Alekhine and Love: Greenock, 1923 by John Linklater

This article first appeared in Scottish Chess Magazine no.189, March 1989


When Alexander Alekhine stepped off the train at Glasgow 's Queen Street station on October 2, 1923 , he was met by a young man who led him to Lang's coffee house. Andrew McGeoch had no difficulty in recognizing the Russian émigré grandmaster. Over 65 years later he still has a vivid memory of the tall figure in the camelhair coat – a very different impression from a grosser Alekhine of the 1930s, after the ravages of drink and chain smoking left their imprint on his physical appearance.

After pleasantries over coffee the bold Andrew McGeoch produced his leather wallet pocket chess set. He recalls that he was then a “below average player, not up to club standard.” He had been delegated to meet Alekhine off the train at the last moment, after a friend, a member of Glasgow Chess Club, was unable to perform the duty. Now Andrew was asking the future world champion if he might have the honour of a game.

Alekhine agreed nonchalantly. He made moves while continuing to read the newspaper he had picked up. McGeoch was mated in 12 moves. Only when the conversation turned, inevitably, to the subject of Capablanca did Alekhine show signs of animation. To this young tyro he began to explain in detail how he planned to tackle the Cuban world champion over the board to gain his title. The tyro was not following much of the detail. But one message was coming over clearly. “His certainty of winning impressed me,” recalls Mr McGeoch, now a spry 88 and living in Kilmacolm.

A few days later Alekhine was repeating the theme which had already become his obsession. This time he was delivering a statement, “in voluble French,” to the Glasgow Herald. Somewhat peculiarly, the newspaper printed the whole thing in the original, but offered less linguistically adept readers a translation. Alekhine was quoted: “I hope the chess world, if it arranges this contest, will not be disappointed, for in all the modern history of chess there has never been, in my opinion, two players more different in style than Senor Capablanca and myself ; and it is just this question of style which will probably be the decisive factor in our encounter.

In retrospect, Alekhine's summary of these two chess styles (Capa's “special strength” in simplified positions and endgames; his own preference for “complicated middle-game positions”) seems remarkably accurate and his prediction was prophetic. But the keywords in his statement were contained in his phrase about the contest and if the chess world would arrange it. This explained the tour which had brought him to Scotland . Alekhine was on the road, touting for financial backing. Dangling the prospect of an historical contest of chess styles, the man in the camelhair coat was searching for a sponsor, seeking every opportunity to publicise himself.

Despite the bravado he was whistling in the dark. The previous year had been a disaster. He had recorded his worst ever grandmaster tournament result, finishing 4 th equal at Vienna . His biographer, A.A. Kotov, describes Alekhine at this time as suffering “moral depression and temporary loss of energy.” He was between divorce and remarriage, but that was a fairly normal state of affairs for Alekhine who married four times. He had finished behind Capablanca in the 1922 London tournament, but that wasn't the biggest of his causes for gloom. Worse, as far as his title ambitions were concerned, were the conditions which Capablanca had issued in London before any challenger could expect a championship match to proceed. The requirement was $10,000 in fee and prize money. Those terms would prove insurmountable for Rubenstein and Nimzovich. Alekhine was plying the tournament circuit, tying to drum up interest and cash, with few immediate prospects.

The Falkirk Herald of September 25, 1923 , had announced Alekhine's modest terms for simultaneous displays: £8 an appearance, and no limit on games. In making himself available for Scottish engagements in early October Alekhine was also coming cheaper than Capablanca four years before (ten guineas). He had lined up displays lined up displays at Glasgow Chess Club, Glasgow Central, Dundee CC, Edinburgh Ladies and Greenock CC. His punctual arrival at the Glasgow CC rooms in the Athenaeum was recorded in the Glasgow Herald of October 3: “He has finely cut features and seems possessed of great nervous energy.” Playing against 35 opponents of varying strengths, arranged in two rooms separated by a 20-foot long passage, it was recoded that Alekhine conducted his tour of the boards in 6-minute cycles. His first victim of the evening was the experienced club player Dr J. Forrester. Much to Dr Forrester's chagrin, no doubt, the game finished early enough to make the columns of the next morning's paper. It is an amusing miniature.

Alekhine, A – Forrester, Dr J
1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Bc5 6 Nxe5 Nxe5 7 d4 Bb4 8 dxe5 Nxe4 9 Qd4 Nxc3 10 bxc3 Ba5 11 Ba3 b6 12 e6 Qf6 13 Bxd7+ Kd8 14 Bc6+ Qxd4 15 e7# 1-0

Alekhine's overall score against Glasgow CC was also given in the next day's Herald - +31 =2 -2. One of the two draws, incidentally, was earned by William Gibson, architect of Capablanca's consultation defeat at the same club in 1919. Alekhine's two defeats were sustained at the hands of Mr A. F. Carris (who, it transpired, was a mercenary smuggled in from the Bohemian Chess Club) and Andrew Marshall, an 18-year-old student. Of these two wins only Marshall 's game has survived, appearing in the following Saturday's chess column in the Herald. Perhaps underestimating his opponent in a tricky position, Alekhine elects to allow the exchange of his Queen for a Rook, Knight and pawn, and pays the penalty in double quick time.

Alekhine, A - Marshall, A A
1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 c5 4 Nf3 Nd7 5 c3 f6 6 Bf4 Nb6 7 Bb5+ Bd7 8 Bxd7+ Qxd7 9 exf6 Nxf6 10 Ne5 Qc8 11 a4 a5 12 Qb3 Ra6 13 Qb5+ Nfd7 14 0-0 Bd6 15 Ng6 Bxf4 16 Nxf4 Nc4 17 Re1 0-0 18 Nxe6 Rb6 19 Nxf8 Rxb5 20 Nxd7 Rxb2 21 Nxc5 Qf5 22 Rf1 b6 23 Na6 Qc2 24 Nc7 Ne3 25 Na3 Qe4 26 f3 Rxg2+ 27 Kh1 Qh4 0-1

Alekhine fulfilled his Glasgow Central and Dundee engagements without losing a single game, but came a cropper against a member of the Edinburgh Ladies Club (If any reader, can identify the player, please advise the editor.)

Meanwhile Love awaited Alekhine in Greenock . For the final leg of his Scottish tour the grandmaster journeyed across to the Greenock CC which had won the Spens Cup that year. Dr A. Love was the club's board number five, and the visit of the distinguished grandmaster provided him with the moment of a lifetime. Not a great many games have been lost by future world champions in the town of Greenock . Dr Love's triumph is something of a comedy in which he shrugs off the loss of a couple of pawns, hangs on grimly to snaffle a piece, shrugs off a feeble assault from a suddenly disconcerted Alekhine to flatten him with his first attack of the game, executed with two rudimentary checks against which there is not the slightest defence.

Alekhine, A - Love, Dr A
1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 Bb4 5 Bd2 Nc6 6 e3 Bd7 7 Bd3 0-0 8 0-0 Bxc3 9 bxc3 Ne4 10 Rb1 b6 11 Qc2 f5 12 cxd5 exd5 13 c4 Ne7 14 Ne5 c6 15 Bb4 Rc8 16 f3 Nf6 17 Bd6 Be6 18 c5 Ne8 19 Bxe7 Qxe7 20 cxb6 axb6 21 Rxb6 c5 22 Nc6 Qd7 23 Qxc5 Nd6 24 Rc1 Rfe8 25 a4 Nb7 26 Qb4 Nd6 27 a5 Nc4 28 Bxc4 Rxc6 29 Rb7 Rc7 30 a6 dxc4 31 Qb6 Rxb7 32 axb7 Rb8 33 Ra1 Rxb7 34 Ra8+ Kf7 35 Qc5 Qe7 36 Qc6 Rb1+ 37 Kf2 Qh4+ 0-1

After such a game there really wasn't a great deal left for Alekhine to do in Scotland . He packed his bags for Birmingham, and on to Montreal and New York, seeking a showdown with Capablanca to arrange a title match which would not come for another four years. Perhaps Alekhine would have done well to take away a little of Dr Love's sheer affrontery in his baggage – in lieu of $10,000 it wouldn't do him any harm. And perhaps young Andrew McGeoch sat later in Lang's coffee house, playing over that Greenock game, wondering how he had managed to get himself mated in just 12 moves.

(Text supplied by Ian Jamieson)


Manuel Perez Carballo has supplied more information on Alekhine's Scottish visits.

In their monumental Alexander Alekhine's Chess Games, 1902-1946 (McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 1998), Leonard M. Skinner and Robert G. P. Verhoeven have the following on Alekhine's games in Scotland:

"Alekhine's Scottish tour was summarized in the British Chess Magazine 1923, p403, with the following report: “The visit of the Russian chess master, A Alekhine to Scotland was an undoubted success and gave pleasure to many chess players. Against the Glasgow Chess Club on October 2, he won 31, drew two and lost two. Against the Central Chess Club (Glasgow) on October 3, he won 18 and drew two. At Dundee on October 4, he won all 17 games. At Edinburgh Ladies Chess Club on October 5 and at Greenock on October 6, his score was the same: 21 wins, two draws and one loss.”"

Then they go on to give 6 games (nos. 686 to 691 in their book) from those exhibitions, which I append for those interested. The first three are from the Simultaneous Display in Glasgow (2 October 1923), the next one is from Dundee ( 4 October 1923), and the last two are from Greenock (6 October 1923).

Alekhine-J Forrester
Glasgow (simul)
Spanish Opening C77
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Bc5 6.Nxe5 Nxe5 7.d4 Bb4 8.dxe5 Nxe4 9.Qd4 Nxc3 10.bxc3 Ba5 11.Ba3 b6 12.e6 Qf6 13.Bxd7+ Kd8 14.Bc6+ Qxd4 15.e7# 1–0 (Glasgow Herald, 3 October 1923, p11.)

Alekhine-W Lochead
Glasgow (simul)
Queen's Pawn Opening D02
1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bf4 Bf5 4.e3 e6 5.c4 Bd6 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.c5 Bxf4 8.exf4 0–0 9.Bb5 Ne7 10.0–0 Ng6 11.g3 Bg4 12.Be2 c6 13.Ne5 Nxe5 14.fxe5 Bxe2 15.Qxe2 Ne8 16.f4 f6 17.Qg4 f5 18.Qe2 b6 19.b4 b5 20.a4 a6 21.axb5 axb5 22.Ra2 Nc7 23.Rfa1 Qc8 24.Ra5 Qb7 25.g4 Rxa5 26.bxa5 Na6 27.g5 g6 28.h4 Nc7 29.Na2 Na6 30.h5 Qc7 31.Qd2 Ra8 32.Nb4 Nxb4 33.Qxb4 Ra6 34.Kf2 Qg7 35.Qe1 Qc7 36.Ke2 Qa7 37.Kd3 Qc7 38.Kc2 Qa7 39.Kb3 Qc7 40.Kb4 Qa7 41.Qh4 Qg7 42.hxg6 hxg6 43.Rh1 Ra7 44.Qe1 Ra6 45.Rh6 Ra7 46.Qh1 Ra6 47.Qa1 Kf7 48.Qh1 Kg8 ½–½ (Falkirk Herald, 17 October 1923, p1.)

Alekhine-A Marshall
Glasgow (simul)
French Defence C02
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nf3 c5 4.e5 Nd7 5.c3 f6 6.Bf4 Nb6 7.Bb5+ Bd7 8.Bxd7+ Qxd7 9.exf6 Nxf6 10.Ne5 Qc8 11.a4 a5 12.Qb3 Ra6 13.Qb5+ Nfd7 14.0–0 Bd6 15.Ng6 Bxf4 16.Nxf4 Nc4 17.Re1 0–0 18.Nxe6 Rb6 19.Nxf8 Rxb5 20.Nxd7 Rxb2 21.Nxc5 Qf5 22.Rf1 b6 23.Na6 Qc2 24.Nc7 Ne3 25.Na3 Qe4 26.f3 Rxg2+ 27.Kh1 Qh4 0–1 (Glasgow Herald, 6 October 1923, p4.)

(C Griffith + C Heath + D Spankie)-Alekhine
Dundee (simul)
King's Gambit C36
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d5 4.exd5 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nxd5 6.d4 Bb4 7.Bd2 0–0 8.Be2 Nc6 9.Nxd5 Qxd5 10.0–0 Bg4 11.c4 Qe4 12.Bxb4 Nxb4 13.Re1 Qe3+ 14.Kh1 Rfe8 15.a3 Nc2 16.Qxc2 Bxf3 17.gxf3 Qf2 18.Qd1 Re6 19.Bf1 Rae8 20.Rxe6 Rxe6 21.Rc1 Qxb2 22.Rb1 Qf2 23.Rxb7 g5 24.Rb1 g4 25.Bg2 g3 26.Qg1 Qa2 27.Qf1 Rh6 28.Re1 Rxh2+ 29.Kg1 Qd2 30.Re4 h5 31.Qe2 Qc1+ 32.Qe1 Qxe1+ 33.Rxe1 h4 34.Re2 h3 35.Bf1 Rxe2 36.Bxe2 c5 37.dxc5 Kf8 38.c6 Ke7 39.Bd3 f5 40.Bxf5 h2+ 41.Kg2 Kd6 42.Bc2 ½–½ (Falkirk Herald, 14 November 1923, p1.)

Alekhine-A Love
Greenock (simul)
Queen's Gambit Declined D38
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Bd2 Nc6 6.e3 Bd7 7.Bd3 0–0 8.0–0 Bxc3 9.bxc3 Ne4 10.Rb1 b6 11.Qc2 f5 12.cxd5 exd5 13.c4 Ne7 14.Ne5 c6 15.Bb4 Rc8 16.f3 Nf6 17.Bd6 Be6 18.c5 Ne8 19.Bxe7 Qxe7 20.cxb6 axb6 21.Rxb6 c5 22.Nc6 Qd7 23.Qxc5 Nd6 24.Rc1 Rfe8 25.a4 Nb7 26.Qb4 Nd6 27.a5 Nc4 28.Bxc4 Rxc6 29.Rb7 Rc7 30.a6 dxc4 31.Qb6 Rxb7 32.axb7 Rb8 33.Ra1 Rxb7 34.Ra8+ Kf7 35.Qc5 Qe7 36.Qc6 Rb1+ 37.Kf2 Qh4+ 0–1 (Glasgow Herald, 13 October 1923, p4.)

Alekhine-R Leigh
Greenock (simul)
Scandinavian Defence B01
1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd8 4.Nf3 Bg4 5.h3 Bxf3 6.Qxf3 c6 7.Bc4 e6 8.0–0 Nf6 9.Rd1 Qc7 10.d4 Bd6 11.Bg5 Nbd7 12.Re1 0–0 13.Rad1 Rac8 14.Bd3 Bb4 15.Ne4 Bxe1 16.Nxf6+ Nxf6 17.Bxf6 Bxf2+ 18.Kxf2 gxf6 19.Qxf6 Qd8 20.Qh6 Qxd4+ 21.Kf1 Qg7 22.Qh5 Rcd8 23.Re1 Rd5 24.Qh4 Rfd8 25.Re3 Rg5 26.Bxh7+ Kf8 27.Be4 Rd2 28.Bxc6 Rd4 29.Re4 Qf6+ 30.Ke1 Rxe4+ 31.Bxe4 Qe5 32.Kf1 Qf6+ 33.Bf3 Rf5 34.Qb4+ Qe7 35.Qc3 f6 36.b4 b6 37.a3 Kf7 38.Kg1 Qd6 39.Qe3 Qf4 40.Qd3 Ke7 41.c4 Qd6 42.Qc3 Qe5 43.Qd3 Qe1+ 44.Kh2 Qe5+ 45.Kg1 ½–½ (1. The Greenock Telegraph, 24 October 1923, p4; 2. V Fiala 1993.)

Alekhine was back in Scotland for another simul tour in 1938. He played in Glasgow on September 20 (won 27, drew 1 and lost 2) and also in Edinburgh sometime in September (no date provided in the book; won 21 and drew 1). From these two exhibitions there is only one rather nice game (no. 2171) in Skinner and Verhoeven's book.

Alekhine-R Smeeton
Glasgow (simul)
Caro-Kann Defence B15
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Bd3 Qc7 6.Ne2 Bg4 7.h3 Bxe2 8.Qxe2 Nbd7 9.0–0 e6 10.Bg5 0–0–0 11.b4 h6 12.Bh4 Bd6 13.b5 c5 14.c3 g5 15.Nxd6+ Qxd6 16.Bg3 Qb6 17.a4 Qa5 18.Rfc1 Rhe8 19.b6 Qxb6 20.Rab1 Qc6 21.Bb5 Qd5 22.Ba6 Nb6 23.a5 bxa6 24.axb6 axb6 25.Rxb6 c4 26.Rcb1 Re7 27.Qa2 Ra7 28.Qa4 1–0 (The Glasgow Herald, 21 September 1938, p6.)

Apparently those were the only two times Alekhine visited Scotland.

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