07 Sep

A Little Scotch

In 1824, the newly founded Edinburgh Chess Club had the temerity to challenge the famous London Chess Club to a three-game correspondence match. The prize to the winning team was to be an impressive silver cup paid for by the losers. Moves were to be posted by horse and carriage, an expensive proposition at the time - and with it, there came a whole lot of history and a major controversy that even involved the postmaster!


London originally tried to retract a poor move in a critical position, even applying unsuccessfully to the postmaster for the return of the letter with the blunder. The postmaster refused with the Edinburgh club claiming that a posted move was the same as the hand coming off a piece. After over four years of play, the upstart Edinburgh club won the match with two wins to one loss. This was the first time the Scotch opening was played, and from which came its nomenclature.

This match forms a part of our game's rich heritage; and the full history of that famous 1824-28 correspondence match that gave birth to the Scotch can still be found in the display cabinets at the Edinburgh Chess Club, where pride of place you’ll find “The Scots Gambit Cup” and the original pre-“Penny Post” correspondence between the two clubs.

But after laying in the wilderness for the best part of a century at top level, the Scotch was very suddenly and very dramatically rehabilitated by none other than Garry Kasparov, who scored 1.5/2 with it against his arch-rival Anatoly Karpov in their 1990 World Championship match. In his post-match press conference, Kasparov then went on to say in jest that he wanted Scottish citizenship for promoting the Scotch!

The Scotch also played its part in deciding one of the most historic speed tournament’s in the world on Sunday, as Ian Nepomniachtchi won the 69th Moscow Blitz Championship, held at the Gorbushkin Yard Mall and sponsored by the bookmaking company Liga Stavok. The Muscovite top scored on 14/19 to take the venerable title half a point ahead of the chasing pack, and en route to victory he successfully deployed the Scotch to beat former US champion Alexander Onischuk.

Ian Nepomniachtchi - Alexander Onischuk
69th Moscow Blitz Championship, (4)
Scotch Game
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5 Qe7 7.Qe2 Nd5 8.c4 Nb6 9.b3 It's lines like this, inspired by Kasparov's modern day handling of it, that's revived the Scotch in elite praxis. 9...a5 10.g3 a4 11.Ba3 Qe6 12.Bg2 axb3 13.axb3 Bb4+ It's all a game of finesses now. Back could have gone for the immediate exchange of bishops, but White will retain a slight edge going into any early endgame scenario due to his powerful bishop on g2. 13...Bxa3 14.Nxa3 0-0 15.0-0 d5 16.f4 and White has the space advantage, better bishop and the better pawn structure. 14.Bxb4! White throws down the gauntlet with a speculative exchange sacrifice - and the ideal time to play it being in a blitz tournament! 14...Rxa1 15.0-0 Black may well have a material advantage, but all the practical chances in this position (especially in blitz) lie with White: He has a pair of very active bishops, a space advantage, and the Black king not able to castle. 15...Bb7 Too greedy. Black really had to return the exchange here to free his game, with 15...d5!? 16.Ba3 dxc4 17.Qb2 Rxa3 18.Qxa3 cxb3 19.Nd2 . The position remains balanced here, with Black two pawns to the better, but White having the active pieces, his opponents king still stuck in the middle of the board, and potential to pick-off the weak queenside pawns. 16.Qb2 Ra7 17.Bc5! A nice move that keeps Black from castling, as it prevents ...d6 being played. 17...Ra5 18.Qd4 Nc8 19.Nc3 Ne7 If 19...d6? 20.exd6 cxd6 21.Qxg7 Qe5 22.Qxe5+ dxe5 23.Bb4 Ra7 24.Ne4 and Black is left defending a very difficult position, with White having more than enough compensation for the exchange. 20.Ne4 h6 21.Qc3 Ra8 22.Qb4! White completely dominates the board. 22...Bc8 23.Re1 Kd8 Looking to regroup with ...Re8 and ...Ng6 - but it's too little too late now. 24.Nd6!! (See Diagram) Splat! Black can hardly move a piece and has to wait for White to put him out of his misery. 24...Nf5 25.Bh3 g6 If 25...cxd6 26.exd6 threatens not just the queen but also the king, with Qb6 mate looming large. 26.Nxf5 gxf5 27.Qd2 Time was probably an issue for both players now; and this explains White missing the clear clinical win with 27.Bxf5! Qxf5 28.Be7+ Ke8 29.Bf6 winning back the rook and keeping Black paralysed. 27...Re8 28.Be3 d5 29.exd6 Qxd6 30.Qc1 Even exchanging queens now would have won: 30.Qxd6+ cxd6 31.Bb6+ Kd7 32.Bxf5+. But in such positions, with your opponents king stuck in the middle of the board, you instinctively keep queens on. 30...Bd7 31.Rd1 Qe6 32.Qc2 Ke7? Better was walking into the voluntary pin with 32...Kc8 - as after 33.Rxd7 Qxd7 34.Bxf5 Re6 35.Bxh6 Ra2! 36.Qc1 (36.Qxa2? Re1+ 37.Kg2 Qxf5 is drawing.) 36...Re1+! 37.Qxe1 Qxf5 38.Kg2 White is left with only a minimal advantage due to his pawns (especially the potential of the h-pawn to run fast). 33.Qd2 Rad8 34.Bc5+ 1-0

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