Miner’s son from a tiny Fife pit village was once the world’s greatest drafts player


Robert Stewart, himself also a miner from Kelty in Fife, reportedly lost only two out of 8,000 games and held the title of World Drafts Champion from 1922 to 1933.

A new annual tournament to find a Scottish Coal Drafts Champion is now being created as part of the Scottish Coal Carrying Championship in memory of Mr Stewart’s skill and achievements.

The events aim to celebrate the history of Kelty and raise the profile of the game of drafts in Scotland.

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Multiple world champion drafts player Robert Stewart hailed from Kelty in Fife.

Donald Oliphant, of the Scottish Drafts Association, said: “A century on from Robert Stewart claiming the World Drafts Title in 1922, the Scottish Drafts Association is delighted to partner with the Coal Carrying Championship organizers to increase the profile of the game in 2022.

“This will allow the community and the rest of Scotland to see for themselves the high level of skill required to play the game at its highest level.

“Nearly everyone has played at drafts but very few move to the next level and begin to realize the vast depth of skill and knowledge required to become a master player.

“This competition gives an opportunity to the people of Fife to see world class drafts on their doorstep.”

Stewart was known to take a pocket set of drafts with him wherever he went and was so thickened in finding his own signature ‘killer move’ that he frequently failed to greet relatives and friends in the street.

His prowess as a chess player was never tested, but Stewart once beat a world grandmaster – in a game of drafts – before pocketing the princely sum of £10.

The Robert Stewart Tournament, for adult elite players of the game, will be held between August 25 and 27 2022 and the final will be played on Coal Race Day on Saturday August 27 2022.

There will also be an opportunity to take part in an “all comers open competition” which will be run in parallel with the main tournament and will consist of both a junior competition and a senior competition.

The drafts events will be sponsored and supported by the Scottish Coal Carrying Championships, the Scottish Drafts Association and head sponsor National Pride UK.

Founded in 1995, the annual Scottish Coal Carrying Championships was created by Michael Boyle, whose aim was to create an enduring link between the modern day village and its rich coal mining heritage.

The race for men requires participants to carry a 50-kilo bag of coal, while those taking part in the ladies’ race have to carry a 25-kilo bag of coal over 1,000 meters through the village of Kelty.

There are also races for children carrying a 15-kilo bag of coal.

National Pride UK sponsors community events and supports community groups through “social value projects” to help economic resurgence in the town and surrounding area.

Irene Bissett of National Pride UK said: “We are delighted to be again sponsoring the Scottish Coal Carrying Championship in Kelty, which is such a fantastic community event.

“The Robert Stewart Tournament not only celebrates his incredible achievement, but we are sure it will inspire all generations to participate in a new annual community event and have fun.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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