Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Turk

The Turk or Automaton Chess Player was a chess-playing machine of the late 18th century, exhibited from 1770 for over 84 years, by various owners, as an automaton but later explained in January 1857 as an elaborate hoax.

Constructed and unveiled in 1770 by Wolfgang von Kempelen (1734–1804) to impress the Empress Maria Theresa, the mechanism appeared to be able to play a strong game of chess against a human opponent, as well as perform the knight's tour.

Publicly promoted as an automaton and given its common name based on its appearance, the Turk was in fact a mechanical illusion that allowed a human chess master hiding inside to operate the machine, sliding from one side to the other when the cabinet was opened for inspection, and reading the chessboard above using magnetic tags under each chesspiece, viewed by candlelight.

With a skilled operator, the Turk won most of the games played. The apparatus was demonstrated around Europe and the Americas for nearly 84 years until its destruction by fire in 1854, playing and defeating many challengers including statesmen such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. Although many had suspected a hidden human operator, the hoax was formally explained in 1857 by articles in The Chess Monthly and later publications.

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