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Crowley vs Whitaker 1916 — Rediscovered!

by Robert T. Tuohey, with the generous research assistance of John S. Hilbert

As alluded to in my article Aleister Crowley…Chess Master?! apocryphal Great Beast games are “Legion, for their name is many” (to paraphrase a certain Good Book which good old Uncle Al would have nothing to do with). In fact, as soon as the piece was published the credulous and the crooked alike began sending me their spurious “finds”. (Oh, that I might digress and detail the marvelous Bela Lugosi-Crowley game, played out using the Frankenstein-Dracula variation, and drawn in 66 moves…or the even more gruesome Crowley-Bloodgood battles… but my tale is sufficiently recondite already.)

I thank my lucky stars, however, that I did not bypass the pdf file sent to me by one Colin S. Mcleod (a faithful visitor to http://www.lashtal.com/nuke/). Herein, amidst a lot of other stuff, I found the following:

The Washington Post: Sunday, May 28, 1916
Whitaker Vs. Crowley

Aleister Crowley, the London poet and mystic, who is in the city, played four games with Norman T. Whitaker, the local master, at the National Press Club, last Friday evening. Whitaker won them all, but only after some excellent playing on both sides. In preparation for his games with Showalter next month and Marshall in the Fall, Whitaker used the Greco-counter opening, which he has analyzed. It has recently occupied a deal in the British chess magazines. (Hereafter, one of the games was given.) (The pdf file is available at http://www.lashtal.com/scanac/1916-May-28.pdf)

Apocalyptic Al versus wily Whitaker?! Holy chaotic chess, Batman, this has gotta be fake!

Holmes-like, I went at the thing, looking for the hamartia, that fatal, telling flaw wherein the lie of it all would crumble. But scrutinize though I did, it all, incredibly, seemed to add up…

Reader, Renaissance-man though I fancy myself to be, I am no Edward Winter (and believe me, buddy, I utter that sacred name in awe). What I needed was an expert ˜ a Whitaker-expert (I’m the Crowley-half of this operation, you knucklehead).

And there’s only one man for that job: John S. Hilbert, noted chess historian, and author of Shady Side: The Life and Crimes of Norman Tweed Whitaker (Caissa Editions, 2000). (For excerpts and info by John himself see http://www.chessarch.com/excavations/0026_whitaker/whitaker.shtml and http://www.chesscafe.com/text/skittles139.pdf.)

John threw his good eye on the pdf file and deemed the thing very probable. He then gave his Whitaker-database a search and - lo and behold - the same game, with no other info, quoted in the Post article was found (in fact, it’s in his book, p. 357, game 63).

Still not satisfied (just because I am paranoid does not mean they are not out to get me), I contacted the site where the pdf file was downloaded from, NewspaperARCHIVE.com. Indeed, they kindly informed me, the file is ours and authentic.

But here’s the subtle point reader: nobody knew it was Crowley, and nobody had ever heard of our two bad boys duking it out for a four-game match!

Let the drums roll and the trumpets sound: the Crowley Canon now stands at six authenticated games!

Here she is, with a few notes by yours truly (oh, come on, you didn’t think I was gonna let this slip by?):

Aleister Crowley - Whitaker [C40]
National Press Club, 1916

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5

The risky and tactical Latvian counter-gambit (not the Greco, as the article cites, which is 2...Qf6).

3.Nxe5 Qf6 4.d4 d6 5.Nf3?!

5.Nc4 Is certainly better. 5...fxe4 6.Ne3 C40 Latvian: Nimzovich variation.

5...fxe4 6.Ng5 d5 7.Nc3

7.c4 h6 8.Nh3 Is the usual continuation.

7...Bb4 8.Be3 Ne7 9.Qd2 0-0 10.a3 Bxc3 11.Qxc3 Nbc6 12.0-0-0 h6 13.h4?!

13.Nh3 The sane, though passive, continuation.

13...hxg5 14.hxg5 Qg6 15.Be2 Bf5 16.Rh2 Qe6 17.Rdh1 Ng6 -+

Black holds the center, and white's speculative attack has been repelled.

18.f3?

A bad idea: both e2 and e3 will be undefended after exf3. However, White has no good counter-play in any case. For example: 18.Qb3 Rab8 19.g4 Bxg4 20.Bxg4 Qxg4 21.Qxd5+ Rf7-+ leads nowhere.

18...Rae8 19.g4 exf3 20.gxf5 Rxf5

White could resign here.

21.Bd3 Qxe3+

"The sovereignty of check" is the nasty sting in this combo.

22.Kb1 Rxg5 23.Bxg6 Rxg6

23...Rg1+ will work, too.

24.Qc5 Rg1+ 25.Ka2 Rxh1 26.Rxh1 Qxd4

Washington Post, May 28, 1916 "Aleister Crowley, the London poet and mystic, who is in the city, played four games with Norman T. Whitaker, the local master, at the National Press Club, last Friday evening. [i.e., the games were played May 26, 1916] Whitaker won them all, but only after some excellent playing on both sides. In preparation for his games with Showalter next month and Marshall in the fall, Whitaker used the Greco Counter Opening, which he has analyzed. It has recently occupied a deal of space in the British chess magazines."

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Game Summary

As the Post article mentions, four games were played in one evening, so they were speed games of some sort (less than an hour each, I would assume). Still, Crowley’s 13. h4, inventive, and unsound, as it is, says something of the man and his playing style (as does 5. Nf3, which surely indicates he was out of practice). Similarly, Whitaker’s adoption of the Latvian defense, which he did not normally employ, and the masterful way he conducts his forces, demonstrate why he was a top-rated player in the U.S. for many years.

Apropos of the odd, in any case, Latvian, I asked John Hilbert, how often did Whitaker use it? John’s database, extending from 1915 to 1975, has but 13 more. Ain’t too many, huh? Why does my chess-sense tell me that this is one of those tools an experienced master keeps in his back-pocket for cagey characters like A.C.?

Via the courtesy, again, of Mr. Hilbert, I am here able to provide those games. (Whitaker Latvian pgn file). John’s book on Whitaker contains 530 games! Read an excerpt at the Chess Cafe archives.

 

Final thanks

Again, to Colin S. Mcleod, for discovering the article and sending it to me, kudos. To Mr. John S. Hilbert, for verifying it and providing information, as well as the rare photo of Whitaker seen at the top of the page (next to Uncle Al in his Mr. Clean guise), and the 13 Latvian games, my deep appreciation.

Next, I must specially thank the fine people at http://www.newsarchive.com There would have been no way, finally, of authenticating the pdf file sent me if not for their courteous and efficient Customer Service Department. This site is an extensive and reliable resource for scanned newspapers. As a research database, http://www.newsarchive.com is to be highly recommended.

Regarding the “flying chess pieces” pic strategically placed between our two combatants, I simply “played a bit of Whitaker” (to re-coin a phrase) at http://www.chessgraphics.net/index.htm.

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