Finished Reading “The Turk”

I picked up this book from the local Book City bookstore the other weekend, looking for a cheap historical read. When I saw this book in the store I knew I had to get it – I had seriously considered buying it when it originally came out new a couple of years or so ago. Fascinating story as told by a writer for The Economist of the famous late 18th century chess-playing automaton.

I am pretty sure I had originally read about the automaton when I was a kid and originally getting into playing chess, and marveled at the possibility of a chess playing machine. This was back in the 1970s of course, well before the days of the personal computer and real computer chess games, when the idea seemed fantastic and perhaps just plausible.

The story of the turk as told by author Tom Standage is comprehensive, and despite its interesting (and sometimes mythical) history, the book was drier than I expected. Its inventor created it basically as a party trick for the Austrian royal court, and over the years it played the likes of Napolean and Benjamin Franklin, and directly influenced such people as the grand-father of computing Charles Babbage, and writer Edgar Allan Poe. It is well written and well presented — the obvious question as to how it actually worked is wisely left until near the end, and then went into an interesting look at the famous Deep Blue matches against Kasparov

After finishing off the book and picking up Vanessa from Art Garage, we ducked into the local toy shop, and I picked up an Excalibur chess game for myself, which despite my interest in the game over the years, I’ve never actually had a dedicated chess computer (as opposed to a chess game on a computer). It does have a teach mode, so I could also use it to show the game to the girls as well – yeah, that’s it. ;-).

As for the results when we got it home, let’s just say that I’m no Kasparov… 😉

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