Biographies - Laing

Andrew G. Laing

By Alastair F. White

A G Laing was playing chess in London in the 1930s and 40s, including the war years. Nick Roycroft noted that he had some of his scorebooks which included games against Jacques Mieses (at odds of pawn and move!), and Sir George Thomas. He also played Vera Menchik in 1943. Just a year later she was killed when a V1 flying bomb hit her house.

Moving to Edinburgh after the war, he joined the Edinburgh Club in 1948, and for the next 30-odd years he became the person who more than anyone else contributed to the smooth running of the club. Although you won’t find him in the club’s official Roll of Honour, he was the best Club Secretary we never had. He was the one who selflessly organised the club tournaments, kept track of all the club’s team matches, and made sure all of the members knew what was happening, all of the time. He was also a vice-president in 1960-63.

I can still hear his familiar voice on the phone: “Laing here!” he would say, and then tell you exactly what you needed to know. He would carry a little notebook about with him at all times, and wrote everything down in it.

He was a fairly decent chess player in his day, and regularly played in the Scottish Championship. He was a member of the Edinburgh team who won the Richardson Cup in 1958. His chess style was undeniably a bit wild, usually starting with a speculative opening such as his favourite Danish Gambit before embarking on some equally speculative sacrificial attack. However he was a bit of an expert on these gambits and their associated traps. This one, from the Scottish Championship in 1965, against a former champion, is a corker:

White: A Aird Thomson Black: Andrew G Laing
Scottish Championship 1965
Centre Counter Defence

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6 3. d4 Nxd5 4. c4 Nb4?!
The first trap. It appears White can win a piece by Qa4 followed by d5.
5. Qa4+ N8c6 6. a3
Perhaps realising that an immediate d5 can be answered advantageously by b5! and if cxb5 then Nd4!.
6...Na6 7.d5 Nc5
Setting another trap, which White falls into this time. White should give up on trying to win material and instead retreat his queen.
8. Qb5? e5! 9. dxc6 b6!
Amazingly the White queen has no escape from here and will be lost sooner or later. White gets some compensation but not enough. Laing did not find the best moves but he still won the game.

Later I discovered another side to Andrew. When he discovered that his house was on my own way home, he would sometimes offer me a ‘coffee for a lift’. It was then I discovered that as well as being a chess player, he was an accomplished pianist and could play complex classical pieces almost to concert standard. He introduced me to the delights of modern classicists such as Debussy and Stravinsky; and it was an education for me to hear him play ‘La Mer’, ‘The Firebird’, ’Petrushka’ or ‘The Rite of Spring’. It is surprising how often chess and musical abilities go hand in hand.

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