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Notes from Aleister Crowley’s Chess Set

Transcribed and annotated by Robert T. Tuohey

Despite a number of biographies, and a good deal of specialized research as well, to a large extent, the Great Beast remains a mystery. One of the grey areas in Crowley’s life, which I attempted to address in my pair of modest articles, was his involvement with chess. Still, I certainly knew that my humble efforts no more than scratched the surface.

It was somewhere over a year ago that Mr. Paul Feazey, of Lashtal.com, sent me a PDF copy of eight handwritten pages by Crowley on chess. This very interesting, and, as we shall see, curious, document, was given by Crowley to his student Grady McMurtry, who, eventually, stored it in the OTO Archives (from whence it found its way to Mr. Feazey).


Click on the image above to see it full-sized.

Although a number of problems face anyone attempting to tackle this document in the original (see Lashtal.com), I believe it to be a very important contribution to our understanding of this aspect of Crowley’s life.

I would like to expressly thank the OTO Archives for their work in this matter.

Prefatory Comments

  1. As remarked, the original is handwritten. This presents a series of minor difficulties with the games-scores. First, the header information (names, location, date) is often illegible, and in all cases incomplete. Next, the game-scores themselves have a number of moves miswritten (certainly a very common occurrence for chess players). I have overcome the latter difficulty, but the former remains to be solved.
  2. The final position given in the Notes, from an unknown source, is glossed by Crowley thus, “Black played Kt x R +. White resigned. Why?” This is odd because the position is certainly won for White. I can only imagine that the comment is meant ironically.
  3. The order of the games here presented is as in the PDF copy (which I assume reflects the original). This order however is certainly not chronological, but as no dates are given (save game three which Crowley glosses with “My last game, at the age of 59”, which can be thus pegged at circa 1934), this cannot be corrected here.
  4. Any comments I have added to the Notes I have put into parentheses ending with RT.
  5. The sections which the Notes is divided into is quite clear: first, some outline advice for beginners, the body containing five of Crowley’s games, and a final (source unidentified) position.
  6. I have added diagrams to critical positions in the games.
  7. Here is a zipped PGN file of these Notes and Crowley’s other chess games.

Notes From Aleister Crowley’s Chess Set

Notes for beginners in chess:

Knight at R4 is often a strong defensive position.

Knight at R5 is often a strong aggressive position.

But don’t let them be blocked out of the game, or remain idle after the first emergency is past.

Bishops supporting advanced pawns good, but avoid their being blocked by them.

Don’t disperse your forces, or allow your foe to do so.

Every piece should be employed for attack and defense simultaneously, at least when an attack is well started. To use a piece for one purpose only is to halve its value.

Keep at least one smaller piece, besides the rook and the unbroken pawns, to guard the king when the main conflict is elsewhere. (This, of course, early in the game.)

Be always watchful for sacrificial BxP or BxP check, especially if there is a file open for your knight.

Rooks are like heavy artillery; most powerful at long range. They are easily shut out, or boxed up. They are at the mercy of attacking minor pieces and pawns; their only resource is to move out of danger, and they are clumsy to handle. “Give them air!”

Games

[White "Brown"]
[Black "Crowley"]

1. e4 Nf6 2. Nc3 d5 3. exd5 Nxd5 4. Ne4 Bf5 5. d3 e6 6. Nf3 h6 7. Be2 Nd7 8. O-O N7f6 9. Ng3 Bh7 10. Ne5 Bd6 11. f4 c6 12. c3 Qc7 13. d4 O-O 14. c4 Ne7 15. c5 Bxe5 16. fxe5 Ne4 17. Nh5 Rad8 18. Bf3

18...Nxc5 19. Bxh6 Nf5 20.Bxg7 Rxd4 21. Qc2 Nd3 22. Bxf8 Qxe5 23. Qe2 Kxf8 24. Qxe5 Nxe5 25. Nf6 Bg6 26. Be2 Rd2 27. Rae1 Ne3 28. Rf2 Rxb2 29. Bf1 Rxf2 30. Kxf2 Nxf1 31. Rxe5 Nxh2 32. Ke1 Ke7 33. Ng8+ Kd6 34. Ra5 Ng4 35. Rxa7 b5 36. Ne7 Bh5 37. Nc8+ Kd5 38. Rd7+ Kc5 39. Rd2 Ne3 40. Nd6 Bg6 41. Kf2 Nc4 42. Nb7+ Kb4 43. Rd8 Be4 44. Rf8 f5 45. Nd8 Bd5 46. Nf7 Nd2 47. Ne5 Ne4+ 48. Ke3 c5 49. Nd3+ Ka3 50. Rb8 c4 51. Nf4 Nf6

(No result is given in the Notes. The position is, however, very likely a draw. RT.)

 

[Site "Metropolitan Chess Club"]
[White "Lloyd"]
[Black "Crowley"]
[Result "0-1"]

1. e4 Nf6 2. Nc3 d5 3. e5 d4 4. exf6 dxc3 5. bxc3 gxf6 6. Ne2 e5 7. Bb2 Bf5 8. Ng3 Bg6 9. Be2 Nc6 10. O-O Qd7 11. Bf3 O-O-O 12. d3 f5 13. Qe2 Re8 14. Rfe1 Bg7 15. Nh5 f6

16. Rab1 e4 17. Nxg7 exf3 18. Qxe8+ Bxe8 19. Ne6 Ne5 20. Nc5 Qg7 21. g3 Qg4 22. Ne6 h5 23. Nf4 Rg8 24. h3 Qxf4 25. Kh2 Qd2 26. Rf1 h4 27. g4 fxg4 28. d4 g3+ 0-1

 

[Date "1934"]
[White "Crowley"]
[Black "NN"]
[Result "1-0"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Bg5 d5 4. e3 Be7 5. Nd2 O-O 6. Bd3 Nbd7 7. f3 h6 8. Bh4 a6 9. Ne2 dxc4 10. Nxc4 b5 11. Nd2 c5 12. Bf2 c4 13. Bc2 e5 14. O-O Bb7 15. b3 Nb6 16. Re1 c3 17. Nxc3 exd4 18. exd4 Rc8 19. Nde4 Bb4 20. Qd3 Nbd5

21. Nc5 g6 22. Nxb7 Qc7 23. Nc5 1-0

 

My last game at the age of 59:

[White "Crowley"]
[Black "C. Boyce"]
[Result "1-0"]

1. c4 d5 2. cxd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qd8 4. d4 e6 5. e4 Bb4 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. Bd3 Nc6 8. O-O O-O 9. Bc2 Qe7 10. e5 Ne8

11. Bxh7+ Kh8 12. Bc2 g6 13. Bh6 Rg8 14. Ne4 f5 15. exf6 Qh7 16. Nfg5 Qd7 17. f7 Rf8 18. Bxf8 Bxf8 19. fxe8=Q Qxe8 20. Qf3 Nxd4 21. Qh3+ 1-0

 

[White "Crowley"]
[Black "Croker"]
[Result "1-0"]

1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. g3 Bc5 4. Bg2 Nc6 5. Nf3 e4 6. Nh4 g5 7. Nf5 d6 8.Ne3 Qe7

9. Ned5 Nxd5 10. cxd5 Ne5 11. Nxe4 f5 12. Nxc5 dxc5 13. d4 Nf7 14.dxc5 Qxc5 15. O-O Qd6 16. Qd4 Rg8 17. f4 c5 18. Qe3+ Kd8 19. b3 Bd7 20. Bb2 Re8 21. Qd3 Qb6 22. Rf2 gxf4 23. gxf4 Nh6 24. h3 Bb5 25. Qd2 Kd7 26. Be5 Rg8 27. a4 Ba6 28. Qc3 Rac8 29. Rc1 Qg6 30. Qe3 Qh5 31. Rxc5 Qh4 32. Rxc8 Rxc8 33. b4 b6 34. b5 Bb7 35. a5 Rg8 36. Qd4 Rg3 37. Bf6 Qxh3 38. Bg5 Nf7 39. axb6 axb6 40. e4 Nxg5 41. Qg7+ Kc8 42. Rc2+ Kd8 43. Qc7+ Ke8 44. Qb8+ Kf7 45. Qxb7+ Kg6 46. Qxb6+ Kh5 47. fxg5 1-0

Black plays Kt x R+. White resigned. Why?

(As remarked in the Prefatory Comments, this gloss by Crowley is something of a mystery, for after NxR+, White simply replies BxN, then Qa6+ Ke1, and Black is absolutely lost. I can only imagine that Crowley’s comment is meant to be ironic. RT.)

Finis

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