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Ajeeb (Automaton)
Falk, New York (photographer)
TCS 1.183, Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University
Number of games in database: 7
Years covered: 1877 to 1888
Overall record: +4 -3 =0 (57.1%)*
   * Overall winning percentage = (wins+draws/2) / total games.

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(born 1868, died 1936, 68 years old) United Kingdom

[what is this?]
Ajeeb, the second chess automaton to become famous, was built in England by Bristol cabinet-maker Charles Alfred Hooper (1800 - c.1900). Like its predecessor The Turk (Automaton), it was billed as a technological marvel capable of playing chess through purely mechanical means, but in fact concealed a chess master behind its faux gears. It drew tens of thousands of spectators to its games, the opponents for which included Harry Houdini, Theodore Roosevelt, and O. Henry.

After a very successful run in London Hooper took Ajeeb to France, Belgium, Germany and then in 1885 to New York where it was so popular that Hooper made another Ajeeb that performed concurrently in other cities. There were also other unauthorized copies, which makes Ajeeb's history hard to trace.

The best known of Ajeeb's operators was Harry Nelson Pillsbury and after his death in 1906 Ajeeb only played draughts (checkers). Hooper retired to England in 1895 but Ajeeb continued to tour until 1936. The original Ajeeb disappeared during the Second World War and its whereabouts remain a mystery.

The third famous automaton that followed subsequently was Mephisto (Automaton).

 page 1 of 1; 7 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Ajeeb vs F Riemann 0-1251877BreslauC45 Scotch Game
2. Ajeeb vs Lipschutz  0-1311885ExhibitionC50 Giuoco Piano
3. Ajeeb vs NN  1-0151888ExhibitionC51 Evans Gambit
4. Ajeeb vs C Devide 0-1171888Eden Musee ExhibitionC57 Two Knights
5. Ajeeb vs M Bachrach  1-0321888ExhibitionB40 Sicilian
6. Ajeeb vs Baez 1-081888ExhibitionB00 Uncommon King's Pawn Opening
7. Ajeeb vs J Adelson  1-0271888ExhibitionC21 Center Game
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2) | Ajeeb wins | Ajeeb loses  

Kibitzer's Corner
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Apr-13-05  sneaky pete: <... continued to tour until 1936... disappeared during the Second World War.>

Arcade, The Comics Revue, Vol.1 No.5 (Spring 1976) has a story by Kim Deitch "Famous Frauds/The Great Ajeeb". It's situated in October 1950 at "a small carnival (the V.F.W. Annual Fair) in Brooklyn, NYC". Ajeeb (operated by Jesse B.Hanson) is beaten by 7 year old Bobby Fischer. Fiction, I presume?

Elsewhere I've read Ajeeb was destroyed sometime in a fire on Coney Island.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Benzol: If there was more than one Ajeeb then it's possible that all three scenarios could be true.
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  whiteshark: Player of the Day!
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  sleepyirv: "The original Ajeeb disappeared during the Second World War and its whereabouts remains a mystery."

Well I have a new goal in life!

Apr-01-09  TheTamale: Ajeeb's single-game representation in the database probably ranks him as the sorriest Player of the Day ever. Clearly that was not Harry Nelson Pillsbury behind the wheel in that game. In fact, if Ajeeb was really destroyed in a fire, perhaps it was on fire as that game was being played.
Apr-01-09  Slink: <Walter Benjamin> referred to Ajeeb in the first of his Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940), likening historical materialism to the automaton:

"I. It is well-known that an automaton once existed, which was so constructed that it could counter any move of a chess-player with a counter-move, and thereby assure itself of victory in the match. A puppet in Turkish attire, water-pipe in mouth, sat before the chessboard, which rested on a broad table. Through a system of mirrors, the illusion was created that this table was transparent from all sides. In truth, a hunchbacked dwarf who was a master chess-player sat inside, controlling the hands of the puppet with strings. One can envision a corresponding object to this apparatus in philosophy. The puppet called “historical materialism” is always supposed to win. It can do this with no further ado against any opponent, so long as it employs the services of theology, which as everyone knows is small and ugly and must be kept out of sight."

Apr-01-09  Dredge Rivers: Died in 1936????

Automatons don't die as they were never alive in the first place!

Apr-01-09  WhiteRook48: It is presumed dead, not dead! :P
Apr-01-09  Dredge Rivers: <Slink>

Of course! We all know that everything those Marxists say is the gospel truth! :)

Apr-01-09  xequemate: I like to see a game between Ajeeb and The Turk as a type of predecessor of the modern computer championships
Apr-02-09  SBC: .

I've written/transcribed a series of 26 long articles on Automatons, including quite a few on Ajeeb, on my chess blog at -

I don't know if you need to be a member to view them (I don't think you do, but if so , joining is simple and free.)


Premium Chessgames Member
  GrahamClayton: Here is an excerpt from an article in the "Brooklyn Eagle", dated 16 September 1888, about Charles Moehle's role as the human operator of the automaton "Ajeeb":

"The gentleman who plays chess in the automaton box, and who is known as Ajeeb is Mr Charles A Moehle, of St Paul, Minnesota, and he stood fourth in last week's Cincinatti tourney. His task in representing the automaton figure at the Eden Musee, is a very difficult one, inasmuch as he is cooped up within a wax figure and its draperies, divested of most of his clothing, without a chance to stretch himself, and for three hours twice a day, with only a partial view of the chess board before him, and that obtained only through a masked peep hole."

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  Benzol: "Silence, I Keel You!"
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  whiteshark: <sleepyirv: < Well I have a new goal in life! >> Good Luck!
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  Penguincw: I can't remember the last time the POTD was a non-human (literally!), but enjoy! :)
Apr-01-12  David2009: "Are you serious?—do you really believe a machine thinks?"
May-28-12  jnpope: <There are now three Ajeebs in the field, one at the Eden Musee, N.Y., another in the hands of the deputy sheriff in Cincinnati, and a third in Chicago.> source: Newark Sunday Call 1889.01.06

<The Ajeeb, now at Atlanta, Ga., has had hard luck. He has lost the majority of games played, and has been temporarily retired until his manager can secure a stronger set of brains. The last "brains," supposed to be Mr. L. B. Cobb, of Kansas City, left Atlanta after being rather badly defeated by a member of the Atlanta Club.> source: Newark Sunday Call 1889.01.20

Aug-24-12  jnpope: <PILLSBURY WAS AJEEB.

Chess Champion Manipulated the Invincible Automaton in Twenty-third Street.

Those wonderful victories of Ajeeb, the mechanical chess player at the Eden Musee, will not seem so remarkable henceforth, because it has been learned that the mind and hand that guarded the wonder belonged to Harry N. Pillsbury, now champion chess player of the world.

For many years the great automaton of a Turk, bearded, turbaned, richly robed, sitting cross-legged in fine dignity, bowing his head in slow movement and moving men about the board has been one of the greatest puzzles that the metropolis has had to offer.

Chess players have come many miles to see this marvel and to go down before its certain skill. Men hung about it for days trying to solve its mystery.

For a long time no satisfactory explanation of the figure was offered. Those who controlled it sought to convey the impression that it was really an automaton. An attendant would open a door in the back and show intricate clock-work, but nobody would be convinced that is [sic] was not operated by some master player.

Finally it became know that the player was hidden within the figure, and that he watched the board through the draperies. And then people began guessing the name of the player.

Of course, Pillsbury did not always control the figure; it was on exhibition long before he took up the game. Besides, the play of Ajieb [sic] was very uneven. Ordinarily expert players have beaten the automaton, and then Ajieb [sic] has beaten such a great man as Tschigorin, the Russian.

But during the last year Ajeeb has been invincible. Experts found the game particularly enjoyable. By studying the character of the game the able players in this city soon guessed whose fine skill it was that waved Ajeeb's sweeping arms and placed the men so strongly. They laughed among themselves and said nothing about it. So to the great public Ajeeb continued as great a mystery as ever.

When Pillsbury went to Europe last summer Ajeeb went out of business of a few days. But after a time he was ready to meet all comers. There was a difference in his play, however, P. J. Hill, of Boston, was Ajeeb then.

The youthful Brooklyn player went to Europe unheralded, but his victories when pitted against the foremost experts of the world attracted public attention to him.

Pillsbury talked a vast deal about his business engagements, and preserved a great mystery about his business. Now it comes out that he was Ajeeb.

Pillsbury frankly admitted this last night. He said further that he had recently bought the figure, paying a large sum for it.

A reception was tendered to Pillsbury last night in the Central Opera-House, Sixty-seventh street and Third avenue. He is a small, slender, boyish young man with a prominent nose. Gray-haired men were proud to grasp his hand.

The reception was given by the Metropolitan Chess Club. Dr. O. P. Honegger, President of the club, made a speech and Mr. Pillsbury replied. There were music and recitations by Prof. Pieczonca, Weneige, Miss Drescher, Miss Moritz, Tom Clark and the amateur philharmonic orchestra. A supper and dancing followed.> source: New York World, 1895.10.20

Aug-24-12  jnpope: <CHESS PLAYER "AJEEB."

Champion Pillsbury Was Concealed Inside the Museum Wonder.

New York, Oct. 22.—The secret of "Ajeeb," the wonderful Turk who discomfited the best chess players in the country, is at last out. "Ajeeb" had been on exhibition at the Eden musee [sic] for about five years. He purported to be an automaton, with secret knowledge of the seductive game of chess. Steinitz, Tarrasch and the leading amateurs of the country engaged "Ajeeb" in play and without an exception all were defeated. The automaton is about 4 feet high. It is made in the form of a fiercely bearded Turk, dressed in the traditional garb of Turkey. The figure sits cross legged in an upper room of the Eden musee upon a large square box, facing a chess board. The automaton, as alleged, played chess like a thoroughbred, and moved with the precision of a mechanical contrivance. But when Harry N. Pillsbury, the chess champion, went to Hastings, Eng., last spring "Ajeeb" took sick. It was said that the Turk had broken his main-spring. In a week or two, however, the "automaton" resumed business at the old stand and its mystic skill was in no wise diminished.

Chessmen wondered how a mere piece of mechanism could vanquish seasoned experts, but no satisfactory explanation was forthcoming. Champion Pillsbury took pity on the defeated candidates for chess honors, and in the course of a reception in his honor at the Metropolitan Chess club he let the cat out of the bag.

"I was in hopes that the secret of 'Ajeeb' would not be revealed," said Pillsbury, "I confess that I was really the interior of the Turk once and aided him to win his battles against all comers. But I am not now. When I went to England P. J. Hill, of Boston, succeeded me. I have recently purchased the automaton, and I fear since the secret is known the commercial value of the Turk will be lessened. But, nevertheless, I plead guilty to the indictment. It was a pretty tight squeeze and not at all a pleasant duty, but it was business with me, and I often played ten or fifteen games a day. My successor plays even more. Like me, he is rather thin and short and can easily stow himself away and play the Turk's games for him."> source: Sioux City Journal, 1895.10.23

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  TheFocus: <jnpope>

Over on the George Gossip page, I posted something that may interest you:

<TheFocus> <He makes an easy target for ridicule because of his exaggerated self-worth and thirst for controversy.>

Gossip published a book called <Modern Chess Brilliancies>.

Harry Pillsbury got a copy and went through the book making notes, many of which contradicted Gossip's notes.

Pillsbury's copy was recently located and a book is coming out <Modern Chess Brilliancies (Hustled)> with Gossip's and Harry's annotations. Pillsbury's notes will be in red.

One funny note by Harry is "conceited ass", after Gossip praised one of his own games.

The book will be sent out in a couple of weeks. I pre-ordered a copy from the publisher Bob Long at Thinker's Press.

He is publishing only 50 copies. Should be a nice addition to your library if you are a Pillsbury fan.

Aug-24-12  jnpope: Cool. Ordered. Thanks for the heads up on that.
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  TheFocus: <jnpope> You are mighty welcome. I am glad you dropped in before the pre-order sale ended.

Thanks for the <Ajeeb> posts. I added them into my Pillsbury database.

Aug-28-12  jnpope: <At the Manhattan Chess club considerable interest was being displayed in the match between Pillsbury and Showalter, the general impression being that Pillsbury would come out victor. Pillsbury has resumed his position as the brain of Ajeeb, the automaton chess player at the Eden Musee. But as the mystery has been solved, and it is known that the machinery is actuated by human agency, there is not much curiosity manifested by the public, and it is not as well patronized as of yore.> source: Omaha Daily Bee, 1898.03.20
Aug-28-12  jnpope: And then of course the tidbit I had found for the Pillsbury book...

<Harry N. Pillsbury, the American chess champion, having severed his connections with the Eden Musee of Manhattan, has forsaken the metropolis and gone to Philadelphia to reside.> source: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1898.09.09

So based on contemporary reports, it would appear that Pillsbury was Ajeeb from around the time he moved to New York up to the time he went to Hastings, then he owned Ajeeb and P. J. Hill was the main operator, then in early 1898 Pillsbury resumed operating Ajeeb (not sure why) and then ends his relationship with the Eden Musee around Sept. 1898. As Ajeeb was still at the Eden Musee until it closed it's doors, I suspect Pillsbury sold it when he moved to Philadelphia.

Aug-28-12  jnpope: Found a B&W photo of Ajeeb from 1935 (second image):

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