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Guillaume Schlumberger
March 2006

Not a whole lot is known of Wilhelm (William) Schlumberger.

He was born in Mulhouse in Alsace region of France - around 1800 give or take a few years - where the Schlumberger family operated a large winery that is in operation today. They were also industrialists who operated fabric mills in the area. Schlumberger was a leading French player (his German name comes from the fact that Alsace lies next to Germany and has often changed alliances throughout history between France and Germany. During Schlumberger's life, Alsace was French. In America, his German acquaintances called him the Swiss, since at one time the area around Mulhouse was Swiss territory). He's best known for his chess in America where he arrived on October 1, 1826 under a contract to operate Maelzel's automaton, the Turk. He was the Turk's last operator (previous operators during its European tour had been Johann Allgaier in Germany,  Boncourt, Wéiyle, Aaron Alexandre and Jacques-Francis Mouret in France, Elija Williams and William Lewis in England - additionally, the possibility of  Lloyd Smith). Surprisingly, he was to replace an young French woman who, for lack of chess players in America, was the operator when the Turk premiered on April 13, 1826 at the National Hotel, l12 Broadway, NY. She was only capable of playing pre-established endgames. Schlumberger had his own peculiar experiences. He almost gave away the secret of the Turk when some school boys reportedly saw him exiting the cabinet after an exhibition. Then on January 30 and 31, 1827, the Turk played a game against a certain Mrs. Fischer. Mrs. Fischer won the game. After the game Maelzel explained that the Turk had only ever lost three games; once in Paris, once in Boston and by Mrs. Fischer in Philadelphia. The game, published in the newspapers, was possibly the first published game by an American woman chess player.

Edgar Allen Poe wrote in his famous exposé of the Turk:

     There is a man, Schlumberger, who attends him wherever he goes, but who has no ostensible occupation other than that of assisting in the packing and unpacking of the automaton. This man is about the medium size, and has a remarkable stoop in the shoulders. Whether he professes to play chess or not, we are not informed. It is quite certain, however, that he is never to be seen during the exhibition of the Chess-Player, although frequently visible just before and just after the exhibition. Moreover, some years ago Maelzel visited Richmond with his automata, and exhibited them, we believe, in the house now occupied by M. Bossieux as a Dancing Academy.
     Schlumberger was suddenly taken ill, and during his illness there was no exhibition of the Chess Player. These facts are well known to many of our citizens. The reason assigned for the suspension of the Chess-Player's performances, was not the illness of Schlumberger. The inferences from all this we leave, without farther comment, to the reader.

Schlumberger was educated in Paris. He was a fine mathematician, spoke French and German as his native tongues and was fluent in English. He had a fondness for books and literature. Starting his adult life in his family business, he and his brother shared the responsibility of the Parisian dépôt to that business. Due to a business reversal (St. Amant claimed, probably incorrectly, it was Schlumberger losing his patrimony gambling at chess) Schlumberger left the business and started teaching chess at the Café de la Régence to support himself. Since he started as Professeur des Échecs, in all likelihood, he had been spending an inordinate amount of time playing chess - perhaps time that should have been spend on his business responsibilities. Around 1823 Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint Amant sought out Schlumberger for lessons in improving his chess. At that time Schlumberger was receiving Pawn and move from La Bourdonnais and played even with Mouret and Boncourt. The Parisian players somehow found the name Schlumberger distasteful and would only refer to him as Mulhouse. Making a living as a chess professional was precarious at best. When he was approached by a representative of Maelzel to emigrate to the United States with the steady job as the Director of the Turk, Schlumberger jumped at the chance. Maelzel most likely paid for his relocation and they contracted his salary at $50 per month. Besides his work as Director of the Turk, Schlumberger seems to have had contracted to perform in the positions of Assistant, Secretary and Clerk. Eventually he also became Maelzel's possibly only friend and confidant.

Schlumberger's disembarked in New York City and arrived in Boston on the 1st of October, 1826. His arrival was not kept secret since Maelzel had decided that such a thing was futile. Instead Schlumberger mingled with the cream of the Bostonian players: Samuel Dexter, Robert T. Paine, Benjamin Lynde Oliver, all three attorneys,  Mr. Piquet, the French consul and Dr. Benjamin D. Greene. Schlumberger knew Dexter from la Régence He proclaimed Mr. Oliver Boston's best player. Maelzel started the tradition of dining with Schlumberger and playing chess while they ate. Maelzel was every bit addicted to chess as his Director, though Maelzel was only an average player. However, Maelzel was a particularly strong endgame player, even better than Schlumberger himself.

Schlumberger was a tall man of over 6 feet with a large, muscular, well-proportioned figure. He had a finely shaped head with dark brow hair and chestnut eyes. He did, however walk with a slump ("a remarkable stoop in his shoulders" - E. A. Poe). While he dressed appropriately in social situations, he was known to be somewhat disheveled when playing chess. He considered himself stronger at draughts than at chess.

Initially, the Turk had been playing endgames only:  first operated by the French woman who was the wife of an operator of one of Maelzel's other attractions, and, after she vanished, by some hastily selected and trained recruits. Schlumberger's arrival was was a relief to Maelzel. The American public was more eager to see the Turk play full games, such as it had in Europe, than just the endgames. On October 16, 1826 the Turk gave its first full game demonstration. Schlumberger had undergone a four day crash course in the operation of the Turk. It's not surprising the he lost a game that day to "a mere youth." However, Maelzel was less forgiving the following week when Schlumberger lost a game to Dr. Benjamin Greene. While Maelzel specifically announced during his opening speech that the Turk was not invincible, he considered losing the next worst thing after having its secret uncovered. In all the cities they played - New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Richmond, Washington, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Pittsburg, Havana - Schlumberger seldom lost whether playing as the Turk or as himself.

On November 9, 1837, Schlumberger and Maelzel sailed to Havana, Cuba. While there he contracted Yellow Fever and died in April of 1838. Maelzel himself died of the same disease while sailing back to Philadelphia and died off the coast of Charleston on July 21, 1838.


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