The Turk: History’s First Chess Computer?

Two centuries before Big Blue, there was the Turk, history’s first chess computer. From 1770 to 1854, this mechanical marvel played and defeated all sorts of challengers, including many top-ranked chess players as well as Benjamin Franklin. It wasn’t until 1857 that the Turk’s secret was revealed…it was a giant fake. Here’s more from  Krešimir Josić at the University of Houston:

The Turk was touted as an early robot that could play chess at the highest level. Built in Vienna in 1770 by the inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen, the machine consisted of a large pedestal, housing intricate machinery on top of which stood a chessboard. To this box was attached the upper half of a men dressed in oriental robes and a turban. Each performance began with an elaborate introduction to convince the audience that the Turk is really a machine. The automaton would then face a challenger.

The Turk first dazzled the court of the empress Maria Theresa in Vienna. The machine moved its own pieces, and would instantly recognize illegal moves by its opponent. It offered a surprisingly good game of chess! The automaton soon became a sensation, toured Europe and North America, and was matched against some of the best chess players of the time…

(See the rest at the University of Houston)


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