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The Turk (Automaton)
Number of games in database: 10
Years covered: 1809 to 1845
Overall record: +6 -2 =2 (70.0%)*
   * Overall winning percentage = (wins+draws/2) / total games.

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C00 French Defense (2 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

 page 1 of 1; 10 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. Sturmer vs The Turk 0-1201820The Turk Show in London000 Chess variants
4. Cochrane vs The Turk 1-0301820London000 Chess variants
5. Hook vs The Turk 0-1321820Odds game000 Chess variants
6. Strickland vs The Turk 0-1381820London Exhibition000 Chess variants
7. C Vezin vs The Turk ½-½571827friendlyC00 French Defense
8. Mrs. Fisher vs The Turk 1-0411827ExhibitionC00 French Defense
9. The Turk vs A Zerega 1-0351845Private ExhibitionC42 Petrov Defense
10. The Turk vs C Stanley ½-½401845Private ExhibitionC38 King's Gambit Accepted
  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 2 OF 7 ·  Later Kibitzing>
Sep-24-04  SBC: Some Automaton operators that I'm aware of:

TURK (1769-mid 1850's)

AJEEB (1868-1940's)
Sam Gotski
Constant Ferdinand Burille
Charles Barker
Albert Hodges
Jesse Henley

MEPHISTO (1878-1889)

Sep-24-04  SBC: I'm sorry. I put it one too many Hodges under AJEEB. While normally one can't have too many Hodges, this is the exception.
Oct-29-04  Spassky69: I guess AJEEB or The Turk played Teddy Roosevelt so said
Nov-02-04  Knight13: Cool. found a new game of The Turk! Thats very nice.
Nov-25-04  Phoenix: Haha, just noticed "The Turk" is the player of the day on Thanksgiving.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Sneaky: The trick behind the Turk was very simple. The three doors are revealed to the audience, as well as a curtain in the back, and one of the two drawers on the bottom (the second drawer is not really a drawer, just decoration.) However at no time are all of these openings revealed at once, thereby giving the operator time to reposition himself while the exhibiter goes through a ritual of gathering up the pieces, walking around to the back of the machine, etc. Further helping the illusion is that the "interior is apparently filled with wheels, pinions, levers, and other machinery, crowded very closely together, so that the eye can penetrate but a little distance into the mass" (Poe) thereby giving further visual cover.

Houdini's famous "water trick" is based on a similar principle--behind the closed drape some very simple events take place but the effect to the audience is stunning.

Nov-25-04  offramp: How did a player sit inside these works?
That's nobody's business but the Turk's.
Apr-01-05  Backward Development: <Haha, just noticed "The Turk" is the player of the day on Thanksgiving.> Ha! That's very funny
It's no wonder he's player of the day on April Fool's...He fooled quite a many! A potential candidate for next year's April Fool's Day player could be Marshall<for his swindles> or maybe a trappy player like Greco or Bill Wall<since they 'fooled' hundreds of people.>
Premium Chessgames Member
  BishopBerkeley: I was surprised and pleased to see that Raymond Bernard's 1927 silent film "The Chess Player" (in which The Turk plays a pivotal role) is not only available on VHS, but also on DVD. Here is the description at

"This powerful drama of patriotism, betrayal and suspense combines gorgeous decors and thousands of extras. In 1776 Poland, nobleman Boleslas Vorowski heads a secret liberation movement against Russia and learns his childhood sweetheart, Sophie, loves his friend, a Russian officer. When Vorowsky is wounded in battle, his mentor, the inventor Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen, constructs a marvelous chess- playing automaton which, when summoned by Catherine the Great, holds the fate of Polish independence by a single, suspenseful chess game. Like Abel Gance's Napoleon, director Raymond Bernard 'Demands a veritable ovation: the cavalry charge reaches heights never before reached in film. So magnificent... So splendid!' - Cinemagazine"



under the title "Le Joueur d'Echecs":




More information on "Le Joueur d'Echecs", Le at

Serendipitously, when looking this up, I came upon a 1977 film by Satyajit Ray titled, "Shatranj Ke Khilari" (roughly, "The Chess Players"). It looks worthwhile:

(: ♗ Bishop Berkeley ♗ :)

Jun-14-05  Knight13: "The secret of the Turk was due to the foldable nature of the compartments within the Turk's cabinet, and the fact that the "machinery" and a drawer in the cabinet did not extend all the way to the back of it. Within the cabinet was a secondary chessboard, which the operator used to follow the game. The bottom of the main chessboard which the Turk itself played on had a spring beneath every square, and each piece contained a magnet. This intricate system was used to indicate to the operator which piece had moved and to where. The operator made his move with the use of a special device which could be fitted into special holes on the secondary chessboard to indicate to the Turk where to move.

(There are also many Turk-related myths that refuse to die: Kempelen was not a Baron; he was not known as Farkas, or at least not until his biography was rewritten by Hungarian nationalists after his death; the Turk was never operated by a legless war veteran, and could accommodate a full-sized man; and it never played against Frederick the Great.)" --- Wikipedia

Aug-02-05  turkishgrandmaster: Why did they call him The Turk? Well I am a Turk but I still don't get it?
Aug-02-05  ahmadov: <turkishgrandmaster:> Probably because they thought Turks (I mean Turkic nations as a whole) would play chess well in the future. I believe, or at least hope that this name was not given to a fake machine to insult Turks
Aug-02-05  jcmoral: Maybe there's also a human operator inside Hydra. :P
Premium Chessgames Member
  Sneaky: Bobby Fischer was hiding inside the chassis.
Aug-02-05  AdrianP: <jcmoral> Kasparov beats Adams twice at Linares 2005 then disappears from the top league of chess...

...a big black box bursts onto the chess scene beating Adams 5.5-0.5


Aug-03-05  jcmoral: Now I'm starting to believe it...
Oct-19-05  AlexanderMorphy: i'm sure it played more than 3 games!?
Oct-19-05  BobbyBishop: No was Virgil Sollozzo.
Oct-21-05  AlexanderMorphy: well this virgil solozzo must have been real good! he played a form of blindfold chess...i think, or could he actually see the board?
Oct-22-05  BobbyBishop: There was a mechanism inside that allowed the player to keep track of the position I believe. I can also see you're not a Godfather
Oct-22-05  AlexanderMorphy: ohhhhh i watched the movie when i was like 10...can't remember much..other than Don Corleone lol
Mar-07-06  alexandrovm: <AdrianP: <jcmoral> Kasparov beats Adams twice at Linares 2005 then disappears from the top league of chess...

...a big black box bursts onto the chess scene beating Adams 5.5-0.5

coincidence?> lol! That's a good one!

Mar-11-06  SBC: .

A brief bio of Schlumberger:

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

He was born in Mulhouse in Alsace region of France where the Schlumberger family operated a largy winery that is in operation today. They also were idustrialists 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.). He's best known for his chess in America where arrived in 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 Allgaier in Germany, Alexandre and Mouret in France, Williams and Lewis in England). Surprisingly, he was to replace an young French woman who, for lack of chessplayers 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. Ater 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."

On November 9, 1837, Schlumberger, who sometimes used the alias Mulhouse, sailed to Havana, Cuba, along with Maelzel and the Turk. There, he contracted Yellow Fever and died in February of 1838.


Premium Chessgames Member
  BishopBerkeley: This is a reworking of a message I posted over on the Paul Morphy message board. I post it here since it might be worthwhile to those interested in the Turk...

I believe this is the homepage of the winery <SBC> mentions in her piece on Schlumberger:

A bit of history (in French):

(in English):

Jacques Pierre Schlumberger is part owner of the Michel-Schlumberger winery in Sonoma County, California, not too far from my home:

(: ♗ Bishop Berkeley ♗ :)

Mar-14-06  SBC: I made some corrections and added a lot more information on William Schlumberger, the last Director of the Turk, and posted it at:
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