Automaton Chess-Player

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Automaton Chess-Player

Automaton Chess-PlayerTHIS astonishing piece of mechanism was the invention of Wolfgang de Kempelen, a Hungarian gentleman, and aulic counsellor to the royal chamber of the domains of the emperor in Hungary in [1769].

The room where it is exhibited has an inner apartment, in which appears the figure of a Turk, as large as life, dressed after the Turkish fashion, sitting behind a chest of three feet and a half in length, two feet in breadth; and two feet and a half in height, to which it is attached by the wooden seat on which it sits.  The chest is placed upon four castors, and, together with the figure, may be easily moved to any part of the room.  On the plain surface, formed by the top of the chest, in the centre, is raised an immoveable chess-board of handsome dimensions, upon which the figure has its eyes fixed; its right arm and hand being extended on the chest, and its left arm somewhat raised, as if in the attitude of holding a Turkish pipe, which originally was placed in its hands.

The exhibiter begins by wheeling the chest to the entrance of the apartment within which it stands, and in face of the spectators. He then opens certain doors contrived in the chest, two in front, and two at the back, at the same time pulling out a long shallow drawer at the bottom of the chest, made to contain the chess-men, a cushion for the arm of the figure to rest upon, and some counters.  Two lesser doors, and a green cloth screen, contrived in the body of the figure and its lower parts, are likewise opened, and the Turkish robe which covers them is raised; so that the construction both of the figure and chest internally is displayed.  In this state the automaton is moved round for the examination of the spectators; and to banish all suspicion from the most skeptical mind, that any living subject is concealed within any part of it, the exhibiter introduces a lighted candle into the body of the chest and figure, by which the interior of each is, in a great measure, rendered transparent, and the most secret corner is shown.  Here it may be observed, that the same precaution to remove suspicion is used, if requested, at the close as at the commencement of a game at chess with the automaton.

The chest is divided by a partition into two unequal chambers.  That to the right of the figure is the narrowest, and. occupies scarcely one third of the body of the chest.  It is filled with little wheels, levers, cylinders, and other machinery used in clock-work.  That to the left contains a few wheels, some small barrels with springs, and two quarters of a circle placed horizontally.  The body and lower parts of the figure contain tubes, which seem to be conductors to the machinery.  After a sufficient time, during which each spectator may satisfy his scruples and his curiosity, the exhibiter recloses the doors of the chest and figure, and the drawer at bottom, makes some arrangements in the body of the figure, winds up the works with a key inserted into a small opening on the side of the chest, places a cushion under the left arm of the figure, which now rests upon it, and invites any individual present to play a game of chess.

In playing a game the automaton makes choice of the white pieces, and always has the first move.  These are small advantages towards winning the game, which are cheerfully conceded.  It plays with the left hand, the right arm and hand being constantly extended on the chest, behind which it is seated.  This slight incongruity proceeded from absence of mind in the inventor, who did not perceive his mistake till the machinery of the automaton was too far completed to admit of the mistake being rectified.  At the commencement of a game, the automaton moves its head, as if taking a view of the board; the same motion occurs at the close of a game.  In making a move, it slowly raises its left arm from the cushion placed under it, and directs it towards the square of the piece to be moved.  Its hand and fingers open on touching the piece, which it takes up, and conveys to any proposed square.  The arm then returns with a natural motion to the cushion, upon which it usually rests.  In taking a piece the automaton makes the same motions of the arm and hand to lay hold of the piece, which it conveys from the board; and then returning to its own piece, it takes it up, and places it on the vacant square.  These motions are performed with perfect correctness; and the dexterity with which the arm acts, especially in the different operation of castling, seems to be the result of spontaneous feeling – bending of the shoulder, elbow, and knuckles, and cautiously avoiding to touch any other piece than that which is to be moved, nor ever making a false move.

Excerpt from The Cabinet of Curiosities, or Wonders of the World Displayed – 1840


Further Reading and External Links

More on Wolfgang von Kempelen’s Chess Turk

Von Kempelen’s Chess Turk recreated