8.2. Strategic Games

In 1769, the Hungarian inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen developed a machine that, from all outward appearances, represented a remarkable advance in engineering. Christened "The Turk," the machine consisted of a life-sized figure (complete with turban and Turkish attire) seated behind a chessboard. Accompanied by the requisite grinding of gears and sliding of rods, The Turk would play exhibition matches during which it displayed great proficiency at the game. Brought to the United States in 1826 by Johann Maelzel (more widely known for his invention of the metronome), The Turk was given to the Chinese Museum in Philadelphia, where it was eventually destroyed by a fire that devastated much of the museum's collection.

On closer examination, The Turk's success as a chess player was revealed to be somewhat less remarkable, since it depended on the human chess player hidden inside. One of the most detailed accounts of this hoax was provided in 1836 by Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote an essay entitled "Maelzel's Chess Player" outlining his suspicions about its operation:

There is a man, Schlumberger [who 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 after the exhibition.

Since that time, of course, technology has proceeded apace. With modern ...

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