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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Louis Paulsen was an astounding chess master.

PAULSEN, Louis. (Blomberg, Germany, June 15, 1833--London, England, August 18 1891). Paulsen, a resident of Dubuque where he engaged in farming and, with his brother, the operation of a cigar store, was considered one of the 19th century’s greatest American chess masters. Aron Nimzowitsch, the celebrated Danish chess player and writer, listed Paulsen among his six greatest "purely defensive players." (1) In 1959 IM Hans Kmoch wrote his well-received book, Pawn Power in Chess, "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." (2) 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 defense he invented the Boleslavsky variation, the Paulsen Defense of the Kieseritzky Gambit, and the Paulsen Variation of the Sicilian Defense. He introduced the Pirc Defense and improved Black's chances in the Muzio Gambit and in several lines of the Sicilian Defense. (3)

Louis learned the game by watching his father who reluctantly taught his son when the boy was only six. One year later, Louis defeated all the chess players of Blomberg including the school teacher. (4) Although good in mathematics and languages, he did not meet the university standards and neglected the game. (5) In the fall of 1854, Louis and his brother left Europe. Louis played chess irregularly until several years after settling in Dubuque. He had his brother operated a tobacco store located at No. 7 between Clay and White STREETS. (6)

At the age of thirteen, Paulsen is said to have heard about François-André Danican Philidor, a great chess master, who first astounded observers by playing blindfolded on May 9, 1783. (7) This may have appealed to Paulsen who had the habit of memorizing the steps of each game he had lost and reviewing them after he had gone to bed. (8) His chess talent was discovered by a Minneapolis player known today only as Allison who arranged for Paulsen to visit the Chicago Chess Club where he demonstrated his astonishing ability to play blindfolded. (9)

Paulsen's international recognition began with the first American Chess Congress held in New York City from October 6 to November 10, 1857. (10) Considered front-page news with the top sixteen American players invited, Paulsen used the event to demonstrate playing two or more games simultaneously, with a bandage over his eyes, using only his memory and imagination. His opponent's moves and his responses were all given orally. Whereas Paul Morphy, considered another master at blindfolded play, limited himself to eight games simultaneously, Paulsen played ten to twelve. (11)

In the actual competition, Paulsen was beaten for the championship by the remarkable Paul Morphy. One of the draws and the single loss of a game by Morphy has been attributed to the fact that Paulsen was a notoriously slow player while Morphy was unusually fast. In their second game, Paulsen often took as much as an hour to make a move. Some games lasted fifteen hours. (12) Morphy became so incensed that he insisted the time used by both players be recorded. (13)

Paulsen returned to Dubuque on December 28, 1857, and again proved his mastery by challenging seven members of the DUBUQUE CHESS CLUB which he founded in 1858, to matches on February 18-20, 1858, winning each match. Following his Dubuque triumph, Paulsen challenged ten members of the Chicago Chess Club to simultaneous matches winning nine of the ten and tying the tenth. (14) In 1860 chess players in Dubuque began raising $500 to entice Paul Morphy to come to Dubuque and attempt to beat Paulsen. (15)

The First American Chess Congress led to many other international competitions. Paulsen placed 1st at Bristol (1861), 2nd at London (1862), 2nd at Baden-Baden (1870), 1st at Krefeld (1871), 1st in Leipzig (1877), 2nd at Leipzig (1879) and 4th at Breslau (1889). (16)

In 1862 Paulsen challenged Adolf Anderssen for the world championship. The eight-game match was a tie and Anderssen remained the unofficial world champion. In 1876 and 1877, Paulsen defeated Anderseen. (17)

Paulsen died from problems associated with diabetes. Towards the end of his life, his tournament participation dwindled. It is thought that the introduction of time controls and the chess clock may have played a role. (18) Paulsen wrote no books and none has been written on his theoretical contributions. (189)

Chessmetrics Player Profile: (20) Best World Rank: #1 (39 different months between the April 1862 rating list and the July 1878 rating list) Highest Rating: 2710 on the October 1862 rating list, #1 in world, age 29y9m

Members of the First American Chess Congress. Paulsen is the second person shown in the left column.



1. Wikipedia. "Louis Paulsen."p. 1

2. Chess.com. "Louis Paulsen," Online. http://www.chess.com/blog/batgirl/louis-paulsen?_domain=old_blog_host&_parent=old_frontend_blog_view, p. 1

3. Chessgames.com. "The Chess Games of Louis Paulsen." Online--http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessplayer?pid=10343, p. 2

4. "Louis Paulsen, the Great Chess Player," Der National Demokrat, May 17, 1858

5. Der National Demokrat, May 17, 1858

6. Day, Robert. "Dubuque's Chess Whiz, the Glory That Was His," Telegraph-Herald, August 18, 1972, p. 4

7. Wikipedia. "François-André Danican Philidor", p. 3

8. Der National Demokrat, May 17, 1858

9. Spraggett on Chess. "Louis Paulsen: The Father of Modern Opening Theory," Online: http://kevinspraggett.blogspot.com/2009/02/louis-paulsen-father-of-modern-opening.html, p. 3

10. The First American Chess Congress of 1857. "The Life and Chess of Paul Morphy," Online-http://www.edochess.ca/batgirl/morphybio4.html, p. 1

11. "Louis Paulsen," New York Times. Online--http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F30B17F73F5E10738DDDA90A94D0405B8185F0D3

12. Spraggett on Chess. p. 4

13. Spragget on Chess. p. 4

14. "Mr. Louis Paulsen," Der Demokrat, May 12, 1858

15. "Chess," Dubuque Herald, January 15, 1860, p 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18600115&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

16. Chessgames.com., p. 2

17. Wikipedia. "Louis Paulsen." p. 1

18. Spragget on Chess, p. 5

19. Chessgames.com., p. 2

20. Chessmetrics Player Profile: Louis Paulsen. Chessmetrics. Online--http://chessmetrics.com/cm/CM2/PlayerProfile.asp?Params=199510SSSSS3S098485000000111000000000023610100, p. 1

The date of death was found in "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, August 20, 1891, p. 4