. The line was first played by the London team, perhaps influenced by Cochrane, but was taken up and used successfully by their opponents.

The entrance to the Edinburgh Chess Club, which is preparing plans to celebrate its 200th year in 2022

The Glasgow Chess Club was ‘officially’ founded in 1840, but there is evidence that it existed as early as 1827. Clubs were also formed in Dundee (1847) and Aberdeen (1853).   

The next significant event in the history of chess in Scotland was the Dundee 1867 tournament, won by Neumann ahead of Steinitz, De Vere, MacDonnell, Blackburne etc.


The Scottish Chess Association was founded on February 2, 1884 and is one of the oldest national chess organisations in the world. Earlier were the Netherlands (1873) and Germany (1877). A Canadian Chess Association was formed in 1872, but it was not really a governing body.

The driving force behind its formation was Walter Cook Spens who, because of his position in the legal fraternity, was usually referred to as Sheriff Spens. Other significant figures who became office-bearers at the inaugural meeting were the Rev. John Donaldson (‘Delta’), G.B. Fraser of Dundee, notable for his opening ideas and analysis, and David Forsyth, inventor of a method of recording chess positions that became known as the Forsyth Notation. 

Sheriff Spens (1842-1900)

In its efforts to promote chess, the SCA organised an annual Congress, which included a championship tournament and supporting events. The 1884 inaugural event was won by John Crum (1841–1922), who was known for his interest in chess problems and endgame studies. And Peter Fyfe’s name was attached to the Fyfe Gambit: 1.e2-e4 e7-e5 2.Nb1-c3 Nb8-c6 3.d4.

Championship 1884 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Pts
  1. John Crum ½ 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 ½ 7
  2. G.B. Fraser ½ 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 1
  3. Sheriff Spens 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 6
  4. D. Forsyth 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 1 5
  5. D.Y. Mills 0 1 0 0 ½ 1 0 1 1
  6. G. Andrews 0 1 0 0 ½ 0 1 1 1
  7. J. Gilchrist 0 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 1 4
  8. J.H.C. McLeod 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 1 3
  9. J.D. Chambers 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 ½
10. P. Fyfe ½ 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 2

The SCA also organised a correspondence tournament – it was not referred to as a championship – which started in January 1885 with 16 competitors. It was played on the knockout system, and saw John D. Chambers emerging as the winner after 2½ years. Chambers, whose work as a travelling salesman took him around the country, was known as ‘The Apostle of Chess’ because of his efforts to popularise the game throughout Scotland and his encouragement in helping many small towns and communities to form chess clubs.

Scottish chess often benefitted with the arrival of strong players from elsewhere. The championships of 1885 and 1887 were won by D.Y. Mills of England, whose profession brought him to Scotland. He would record a total of eight wins. The 1886 championship was won by the Frenchman G.E. Barbier, who was a teacher in Glasgow. In 1888, Capt. G.H. Mackenzie, winner of numerous tournament including Frankfurt 1887, played in and won his only Scottish championship.


There were no chess leagues at the time, not even in the major cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Clubs held their own tournaments and sometimes played inter-club friendly matches. At one casual evening at the Glasgow Chess Club in 1895, there occurred an incident that reverberated around the world. The club members were discussing a position that had appeared in Georges Barbier’s column in the Glasgow Weekly Citizen:

Barbier published the above position, indicating White plays 1. c7 and Black has to draw. The solution offered was 1... Rd6+ 2. Kb5 Rd5+ 3. Kb4 Rd4+ 4. Kb3 Rd3+ 5. Kc2 Rd4! 6. c8=Q Rc4+ 7. Qxc4 Stalemate.

However, club member Fernando Saavedra pointed out that 6. c8=R wins, as 6...Ra4 (to prevent mate) 7. Kb3, attacks the rook and threatens mate at c1. To a modern reader, this might appear mundane, but it seems that the underpromotion theme caused a sensation at the time. Barbier announced Saavedra’s discovery in a later column and the position became what A.J. Roycroft called “unquestionably the most famous of all endgame studies.”

Competitions improved substantially after J.B. Richardson donated a trophy for play between Scotland’s leading clubs. The first winner of the Richardson Cup was Dundee in 1898-99. And after the untimely death of Sheriff Spens in 1900, a public subscription raised funds for the Spens Cup, a secondary team competition. The inaugural event in season 1901-02 was won by Helensburgh, who fielded A.B. Law, a future British Prime Minister, on first board.

Andrew Bonar Law

Further advances were made with the formation of the Edinburgh League in season 1903-04 and the Glasgow League in 1908-09, which provided an impetus for the formation of more clubs in these cities. It also led to a series of matches between the Glasgow and Edinburgh Leagues.


There is a substantial history of women participating in chess events in Scotland. When the Scottish Chess Association was formed in 1884 four women were among the 150 or so founding members, suggesting that there was clearly a desire by women to be more involved in the game. This was proved at the beginning of the 20th century with the founding of the Edinburgh Ladies’ Chess Club (1904), Stirling Ladies’ CC (1905), and Glasgow Ladies’ CC in early 1906.

The Edinburgh club became so successful that at the start of the 1930s, when its membership peaked at 94, it was able to purchase its own rooms. They also instigated a Girls’ Championship which ran from 1927–1938, which must have caused some embarrassment to the SCA, which had not even attempted to organise a Scottish Boys’ Championship (the first was in 1931).

Members of the three ladies’ clubs were also involved in the founding of the Scottish Ladies’ Chess Association in 1905, which held its own championship. Prominent winners in the early years were:

Miss F. Hutchison Stirling: 1905, 1906, 1907, 1912, 1913
Miss A.D. Smith Cuninghame: 1908, 1915
Miss A. Taylor: 1909, 1911, 1914
Miss M.M. Mercer: 1910
Miss M.D. Gilchrist: 1921, 1922, 1923, 1938 and British Ladies’ Champion 1929 and 1934

The Edinburgh Ladies’ club continued to 1967 when falling membership obliged it to close. Stirling Ladies’ CC did not survive the outbreak of the 1914–1918 war. The Glasgow Ladies’ Chess Club, which disbanded in 1989, included several members of the Gibb family, who held strong political opinions.

Mrs Margaret Skirving Gibb

Miss Margaret Skirving Gibb

Miss Ellison Scotland Gibb

These women were related to William Skirving (c. 1745–1796), one of five Scottish Martyrs banished by Britain to New South Wales, Australia, because of their political beliefs. Skirving had advocated for universal franchise and other reforms, which explains why all three women were Suffragettes.

Mrs Gibb, a woman of private means after the death of her husband, funded women’s causes. Ellison and Margaret – sometimes using aliases – were actively involved in the campaign for women’s rights and were arrested and jailed on several occasions. The photo of Miss Margaret S. Gibb was taken in 1914 when she was a prisoner in Holloway. In July of that year she was arrested for slashing John Everett Millais’ portrait of Thomas Carlyle in the National Portrait Gallery.


Many masters have visited Scotland, including Alekhine, Blackburne, Botvinnik, Capablanca, Euwe, Harrwitz, Hübner, Karpov, Keres, Koltanowski, Em. Lasker, Marshall, Maróczy, Miss Menchik, Mieses, Réti, Rosenthal, Shamkovich, Smyslov, Sosonko, Spassky, Staunton, Stein, Steinitz, Suetin, Tal, Teichmann, Tolush, Vasyukov, Yusupov, and Zukertort.

In 1937 Koltanowski sets a world record in a 34-board simultaneous blindfold exhibition in Edinburgh.

In 1938, James S. Macmartin of Polytechnic CC, Glasgow, defeated world champions Alekhine and Miss Menchik in simultaneous displays.  

In 1984, the Scottish Chess Association’s centenary year, Karpov, the then World Champion, was the special guest.

A particularly interesting visit was that in 1933 by 20-year-old Eliskases, who had already represented Austria at the Olympiads of Hamburg 1930 and Folkestone 1933, and defeated Rudolf Spielmann in a 1932 match. He was a guest of the Glasgow, Bohemian (Glasgow), Dundee and Aberdeen clubs, and he also played a six-game match with Fairhurst, which was drawn (+1, -1, =4).

And when Emanuel Lasker, who was interested in several board games, was in Glasgow in 1899 he dropped in on the Scottish Draughts (Checkers) Championship to spectate.

Incidentally, two world champions of Draughts – both Scottish – also played chess. James Ferrie (1857–1929) joined the Glasgow CC in 1908 and played in several matches in the first season of the Glasgow League. Richard Jordan (1872–1911) played for the Edinburgh CC in a match against Glasgow CC in 1897, but he later represented the Edinburgh Working Men’s Club, which won the Edinburgh League Championship in seasons 1903/4, 1904/5 and 1905/6.

Richard Jordan (left) and James Ferrie, during their 1896 World Draughts Championship match


It was rare to read of a Scottish player participating in international matches or tournaments. John Crum, winner of the 1884 championship, played in one of the amateur sections at Ostend 1906, where he was accompanied by his daughter, Miss A.M. Crum, who would later win the Scottish Ladies’ title four times. William Gibson (1873-1932), a nine-time Scottish champion, was invited to be part of the British team that played the Netherlands in The Hague in April 1914. He played one game, winning against D. van Foreest. H.K. Handasyde (1877-1935) took part in the 1924 Paris ‘Olympiad’ for amateurs. But in the 1930s, things slowly began to change and progress was even made in this area.


The arrival in Scotland in 1931 of the English-born William Fairhurst was an important turning point. Fairhurst, who had already shown his ability in English tournaments, came to Glasgow to join a firm of civil engineers. He would soon make his mark in his profession, and on the chess board, for he won every event he entered in Scotland – the championships of Glasgow CC, the West of Scotland and the Scottish championships, the last of which he would win a record 11 times. 

His arrival was propitious, for soon after, in 1932, Scotland was accepted by FIDE as an independent member. Fairhurst was no doubt strongly behind the push to have the country represented in the Olympiad at Folkestone 1933, and although Scotland finished in last place, encouraging signs were seen in the youngest member, Combe.

Fairhurst actively promoted chess, despite his professional responsibilities, and the game received wide publicity when he won the British championship in 1937.


In the mid-1930s another player came to the fore. James Macrae Aitken (1908-1983) won his first Scottish championship in 1935 (Fairhurst wasn’t playing) and he would go on to win the title a total of ten times. 

Dr Aitken at the Enschede Zonal 1963

Aitken was an outstanding student, graduating from the University of Edinburgh with first-class honours in classics in 1931. He then attended Balliol College, Oxford, graduating with another first in ‘Greats.’ He later obtained a Ph.D from the University of Edinburgh for his thesis on George Buchanan, the 16th century scholar and humanist. This thesis was published as The Trial of George Buchanan before the Lisbon Inquisition (Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh and London 1939).

Aitken played first board for Scotland at the Stockholm 1937 Olympiad. Fairhurst, who was unable to take part, played a training match with him to help him prepare. Aitken lost, but he equaled the scores by winning a second match in 1938.

When World War II broke out, Aitken was employed as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park, working alongside the better-known English players, Alexander, Golombek and Milner-Barry. Aitken worked as a cryptanalyst in Hut 6, which dealt with German Army and Luftwaffe Enigma machine cyphers. He exploited a weakness in German Enigma security which was referred to as “Aitkenismus.” After the war he continued working for the Foreign Office, but resumed an active chess career.


The 1939 Scottish championship, played in Aberdeen in April, was a particularly interesting, and strong, event. William Winter, British Champion in 1935 and 1936, had already accepted an offer to represent Scotland in the Buenos Aires 1939 Olympiad (he was a nephew of the Scottish writer, J.M. Barrie), so perhaps he felt obligated to play. However, due to organisational difficulties, which resulted in the Olympiad start date being postponed several times, Scotland withdrew its entry. With his vast experience, Winter might have been expected to win the tournament, but it was not to be.

Scottish Championship 1939 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Total
  1. Pavey, M 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 1
  2. Combe, RF 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 1
  3. Winter, W ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1
  4. Aitken, JM 0 0 0 1 1 ½ 1 1 1
  5. Perkins, NA ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 1
  6. Geronimus, LH ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 0 1 1 5
  7. Gilchrist, J 0 0 0 ½ 0 0 1 0 1
  8. McNaughton, WRD 0 0 0 0 ½ 1 0 1 0
  9. Page, G 0 0 ½ 0 0 0 1 0 1
10. Bernstein, N 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1

Instead, victory went to Max Pavey, one of three American medical students studying in Scotland, the others being Geronimus and Bernstein. Combe, still improving, had an excellent result, his only loss being to the winner. Aitken had the worst Scottish Championship result of his long career. Perkins was English-born, but worked with the Civil Service in Edinburgh. Later, he would join Aitken at Bletchley Park for war work. After WWII, he continued to play in Scottish events and represented Scotland at the Munich 1958 Olympiad.


It did not take long for chess to re-establish its place after the end of the war in 1945. Suspended clubs were revived, new clubs were formed, and the leagues organised as quickly as possible so as to provide opportunities for club competitions to restart. Scotland’s team competitions for the Richardson and Spens Cups also got under way in season 1945-46, the former being won by Edinburgh Chess Club and the latter by Bon Accord CC from Aberdeen.

And Fairhurst continued his efforts to popularise the game by his willingness to visit clubs and give simultaneous displays. He also re-established his superiority by winning the 1946 Scottish championship, played in April.


The first British championship after the war was held in Nottingham from August 12-24. Fairhurst, who would have been the first choice as Scotland’s representative, was unable to take part, so Combe was put forward instead. The British Chess Federation initially balked at this choice, likely because their only knowledge of Combe was his 4-move loss at the Folkestone 1933 Olympiad after making an elementary opening mistake. However, after pressure from Fairhurst, who vouched for his abilities, the BCF relented.

Combe, who had worked for an Elgin law firm since 1940, had absolutely no chess practice in his home town in the previous six years, not even correspondence play. He contented himself with studying master games in his extensive library, which included a copy of Kurt Richter's book Kombinationen (Combinations), which he valued as “a fine book for pre-tournament study.”

Combe had played in the 1946 Scottish championship in April, taking second place behind Fairhurst in the five-player event. So, when he sat down to play at Nottingham he had had exactly four practice games in six years before facing the strongest opposition in Britain.

1946 British Championship

This was the first time a Scottish-born player won the British championship. The contrast in the reports of this event in the two British chess magazines was remarkable. B.H. Wood, editor of CHESS, provided a detailed, enthusiastic report, clearly warranted by the victory of the ‘unknown’ over a number of established masters. The British Chess Magazine, however, although giving detailed round-by-round results, said in its September 1946 issue, ‘We must hold over until our next issue an appreciation of the play and players in the Championship…’ and then failed to say anything further.

Combe (1912-1952) – who celebrated his 34th birthday during the tournament – received invitations to play at Prague, Barcelona, and Hastings, but his professional commitments prevented him from accepting any of them. Also, in 1947 it was announced that Combe would represent Scotland at the FIDE Zonal tournament at Hilversum, Holland, but he never played in that event either.  In fact, Combe did not play in any major tournaments after 1946, nor did he play in another Scottish championship tournament. He did, however, venture forth to play in the match Scotland v England in 1951. After 1946 Combe contented himself with club and match play for the Bon Accord CC in Aberdeen.

THE 1950s

Fairhurst began this decade by winning the First Commonwealth Championship, held at Oxford in October/November 1951. The other competitors were Yanofsky (Canada), Wade (New Zealand), Barden (England), Berriman (Australia), and Heidenfeld (South Africa). In the same year, Fairhurst was awarded the International Master title by FIDE.

Fairhurst’s determination to provide opportunities for Scottish players to face stronger opposition prompted him to organise, and likely finance, a series of Scotland v England matches. These took place in 1951, 1955, 1958 and 1962 and helped to encourage players like Peter Anderson, Aird Thomson, Norman Macleod, and Michael Fallone.

Anderson was Scottish champion in 1950 and 1954, Thomson won in 1951, and Fallone in 1963. Macleod never won the championship but came second on several occasions. He later became better known as a problem composer, being awarded the IM title for Chess Composition in 1984, and the IGM title in 1994 (posthumously).

Fairhurst also organised a small, little-known tournament in Glasgow in July/August 1953.

Glasgow 1953 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pts
1. Penrose, J. ½ ½ 0 1 1 1 1 5
2. Fairhurst, W.A. ½ ½ ½ 0 1 1 1
3. Golombek, H. ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1
4. Wade, R.G. 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1
5. Yanofsky, D.A. 0 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 1
6. Aitken, Dr J.M. 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 1
7. Macleod, N.A. 0 0 0 ½ 0 1 1
8. Knopfler, E. 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

The man who finished in last place, Erwin Knopfler, was strong enough to play on board two for Glasgow CC, behind Fairhurst, and he had also been a runner-up to Aitken in the 1953 Scottish Championship, held in April. This might have justified his being given a place in this event, but all his opponents had much more experience of playing high-level tournament chess and he withdrew after losing his first four games. Knopfler, who died in 1993, aged 84, was the father of Mark and David Knopfler of the band Dire Straits.

Fairhurst also brought Wade to Glasgow for extended visits in 1953 and 1954, during which time he gave lectures and simultaneous displays at numerous clubs.


Two major Soviet Grandmasters visited Scotland in the 1950s. In 1954 Tolush played 20 opponents simultaneously at the Edinburgh University club on Friday, 15 January, scoring +18, -2 (D. Munro and D. Dykes, both of Wardie Chess Club).

Alexander Kazimirovich Tolush

The next day, Saturday 16 January, he played against five opponents simultaneously, with clocks, at the Glasgow Chess Club. Each of his opponents was allowed two hours in which to make his first 48 moves, but Tolush defeated all five before the display had lasted two and a half hours.

The greatly respected Paul Keres visited Glasgow in 1955, where he gave two simultaneous displays. On 26 December he faced 20 opponents, scoring 19 wins and conceding a draw to Miss Hogarth. The following evening he again played 20 games, this time scoring +16, =2, -2 (M.D. Thornton and M. Fallone).

Significantly, teams from Scotland, led by Fairhurst, played at the Moscow 1956 and Munich 1958 Olympiads, which provided valuable lessons to the likes of Michael Fallone, Aird Thomson, Ian Middleton and Norman Macleod.

THE 1960s

This decade began with some reorganisation in the Scottish Chess Association. Fairhurst had been elected President of the SCA in 1959, and he had chosen M.D. Thornton as Secretary and Eric Allan as Treasurer (the last-named inherited a bank balance of £8!). This core group of the management contributed greatly to the successes in this decade. Visits to Scotland were arranged for Botvinnik, Gligorić, Smyslov, Stein, Suetin and Vasyukov, all of whom gave simultaneous exhibitions.

Tournament chess was enhanced with a series of Glasgow Congresses that began in 1962. Participation numbers increased every year under a remarkable team of organisers that included Gerald Bonner, Walter Munn, Ted Fitzjames, Hugh Holmes, Steve Mannion snr, J. Pursley, John Glendinning, J.B.W. Robertson, John Johnstone and Stan Beaton.

And Scotland sent teams to the Olympiads at Tel-Aviv 1964, Havana 1966 and Lugano 1968, so Scottish players were now being exposed more and more to international competition, which contributed to a growing confidence. One can only imagine how Michael Fallone must have felt when Bent Larsen of Denmark personally congratulated him on his defeat of Pietzsch, the East German Grandmaster, at Havana. 


One hundred years after the famous Dundee 1867 tournament, Fairhurst – the designer of the Tay Road Bridge – and the city hosted another international tournament. 

Dundee 1967 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Pts
1. Gligorić, S. 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 1
2. Larsen, B. 0 1 ½ 0 1 1 1 1
3. Olafsson, F. ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1
4. O'Kelly, A. ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 1 1 ½ 5
5. Penrose, Dr J. ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 5
6. Kottnauer, C. 0 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ 3
7. Davie, A.M. 0 0 0 0 ½ ½ 0 1 2
8. Wade, R.G. 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 2
9. Pritchett, C.W. 0 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 0

The Spanish Grandmaster Pomar also started the tournament, but withdrew due to illness in round three.

This decade, unfortunately, provided a controversy that changed the structure of chess organisation in Scotland. Criticism of Fairhurst’s decision over the team selection for the Lugano 1968 Olympiad eventually led to Fairhurst’s withdrawal from the organisation, a sad end for a man who, almost single-handedly, had taken Scottish chess to great heights over more than 30 years. All of this led to the formation of a separate entity, the Scottish Junior Chess Association. However, out of something bad comes something good, and the subsequent efforts of this group contributed greatly to the advancement of chess in Scotland.

The late 1960s saw the rise of players such as Craig Pritchett and Roddy McKay, both later to become International Masters. Pritchett (17) had played in the Havana 1966 Olympiad, and McKay (16) scored the best result of the Scottish team at Lugano 1968 (11½/16). Both played in the 1968 and 1969 World Students’ Team Tournaments. McKay also won outright the first ever Junior International tournament held in Scotland in June 1969, and he reached the ‘A’ final of the World Junior the same year, where he had been noted as a possible rival to Karpov.

Other successes during the 1960s:

  • 1960 Derek Thomson wins British Boys' u-18 Championship
  • 1963 Peter Jamieson wins the British Boys' u-18 Championship
  • 1966 Rosemary McWaters & Marjorie Moore (and Julie Dobson) share 1= in British Girls’ u-18 Championship
  • 1967 Kathleen Patterson wins British Girls’ u-18 Championship
  • 1969 Mary McGinn (with Genine Fielding) shares 1= British Girls’ u-18 Championship

The efforts of all involved in Scottish chess were further validated when David N.L. Levy – English-born but representing Scotland – was awarded the International Master title for his result at the Praia da Rocha Zonal tournament.

THE 1970S

The Glasgow Congresses of the 1960s had provided opportunities for Scottish players to test their strength against a number of experienced English players who were tempted to come north; Golombek, Barden, Norman Littlewood, Keene, Knox, Hindle, Basman and Wright.

From 1970, the Congress included a Junior International Tournament, and from 1973 through 1976, there was an International Tournament, which attracted a wonderful array of masters to the weekend event; Hübner, Ree, Olafsson, Lombardy, Tatai and Westerinen.

Whereas in earlier days Scotland’s participation in the Olympiads had been irregular, from 1964 until the present, the country has been represented at every Olympiad.


The encouragement of chess in schools played a huge part in bringing forth many of Scotland’s best players. There had been an active league for schools in Glasgow since the 1950s, and great work had been done in Dundee, primarily by Nancy Elder, a many-time winner of the Scottish Ladies’ championship.

Two Scottish schools won the important, and strong, event sponsored by a major newspaper, the Sunday Times National Schools Team Tournament; the High School of Dundee in 1969 and Ayr Academy in 1971.

The most significant event of the 1970s was Paul Motwani (born 1962) becoming the first ever Scot to hold a world title when he won the World u-17 Championship in 1978.

Motwani, along with Dundee colleague Colin McNab, became Scotland’s first Grandmasters in 1992.

In the final years of the 20th century and the transition to the present time, evidence of the progress made in Scottish chess in general was shown by others who also gained FIDE titles:

International Master: Craig Pritchett, Mark Condie, Roddy McKay, Douglas Bryson, Andrew Muir, Stephen Mannion (sometimes Burns-Mannion), Andrew Greet.

Grandmaster: Jonathan Rowson, John Shaw, Jacob Aagaard, Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant.

Interestingly, Douglas Bryson first came to attention through his correspondence chess successes. As a result, he was awarded the IMCC title in 1985 and the GMCC title in 1986.


1983     Match between Roddy McKay and Tony Miles to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Cathcart Chess Club, Glasgow.

1984     The Scottish Chess Association celebrated its centenary. A highlight was World Champion Karpov’s simultaneous display in Glasgow.  

1984     The Scottish Chess Association Centenary International Tournament is won by Lev Psakhis.

1987     Boris Spassky’s simultaneous display in Glasgow: +18, =11, -1 (Paul Motwani).

1988     Glenrothes, a ‘New Town’ developed in the post-war years, celebrated its 40th anniversary with an International Blitz Tournament, won by Tal ahead of Spassky.

1995     Returning to where the famous chess pieces were found in 1831, the Isle of Lewis hosted a 4-player Rapidplay International Tournament, won by Judit Polgár, ahead of Simen Agdestein, Nigel Short and Paul Motwani.


Much has changed in the 21st century (the national organisation is now Chess Scotland). A number of the titled Scottish players mentioned are no longer active, and some have moved to other interests. John Shaw and Jacob Aagaard are involved with the publishers, Quality Chess. Craig Pritchett, though still playing, has been busy producing a number of highly regarded chess books. Jonathan Rowson, who became Scotland’s third Grandmaster in 1999, went on to score numerous tournament victories. In particular, it should be noted that he improved upon Combe’s 1946 success by winning three consecutive British Championships in 2004, 2005 and 2006. He has also authored several chess books, which have been well received. (And just to rub salt in the wound, a Scot by adoption, Jacob Aagaard, won the 2007 championship.)

The chess has also changed, particularly with the number of tournaments with rapid/reduced time controls. One such event was the Lindores Abbey Chess Stars tournament, held May 2019 at the Lindores Abbey Distillery near Newburgh, Fife. An announcement at the time said that papers in the abbey’s archive indicated that chess had been played there more than 500 years ago by the monks of the Tironensian Order, an inventory recording ‘twa pairs of thabills wt their men’ – two chessboards with their pieces.

The rapid, double-round event featured four Grandmasters; world champion Magnus Carlsen, former world champion Viswanathan Anand, Ding Liren and Sergey Karjakin.

In 2020 the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge was held online from May 19 - June 3. The participants were:

In view of the presence of several Chinese Grandmasters, and the determination with which China has pursued success at chess, it is interesting to note that Scotland’s Craig Pritchett was a member of the British team that visited China as long ago as February 1981.

Chess enthusiasts will be delighted to see such a gathering of world-class players. And it is appropriate that the chessboard battles will be fought under the banner of Lindores Abbey, considering that the area was the scene of several real battles between the English and the Scots, led by William Wallace, between 1298 and 1300.

It seems appropriate to finish with one final connection between Lindores Abbey and chess. In her book The Monks of Tiron, (Cambridge University Press, 2014), Kathleen Thompson mentions:

…Lindores Abbey, most of whose records are preserved in a register owned by [the] Cuninghame family of Caprington Castle, Kilmarnock, descendants of the last commendator or lay patron of the abbey.

Miss A.D. Smith Cuninghame (1867-1915) was born at Caprington Castle. She was Scottish Ladies’ Champion in 1908 and 1915.

Alan McGowan

Alan McGowan was born in Glasgow, Scotland but currently lives in Canada. He's the author of a biography of German chess master Kurt Richter (1900-1969), who fascinated him since he was a teenager. Alan works as a historian for Chess Scotland and you can find much more about Scottish chess here.

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