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The Turk (Automaton)
Number of games in database: 6
Years covered: 1809 to 1827
Overall record: +4 -2 =0 (66.7%)*
   * Overall winning percentage = (wins+draws/2) / total games.

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000 Chess variants (4 games)

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(born 1769, died 1854, 85 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; 6 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Napoleon Bonaparte vs The Turk 0-1241809SchoenbrunnC20 King's Pawn Game
2. Strickland vs The Turk 0-1381820London Exhibition000 Chess variants
3. Hook vs The Turk 0-1321820Odds game000 Chess variants
4. Cochrane vs The Turk 1-0301820London000 Chess variants
5. Sturmer vs The Turk 0-1201820The Turk Show in London000 Chess variants
6. Mrs. F vs The Turk 1-0411827ExhibitionC00 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
  BishopBerkeley: Here is an interesting hypothesis from 1830 about the mystery of the Turk (only the first page is compressed, the others are fairly clear: use the blue arrows in the upper right corner to move forward or backward in the book):

And here are a few of the images that are referenced:

The conclusion?

"The above process [the hypothesis described] is simple, feasible, and effective; showing, indisputably, that the phenomena may be produced without the aid of machinery, and thereby rendering it probable that the chess player derives his merit solely from the very ingenious mode by which the concealment of a living agent is effected."

The explanation may not be perfect, but I think it's a very good approximation.

Occam's Razor facilitated by the shaving cream of clear thinking triumphs again!

(: ♗ Bishop Berkeley ♗ :)

Sep-26-06  LoFarkas: Could somebody correct the bio at the top of the page? It talks about a mysterious "Hapsburg" dynasty while all I ever heard of was the Habsburg house.
Sep-26-06  Open Defence: yeah the Hapsburgs ruled the Austrian-Hungaro Empire didnt they ?
Dec-10-06  Karpova: <Open Defence> yes, they did. A picture of Otto von Habsburg (who's still alive):
Premium Chessgames Member
  fm avari viraf: Even the great Napolean was torn born apart by the onslaught of the Turk. A nice game played two centuries ago! God bless their souls in peace.
Premium Chessgames Member
  BishopBerkeley: This rather nice webpage has information not only about Baron von Kempelen's famous Chess automaton, but also about his "talking machines":

According to this site, Goethe had witnessed the performance of one of the talking machines, and said that the machine was able "to pronounce several childish words very kindly."

We also find an account of the contest between Catherine II of Russia and the Turk (here called "the iron Muslim") by none other than Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, the celebrated illusionist from whom Harry Houdini (born Ehrich Weiss) took his stage name.

It turns out that Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin was also a creator of automatons:

This entire website is quite well done. The main page is in French ( ). Here is the English entry page:

There are a number of short animations at this site, some of which I was able to play, and some of which I could not get to play.

Here is the Wikipedia article on Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin:

And here is the Wikipedia article on Harry Houdini (some nice pictures of Houdini here, with his wife and mother):

All quite interesting....

(: ♗ Bishop Berkeley ♗ :)

Jan-25-07  AAAAron: Ok I just read in wikipedia that The Turk played Benjamin Franklin. That means Franklin played some chess games., if you read this it would be neat if you posted The Turk's game against Franklin, or any of Franklin's other games for that matter. The Turk toured for about 80 years playing prominent people. There's got to be other games out there.
Jan-25-07  karnak64: Yes -- according to David Shenk's "The Immortal Game" Franklin was quite a chessplayer, perhaps one of the best in the colonies, and he used to play the best in England and France. It would be interesting to see records of any of his games. He met but probably didn't play Philidor, if I remember the story correctly (and I may not).
Jan-26-07  SBC:

Historian George Allen mentioned that Ben Franklin, while not in the first category of chess players, was near the top of second category players.

Richard Twiss noted, without citation, that Franklin received odds from Madame de Brillon reguarly, and lost regularly.

A sort summary of Franklin and chess -

Franklin is known to have met with Von Kempelen (who wrote his own name: Kempel) and even introduced Kempelen to Hans, Count von Bruhl, who DID play Philidor quite regularly (though Franklin isn't known to have ever played Philidor) and in all likelihood contested with the Turk, but there's no account of this.

Although the Turk and Napoleon played, the traditional game score (the one given here) between the Turk and Napoleon is considered mis-attributed.

Robert-Houdin's account of Catherine II and the Turk is considered fictitious

Feb-09-07  AAAAron: Thanks SBC!!!!
Mar-26-07  Scarecrow: Maybe it's already known here that American illusionist John Gaughan constructed a copy of this machine. It is currently show in the Budapest Kunsthalle ( as a part of a Kempelen exhibition. I hereby encourage everyone to come and see it. Some chess events there also with Hungarian players during the exhibition.
Premium Chessgames Member
  An Englishman: Good Evening: Our favorite automaton is "Today's featured article" at Wikipedia! The previous day's article (Medieval cuisine) was also pretty good.
Premium Chessgames Member
  BishopBerkeley: Celebrated Illusionist James Randi (& Johnny Carson) Test "Psychic" Uri Geller (also "Faith Healer" Peter Popoff): YouTube Video

For those who have an interest in the art of illusion, "The Amazing Randi" is certainly one of the most significant theorists of our time. He has made it his business to demonstrate that the "miracles" of "psychics," "faith healers," and "mediums" can generally be replicated using standard tricks from the stage magician's repertoire.

In this little clip from the (excellent) Nova documentary "Secrets of the Psychics," we see Mr. Randi's analysis of just how "psychic" Uri Geller does what he does. We also see how late night talk show host Johnny Carson (himself a performing magician at one time) was able to work with Mr. Randi to test Uri Geller's "powers" -- you'll see the result in this little video!

You'll also see a very instructive discovery Mr. Randi made about "faith healer" Peter Popoff!

The full video "Secrets of the Psychics" is well worth viewing. It is available from, among other sources. Your local library may also have a copy:

James Randi's website is always interesting and insightful:

I do not agree with Mr. Randi about many things, but I have much respect for him.

His presentation on the Turk (in two parts) is very good indeed....

Part 1:

Part 2:

If you search for "james randi", you'll find all sorts of entertaining and instructive video clips!

To this day, no one has won Mr. Randi's $1 Million (U.S.) Prize for "anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event."

All rather interesting!

(: ♗ Bishop Berkeley ♗ :)

Premium Chessgames Member
  JointheArmy: <BishopBerkeley> If Randi thinks duplicating feats deemed as miracles proves them wrong, Id suggest he become familiar with the book Exodus.
May-23-07  square dance: or maybe even another good piece of fiction like A Tale of Two Cities.
Premium Chessgames Member
  JointheArmy: <square dance> Then it wouldn't relate to what I'm saying. In Exodus gypsies duplicated Moses' miracles, did Dickens do something similar?
May-23-07  square dance: no, but citing works of fiction as some sort of argument doesnt make sense. unless im misinterpreting you.
Premium Chessgames Member
  BishopBerkeley: <JointheArmy> I don't think Mr. Randi believes duplicating these "miraculous" feats *proves* them wrong or fraudulent (in the strict sense of proof), I think he just suggests that it renders a supernatural explanation highly unlikely.

In philosophy and critical thinking, the principle of "Occam's Razor" is often invoked in this connection -- it is the notion that, other things being equal -- we ought to prefer simple explanations to (needlessly) complex explanations.

An example: let's say that you insert a key in the ignition of a car and turn it. As you do, I raise my hand and begin waving it slowly back and forth and fix my hypnotic gaze on the dashboard. The car starts up. I then proclaim, "I have started the car using only the power of my mind!" You shake your head and say, "Wait a minute! I started the car by turning the key in the ignition -- you had nothing to do with it!" I reply, "The fact that you turned the key just prior to the startup of the car does not prove that I did not start the car using the power of my mind!"

And indeed, it does not prove that I did not start the car with my mind.

But doesn't it render it highly unlikely, since there is a much simpler explanation for the starting of the car?

(: ♗ Bishop Berkeley ♗ :)

May-23-07  BishopofBlunder: I used to have a car in which turning the ignition key was about as successful as trying to start it with your mind...
Premium Chessgames Member
  BishopBerkeley: <BishopofBlunder> Ah, indeed. As a one-time owner of a Ford Pinto (happily, ages ago), I certainly know what you mean!

(No, this is not mine. But from a functional point of view, it might as well have been!)

(: ♗ Bishop Berkeley ♗ :)

Premium Chessgames Member
  BishopBerkeley: On the subject of psychic phenomena, I am reminded of Ashleigh Brilliant's observation that

"Communication with the dead is only slightly more difficult than communication with some of the living..."

Ah, Mr. Brilliant is often true to his name (though methinks he could use a color-consultant for his website!):

(: ♗ Bishop Berkeley ♗ :)

Premium Chessgames Member
  JointheArmy: <square dance> Well I consider the book nonfiction (its the second book of the bible and of the torah) I don't want to upset any more atheists so this will be my last post on the subject.
Premium Chessgames Member
  BishopBerkeley: <JointheArmy> I certainly respect your faith, and appreciate your thoughts.

(: ♗ Bishop Berkeley ♗ :)

Premium Chessgames Member
  BishopBerkeley: "Secret of Kempelen" video clip, taken from the 1927 film "Le Joueur d'échecs" ( ) based on the Turk:

I've seen the entire film from which this clip comes, and it has some powerful moments. (Should you see the film, you might watch for the scene in which Baron von Kempelen's home is broken in to in his absence. It is a remarkable scene.)

(: ♗ Bishop Berkeley ♗ :)

May-27-07  Flyboy216: <BishopBerkeley: I do not agree with Mr. Randi about many things, but I have much respect for him.>

I feel somewhat ambivalent about the man myself. Care to expound?

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