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The Turk (Automaton)
Number of games in database: 17
Years covered: 1809 to 1859
Overall record: +12 -3 =2 (76.5%)*
   * Overall winning percentage = (wins+draws/2) / total games.

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000 Chess variants (7 games)
C00 French Defense (5 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).

Wikipedia article: Mechanical Turk

Last updated: 2021-08-23 09:00:35

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 page 1 of 1; 17 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Napoleon Bonaparte vs The Turk 0-1241809Schoenbrunn Palace ExhibitionC20 King's Pawn Game
2. The Turk vs NN 1-0311818Exhibition gameC33 King's Gambit Accepted
3. Brandreth vs The Turk 0-1191819London exhibithionC00 French Defense
4. Cochrane vs The Turk  0-1221819London exhibithionC00 French Defense
5. Sturmer vs The Turk 0-1201820The Turk Show in London000 Chess variants
6. Cochrane vs The Turk 1-0301820London000 Chess variants
7. Hook vs The Turk 0-1321820Odds game000 Chess variants
8. Strickland vs The Turk 0-1381820London Exhibition000 Chess variants
9. Hubbard vs The Turk  0-1311820Casual Game, Odds Pf7, London000 Chess variants
10. Cochrane vs The Turk  0-1341820London exhibithionC00 French Defense
11. Hubbard vs The Turk 1-0381820Casual Game, Odds Pf7, London000 Chess variants
12. Hubbard vs The Turk  0-1251820Casual Game, Odds Pf7, London000 Chess variants
13. C Vezin vs The Turk ½-½571827friendlyC00 French Defense
14. Mrs. Fisher vs The Turk 1-0411827ExhibitionC00 French Defense
15. The Turk vs A Zerega 1-0351845Private ExhibitionC42 Petrov Defense
16. The Turk vs C Stanley ½-½401845Private ExhibitionC38 King's Gambit Accepted
17. The Turk vs S Heilbuth  1-0361859Turk ExhibitionC70 Ruy Lopez
 page 1 of 1; 17 games  PGN Download 
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2) | The Turk wins | The Turk loses  

Kibitzer's Corner
< Earlier Kibitzing  · PAGE 7 OF 7 ·  Later Kibitzing>
Jun-30-12  SBC: 10 games by the Turk:
Jul-12-12  DanielBryant: Does anybody know how The Turk indicated resignation when "it" lost?
Jul-12-12  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.
Sep-06-13  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.
Aug-11-16  Patanjali: Is it even possible to build a machine like this that can play chess purely by mechanical means? (i.e., no electronic or digital stuff).
Premium Chessgames Member
  alexmagnus: Patanjali, why not? After all, there are mechanical calculators (there is a nice video on YouTube btw showing what happens to a mechanical calculator when you perform division by zero).

Also, around the Turk's time there was an actual mechanical automaton which could do only one thing - checkmate with K+R vs K.

Apr-01-17  The Kings Domain: I thought it was going to be NN again but it's nice to see The Turk get his due.

Happy April Fools to everyone. :-)

Apr-01-17  ColeTrane: "His due...." indeed. CG has done well for April fools on all fronts. El Turco & GOTD... Bravo!

Wondering how Center Game relates though.....

Nov-04-19  edwardsrick: Amazing... Even in those times there was chess cheats. Now in era of online chess people still cheating. Not only with chess engines in classic games, but also in blitz games with chess cheat like

Anyway, good article, thank you for it!

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