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Mephisto (Automaton)
Number of games in database: 27
Years covered: 1878 to 1882
Overall record: +17 -9 =1 (64.8%)*
   * Overall winning percentage = (wins+draws/2) / total games.

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C52 Evans Gambit (5 games)
C30 King's Gambit Declined (4 games)
C45 Scotch Game (4 games)
C38 King's Gambit Accepted (2 games)
C33 King's Gambit Accepted (2 games)

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(born 1871) United Kingdom

[what is this?]

Mephisto, the third chess automaton to become famous, was made by Charles Godfrey Gumpel (c.1835 - 1921) and unlike The Turk (Automaton) and Ajeeb (Automaton) it had no hidden operator and functioned by elecro-mechanical means. Gumpel took some 6 or 7 years to build it and it was first shown in 1878 at his Leicester Square home. Mephisto was operated by Isidor Gunsberg in the main but when it went to the Paris Exposition in 1889 it was worked by Jean Taubenhaus. It was shown regularly for ten years and at one time had its own club. After 1889 it was dismantled and its subsequent whereabouts are unknown.

Its name lives on in a popular brand of chess computer; see Mephisto (Computer).

Last updated: 2022-01-21 20:21:46

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 page 1 of 2; games 1-25 of 27  PGN Download
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Mephisto vs NN  1-0181878Leicester Square ExhibitionC53 Giuoco Piano
2. Mephisto vs Tinsley 1-0281878Leicester Square ExhibitionC57 Two Knights
3. Mephisto vs Gunsberg 1-0381878Leicester Square ExhibitionC52 Evans Gambit
4. Mephisto vs J Manning  1-0181878Leicester Square ExhibitionC33 King's Gambit Accepted
5. Mephisto vs C Pearson  0-1321878Royal Aquarium ExhibitionC33 King's Gambit Accepted
6. Mephisto vs C Minchin 1-0301878Royal Aquarium ExhibitionB21 Sicilian, 2.f4 and 2.d4
7. Mephisto vs Burn 1-0111878Royal Aquarium ExhibitionC63 Ruy Lopez, Schliemann Defense
8. Mephisto vs T Beardsell 1-0201878Royal Aquarium ExhibitionC30 King's Gambit Declined
9. Mephisto vs G McLennan 0-1161878Royal Aquarium ExhibitionC38 King's Gambit Accepted
10. Mephisto vs G McLennan  0-1231878Royal Aquarium ExhibitionC38 King's Gambit Accepted
11. Mephisto vs H Lee 0-1331878Royal Aquarium ExhibitionC30 King's Gambit Declined
12. J Connell vs Mephisto 1-0341878Royal Aquarium ExhibitionC52 Evans Gambit
13. Mephisto vs J Ascher  1-0241879Strand ExhibitionC52 Evans Gambit
14. Mephisto vs J Ascher 1-0191879Strand ExhibitionC30 King's Gambit Declined
15. Mephisto vs NN 0-1231879Strand ExhibitionC39 King's Gambit Accepted
16. A Mocatta vs Mephisto  0-1401879Strand ExhibitionC52 Evans Gambit
17. Mephisto vs NN 1-0281879King’s Road ExhibitionC45 Scotch Game
18. Mephisto vs J H Warner  0-1291879King's Road ExhibitionC52 Evans Gambit
19. Gossip vs Mephisto  0-1271881Regent Street ExhibitionC30 King's Gambit Declined
20. Mephisto vs Gossip  1-0311881Regent Street ExhibitionC45 Scotch Game
21. Mephisto vs NN 1-0291881Regent Street ExhibitionC65 Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defense
22. NN vs Mephisto 0-1151881Regent Street ExhibitionC20 King's Pawn Game
23. Mephisto vs A Hunter  1-0321881Regent Street ExhibitionC36 King's Gambit Accepted, Abbazia Defense
24. Mephisto vs A Marriott ½-½441881Regent Street ExhibitionC31 King's Gambit Declined, Falkbeer Counter Gambit
25. Mephisto vs NN  1-0311881Regent Street ExhibitionC45 Scotch Game
 page 1 of 2; games 1-25 of 27  PGN Download
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2) | Mephisto wins | Mephisto loses  

Kibitzer's Corner
Jul-02-05  Knight13: Mephisto was the name given to a chess-playing 'pseudo-automaton' built in 1876.

Constructed by Charles Gumpel, a manufacturer of artificial limbs, Mephisto was controlled from another room by electro-mechanical means and was originally operated by the 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.

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; courteously offering to shake their hand afterwards.

-- Wikipedia

This automation was much stronger than The Turk or Ajeeb, in my opinion.

Jul-12-05  jamesmaskell: lol@playing ladies. Computers showing courtesy...Hydra didnt show any courtesy to Adams during their match. Nice to see a computer with real sophistication.
Jul-12-05  farrooj: Adams isn't a lady though, that's why it crushed him
Jul-12-05  HailM0rphy: farrooj what part of lebanon are you from?
Jul-12-05  farrooj: Metn, why? (Mansourieh)
Oct-23-06  n30: pardon me for being ignorant, but what *exactly* is a "chess automation"? does the machine actually decide on the moves? Mechanically??? I'd find this really hard to imagine...
Nov-02-06  Maatalkko: <n30> No, it doesn't decide the moves. It's just a dummy that plays out moves given to it by a hidden operator. In the first automatons the operator was hidden inside and concealed somehow. Apparently Mephisto was operated by electricity, with Gunsberg directing the moves remotely.

Obviously automatons were very clever devices. The mechanical ingenuity of past generations is amazing.

Jan-04-07  McCool: This machine was so small and so cunnningly constructed that it seemed impossible to conceal a man in it. So most likely it was operated by Isidor Gunsberg secretly.
Apr-02-09  SBC: .

I've written/transcribed a series of 26 long articles on Automatons, including 3 on Mephisto, on my chess blog at -

I don't know if you need to be a member to view them (I don't think you do, but if so , joining is simple and free.)


Oct-26-17  Mendrys: The first game should have it's date corrected. If Mephisto didn't exist until 1876 then the date of 1770 makes no sense.

Research noted at Mephisto vs NN, 1770 indicates that it was Isidor Gunsburg who was playing Mephisto as white when the game took place in 1883.

Premium Chessgames Member
  MissScarlett: Ken Whyld wrote a piece, <The English Devil>, on Mephisto for the 1977 <BCM>, pp.315-322. The final paragraph:

<Gumpel's interest shifted. He wrote a number of pamphlets on health and natural cures published around the turn of the century. A few months before the outbreak of the 1914-18 war his last leaflet was published - <The Solution of the Alsace-Lorraine Question and the Maintenance of Peace>. He died, largely forgotten, in 1921, and the fate of his creation remains unknown.>

Premium Chessgames Member
  jnpope: <MissScarlett>, does Ken's article go into any details about Gumpel's business dealings in 1882? In particular about selling his arc lamp, electric dynamo, and electric ship-steering inventions?
Premium Chessgames Member
  MissScarlett: I'll have a look and report year.
Premium Chessgames Member
  jnpope: (checks current GMT)


Premium Chessgames Member
  jnpope: <MissScarlett: I'll have a look and report year.>

360 days and counting. I'm just very curious if Ken wrote anything about why Gumpel packed up Mephisto before the end of 1882. I've got a suspicion it was due to his business dealings with the Phœnix Electric Light and Power Company which seems to have made him a moderately wealthy man, allowing him to move out to Surrey and set up a lab at Redeham Hall.

Also, <Chessist>-claus left nothing under my Pillsbury tree, so I could use a pick-me-up to alleviate my post-holiday blues. :-(

Premium Chessgames Member
  MissScarlett: <I'm just very curious if Ken wrote anything about why Gumpel packed up Mephisto before the end of 1882.>

No. In fact, there's nothing in the article about 1882 being significant in that regard. Whyld refers to Mephisto vs Chigorin, 1883 and even the 20 board simultaneous apparently under the impression that Gunsberg was continuing to operate the machine, rather than just the column in <Knowledge>. He mentions that Mephisto re-opened at the Royal Aquarium in the summer of 1885, noting that public interest was waning, but says nothing about the operator, so again the reader could be forgiven for assuming it was still Gunsberg. Finally, he refers to its swansong in Paris in 1889, acknowledging Taubenhaus as the operator. The machine's ultimate fate isn't addressed.

Premium Chessgames Member
  jnpope: Thank you for checking. Obviously Ken was limited to the resources available to him in 1977 and I think he can be forgiven for accepting games published by Gunsberg under the Mephisto alias as being played by the automaton. If your only source is Gunsberg's column in <Knowledge> you almost have to accept it, but now with a wide variety of sources being easily available it becomes readily apparent that Gunsberg was just cashing-in on the Mephisto name after Gumpel had packed up shop and headed to Surrey (he appears to be there until 1887 it appears he may have had a reversal of fortune based on an auction notice of his furnishings at Redeham Hall, and might be the main reason Mephisto was actually put back into service for the 1889 Paris expo).

I've only come across two mentions of the automaton Mephisto from 1883-1888, one from the London <Pall Mall Gazette>, 1884.05.13, p7, which says <That mysterious automaton chess-player called "Mephisto," which was lately exhibited in Paris and London, is said to be undergoing alterations and will shortly reappear in a new dress. The inventor is also endeavouring to make the machinery more portable, so that, if necessary, the figure may be sent on a tour through the provinces> and one in the London <Morning Post>, 1885.06.01, p2, stating <The well-known automaton chess-player, "Mephisto," has been engaged at the Westminster Aquarium, where it will shortly hold daily séances>, however nothing more is mentioned; no games, no articles, and no advertising about the automaton actually going back into service at the Aquarium (does Ken quote or cite anything more?).

Premium Chessgames Member
  jnpope: The best evidence about Gunsberg, and not the automaton, playing at Purssell's comes from Bird, who published the following in his column; from the <Maryport Advertiser and Weekly News>, 1883.01.12, p6:

<"Mephisto," the Mechanical Chess Machine, directed by invisible human power, has occasioned much interest at the quarters in Regent-street. Its season, however, has now closed and, Gunsberg being now free, has expressed a desire for a match with Bird, which will probably, should the health of the latter admit, shortly commence.>

And from the <Maryport Advertiser and Weekly News>, 1883.01.19, p3:

<Within the past week, the Rev. G. A. Macdonnell (Mars) and Mr. Thorold have visited Purssell's, Cornhill, London Chess Rooms, and Gunsberg, Mephisto's representative, has been attending daily there, as well as Bird. In a few preliminary games the latter accepted proposals to play on the part of the Rev. Mr. Macdonnell and Mr. Gunsberg, and fortune favoured him in both encounters. Mr. Thorold (some time of Sheffield) has long been recognised as one of the finest provincial players, and his meeting over the board with Mephisto's representative occasioned much interest in the crowded Chess Room. The first two games played on the 3rd January were won by Gunsberg. On the 5th, however, Mr. Thorold won a game in very fine style.>

The automaton mechanism was never set-up at Purssell's. But due to the fact that Gunsberg was using the Mephisto name as his nom de plume in publishing games you get confusion regarding his games against Chigorin and Bird (sadly Renette fell into the same trap and says "In the following game Gunsberg played under the disguise of Mephisto" in the intro to game 608 in his wonderful book on Bird).

Feb-04-22  Sally Simpson: BCM April 1978 (page 162) R. N. Coles in one his 'One Hundred Years Ago' articles tells us Mephisto was introduced to the chess world on March 30th 1878 by C.G. Gumpell. The launch was preceded with a dinner at his house in Leicester Square.

Those on attendance were DR. Ballard, Bird, Blackburne, Delannoy, Gastineau, Hirschfeld, Potter and Prof Wayte. The article then describes Mephisto.

The game attached to the article by Coles was
Mephisto vs Tinsley, 1878 adding it appears Tinsley either underestimated the automaton by allowing the Fegatello Attack (the Fried Liver) or Black's 9th move;

click for larger view

9...b5 10.Bb3 Bb7 was an attempt at refuting it.

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