THE Chinese pianist Chenyin Li last night won the Scottish International Piano Competition after the closest-run final in the history of the event.

The 25-year-old pianist from Beijing collected prizes of (pounds) 10,000 in cash, a Bluethner grand piano worth around (pounds) 35,000, the Sir Alexander Stone Memorial Trophy, and the Frederic Lamond gold medal.

Ultimately the young pianist, currently studying in London, swept the board, but chairman of the judges, pianist John Lill, said the decision had been awarded to Chenyin Li ''by a hair's breadth''.

Mr Lill said that he could not recall a higher standard than that set by the four finalists last night, each of whom performed a concerto with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and chief conductor Alexander Lazarev. All four of them, he said, are guaranteed a career in a tough profession.

''We had four highly expert performances, and voting was so close as to produce three people virtually in first position,'' said the chairman of a judging panel that included a roster of celebrated international pianists.

Second prize of (pounds) 5000 went to Georgian pianist Marina Nadiradze, 22, a local favourite who won a scholarship at the last SIPC and has been studying and performing in Scotland for the past two years. Miss Nadiradze also won a (pounds) 500 prize for the best performance of the mandatory piece, a commissioned work from composer John McCabe.

Third and fourth prizes of (pounds) 2500 and (pounds) 1500 went to Japanese pianist Ayako Kimura and Israeli, Albert Mamriev.

The four pianists had reached last night's finals through a series of eliminatory rounds held in Glasgow over the last 10 days. From the original 39 in the opening round, 12 were selected to go forward to the semi-finals, and four of these to the finals.

Several strong candidates, including at least one spectacular Russian contender, failed to make the final. Lill said the standard throughout the semi-finals had been ''exceptionally high'', and that choosing between pianists of different ages, characters, and ranges of musicianship had been difficult.

''It's as difficult as comparing the colour blue and the colour green,'' he said.

The eight semi-finalists who did not make it to the finals left with (pounds) 750 in prize money.