Mephisto: AKA The Wizard of Oz...


As I was doing some reading about a chess player (Isidor Arthur Gunsberg), I came across some interesting info that I wanted to share. I personally made up the title but it seemed to fit. As I was reading about Gunsberg the source stated that he began his career as the player inside the chess automaton Mephisto. This lead me to a search of what exactly is Mephisto.

For those who may be as curious as I was:

Mephisto was the name given to a chess-playing 'pseudo-automaton' built in 1876. Unlike The Turk and Ajeeb it had no hidden operator, instead remotely controlled by electromechanical means.

Constructed by Charles Godfrey Gumpel (c.1835 - 1921), an Alsatian manufacturer of artificial limbs, it took some 6 or 7 years to build and was first shown in 1878 at Gumpel's home inLeicester Square, London. Mephisto was mainly operated by chess master Isidor Gunsberg.

It was the first automaton to win a Chess tournament when it was entered in the Counties Chess Association in London in 1878 and at one time had its own chess club. In 1879 Mephisto, with Gunsberg, went on tour, defeating every male player. When playing ladies, however, Mephisto would first obtain a winning position before losing the game then courteously offer to shake their hand afterwards.

When Mephisto was shown at the Paris Exposition of 1889 it was operated by Jean Taubenhaus. After 1889 it was dismantled and its subsequent whereabouts are unknown.

Mephisto was later used as the name of a top-line dedicated chess computer which won the World Microcomputer Chess Championship in the years 1985-1990. The name is now used by the consumer electronics company Saitek on its line of standalone chess computers.