Von Kemplen's "The Turk" and IBM's "Deep Blue":
Conspiracies of a Hidden Human

Garnet Hertz, 09 November 2005

Abstract: This page is meant as a place to show cameraphone photos I took of John Gaughan's Turk in Summer 2005 in Dublin Ireland, and to show parallels to how the Turk worked and accusations made by Garry Kasparov in 1997 after playing IBM's Deep Blue: a chess-playing supercomputer. In essence, Kasparov accused IBM of playing a "cabinet trick" by hiding chess grandmasters in the heavily guarded room that housed Deep Blue - just as von Kemplen's chess playing automaton secretly did in 1769.

Kasparov vs. Deep Blue: Kasparov's "Cabinet Trick" Accusations in Jayanti's documentary "Game Over"

  • Title: Game Over - Kasparov and the Machine
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Featuring: Joel Benjamin, Michael Greengard, Anatoli Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Jeff Kisselhof, Terry Wogan
  • Director: Vikram Jayanti
  • Format: Color, Widescreen, Dolby
  • Rated: PG
  • Studio: Thinkfilm Llc
  • DVD Release Date: May 31, 2005
  • Run Time: 90 min (original theatrical or airing runtime)
  • ASIN: B0007VY5K8
"Game Over" Plot Synopsis: Garry Kasparov is arguably the greatest chess player who has ever lived. In 1997 he played a chess match against IBM's computer Deep Blue. Kasparov lost the match. This film shows the match and the events surrounding it from Kasparov's perspective. It delves into the psychological aspects of the game, paranoia surrounding it and suspicions that have arisen around IBM's true tactics. It consists of interviews with Kasparov, his manager, chess experts, and members of the IBM Deep Blue team, as well as original footage of the match itself. (amazon.com)

In the documentary "Game Over - Kasparov and the Machine" (2003, Director: Vikram Jayanti) Kasparov accuses the IBM team of hiding chess grandmasters in the highly guarded room that housed the Deep Blue computer. Although the documentary repeatedly brings this argument forward, the following portions of the documentary clearly highlight this:

47:28 - Kasparov makes accusations of hidden person
26:30 - Kasparov shows "cabinet" - the computer room

Game Over

Deep Blue Team
IBM's Deep Blue Team (from left to right): Joe Hoane, Joel Benjamin, Jerry Brody, F.H. Hsu, C.J. Tan and Murray Campbell. Source: Daniel King, Kasparov v Deeper Blue

Kasparov grins
Kasparov (left) and Murray Campbell (right, IBM). Source: Daniel King, Kasparov v Deeper Blue

As a context, Kasparov's accusations clearly parallel - or were edited by Jayanti to parallel - the "cabinet trick": a magician's trick in which a cabinet with opening doors and drawers appears to contain something other than it is actually containing. In other words, a box could appear to contain gears and clockwork mechanisms, but actually also contain a hidden human being.

As it turns out, the cabinet trick originated with a chess-playing automaton in 1769 that came to be known as "The Turk". From Wikipedia: "The Turk was a famous hoax which purported to be a chess-playing automaton first constructed and unveiled in 1769 by Wolfgang von Kempelen (1734-1804). It had the appearance of a maplewood cabinet 4 feet long by 2 feet deep and 3 feet high, with a mannequin dressed in cloak and turban seated behind it. The cabinet had doors that opened to reveal internal clockwork mechanisms, and when activated the mechanism appeared to be able to play a strong game of chess against a human opponent. It could also perform the knight's tour (a puzzle which requires the player to pass every square of a chess board once) with ease. However, the cabinet was a cleverly constructed illusion that allowed a chess master to hide inside and operate the mannequin. Its operation by chess masters allowed it to win the vast majority of its games."

von Kemplen
Fronticpiece featuring von Kemplen

Photos John Gaughan's "Turk" Chess Playing Automaton Demo, Dublin 2005

In summer of 2005, I had the chance to view John Gaughan's functional re-creation of the Turk, and was able to snap a few photos and video clips with my cameraphone. Despite knowing how the illusion worked, it was still very convincing:

Introduction by Michael John Gorman
Gaughan's Turk - Hertz Cameraphone Video #1: Endgame begins with Irish grandmaster (3GP Video, 1:44)
Gaughan's Turk - Hertz Cameraphone Video #2: Turk wins against Irish grandmaster (3GP Video, 1:34)

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Cabinet trick of The Turk revealed

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