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1824 Edinburgh Chess Club vs London Chess Club
Compiled by Calli

In this famous upset, the unknown Scots defeated the heavily favored London Club. London had famous players like John Cochrane, William Lewis and Fraser. Cochrane left England for India while the second game was in progress. Other London players included Brand, Mercier, and Pratt. The only prominent Edinburgh club member was James Donaldson, described as the "strongest chess player in Scotland" by Lewis. The Scotch opening was introduced in this match.

The London Club Committee:
Messrs. Brande, Lewis, Cochrane, Mercier, Fraser, Parkinson, Keen, Pratt, Samuda, Tomlin, Willshire, Wood.

The Edinburgh Club Committee: Captain Aytoun, Buchanan, Burnett, Crawford, Donaldson, Gregory. Rev. H. Liston, Mackersy, Meiklejohn. More, Pender, Rose, Sir S. Stirling Bart., Wauchope and Wylie.

The event was not without controversy when Edinburgh refused to accept a correction to move made by London. However, as the following article points out, London corrected the wrong move in a three move sequence and would have lost the game anyway.

From Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, v.68 1850 Jul-Dec:

"The London and Edinburgh chess match, which was played by correspondence, was begun in the year 1824. It was the result of a challenge given by the Edinburgh Club, which was then only in its infancy. The terms agreed on were, that the match should consist of three won games ; and that, in case of any game being drawn, a new one, begun by the same opener, should take its place. The match commenced on 23d April 1824. Two games were opened simultaneously. The first game was opened by the Edinburgh Club; and in sending their first answering move, the London Clnb also sent the first move of the second game. The first game, which consisted of 35 moves, was, on 14th December 1824, declared to be drawn. The second, which consisted of 52 moves, was resigned by the London Club on 23d February 1825. The third game—opened by the Edinburgh Club in place of the first game, which had been drawn—was began on 20th December 1824; it consisted of 99 moves, and was drawn on 18th March 1828. The fourth game, begun by the Edinburgh Club, on 26th February 1825, was resigned by them on l5th September 1826, at the 55th move. The fifth game, begun by the Edinburgh Club, on 6th October 1826, was resigned by the London Club on 31st July 1828, at the 60th move—and this determined the match in favour of Edinburgh.

...... and there had been two drawn games, both of which were keenly disputed, without the least advantage in favour of London at any point of either; while, on the other hand, in the third game, Edinburgh had obtained an advantage, though not sufficient to enable them to checkmate their adversaries. It has never been pretended, by the most unscrupulous partisan of England, that the winning of the fifth game was ascribable to an oversight. On the contrary, their chess writers have, with most becoming fairness and candour, always referred to it as an instance of admirable play on the part of Edinburgh; and members of the London committee, who shortly after happened to visit Edinburgh, acknowledged that their committee were quite unable to discover the object of particular moves, the effect of which had been previously calculated, and reduced to demonstration by the Edinburgh players.

Is there, in all this, such evidence of overwhelming superiority on the part of the English players, that their losing the match must have been an accident? But it is time to inquire a little more minutely into the so-called blunder, which the Englishmen say was the cause of their defeat. And here it is but fair to give their statement in their own words. The Quarterly reviewer says— " Perhaps the most remarkable instance on record of a strict enforcement of the tenor of chess law occurred in the celebrated match, by correspondence, between the London and Edinburgh Clubs. At the 27th move of the second game, the London Club threw a rook away. How they did so, Mr Lewis explains in the following words :

' The 26th, 27th, and 28th moves were sent on the same day to the Edinburgh Club. This was done to save time. It so happened that the secretary, whose duty it was to write the letters, had an engagement which compelled him to leave the Club two hours earlier than usual—the letter was therefore posted at three instead of five o'clock. In the mean time, one of the members discovered that the 2d move (the 27th) had not been sufficiently examined.* An application was immediately made at the Post-office for the letter, which was refused. In consequence, a second letter was transmitted by the same post to the Edinburgh Club, retracting the 2d and 3d moves, and abiding only by the first. The Edinburgh Club, in answer, gave it as their decided opinion that the London Club were bound by their letter, and that no move could be retracted : they therefore insisted on the moves being played. The London Club conceded the point, though they differed in opinion.' " We cannot but think, under all the circumstances, the Edinburgh Club were to blame. What rendered the mishap more vexatious to the Londoners was, that whereas they had a won game before, they now barely lost it, and thereby the match, which the winning of this game would have decided in their favour.'

It is of importance to keep in view that it never was asserted that the first move, the 26th, had not been sufficiently examined; and it will be immediately seen that that move was adhered to, no attempt being made to recall it. The truth is, that the London Club could not have played a better move than their 27th. Their mistake, as was first discovered by the Edinburgh Club, was in the 26th move, the one adhered to after examination.


In his first publication of the games, Mr Lewis gives no back-game on this 26th move; and it is believed that no member of the London Club was aware, till the game was finished, that by playing differently at the 26th move they might have won it. But Mr Lewis admits that the game could not be won by a mere alteration of the 27th or 28th move; and any one who says that it could, is either speaking in ignorance of the subject, or is making a willful misrepresentation. The likelihood of the remarks of the English writers producing an erroneous impression arises from their mixing up these two separate and distinct things: 1st, that at a previous stage of the game, the London Club had a winning position which they did not discover, and failed to avail themselves of; and, 2d, that the Edinburgh Club would not allow them to retract the 27th and 28th moves. These two facts have no longer any possible connection with each other when it is known that, at the 27th move, the London Club had ceased to have a winning position, and that the recall of that move would have been of no use to them. The failure, at a previous stage of the game, to maintain the winning position which they had, is simply one among several illustrations which occurred in the match, of the troth that the London Club, " in the pride and plenitude of its strength," did not always play as well as it was possible to have done."

One might think that this incident is long forgotten, but the Edinburgh Chess Club still retains the original letters with their wax seals just in case any claims from that city to the south should be forthcoming.

Played 23 April 1824 through 14 December 1824
Edinburgh CC vs London, 1824 
(C20) King's Pawn Game, 35 moves, 1/2-1/2

Played 23 April 1824 through 23 February 1825
London vs Edinburgh CC, 1824 
(C45) Scotch Game, 52 moves, 0-1

Played 20 Dec 1824 through 18 March 1828
Edinburgh CC vs London, 1824 
(C44) King's Pawn Game, 99 moves, 1/2-1/2

Played 26 February 1825 through 15 September 1826
Edinburgh CC vs London, 1825 
(C20) King's Pawn Game, 55 moves, 0-1

Played 6 October 1826 through 31 July 1828
Edinburgh CC vs London, 1826 
(C44) King's Pawn Game, 60 moves, 1-0

5 games

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