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The Turk 
The Turk (Automaton)
Number of games in database: 7
Years covered: 1770 to 1827
Overall record: +5 -2 =0 (71.4%)*
   * Overall winning percentage = (wins+draws/2) / total games
      Based on games in the database; may be incomplete.

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000 Chess variants (3 games)

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(born 1769, died 1854, 84 years old) Hungary

[what is this?]
The Turk was designed by Hungarian engineer and inventor Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen in 1769. It was billed as a "chess playing automaton" capable of beating even the strongest challengers. During a performance, the showman would open two cabinets to display a large empty space, and then a third cabinet to display an area of tightly packed machinery, presumably the "brains" of the contraption. The secret of this hoax was that a normal sized man could recline within the machine, and remain unseen by the audience by repositioning himself during the initial display of the device's interior.

Its first performance was for the Habsburg Court in Vienna in 1770. It was exhibited thereafter although somewhat intermittently for the next 84 years.

After von Kempelen's death in 1804, the Turk was purchased by Bavarian showman Johann Nepomuk Maelzel. In 1809 during the Wagram campaign Napoleon Bonaparte played against it in Vienna. For a period it was in the private collection of Prince Eugene de Beauharnais but Maelzel acquired it again in 1817.

Further exhibitions followed but in 1837 both Maelzel and the Turks operator, Schlumberger (who was the tutor of Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint Amant) died from Yellow fever while returning to the USA from Havana. The Turk ended its days in the Chinese Museum in Philadelphia where it was destroyed by a fire in 1854.

The two other famous chess automatons built subsequently were Ajeeb (Automaton) and Mephisto (Automaton) .

 page 1 of 1; 7 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves Year Event/LocaleOpening
1. The Turk vs NN 1-028 1770 ?C45 Scotch Game
2. Napoleon Bonaparte vs The Turk 0-124 1809 SchoenbrunnC20 King's Pawn Game
3. Strickland vs The Turk 0-138 1820 London ExhibitionB06 Robatsch
4. Hook vs The Turk 0-132 1820 Odds game000 Chess variants
5. Cochrane vs The Turk 1-030 1820 London000 Chess variants
6. Sturmer vs The Turk 0-120 1820 The Turk Show in London000 Chess variants
7. Mrs. F vs The Turk 1-041 1827 ExhibitionC00 French Defense
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2) | The Turk wins | The Turk loses  

Kibitzer's Corner
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Premium Chessgames Member
  Penguincw: I wonder if The Turk's play is more positional or tactical.
May-10-11  SBC: .

Directors of the Turk - 1769-1854

France and Germany:
Johann Allgaier
Aaron Alexandre

Jacques-François Mouret
Peter Unger Williams
William Lewis
W. J. Hunneman

United States:
William Schlumberger
Lloyd Smith

Premium Chessgames Member
  whiteshark: Der Gerät
Premium Chessgames Member
  Phony Benoni: I've just submitted another "game" by the Turk, though it seems a tad fishy to me.

The game appears in the <New York Spectator> for January 30, 1827, reprinted from the Philadelphia Gazette.

[Event "Exhibition"]
[Site "Philadelphia, Penn."]
[Date "1827.01.??"]
[EventDate "?"]
[Round ""]
[Result "1-0"]
[White "Mrs. F"]
[Black "Turk (Automaton)"]
[ECO ""]
[WhiteElo "?"]
[BlackElo "?"]

<1.e4 e6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Qf3>

Poor Winawer. He played this move in Winawer vs Von Popiel, 1896, and probably felt he had found an innovation.

<3...Nf6 4.Bd3 c5 5.b3 Bd6 6.exd5 exd5 7.Nxd5 Nxd5 8.Qxd5 0-0 9.Bb2 Nc6 10.a3 Be6 11.Qe4 g6 12.0-0-0 Qd7 13.h3 Bf5 14.Qf3 Bxd3 15.Qxd3 Rae8 16.Nf3 a6 17.g4 b5 18.c4 bxc4 19.Qxc4 Rb8 20.Kb1 Qb7 21.Qc3 Nd4 22.Nxd4 Be5 23.Qxc5 Bxd4 24.Qxd4 f6 25.Qc4+ Kg7 26.Ka2 Rfc8 27.Qa4 Rc2 28.b4 Qd5+ 29.Qb3>

"The hour having passed by Mr. Maelzel politely requested the Lady to continue the game on the following day." (Probably thinking more of Schlumberger's (the operator) endurance than hers.)

<29...Qe4 30.Rhe1 Qc6 31.Rc1 Rxc1 32.Rxc1 Qd6 33.Rd1 a5 34.b5 a4 35.Qxa4 Qd5+ 36.Qb3 Qc5 37.d4 Qg5 38.a4 Qf4 39.Qg3 Qe4 40.Qxb8 Qd5+ 41.Ka1> 1-0

"Mr. Maelzel, at this stage of the game, considering it lost, politely thanked Mrs. F. and observed, that he was fairly beaten.... Mr. Maelzel remarked, that the Automaton had been conquered but three times, once in Paris; once in Boston, and by Mrs. F. of Philadelphia."

A little showmanship there.

Now, "Mrs. F." played a reasonable game without gross blunders, and showed a strong knowledge of how to threaten checkmate. But I think there's little doubt that the Turk threw the game, partially for the sake of gallantry, but more likely to entice more people into trying their luck.

Just look at the first twenty moves or so; the Turk loses a pawn, but demonstrates a better knowledge of how to develop his game. By the time of <21...Nd4?> and <22...Be5??>, he had probably equalized despite being a pawn down.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Phony Benoni: By the way, the newspaper account contained some errors in the score. Within a few days, a reader sent in a correction slip.
Jun-30-12  SBC: 10 games by the Turk:
Jul-12-12  DanielBryant: Does anybody know how The Turk indicated resignation when "it" lost?
Premium Chessgames Member
  Shams: <DanielBryant> History records that the Turk, faced with a lost position, would first attempt the old "earthquake" ruse of upsetting the board and pieces in a manner meant to look accidental.
Mar-24-13  IndigoViolet: Thinking about the Turk:
Premium Chessgames Member
  MJCB: I already find it hard to concentrate and play in front of a board, what about inside a box! This man (or woman?) was having such an uncommon life, and I would not bet it was a pleasant one. These games allow this person to be both unknown and remembered.
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: I would have hated to be inside it when that fire broke out. Definitely a good time to break the fourth wall.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Sneaky: <break the fourth wall> Literally!
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: One good thing about lending someone your time machine is that you get it back immediately.
Premium Chessgames Member
  TheFocus: Usually missing the cigarette lighter.
Oct-22-13  Karpova: Baron von Kempelen died on March 26, 1804 at the age of 70.

Source: 'British Chess Magazine' Almanac, p. 1, March 1882

Premium Chessgames Member
  Richard Taylor: As I said elsewhere I recall (long ago in the 60s) reading about the Turk and I think it was said that Pilsbury played "inside the machine" some times, using his great abilities at blindfold chess: I also (think I read) that he used to consume large amounts of whiskey to get through what was an extreme ordeal cramped inside the Turk's inner parts.

But perhaps that is one of those misleading stories one picks up.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Richard Taylor: I just checked. Pillsbury wasn't born until 1872.
Nov-28-13  YoungEd: Just a few days ago, I started reading a novel called "The Chess Machine" by Robert Lohr (translated from German). It's a fictionalized account of von Kempelen and the operation of the machine. I'm not finished, but it's a fun and well-written story so far! Worth a look if that's your sort of thing.
Nov-28-13  chesswar1000: 'the turkey'
Premium Chessgames Member
  Check It Out: The Turk's innards were stuffed, so to speak.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Golden Executive: <YoungEd: Just a few days ago, I started reading a novel called "The Chess Machine" by Robert Lohr (translated from German). It's a fictionalized account of von Kempelen and the operation of the machine.>

Novels are not precisely my stuff, but I really enjoyed this one.

<'s a fun and well-written story> Exactly my thoughts.

Some information about "The Chess Machine"

Premium Chessgames Member
  James Demery: I read that the Turk played a game against Philidor. I know its not in the database here, but does anyone know if thats true?
Aug-10-14  ljfyffe: Yes, in 1783 in Paris, Philidor defeated the "Automation".
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: He would need only a few new cassettes of opening theory and in a few days he would be World Computer Champion again.
Aug-10-14  ljfyffe: Time-warped to-whomever comments are noted. Philidor, who had to flee to England, however, was considered unofficial world champion of actual over-the-board play for another decade after he had played the "computer" even though the cassette of a-far-off-time was yet to come and go.
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