The Turk Con Explained: What is the Turk Con?

Amazon Studios’ popular series ‘Sneaky Pete’ is one of the jewels in Amazon’s crown. The critically-acclaimed first series culminated in a ‘Turk Con’. The Internet is awash with questions surrounding the con – there is actually little, definitive information out there. Fear no more… From the outset, it should be noted that the ‘Turk’ is actually a style of  con. The style simply is that it is a con which involves no moving parts. This helps to explain why Marius is told towards the end of the episode by Porter that the con they had pulled off – while it being very good and successful – was not actually a Turk con. So that is the explanation. However, feel free to read on and find out about the origins of the con, which comes from the game of chess.

The Turk Con arises from the game of chess

Back in 1770, Hungarian inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen unveiled the ‘Turk’ – a mechanical robot with the ability to defeat humans at chess. The robot was human-like in appearance and would appear in a box at the start of games. The inventor would open the box at the start of each game to show nothing uncanny was happening. The Turk went on a winning streak, defeating the likes of US Ambassador to France Benjamin Franklin and Tsar Paul I of Russia. The pinnacle of the Turk’s career was defeating none other than Napoleon Bonaparte himself – who, as the legend suggests, tried illegal moves to try and gain the upper hand, yet still came out second-best. The Turk continued to win, before making its way to USA.


Kempelen would pass away around this time, however the legend lived on. This was until around 100 years after the start of the Turk’s existence, it was destroyed in a fire, while being held at a museum. So it appeared that the secrets of the Turk went up in flames. However, this was not the case. For a considerable length of time, everyone had wondered how it was possible for a robot to beat a human – hundreds of years ahead of computers! It seemed as if there was no logical explanation – and that the legend of the Turk would live on.


Unfortunately, the answer is surprisingly simple, and somewhat disappointing. In each game, there had actually been someone in the box after all. As mentioned, the box was opened at the start of each game, but what the opponent saw was effectively an illusion. A rolling seat was used to help conceal the player, who was carefully positioned in the opening of the box. The player would use magnets to keep track of the game. Even more incredibly – the Turk was operated by some of the most well-known Chess players of the time – who helped to make the Turk a renowned winner.



This was in the end part of its downfall. The whistle was blown by one of the players who had been recruited to partake in the con. While it was all a ruse, three-hundred years on the legend lives on. Essentially, von Kempelen made sure that not everything was as it seemed – like Marius and co using Karolina to blend in effortlessly. There are several similarities between the Turk and the gang of Sneaky Pete. Perhaps next season they will go one step further and pull off a true Turk. But surely that won’t hit the levels of Kempelen’s work!



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