34 out of 34: Remembering Gustav Neumann

by Johannes Fischer
12/16/2021 – In 1865 Gustav Neumann (15 December 1838 - 16 February 1881) scored 34 points from 34 games in the club tournament of the "Berliner Schachgesellschaft", the Berlin Chess Society. Neumann had not yet played a single international tournament at that time, but he was one of the leading players in Germany and thus one of the leading players in the world. Neumann's opponents in this club tournament were not particularly strong, but to win 34 games without losing or drawing shows ambition and the will to win. Neumann had both.

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Gustav Richard Ludwig Neumann, as his full name was, was born on 15 December 1838 in Gliwice as the son of the book printer Gustav E. Neumann and his wife Josefine, who also came from a family of printers.

After attending grammar school, Neumann went to Berlin in 1860 to study medicine. But apparently he finished neither his medical studies nor his subsequent training as a military doctor. Instead, he passionately devoted himself to chess. He played matches and countless casual games against Adolf Anderssen and in matches against Berthold Suhle and Louis Paulsen, two of the leading players of his time, he gained a reputation as a strong player. From 1863 to 1867 Neumann was also, together with Anderssen, the publishing editor of the Neue Berliner Schachzeitung.

In 1867, two years after his 34.0/34 success in Berlin, Neumann played his first international tournament in Paris. He finished fourth behind Kolisch, Winawer and Steinitz. In 1869 he then won a strong international tournament in Dundee, Scotland, where he finished ahead of Steinitz, McDonnell, de Vère and Blackburne, which indicates that he was indeed one of the world's strongest players of that time. According to Jeff Sonas' subsequent Elo calculations, from 1868 to 1870 Neumann was even the world's number 1.

Gradually, however, Neumann's instable nervous condition began to show more and more often and became more and more pronounced. His frail nervous condition might go back to an accident he had as a 10-year-old, when his head got caught between two bales of paper in his father's print shop. He lost consciousness but seemed to have suffered no physical harm.

In 1870, Neumann still came third behind Anderssen and Steinitz in the strong tournament in Baden-Baden, but two years later, in 1872, he played his last tournament in Altona, Germany. He came second behind Anderssen, but in the course of the year Neumann's mental illness became more and more noticeable. He gave up chess completely and spent the last years of his life in the sanatorium Allenberg near Wehlau, where he died on 16 February 1881.

To conclude, here is one of the 34 games Neumann won in the tournament of the Berliner Schachgesellschaft 1865:



Gustav Richard Ludwig Neumann: Ein Porträt von Michael Negele (In German)

Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".


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