Ajeeb "Odds and Ends"
As already noted, Charles Devidé, who was a chess publisher, "veteran New York analyst and critic," editor of the American Chess Magazine around the turn of the century, was also Manager of Columbia Chess Chronicle around the end of the 1880's. One of the 1887 issue of the Columbia Chess Chroncle mentioned: " —Ajeeb, the automaton, will reach Milwaukee, Sept 21st. Whenever you miss a player from your club for a week, look for him in the automaton."
Charles Devidé also published a book entitled A Memorial to William Steinitz in 1901. I transcribed and posted the rather long opening chapter, A Biographical Sketch of William Steinitz.
In 1988 The Cincinnati Magazine published an article by Catherine Cooper about Emilie Louise Stegemeyer, a 33 yr. old woman, living with her parents, who attended the Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Central States that lasted 100 days between July 4 and Nov. 12, 1888 and recorded her impressions in her diary.
"On July 26 (the temperature reaching 90 at noon), she spent the whole day downtown. High above in the Twelfth Street entrance tower, the exotic figure of Ajeeb, the automatic chess player, caught her eye:
'The figure is dressed like a Turk and sits in Turk fashion on a large
When it is Ajeeb's turn to play he will paise up his hand and move
Charlie Moehle, familiar of the famous automaton " Ajeeb," opened game 1 with a, slashing attack. Pollock lashed out his two Knights on second and third moves, played 4 P-Q4, gave up a Pawn on his ninth move, won it back on his sixteenth, tripped on his nineteenth, and fell on his thirty-second.
Lemon squash, cucumbers, and ice-water having been served, game 2, another two Knights' defence, opened by Pollock, rolled off the real like smoke. The "Ajeeb" man quickly went down. Score : 1 all.
Game 3.—Moehle struck out with an Evans, Pollock went down. Score: Moehle 2, Pollock 1.
Game 4.—A short Sicilian, Pollock revived, Moehle overpowered. Stop-clocks disregarded, no time to look at them. Score: 2 all.
Games 5 and 6.—Pollock's coat off, mosquitos bad, play rapid, Pollock won. Score: Pollock 4, Moehle 2.
Game 7.—Players mop down, Moehle's coat and vest off, more ice-water and melons, game drawn, draw not counted.
Game 8.—Opened by Pollock, who was met with a Petroff counter attack. Pollock knocked out of time. Score : Pollock 4, Moehle 3.
Game 9.—The Celtic blood of the ex-champion of Ireland up; more clothes off; Moehle knocked to pieces. From that out the score —close, like the room, the temperature, and the French defence, which was next played—kept rising in Pollock's favour. It was 5 to 4, 6 to 5, 6 to 6, and finally a Staunton of 18 moves sent Moehle's sponge flying, and Pollock was declared the winner by 7 to 6.
The Hill Mystery
Almost 80 years ago to the day, February 04, 1929, Time magazine gave the simple notice:
This notice mirrored the NY Times:
Apparently the Jan. 23, 1929 edition of the Worcester Evening Gazette also carried the story using the headline: “Renowned Chess Player Dies in Obscurity Here.” Thanks to Stephen Dann of Worcester who had also attempted to research Hill, we learn that the story of Hill having operated Ajeeb for nine years came from Dr. Bryan and that he "received $25 per week for his afternoon and evening performances, a high rate of pay at the turn of the century." Mr. Dann also notes that Dr. Bryan "said that Hill was unbeaten competing in the Worcester area, even though he was nearly 60 years old when he died." Mr. Dan further states that chess archivist Jeremy Gaige claims that Hill was born on June 9, 1870.
More about Hill:
1. Southard, French, Southard.
The Harvard Crimson of March 10, 1896 noted:
the American Chess Bulletin in 1914 wrote
In 1888 the BCM wote:
We learned through the American Chess Magazine that Hill was a member of the Boston Chess Club at the same time as Pillsbury, also an Ajeeb operator. Burille had also been a member of the Boston Chess Club.
After discussing the meaning of all of the about with fellow researcher gretagarbo, we concluded we had a definite mystery on our hands. So many things don't add up, yet the possiblitiy still exsts that Hill was indeed a director of Ajeeb:
1. No mention of Hill as an operator in any source whatsoever except for his obit could be found.
On the postive side are the facts that Hill was indeed a master-strength player and knew other operators of Ajeeb - either he got the job through them . . . or pilfered their stories.
However . . .
It's all a mystery.
Three letters-to-the-editor replying to a 1952 article about the Turk called The Robot's Gambit, mention personal experience with Ajeeb in less than flattering circumstances.
Brooklyn Eagle March 3, 1898
The Automaton Was Laboring Hard
TURK WAS SAVED BY DARKNESS
Not the least by any means among the many varied attractions offered the public at the Food Show in the Thirtieth Armory, on Flatbush Avenue, is a full fledged chess automaton, which, drawn here by yhe wodespread local interest in the game, recently took up its abode in this borough. Its name, Ajeeb, is the same as that of the dignified Turk, the predecessor to Chang, the present incumbent at the Eden Musee, who tried to hold forth for the entertainment of rural visitors to Manhattan Island. The figure, however, is not the same, and, it must be said, lacks to a certain degree the grace and stateliness of the somewhat famous original. The same announcement is made to the infallibility of the automaton in threading the intricate mazes of the scientific game.
Last night a crowd of spectators, three and four deep, surrounded the figure in the special booth occupied by it and seemed to take especial delight in the discomfiture of the different combatants who, one after the other, stepped up and offered to put their skill to the test, only to be routed with monotonous regularity that gave but slim promise of prospective excitement. About 9 o'clock a small party of men entered the booth who, from their general bearing and their conversation concerning the figure, gave evidence of more or less familiartiy with the royal pasttime. Soon, it transpired that they were members of the Brooklyn Chess Club out on a tour of investigation into the methods of play employed by the mysterious visitor and bent on making a practical test as to his playing strength.
With this object in view an early opportunity was grasped to pit on of thier number against Ajeeb, who was, as ever, ready for the fray. This new opponent of the figure proved to be W. Southwick, well known in local circles, and who boasts of havng taken more than one fall out of the redoubtable automaton across the river. He made a good long fight but finally had to succumb to the inevitable. The next one to present himself was A. E. Swaffied, one of the rising young players of this borough and much was expected of him. Boldly adopting the Petroff defense he quickly developed his game, displaying tolerable good knowledge of the opening. Ajeeb, on the other hand, was not to be outdone in the matter of dispatch and he was right on the heels of his adventuresome adversary. Swaffield appeared to be making good headway when suddenly the tide turned against him and he was seen to be hopelessly beaten.
A short recess was here taken to enable the onlookers to make a closer examination of the figure inside and out and to apply the attendant with questions. During this interval the know of club men, whose main object in life seemed to be to encompass the overthrow of this new power in their particular shpere, were observed to hold a council of war and presently it was seen that they were about to play a trump card. This turned out to be no less a person than champion W. E. Napier himself, who had concented to stand for Brooklyn's honor in this trying emergency.
No time was lost in getting down to work and Napier found himself called upon to defend the close queen's pawn opening. Seeing an opportunity to play P-K4, he quickly seized it and soon the young expert had the freer game and the initiative in his own hands. With his accustomed vigor he set sail for the opposing King which had castled on the queen's side and but for the exchange of queens which the automaton forced, would have succeded in creating a serious breach.
Nothing daunted, Napier confidently pressed the attack with rooks and bishops and with so good effect that Ajeeb appeared, even to the uninitiated, to be in troble and laboring hard. The onslaught seemed irresistible and Napier's thinking apparatus worked much more rapidly than the machine's running gear. Having effected a pretty sacrifice of the exchange, Napier was engaged in dismantling white pawns, while his vis-a-vis industriously advanced his lone QRP toward queening. The champion kept his head, made the correct moves at the proper time, and was on the point of winning out, when the attendants outside, who had for some time been clamoring for "all out," shut of the flow of electricity and plunged the proceedings into darkness, thereby sparing Ajeeb the humiliation of resigning. The game. though played in quick time, was a capital specimen of chess strategy throughout, with Napier at his best. His only slip was at the forty-second move, when R-R6 ck, followed by P-B6, would have forces a speedier win. Score: