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Chess (And Its Reputed Sequelae)

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18178.  Thu Apr 21, 2005 12:14 pm Reply with quote

A chess player tried to murder his rival, an Old Bailey judge was told. Robert Bryan, 55, told police Matthew Hay, 22, considered it 'unforgivable' if Bryan beat him. Bryan had 'had enough'. He was jailed for 10 years after admitting attempting to murder Mr Hay by shooting him in the neck with a shotgun.

S: The Independent, 9 December 1992

Last edited by ryewacket on Fri Apr 22, 2005 12:32 pm; edited 1 time in total

18184.  Thu Apr 21, 2005 1:25 pm Reply with quote

Stephen is quite animated on the subject of chess - it'd be good to find an angle.

18185.  Thu Apr 21, 2005 2:03 pm Reply with quote

Is the "Chess Nuts Boasting In An Open Foyer" too obtuse an angle?

I thought so.

18217.  Fri Apr 22, 2005 5:21 am Reply with quote

Rather less violent than a shooting.

A man claiming to be a fan hit retired chess champion Garry Kasparov over the head with a chessboard the grandmaster had just autographed for him, Kasparov said on Saturday.

Kasparov, who announced last month he was retiring from competition chess to concentrate on politics, said the attack may have been linked to his criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin

18219.  Fri Apr 22, 2005 5:54 am Reply with quote

Bobby Fischer seems to have been somewhat of a 'character' as well. Strange religious beliefs, uncompromising attitudes to women and Jews, as well as somewhat alarmist political views:
"They're all weak, all women. They're stupid compared to men."

"There are too many Jews in chess. They seem to have taken away the class of the game. They don't seem to dress so nicely, you know."

Lots of goodies here.

I like the fact that he was mistakenly arrested for being a bank robber... He's now living in Iceland as a citizen (to avoid extradition to America for tax evasion and alleged communist spying charges).

18251.  Fri Apr 22, 2005 8:22 am Reply with quote

The death of Earl Ulf was the result of a game of chess and an uppity King Canute.

When they had played a while the king made a false move, at which
the earl took a knight from the king; but the king set the piece
again upon the board, and told the earl to make another move; but
the earl grew angry, threw over the chess-board, stood up, and
went away. The king said, "Runnest thou away, Ulf the coward?"
The earl turned round at the door and said, "Thou wouldst have
run farther at Helga river, if thou hadst come to battle there.
Thou didst not call me Ulf the coward, when I hastened to thy
help while the Swedes were beating thee like a dog." The earl
then went out, and went to bed. A little later the king also
went to bed. The following morning while the king was putting on
his clothes he said to his footboy, "Go thou to Earl Ulf, and
kill him."
The lad went, was away a while, and then came back.

The king said, "Hast thou killed the earl?"

"I did not kill him, for he was gone to Saint Lucius' church."

There was a man called Ivar White, a Norwegian by birth, who was
the king's courtman and chamberlain. The king said to him, "Go
thou and kill the earl."

Ivar went to the church, and in at the choir, and thrust his
sword through the earl, who died on the spot. Then Ivar went to
the king, with the bloody sword in his hand.

The king said, "Hast thou killed the earl?"

"I have killed him," says he.

"Thou didst well."

18253.  Fri Apr 22, 2005 9:38 am Reply with quote

It’s been a slow day, but hopefully this little gem could provide a link into Chess, via con artists.

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) after he was challenged to come up with something better than what he had seen at a conjuring show. 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 man to hide inside and operate the mannequin.

The Turk had some famous opponents, notably:

During this time the Turk was exhibited in Paris where Benjamin Franklin played it and lost.

In 1809 the Turk defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at Schönbrunn, during the Wagram campaign.

And was arguably influential in some of the greatest works of technology and literature.

Charles Babbage, the godfather of the computer, played two games against the Turk. Edgar Allan Poe, the creator of the modern detective story, wrote an notable essay about it. Magicians based illusions on it. And it provoked questions about what we now call "artificial intelligence." :

And finally, this is how it worked:

The secret of the Turk was due to the foldable nature of the compartments within the Turk's cabinet, and the fact that the "machinery" and a drawer in the cabinet did not extend all the way to the back of it. Within the cabinet was a secondary chessboard, which the operator used to follow the game. The bottom of the main chessboard which the Turk itself played on had a spring beneath every square, and each piece contained a magnet. This intricate system was used to indicate to the operator which piece had moved and to where. The operator made his move with the use of a special device which could be fitted into special holes on the secondary chessboard to indicate to the Turk where to move.

18255.  Fri Apr 22, 2005 10:29 am Reply with quote

Agreed, this is an interesting story and worth digging further into.

18259.  Fri Apr 22, 2005 10:53 am Reply with quote

This is from the South African Business Times, it has a little more on the Napoleon matches, and on the influence the machine had on Charles Babbage’s first computer.

The link takes ages to load up (on my PC anyway) so I’ve copied quite a big chunk.
One person who did his best to find out how the Turk worked was Napoleon Bonaparte, who played it three times in Vienna in 1809. By this time, the Turk had passed into the hands of Johann Maelzel, inventor of the metronome.

Napoleon had a grossly inflated view of his abilities as a chess player because his courtiers were reluctant to beat him and, on the first encounter, the Turk easily defeated him in 19 moves.

According to Maelzel, Napoleon placed a magnet on the chess board before the second game because he had heard that the Turk relied on magnets for its operation. But Maelzel removed it, and the Turk won. Before the third match, Napoleon wrapped a shawl around the Turk's head and torso, thinking there might be an operator hidden inside. But the Turk won a third time, at which point Napoleon swept the chess pieces to the floor and walked out.


During the second decade of the 19th century, the question of mechanical reasoning was being seriously considered by the English mathematician Charles Babbage.

Infuriated by the human errors that riddled logarithmic tables, Babbage hit upon the idea of building a mechanical calculating engine that would generate mathematical tables automatically, and began working on a proposal to attract funds to build it.

Meanwhile, another mathematician, Robert Willis, heard about the Turk and determined to discover its secret. He collected all the accounts of the Turk he could find and attended several of its shows in London. He was then able to make accurate measurements of the Turk's dimensions using his umbrella, and found that the cabinet was much larger than it seemed - large enough to conceal a fully-grown operator. The clockwork, he suggested, was a decoy whose loud whirring served only to conceal any sound made by the operator.

By this time, Babbage, however, had come to the opposite conclusion. He published his plans for a mechanical computer, the Difference Engine, at around the same time that Willis was denouncing the Turk.

But while Babbage's proposals won him a medal from the British Astronomical Society, little attention was paid to Willis's pamphlet.

To this day, the best-known exposé of the Turk is that written by Edgar Allan Poe in 1836. Actually, Poe lifted most of his article directly from Willis's pamphlet, but in the process he brought its carefully reasoned argument to a mass audience, and further fuelled the growth of the legend surrounding the Turk.

Back in England, the chess playing automaton and Babbage's proposed mechanical calculating engines were explicitly compared in Natural Magic, a bestselling book published in 1832.

By the mid-1830s Babbage had abandoned his Difference Engine in favour of the Analytic Engine, a far more complex design that could, he suggested, be programmed to play chess. He even suggested a crude chess-playing algorithm. The Analytic Engine, like the Difference Engine, was never constructed, but Babbage's work suggested that a mechanical chess player was not entirely out of the question.

18674.  Fri Apr 29, 2005 4:33 am Reply with quote

Last weekend, I read “the Mechanical Turk” by Tom Standage. It seemed very well researched, and he is often backing up his story with details of sources – as well as debunking a few of the myths about the machine. However, there is not a great deal more fact-wise than is posted above. Let me know if you want a précis on the subject.

Flash, with only a few weeks until filming, how far are you off finalising the questions? Is there anything you’d like us to concentrate on? After a hectic week, It’s shaping up to be a slow-slow day today!

18678.  Fri Apr 29, 2005 5:17 am Reply with quote

We've still got lots to do, put it that way.

I like the Turk, and it's good to hear that you've read the book. I'll try to cobble together a little summary and then I'll ask you to review it, if I may.

These are some of the topics I have stored up for the week-end; if any of them tickles your fancy I'd love to hear what you come up with: Creation Myths (ie eccentric accounts of the creation of the world from different cultures), Child Prodigies, Caruso, Crocodiles. Also Chimpanzees could do with some work.

There's an idea for a Christmas special which looks at various stories which are the subject of pantomimes: Cinderella, Dick Whittington, Robinson Crusoe, etc (is Robinson Crusoe a trad panto subject? I saw one once - Engelbert Humperdinck at the Palladium, mid-60s - but maybe I was just lucky). Also the history of panto itself, maybe.

And we're interested in quirky taboos from different cultures, like Australian aborigines not being allowed to mention their mother-in-law.

Hope this helps and very many thanks for all your efforts.


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