Louis Paulsen

| 25 | Chess Players


     Louis Paulsen was a contemporary of Paul Morphy. His
opinion of Morphy was noted in his obituary.

In 1959 IM Hans Kmoch wrote his well-received book, "Pawn Power in Chess."  An interesting commentary in that book stated:    

All three systems [the Dragon, the Ram or Boleslavky and the Duo or Schevenigen] have been worked out and bequeathed to the chess world by Louis Paulsen; they should bear his name or some descriptive names...
     The ram-move ...P-K4 had been played now and then before Paulsen's time, but it took Paulsen to work it out to a perfect system....The Duo system was Paulsen's main hobby during his entire life. Time and time again he  experimented with ...P-K3, trying out with self-sacrificing zeal all kinds of supplementary ideas. Indeed, this system is named after him - provided Black continues with ....QN-Q2.
     Paulsen's name is never mentioned in connection with the Dragon system, yet it seems that he invented  it himself. At any rate, Steinitz made the remark in the New York 1889 tournament book that "the new move ... P-KN3" was introduced by Louis Paulsen at the Frankfurt tournament [1887 - batgirl].
     Paulsen's invention of the Dragon is the more likely since he generally had a strong predilection for the fianchetto of the King Bishop, which was very strange in his time. He also most likely invented and certainly introduced the King's Indian (1 P-Q4, N-KB3; 2 P-QB4, P-KN3) some forty years before this defense began to gain popularity. Equally he contributed to that variant of the King's Indian which today is called the Yugoslav or Pirc defense (1 P-K4, P-Q3). For there is a documentary remark in the Nuremberg 1883 tournament book, reading: "The actual inventor of this defense is Wilfried Paulsen but [his brother] Louis Paulsen submitted it to a closer investigation."
     Enormous, indeed, is Louis Paulsen's contribution to present-day chess. We may mention in passing that Louis Paulsen (1833-1890) of Germany resided in the United States as a businessman for four years. In the New York 1857 tournament he finished second, after Paul Morphy.

Besides being an innovator, Paulsen was a strong player, placing 2nd in the 1857 American Congress behind Morphy, second in the 1862 London Intern'l.  behind Anderssen, 1st in the 1869 Amburgo ahead of Anderssen and Zukertort, 5th in 1870 Baden-Baden,  1st in 1871 Krefeld, ahead of Anderssen, 5th in 1873 Vienna, 1st in 1877 Leipzig ahead of Anderssen and Zukertort, 1st in 1878 Frankfurt ahead of Anderssen, 2nd in 1879 Leipzig, 1st in 1880 Braunchsweig - after which his tournament results deteriorated.

In match play - beat Kolisch in 1861, drew with Anderssen in 1862, beat both Max Lange and Gustav Neumann in 1864, beat Anderssen in 1870, 1876 and 1877, beat Adolf Schwartz in 1879 (Schwartz had beaten Von Minckwitz in 1878 and took first in Graz, Austria in 1880).


Louis Paulsen

But of all his feats, Paulsen was best known for his blindfold play. The following is an excerpt from the Feb. 1862 issue of "Littell's Living Age":


Nevertheless, inconceivable as these mental labors are, Morphy yields to Paulsen in blindfold play. There are whispers of twelve or fifteen games having been tried simultaneously by the latter; but the number ten has been most certainly reached, under conditions of the utmost publicity.
     On the 7th of October in the present year, at a Divan in the Strand, ten players accepted Mr. Paulsen's challenge to grapple with them all simultaneously, the boards being placed out of his sight. One of the players was M. Sabouroff, [see the Sabouroffs by E. Winter] secretary to the Russian Embassy in London; the other nine comprised many names well known among chess-players. Ten chess-boards were placed on ten tables in the room. An arm-chair, turned away towards a window, was mounted on a dais. At two o'clock in the afternoon, Mr. Paulsen, a quiet, courteous young man, with not a trace of "brag" in him, took his seat in this arm-chair. For welve mortal hours he never rose, never ate, never smoked, and drank nothing but a little lemonade. What were his mental labors during that time, we shall see. His ten antagonists took their seats at the ten tables; and each table speedily became the centre of a group of spectators, whose comments were not always so silent as in fairness they ought to have been. Paulsen could not see any of the chess-boards. Herr Kling, a noted player and teacher of chess, acted as general manager. He called the boards by numbers--No. 1 to No. 10. Paulsen audibly announced his first move for board No. 1; Kling made that move; the antagonist replied to it; Kling audibly announced the reply; Paulsen considered what should be his second move, and when he had audibly announced his decision, Kling made the proper move on the board. Here No. 1 rested for awhile. No. 2 now made his move, leading to the same course of proceeding as before. Then No. 3 in the same way; then No. 4; and so on to No. 10; after which No. 1 began a new cycle, by playing a second move; and thus they proceeded over and over again.
     Now let us see what all this implies and involves. Chess is not one of the most frolicsome of games; indeed, ladies generally declare it to be very dull, seeing that a chess-player is apt to be "grumpy" if spoken to on other matters while playing. The truth is, there is a demand for much mental work in managing a game well; the combinations and subtleties, the attacks and counter-attacks, are so numerous and varied, as to keep the mind pretty fully occupied.
     Nevertheless, a fine game between two fine players is mere child's play compared with this wonderful achievement of Paulsen. He was obliged to form ten mental pictures; and every picture changed with every move, like the colored bits in a kaleidoscope.
     Most persons, even though knowing nothing of the game, are aware that it begins with thirty-two pieces of different colors and forms, and that these move about over a board of sixty-four squares. After every change of position in any one of the pieces, Paulsen must have changed his mental picture of the board, the field of battle, and then made that a fixture until the next move was made. This is hard enough in even one game, against an antagonist who has his eyes to help him in planning attacks and defences; but how hard must it be against ten! It is difficult to conceive what is the condition of the mental machinery under such circumstances; and yet, there he sat, the calmest man in the room. When told of his antagonist's doings, one by one, he looked quietly out of window, and rubbed his chin, as a man often does when thinking, and then announced his move--never mistaking No. 1 for No. 7, No. 9 for No. 3--never failing to recover the proper mental picture, and making the proper change in it; never embarrassed; never making an unlawful move, or likely to lose sight (mental sight) of any unlawful move made by his antagonists. Nor did he obtain the least pause for mental rest. Without one minute's interval, as soon as he had announced a move for one board, he was required to attend to the move of another antagonist at another board. Hour after hour did this continue--all the afternoon, all the evening, midnight, until two in the morning. He made two hundred and seventy moves in the twelve hours, twenty-seven per game average; this gave two minutes and a quarter for the consideration of each move. As all his moves were met by corresponding moves on the part of his antagonists, he was called upon to form five hundred and forty complete mental pictures in twelve consecutive hours, each picture representing the exact mode in which all of the sixty-four squares of a chess-board were occupied. Paulsen won two games, lost three, and drew five.

     Paulsen had tried very hard and in vain to have an even match with Morphy.


                                                   Paulsen - Morphy  1857

     Morphy refused to play Paulsen on even terms and eventually cut off negotiations completely ["I am getting heartedly tired of the subject"].  The entire story can be followed under the Harrisse Correspondence.

     By the same token, William Shepard Walsh wrote a book in 1913 called "A Handy Book of Curious Information" which had a section on blindfold chess - here is an  appropriate excerpt:

     "Yet Paulsen assured his friends that he could play better without the board than with it, that he could almost as easily play twenty games at a time in this manner as he could play ten, and that he performed his marvellous feats with the greatest care and without experiencing headache or uneasiness of any kind.
     Paulsen was on an exhibition tour in England when the News published this information, with his portrait. On September 18 of the same year the same paper was called upon to chronicle another astonishing achievement by another American visitor. Young Paul Morphy, on August 27, at Queen's College, Birmingham, had contested eight games without the aid of chess-board or men, against eight members of the British Chess Association. He won six games, lost one, and tied one. Again the News selects big adjectives to characterize the event.
     Paulsen's game had been  'unexampled';  Morphy's 'may fairly be pronounced unparalleled; because,' the News hastens to explain, 'although we have lately recorded a similar one wherein more games were played simultaneously blindfold by Mr. Paulsen, it must be remembered that in that instance the contest extended over three or four sittings, and Mr. Paulsen was enabled, if he chose, and needed the assistance, to refresh his memory by consulting the chess-board during the intervals; while the games before via were all played out at once, Mr. Morphy never quitting the room from the first move to the last. What adds to the wonder is the fact that he rarely paused a minute to consider any move; and when, as was once or twice the case, a wrong one was announced to him—such as K's Kt so and so, instead of Q's Kt—he instantly corrected it, quietly observing, "The K's Kt cannot go to the square indicated; you mean, of course, Q's Kt. My answer is,"   etc.' "


Louis Paulsen

     According to Hooper and Whyld's The Oxford Companion to Chess:

     "Paulsen discovered a larger number of opening ideas than any of his contemporaries. For the attack he contributed to the Scotch Game, the Goering Gambit, the Paulsen Attack, the Paulsen variations of the Vienna Game, and the Four Knights Opening. For the defence he discovered the Boleslavsky variation, the Paulsen Defence of the Kieseritzky Gambit, and the Paulsen Variation of the Sicilian Defence. He introduced the Pirc Defence and improved Black's chances in the Muzio Gambit and in several lines of the Sicilian Defence. His contributions were not confined to an odd move or improvement here and there: he also invented whole systems of play."

     "Paulsen wrote no books, and none has been written on his theoretical contributions."


                Louis' sister, Amalie, one of the strongest female players of her time

     The Paulsens owned a potato farm in native Nassengrund, Germany.  Because of the potato blight that devasted the European crops in the 1840s and 50s, Louis, along with his brother Ernst and sister Amalie, emigrated to the U.S., settling in Dubuque, Iowa, where they operated a distillery, raised tobacco and made cigars from 1854 to 1861.  Louis was as much, or more, devoted to being a chess master, as he was to being a farmer.  The scientific cultivation of potatoes was his famiy business of which Winfried, as well as Louis and Ernst when they returned to Germany, shared responsibilities.  One variety of potato developed in their Nassengrund laboratory was named the "Anderssen."

     Winfried was a master on a slightly lower level than Louis. Ernst also played but not on a master level. Their sister Amalie, who later married De. Lellmann and bore two children, was one of the strongest women players of her day.  While Louis and Winfried played blindfold against each other (see letter below), they seldom played in the same tournament until the late 1870s.  Louis was present and gave a blindfold exhibtion at Aix-la-Chapelle/Aachen 1868 in which Winfried played in the main tournament, but it wasn't until Krefeld in 1871 that they would both participate. [1st, Louis Paulsen; 2nd, Von Minskwitz; 3rd, Anderssen; 4th Karl Pitschel; 5th Carl Goering and 6th Winfried Paulsen]. They played together in 1877 Leipzig [Louis 1st; Winfried 12th],  1878 Frankfurt [Louis 1st and Winfried 5th],  Leipzig 1879 [Louis 2nd ; Winfried 10th] and Braunchsweig  1880 [Louis 1st ; Winfried 6th].


Barmen 1869
               Schallopp, Winfried Paulsen, Anderssen, Hein, Minckwitz, Zukertort



from "The Illustrated London News," June 29, 1861

Mr. Paulsen, the Famous Blindfold Chessplayer.
      As considerable curiosity has been expressed regarding the movements of Mr. Paulsen since his arrival in Europe, the following letter of his to a friend will not be without interest to the amateurs of chess :—
     Since my arrival here on the 12th of December I have neither done anything important in chess, nor heard any interesting news; and have not even yet determined when I shall go to Berlin and Breslau to challenge Anderssen, Lange, and Suhle. As soon as I make up my mind when and where I shall commence operations I will inform you, and, at the conclusion of some matches, send you some games. All my little chess doings while here are ten blindfold games played simultaneously at Hamelu, of which I won nine and lost one, after six hours' play: and eight blindfold games at Lemgo, all of which I won in the course of five hours and a half.
     My father has presented me with some books on mathematics, which I am studying in the daytime. Every evening from six to eleven o'clock I practice chess with my brother Wilfred, who is also a good blindfold player, as he has lately proved by playing nine blindfold games simultaneously, and beating all his opponents in the course of seven hours. Of fifteen blindfold games (five played at a time) which we tried against each other, I won nine, lost two, and made four drawn games. While playing single games over the board our score is even thus far.

With many good wishes, I remain yours truly,
May 7, 1861.


                                              Louis Pausen and Max Lange


(1833 - 1891)
by George Alcock MacDonnell

taken from "The Knights and Kings of Chess" - 1894 

     A notable figure in the London Tournament 1862 was Louis Paulsen. On that occasion he lost but two games - those to Anderssen and to Dubois - and won the second prize. He had previously distinguished himself by winning the second prize in the first American Congress, held in 1857; also in 1861, when he visited this country, he took part in the Bristol tourney, and, beating Boden and others, won the first prize. That same year he played a match with Kolisch, which, after a prolonged contest, was abandoned as drawn; at one time Paulsen's score was 6 to 1, but, greatly to his credit, Kolisch fought on bravely, and eventually scored 5 to his opponent's 6, with 14 draws. It was reported at time that when the score was 6 to 1 against Kolisch, he was greatly encouraged to exert himself to the utmost by the back-pats and promises of pecuniary reward given to him by the late Mr. N. Strode, of Chiselhurst, a well-known member of the St. George's Chess Club. It was said Mr. Strode gave him 5 pounds for every game he drew, and a still larger sum for every game he won.

     In 1861 Louis Paulsen gave a grand blindfold performance at Simpson's Divan, when he conducted 10 games simultaneously, of which he won 6, lost 3, and drew 1. His conquering Captain Mackenzie on that occasion has been paraded as a wonderful victory. But it was really nothing of the kind. I was present at the Divan shortly after the commencement of the contests, and learnt that Mackenzie had made - what some one calls a finger-slip - a mistake in the opening, whereupon, after a few more moves, Mackenzie, being obliged by appointment to leave the Divan, resigned the game.

     That memorable seance lasted from 2 p. m. to 12 a. m., and during that period Paulsen occupied a chair on the platform, with his face to the wall and his back to the players. He never left his seat but once for about five minutes, and never took any refreshment except one bottle of lemonade. This story has been mistakenly told of Blackburne by a recent writer on blindfold play.

     Mackenzie encountered Paulsen in off-hand games over the board in 1862, when the German scored a slight majority against him. The same year Paulsen played Steinitz two or three games, giving him the odds of pawn and move as an experiment, Paulsen at the time holding that the odds did not mean defeat between equal players. Needless to say Steinitz won easily all the games so played. In 1873, I am credibly informed that Paulsen and Steinitz played a series of games together, after Steinitz had won the first prize in the Vienna tournament, the result being that the German beat Steinitz by the odd game. The score, as reported to me, was 3 to 2, exclusive of draws.

     Herr L. Paulsen was a player of great strength and profundity. He loved chess and devoted much time in private to the study of the game. He invented many beautiful and ingenious moves in the openings which have long since been awarded places among the classics, notably so in the Evans, Allgaier, and Muzio Gambits. He was undoubtedly one of our greatest duellists. Steinitz used to say that he would dread a match with him more than with any other man. He wore on such occasions a countenance of imperturbable gravity - I might say - solemnity - that startled, nay, almost terrified, an opponent. The late Mr. Boden told me that he couldn't stand it - I mean sit it out. As you sat fighting with him he looked pregnant with reproaches for the man who would beat him and thereby intensify his melancholy. "As I saw him opposite to me," added Boden, "I felt as if he was driving me mad, and so I lost first my senses and then the game".

     For many years past Louis Paulsen seldom took part in grand tournaments. This was owing to the introduction of the time limit rather than pressure of business engagements. He may have been quick-sighted over the board, as he certainly was away from it, but he was undoubtedly very slow in his moves. When on one occasion a provincial youth watched him for three-quarters of an hour considering his move, which was pawn to rook's third, "Well", said the youth, turning to a friend and heaving a sigh, "what a long time for such a short move".

     Herr Louis Paulsen was a very simple-minded, unworldly-wise man, always absorbed in the work upon which he was engaged, and forgetful of everything else. Some years ago he visited Baden, and entered his name for the tourney there. He took lodgings for the first night, but not finding himself comfortable in them, resolved to change his quarters. Accordingly he started early next morning on a voyage of discovery; and, after inspecting many apartments, at last succeeded in obtaining what he thought would be a suitable lodging. He engaged it and told the attendant he would send in his portmanteau in the afternoon. "Oh!", said the girl, "your luggage is here. It is in one of the rooms on the opposite side of the house. Don't you know you slept here last night, and I gave you your breakfast this morning?" He had only wandered about the town in a circle, and was now returning to the house whence he had started.

     On another occasion - towards the end of a tournament game - an unmistakable draw - he pored and pored over the board until at last his opponent, seeing that the sand-glass was just running out, pointed to it, and asked him what he was thinking of, for that nothing could be done, the game being draw by its nature. " Thinking of?" exclaimed Paulsen "why, if we draw, I have the move next game, and I was thinking what opening I should play." Then his glass ran out before the completion of the required number of moves, and the game was scored against him.

     Louis Paulsen was born at Blumberg, in Germany, on June 15th, 1833, and at an early age was taught to play chess by his father, Dr. Carl Paulsen. In 1854 he emigrated to America, and with his brother Ernest established a business at Dubuque, in Iowa. In 1857 he took part in the first American Congress, and won the second prize, Paul Morphy winning the first. In 1860 he returned to Germany, and the following year visited England and won the first prize in the Bristol tourney, beating Horwitz, Boden, and Kolisch. His subsequent career is well known to the students of chess history. He died in Germany on July 19th, 1891.

     Louis Paulsen looked, and I believe was, a very fine fellow. Tall and with a massive head, he was the picture of thought and amiability. He was very gentle in all his actions, and, though he seldom opened his lips, yet he was never wanting in kindliness or courtesy. In short, no foreign chess player was ever in this country more respected for his character or admired for his skill.


     This is a (circa 1910) photograph of the Paulsen Farm, established in 1875 in Nassengrund, Germany.  Carl (Louis' father) and Winfried (Louis' brother) Paulsen were listed as the original directors of this potato hybridization facility.
     The apocryphal story is that Louis Paulsen took a daily walk from Nassengrund to Blomberg and back at the same time each day to the very minute with such regualrity that the villagers would set their watches and clock by Paulsen.



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