Unworldly characters

Unworldly characters

FM like-a-hurricane
Mar 29, 2018, 5:47 AM |

Last year, as well as in 2016, the historical city of Leuven – very close to where I live – received the absolute elite of chess, when they played there for the Grand Chess Tour. I attended the tournament about four times, finding a spot in the most beautiful room of the town hall.


It is quite a special feeling, sitting there, and being so close to those who make nowadays chess history. Just before the beginning of each round one had the likes of Carlsen and Kramnik walk by at an inch’s distance. Sadly for the players, however, they had to share the rather mediocre toilets with the spectators, giving me the experience to have Short on my left and Kasparov on my right, exchanging jokes right after the ludicrous finish of the game between Anand and Kramnik (http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1879793).

Perhaps the most curious among last year’s participants was Vasily Ivanchuk. He could be seen hopping at the town square in front of the town hall, nearly jumping on a bus that might have led him into near-oblivion. A little later he was sitting outside a pub, refusing an order when the waiter came, but still available for selfies.

Chess history is full of players with special characteristics. I recently purchased Michael Ehn’s book on chess in Vienna and learned that Augustin Neumann – one of those highly forgotten players who intrigues me a long time already – was absolutely unable to deal with living in the “normal world” – a fate from which he was spared by an untimely death. In this little article I would like to share a bit of information I found on one of the greatest 19th century masters (about whom my next book will deal) – namely Louis Paulsen.

Several descriptions exist of Paulsen, of his appearance as well as of his character. Just like one of his great rivals, Paul Morphy, Louis Paulsen was highly silent and took a distance from others. The Reverend George Alcock MacDonnell portrayed him in one of his books, writing that he was “ 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.” Another very interesting description comes from an unknown contributor to Miron Hazeltine’s column in the New York Clipper, who lived for a while in the same town as Paulsen – Dubuque, Iowa.

The profanum vulgus still remember him only as a pale young man, lost in abstractions; wandering, at times, from his house to say a few words to the manager of his tobacco business, then silently gliding away. Mr. Paulsen was right in leaving Dubuque: they didn’t appreciate his great worth and powers, and could not understand the soaring flights of his wonderful genius.

Just a single glimpse of Paulsen’s personality comes from a letter he wrote to Hazeltine, which was published in David DeLucia’s book In Memoriam (p. 540). Unlike the descriptions above, Paulsen comes forward from this letter as a lucid mind – hinting that what others perceived as his curious behavior occurred above all in social circumstances.

This letter was part of a scrapbook – it was written on pp. 26-27 of it – and sadly I have been unable to trace any more than that. Apart from it, Paulsen is known to have managed a chess column in The Chicago Sunday Leader – a paper of which no trace can be found anymore in the archives (though the chess column itself survived in the library of Cleveland in the form of another of Hazeltine’s scrapbooks). Regular contributions by Paulsen could also be found in the chess column of the Clipper. Paulsen had the habit of sending batches of games to friended chess editors (like Hazeltine and Löwenthal), so that several of his games were only published in England and the States – and not in Germany. The following game is such an example. In a small introduction, Paulsen wrote how he had received Adolf Anderssen at the estate of his family.

On Pentecost [9 and 10 June 1878] we had the pleasure of a visit from him here [at Nassengrund], on which occasion my brother and myself played a few games with him. Of three games with Wilfried, Prof. A. won two and lost one; with me, his score was just reversed.

Only one of the three games between Anderssen and Paulsen was published. It is not a particularly impressive one, but nevertheless worth mentioning here.

This game was thus not published in Germany around the time it was played – and therefore is not present in the Anderssen biography by Von Gottschall. But by a curious twist it appeared into print in the Deutsche Schachzeitung in 1919. Otto Koch, a priest living in the small hamlet of Tröchtelborn (nowadays ca. 300 inhabitants), had undecked the game in the Clipper. Why and how he found out of this can only be guessed at.