Edinburgh Chess Club Celebrates 200th Anniversary

Edinburgh Chess Club Celebrates 200th Anniversary


The Edinburgh Chess Club, the second oldest chess club in the world, celebrates its bicentenary today. Founded on November 4, 1822, over the two centuries the club has been visited by famous players such as Howard Staunton, Joseph Blackburne, Jose Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, Anatoly Karpov, and Veselin Topalov.

Second in longevity only to the Zurich Chess Society, which was founded in 1809, the Edinburgh Chess Club has an incredible history that is now spanning 200 years. Much of it can be found on the club’s website, which is well worth a visit. Here’s what is written about the early years:

 It started with 31 members, a figure that had risen to 50 within 2 years, and [in] the following years they were discussing the purchase of a house to serve as permanent clubrooms. In fact they had to wait another 97 years before that wish would come true.

Early cash book entries mention the purchase of candles and payment to the sedan chairmen for the transport of chess pieces. Rent for their premises was £2 and 2 shillings. In those days chess was largely a game for gentlemen, and there are many representatives of the professions and the military amongst the early membership lists. Entry fees were £3 3s and subscriptions £1 1s.

Edinburgh Chess Club 1822-1922
A list of dignitaries during the first century of the Edinburgh Chess Club. Photo: Ed van der Meulen.

Two years after it was established, the Edinburgh club played their famous match against the London Chess Club in 1824. (Plans for the celebrating the 200th anniversary of this match in 2024 are underway!)

This was to play a series of games by correspondence, the moves being sent by letter, which in those days were carried by horse and carriage — an expensive business since the “Penny Post” would not be introduced until 1840. Three games were to be played with any drawn games being restarted, and two games would be in play at any one time. The losers were to present the winners with a silver cup to the value of £25.

Incidentally, it was in this match that the Scotch Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Bc4) was first recorded, when one of the London players tried it. Edinburgh then successfully adopted the same variation in two subsequent games.

The following anecdote is priceless:

The moves were published in a number of newspapers and drew considerable public attention and not a little controversy when in one of the games the London club attempted to retract a poor move in a critical position, even applying unsuccessfully to the Postmaster for the return of the letter. The Postmaster having refused, the Edinburgh club took the stance that a move once posted was the equivalent of a piece having been released and the move thus completed, and the game was eventually won by Edinburgh.

The books about the match that were written later as well as the original letters with their wax seals that carried the moves between the two capitals are still in the library of the club. The match, which took about four years, was won +2 =2 -1 by Edinburgh.

The website further notes that the club has had homes at several sites in the city, including Princes Street, George Street, Queen Street, St. Andrews Square, York Place, and Hanover Street. The current building on Alva Street was purchased in 1922 and officially opened on November 4, 100 years ago and 100 years after the club had been established.

In July of this year, the 200th anniversary was celebrated with a match between the Edinburgh club and Schaakstad Apeldoorn from the Netherlands. Edinburgh won narrowly with 5.5-4.5.

Edinburgh 200 Apeldoorn
A group photo of the Edinburgh-Apeldoorn match. More about it can be read here. Photo: Ed van der Meulen.


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