Blackburne and the Devil

Dec 21, 2011, 4:58 PM |

Though he was likely unaware of it,  Blackburne played a soon-to-be rather notorious opponent in one of his simuls.

"My one serious worldly ambition had been to become the champion of the world at chess. I had snatched a game from Blackburne in simultaneous play some years before. I was being beaten in the Sicilian defence. The only chance was the sacrifice of a rook. I remember the grand old master coming round to my board and cocking his alcoholized eye cunningly at me.
     "Hullo," said he, "Morphy come to town again!"
I am not coxcomb enough to think that he could not have won the game, even after my brilliancy. I believe that his colossal generosity let me win to encourage a promising youngster."
-Aleister Crowley from "The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: an autohagiography"


The game above, and the notes, all came from the "Chess Notes" in the April 18, 1894 issue of the "Eastbourne Gazette" (a tabloid-type paper published every Wednesday).  The "Gazette" Chess Notes was eited by Crowley using the pseudonym, "Ta Dhuibh," from January to July 1894. He doesn't specify that the game given above was his game.

In his "Confessions" he wrote:
At Eastbourne, I had still no interest in games. I was still prevented from anything like intimate association with my fellow creatures. I was still ignorant of the existence of English literature and I became a first-rate French scholar without reading any French literature. In my play time I was either hunting flappers on the front, playing chess or climbing Beachy Head. My chess was almost entirely book learning and I was very much surprised to find myself the best player in the town. For although the local champion insisted on giving me pawn and more, I beat him so easily every time I met him that the odds might have been reversed without making much difference to the result. I edited a chess column in the Eastbourne Gazette and made myself a host of enemies by criticizing the team. I wanted to arise enthusiasm, to insist on study and practice and to make Eastbourne the strongest town in England. The result fell short of breaking up the club, but not very far.


Below is a chess problem Crowley published in the Feb. 21, 1894 issue of the "Eastbourne Gazette," one of many created and published by Crowley during those 7 months :


Crowley claimed he learned chess at age 6 but only started playing competitvely while attending Eastbourne College (where this simul game took place). Later while attending Cambridge, he allegedly beat the chess club president in his first year. He also claims to had frequently beaten Bird at Simpson's. He retired from chess at age 22 when he watched the masters (including JH Blackburne) playing at a tournament (Internationales Turnier Berlinm 1897) and became disgusted, viewing them as shoddy parodies of humanity.