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When Did People Start Playing Machines at Chess?

In 1996, world chess champion Garry Kasparov took on Deep Blue, the chess-playing computer developed by IBM, in a well-publicized six-game match. Kasparov won three games, lost one, and two games were declared draws. However, more than two centuries before Deep Blue, the first "machine" to take on all comers in chess was "The (Mechanical) Turk," an automaton that debuted at Schönbrunn Palace in Austria in 1770. The Turk later toured Europe for exhibitions, attracting scores of fascinated onlookers and would-be opponents. Decades later, however, the Turk was exposed as a fake: there was actually a human chess expert inside the wooden cabinet in front of the Turk who was controlling the so-called automaton.

Checkmate, Turk:

  • The Turk consisted of a life-sized head and torso, dressed in Ottoman robes and a turban. He had a black beard and grey eyes, and his left arm held a long smoking pipe.

  • The Turk was constructed by Wolfgang von Kempelen, and originally built to impress Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. It was destroyed in a fire in 1854.

  • The Turk won most of the chess matches it played around Europe and the Americas for nearly 84 years, defeating challengers including Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin.

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