Friday, 31 July 2015

Crude but effective tactics

A little gem turned up on my doorstep the other day. "Samuel Lipschutz. A Life in Chess" by Stephen Davies, chronicles the chess career of Samuel Lipschutz, one of leading American players of the late 19th Century. But as it has just arrived (and I have only just started to read it), a full review will wait for another day.
Instead I simply mention an interesting story that occurs early in the book. Lipschutz lived in New York, and one of the great attractions of the time was "Ajeeb" the Chess playing automaton. It was hosted at the Musee Eden, and it cost 50c to enter the Eden, 10c to see the Automaton, and a further 10c to play against Ajeeb. While it was billed as a chess machine, from contemporary reports it was clear that most people assumed that there was a person hidden inside. While this did not diminish the popularity of the attraction, it did allow for a little skulduggery on the part of one of its opponents.
A player (not Lipschutz in this case), described in the book as "a man, ... , who everybody beats at his chess club" managed to defeat Ajeeb, when so many stronger players could not. His simple strategy was to light up a cigar ("fearfully bad") and blow as much smoke into Ajeeb as he could. Clearly this had a debilitating effect on the operator, who was trapped inside, whose play, and health got worse with every puff.
As for Lipschutz, he did play Ajeeb on at least twice, winning both the games that records exist of.

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