Our Checker Books, with Reviews

Our checker library continues to grow. Here is a list and a brief discussion of each of our checker books (or at least some of them). The list used to be in priority order, but that got a bit arbtrary beyond a certain number of books. In order to restore utility, we've tried to categorize the books: openings, endings, mid-game, beginner, intermediate, etc. Recommendations are at the end of the page.

Checker books are something that need to be sought out; there are only a handful in print at the present time, with many unique and excellent books out of print. See the section below on Buying Checker Books.

we're in the process of making and sizing book cover scans, soon to be included here. ("Soon" is a relative term that can mean months and years.)

Many older checker books seem to have been produced according to a certain formula. First, the title should be something to do with "Checkers Made Easy" or "Checkers Made Simple" or the like. Then, the book should claim to be for beginners but really be of use primarily to advanced players. There should be a description of move notation, a suitably obscure page or two on "The Move", followed by a Games Section and a Problems Section. Preferrably there will be no index, and the quality of writing should not be especially good. Diagrams should be either too small, or blurry, or both. But for all of that, they're fun, they're great, and they're often most usable and useful. Discover for yourself, starting below.


 


BUYING CHECKER BOOKS

Buying checker books is not so easy these days, as only a handful are in print. You can look for these at Amazon or get your local full-service bookseller to order them for you. Used books are hit and miss; you can try the auctions on Ebay, where prices tend to run higher than they should; you can also try Bookfinder to locate specific titles; sometimes you'll get lucky.

A very good source is the Don Goodwin Estate; we keep their price list and ordering info online here as a service to checker players. A very large selection is available. These are primarily photocopy reprints, nicely bound. They are not inexpensive but the checker book market tends to be pricey no matter the source, and you will find that dealing with Evelyn and Ernie is a real pleasure.

Our own electronic collection of free downloadable books is slowly growing; see the download section of The Checker Maven for a listing. We hope to make this into a useful basic library over a period of time.

If you discover sources of checker books, please let us know: write to us at checkerbooks@bobnewell.net.


BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

Checker Power by Robert Pike. Categories: Beginner

Of the perhaps eight or nine checker books currently in print, Robert Pike has written four of them, including this very short and very basic book aimed at the perhaps ten-year-old age group. It's a very short work, with large print text on one page and a checkerboard diagram on the facing page, for the entire 32 page length (did I say "length"?).

A group of nine "Rules" and nine "Strategies" are intermingled in a manner that reduces the effectiveness of the explanations; this is a bit of a shame since the rules explanations are very lucid, accurate, and complete. For instance, Rule 5: "If You Can Jump, You Must Jump" is followed immediately by Strategy 3, "Look for Double Jumps" and Strategy 4, "Look for Triple Jumps." All of this is before the idea of a King is presented! And, while the idea of compulsory jumps is of course well-described, and situations with a choice of jumps are shown, it is never made clear that you can take any jump you wish, rather than being required to take the longest jump. This is a very often misunderstood point.

Some of the advice is dubious, as in Strategy 6, "Protect Your Back Row" where we are told: "Try to keep your checkers in your back row for as long as possible." Joining the ACF is recommended on the very last page. Not a bad idea, to be sure, but this is a book for absolute beginners. It would have been better by far to recommend other books or methods for more beginner-level study. I am surprised Pike did not tout his other books; this would have been a perfect opportunity, and quite legitimate and correct.

Still, if you want a book for a younger person or for someone who has no concept about the rules of checkers, this book will do. There is not really a whole lot here, but then, there doesn't need to be.

A side note: Pike is to be commended for stressing official green-squared boards (even though green and white is not strictly correct) and red and white pieces, and for not reinforcing the popular notion of red and black pieces on red and black squares.

Play Checkers With Me by Galina Golant and Lisa Grant. Categories: Beginner

This book is clearly aimed at small children, perhaps of the age of four. It is written in a very engaging beginning-reader style, with colorful and interesting illustrations. It is about a checker-playing dinosaur family, although in fact it is based on a happening in author Golant's own family; her six year old taught her four year old to play checkers, and this book captures that happy event in fictional form.

The book teaches the rules of checkers, and teaches about checkers, up to a point. In order to keep things simple, I imagine, the idea of winning via blocking your opponent, rather than capturing all of his pieces, is never brought up. Neither is the idea of being able to choose among jumps when a choice is available. No matter; this can be learned as you go.

Red and black checkers on a red and black board are shown throughout; I am sure this is to match the red and black checker sets that children invariably have. (The illustrator immediately ran into the visibility problem that this combination creates, and had to draw a little white circle around the black checkers!) And a very strange thing is that all but one of the boards are shown sideways. I am not at all sure quite why.

Will this book, with its checker playing dinosaur theme, teach four year olds to play checkers? While I plan to try it out on my four-year old grandson, I actually doubt that the explanations in the book are sufficient without the help of an older child or an adult, but that is not what is important. What is important is that the book is certainly interesting enough to encourage a four year old to ask to play checkers with an older sibling or parent. So in the end the results are the same: we increase quality family time, and we have another new checker player. Hoorah all around!

If you have young children, know young children, or work with young children, you simply must get this book. While the point is to play with mom or dad or brother or sister or aunt or uncle or adult friend, if we look ahead to skill-building for more serious play at a later date, combining this book with one of the simpler and more colorful checker playing computer programs, such as Magic Wand (freeware) or Classic Checkers ($1 shareware), as listed on my companion page, should be very effective. I would wager that our young child's attention would be held both for quite some time and for very many repeat sessions; and he or she would likely become a player of some ability in short order.

And even better: if you're checker savvy, give the child personal lessons. Do the trick of turning the board around when you have a winning position and help the child work out the win. If you're not checker savvy, read some of the basic books listed here and learn along with the child. This is a complete winning proposition with no downsides or drawbacks!

Of course, we hope that our new player will eventually unlearn the red/black color combination . And hopefully, that new player won't, a few years later, conclude that checkers is only for little kids. Or little dinosaurs.


 

GENERAL BOOKS FOR BEGINNERS

Win at Checkers by Millard Hopper. Categories: Beginner, General

I really like this little book, which has the advantages of being in print and quite inexpensive. It is absolutely the first book for any beginner, though it assumes you know the basic rules of the game. If you are beyond the beginner stage, you may the book quite lightweight, but still entertaining, with a few gems scattered throughout.

The book is presented in question and answer format, in the form of a fictional dialog between Mr. Hopper and a beginning student. The book starts with a chapter on general principles of play; this chapter alone, if studied closely, will give a great advantage over the vast majority of non-serious players. The next chapter is on shots and traps. It is very well done, explaining various types of shots with well-illustrated examples, and ending with a couple of exercises that are actually doable by the beginner.

I really like the third chapter, which shows a sample game between an expert and a "non-serious" player. It shows in painful clarity how a beginner loses; but the explanations ease the pain, and will help a beginner avoid all sorts of blunders merely by thinking about his moves in the right way.

The chapter on openings is what you would expect: very limited, as it must be in a beginner's book. Mr. Hopper takes the meritorious approach of recommending a very limited opening repertoire for the beginner. After showing a disastrous White loss with the Single Corner, he settles on the Cross as the best line for a student, and discusses it well with a couple of example games. There is then a single page of advice on how to reply, as White, to openings other than 11-15.

Hopper here seems to strike a nice balance between the universally denigrated brute-force memorization approach to openings, and the opposite extreme of "beginners should not study openings" (see my separate article on this topic).

There then follows a couple of chapters with problems and exercises; a chapter on "the move" which is understandable, if a bit misleading; a few examples of shots in the openings; and some advice on playing with a man down. (In this chapter will be found discussion of how to win with two kings against one or three kings against two; this seems to be a curious placement.) The book ends with a chapter of general advice, and then some supplementary material.

The only serious failing of the book is some lack of organization (and no index, which seems common with checker books). You might have to dig around a bit to find what you need. But every beginner should have this book and go through it from cover to cover before attempting more advanced material.

How to Win at Checkers, by Fred Reinfeld. Categories: Beginner, General

Although Reinfeld is known as a prolific chess writer, with an engaging style and a gift for teaching, this book may be his best work. It is pretty much ignored by the checkers upper crust, but I find it to be an essential beginner's book. Why? Because it is very complete, even if not in great depth.

Reinfeld starts out with the basics of playing checkers, and then shows some basic tactics and shots. This is followed by a section on traps in the openings, which is interesting but unfortunately contains several errors in play and judgment. (I am building up an errata listing which hopefully will be of help.) But this is followed by one of the nicest chapters on openings that a beginner can find. While obviously and deliberately limited in scope, there is at least something on all the major lines, with variants packed into discussion and notes. The elucidation and presentation are comprehensible and accessible. In fact, for a while, every time I played a game, and would then go back to review the opening, I seemed to find at least something in Reinfeld's book that was of use. I think Reinfeld's book is a good preliminary to study, much later on, of standard works such as Lee's Guide.

Reinfeld also provides superb coverage of endgame positions, from simple to complex, including one of the best writeups on First Position that you'll find anywhere (but recently surpassed in quality and scope by Richard Pask's newest book).

The book is filled with useful information for the beginner, all the way through the "advanced beginner" stage. Don't overlook the value of this often neglected book, which is the single book for the beginner to own if you had to choose just one.

The book does not include any problems or complete games, and is marred by some errors, but is on my "must have" list for its many merits, as discussed above.

Starting Out in Checkers by Richard Pask. Categories: Beginner, General

Buy this book. It is in print; your bookseller can get it for you, or you can order it on line, but buy it.

This is a beginner to advanced beginner checkers course, and has the merit of being very well written and flawlessly organized. In these terms, it is the quite possibly the best checker book you will ever find, and easily the best one still in print. It perhaps, though, should be your second book, at least if you are a complete beginner, as the book pre-assumes knowledge of the mechanics of play.

The first section on "the basics" provides detailed and understandable explanations of those things that the casual "non-scientific" player won't know: how to win two kings against one, the mechanics of various types of shots, etc. Over 100 illustrated examples of basic tactical devices are given; please try to solve these before looking at the solutions, and repeat them over and over until they are second nature to you. This is followed by an excellent endgame section, including a lot of good advice, a comprehensible explanation of "the move", which Pask calls "the opposition" (hurrah! so many of the older books mangle this concept with unintelligible legalistic prose), and then ten key endgames explained in enough detail to be very useful. Endgame themes, reminiscent of Ben Boland, are also presented and discussed, usually with single examples.

A section on the midgame follows, and is something that is well-organized in a manner seldom seen. There are the usual tips and advice, followed by four more theme positions, and rounded out with a brief study of formations.

The section on the opening is the major disappointment of the book. It is just a few sketchy pages and won't help very much. The book, by the way, also lacks complete sample games (well, I think there is one). This was deliberate on the part of the author, by the way, who did not wish to detract from the key points of instruction.

There are problems in every section and they are at the right level of difficulty for the intended audience. They do a good job of reinforcing the material in the section.

When you've worked through this book, you're reading for more advanced material such as found in Ben Boland or other standards.

This book is a winner, and the publisher, Everyman, is to be commended for taking it on in a day when checker books aren't quite best sellers.

Play Winning Checkers by Robert Pike. Categories: Beginner, General

Many people really seem to like this book, but I don't, at least as a means for teaching winning checker play. While it is entertaining and amusing, it is impossible to find anything due to hopeless disorganization, and it doesn't have quite enough of anything. It is light on openings; it has some endgame material; and it has a lot on tactics, shots, etc., along with problems that are too hard for the beginner. Consider this: it is the very first problem in the book: B 1,2,3,6,8,10,11,12,14,18,20 W 13,17,19,21,23,25,26,27,28,30,32 Black to move and win. What beginner could possibly solve this problem?

There is quite a bit about Marion Tinsley, his match with Chinook, and the like. This is easily the best part of the book, and could serve to excite fresh interest in the grand old game. In fact, that is by far the greatest merit of this book. It can easily make an enthusiastic checker player out of you, or revive your interest in the game you knew as a kid. (It did this for me.) So, despite the shortcomings of the book, it has done checkers a very great service and must be commended at least for that much.

In the description of checker variants, there is a gratuitous and inaccurate negative comment about Canadian checkers (and by inference, players of Canadian checkers), which I find disrespectful.

The book has a small folded cardboard checkerboard attached to the back, with the suggestion to use pennies and dimes for men. Seriously, the book actually says that. Please get yourself a real checker set instead.

How to Be a Winner at Checkers by Fred Reinfeld (out of print). Categories: Beginner, General.

An older, hardcover edition of the Reinfeld book listed above; it's less detailed and less complete, although perhaps printed and arranged a bit more nicely. The newer version is the one to have.

In fact, a word of caution: numerous checker books have been recycled with new titles and new covers or bindings, but with nearly zero change in content. You can end up buying the same book twice or more if you're not careful. I've fallen into this trap a couple of times already.

Move Over by Derek Oldbury. Categories: Beginner, General, Problems.

This book is only available by internet download. It is unlike any other checker book, it seems to me. It is the only book I know of completely devoted to principles: lines of action, timing, development counts, etc. It is very chatty and descriptive in style and will improve your grasp of checkeres immensely. I list it as a beginner's book but intermediates will benefit as well.

The only unfortunate thing about this book is that is uses a bizarre move notation system that is completely non-standard and not especially easy to learn or visualize. Oldbury claims that his notation system is superior in that it emphasizes the critical diagonal lines of action; but you will still have to learn it and get used to it--- and it won't do you any good anywhere else but in this book.

There are many illustrative examples and a few complete games. Outside of the notation problem, the book is eminently easy to grasp and follow. The book ends with 26 problems composed by Oldbury. They seem rather difficult for a beginner, but they are very good.

Get this book here; it's free after all.

Checkers Made Easy by Arthur Reisman (out of print) Categories: Beginner, General

This book, published in 1959, may be the last of the beginner's books from the golden age; by 1959 checkers was surely starting to decline from the great days of previous decades. This book is unique; for one thing, it really is a true beginner's book in content and approach as well as in name. In fact, the author himself states about previous books said to be for beginners: "In every instance these efforts fizzle...what the raw recruit needs is a simple, logical course in the fundamentals..."

Well, Reisman's promise is far more than empty words. This is indeed a fine book for the "raw recruit" whose only real problem will be obtaining this book. It is very hard to get at a reasonable price: internet sources ask around $100 for a copy of this slim 124 page volume. Fortunately, it is now available online for download. See the end of this review.

The book is almost exclusively about tactics, most of them elementary in concept, but illustrated with examples and problems of graded complexity. This is quite nicely done. An idea will be introduced with a simple, easy to grasp example, and then amplified and elaborated upon with more complex and difficult situations that belong to the same theme. Illustrations abound, and seem to be hand-drawn though very clear. Problems have fanciful but apt titles such as "Tit for Tat" or "The Clamp." The concepts also are presented in graduated progression, with the more complex ideas coming after the simpler, at least mostly.

And from this comes my only issue with the book, though it is a small one. Some of the endgame material in the beginning of the book, though very elementary, may in fact not be so easy for the absolute beginner to follow. For instance, while an ending of three kings against two is extremely basic, still, the total tyro will not necessarily be able to pull off this win after studying Reisman's example positions.

The end of the book contains excellent, extended material on bridge positions as well as a little discussion of dyke positions and triangles. A few complete games show up here.

The book does not really get into anything extraneous. For instance, there is no coverage of openings other than a general statement or two, and only a little about most elementary endgames. No matter; this is a book primarily about tactical devices and some elements of strategy. It reminds me very much of a book about chess (Winning Chess by Chernev and Reinfeld) that I got from the public library as a youngster. The tactical lessons in that book made me the terror of the neighborhood, and this book will do the same for the beginning checker player. And if you are beyond the neophyte stage, try to solve each problem on your own before looking at Reisman's solution. This will provide untold benefits. Repeat each problem and situation over and over and over until it is part of your being.

Don't think that this is the royal road to checkers without effort, however. There is no such thing. This book represents days if not weeks of serious study for the new player, and will weed out the dabblers from the dedicated students. But if you take the time to make your way through this book, your winning games will multiply by orders of magnitude against most of the competition that is out there.

I carefully researched the copyright on this book and made a definitive determination that the copyright has expired without renewal and is no longer in force. Therefore, as a service to the checker playing public, I completed my plan to publish this work in an electronic format. It is now available for download and printing in a newly revised PDF version; you can get it here, and of course it's free for the taking.

Checkers Home Companion - Our Boys at Home by Harvey Hopkins. (out of print) Categories: Beginner to Intermediate, General, Endings, problems.

This little booklet, published in 1916, when the author was well into his seventies in age, projects exactly the paternalistic and authoritarian image of the old toward youth that one seems to associate with that bygone era. Perhaps there is some truth in these images, or perhaps it is a manifestation of the sentiment, seemingly universal through the ages, that the coming generation falls far short of the merits of the passing one.

The booklet is as much about morals and character development as it is about checkers. If we could just get the "boys at home" to play checkers, they would stay out of trouble and stay out of jail. Literally.

Hopkins had the assistance of the great player Newell W. Banks in putting together this treatise, and laid claim to new methods of instruction, "destined to become universal." Alas, there isn't a whole lot here, and it is presented in a way such that the "boys at home" would quickly lose patience and interest. If they made their way through the pompous, but highly amusing lecturing that fills the first 21 pages, they'd never get through the didactic material, hardly suited for the beginner--- at least not without a teacher or a father-figure at their side.

Still, the booklet is filled with priceless quotes (although not by intention):

"My love for the Game of Checkers; because of its amusing and educational value, and the hope that it will keep the boys at home...."

"Confidence, too, is necessary. It fortifies a player and tends to weaken his adversary by fear."

"My advice, therefore, to young ladies about to cross the sea of matrimony, is to try games of checkers on the parties of the second part, note their temperments, and read their minds and characters."

There is much more, far too much to list here.

The book does have a very interesting summary (accuracy unknown) of the history of checkers. There is also some brief but extraneous material on chess, and I am still not sure what it's doing here.

Well, after the lecture, the advice on proper conduct, and praises sung to the merits of checkers as a character-builder for our "boys" at home, there is a poem about a family playing checkers (but only the menfolk play, it seems); then we finally reach the checker-related material itself. This starts with a summary of the rules and notation system, and a series of positions to be solved, all of which illustrate more or less elementary tactics, and none of which could easily be solved by the tyro without a teacher (or again, father) near by.

We next have a few pages of end-game positions, starting with two kings against one and going on to first through sixth positions, and the "Avery" position. This is followed by some general advice. Talk about general: "Hold advantages and avoid defeats by known positions and surprises." It is no surprise that "The Move" is mentioned but only vaguely defined.

The only really unique material ensues: this is a tabulation of strong and weak positions, but these are given in built-up stages which are remarkably illustrative and helpful. The book concludes with 43 problems that are so far beyond "our boys" that they will never solve more than a handful, if that.

So, should you seek out and buy this small 64 page booklet? It isn't that hard to locate, nor is it too terribly expensive. Answer: don't buy it for the checker content. With the one exception about good/bad positions, which fills all of one page, there is little here, unless you want a new set of problems (some of them are originals). But if you want real entertainment and an endless source of timeless quotes, you must have this booklet. In that regard, it's priceless.

And who knows, it just might keep one of your "boys" out of jail.

The Wonderful World of Checkers and Draughts by Tom Wiswell and Jules Leopold. (out of print) Categories: Beginner to Advanced, General.

This book, which to the best of my knowledge was Tom Wiswell's last, seems mostly written by Jules Leopold, a somewhat known checkerist and a much more well known puzzle writer. The book positions itself as a book for beginners, and in fact will be of interest to all. I've listed the book in the beginner's section here for lack of a more accurate categorization, although in fact this is surely not the best "first" book by any means, as Wiswell's problems will prove too difficult.

Indeed, that is one of the fine features of this book: 100 problems, about half by Wiswell and the rest chosen by him. Wiswell, perhaps the greatest problem setter ever, has chosen some of the gems from his long career. This is coupled with 50 selected games, chosen to illustrate the concepts described in the first half of the book.

The teaching approach is unusual but effective. There are 27 bite-size chapters, covering a total of only 64 pages, making up the front two-fifths of the book. These bite-size chapters illustrate important and generally basic checker play concepts in bite-sized doses. Then, by referring to the excellent index (would that more checker books had this) the learner can find problems and games which illustrate many of the concepts. Working through the concepts ("The Move," "The Dog Hole", "First Position," and many of the other usual suspects) in this manner is bound to be profitable and of much easier application than usual to cross-board play.

To be sure, the book just gives a smattering and can hardly be considered "complete" in any sense. But there is something here for everyone, from the new player looking for some general advice, to the experienced player wanting to savor Wiswell's problem art. If you can find this book, and it does show up from time to time on the used market, get it.

 


GENERAL BOOKS FOR INTERMEDIATES

Play Better Checkers and Draughts by Richard Pask. (privately published, 2nd printing) Categories: Intermediate to Advanced, General, Endings, Midgame, Openings.

This book is privately published in spiral-bound form in a very limited edition. The first printing sold out at once, as did a revised second printing, but an electronic version (of the first edition) is available. This book is clearly a most desirable item for the serious contemporary checkers player, and you should make every effort to obtain a copy. The electronic first printing can now be obtained through our website for $10; click here for more information.

The book is filled with Pask's usual cogent and pointed advice, and organized in his usual "inside-out" fashion: starting with endgames and working back to openings.

At the beginning of the book, then, is an endgame section, starting out with a very detailed exposition on First Postion, probably the most detailed to be found anywhere. Pask's idea is that this is a critical position, arising in many ways, and he uses it to form an extended, exemplary study for endgame analysis, with demonstration and illustration of something like twenty different related ideas. This is followed by ten different "bridge" endgames. You'll have to read Boland's Bridges, a full book on the topic, to find anything more complete than this.

A handful of late midgame positions follows, and then a very interesting section on transitions: how play is brought from the latter mid-game to a successful draw, with many examples and illustrations.

The early midgame chapter, which is next, forms the largest part of the book, covering formations, squares, holds, motifs, landings, and advanced tactics, all in some detail, and with numerous examples of complete game samples to show how the positions and situations arise in actual 3-move restriction play. I am working my way through this section at the moment (April 2004) and it will take quite some time to master all of this material. It is a very well-organized and comprehensive exposition, with just one issue: a number of the positions are shown as White wins, Black wins, etc., but the actual mechanics of the win or draw are not shown. I imagine that at this more advanced level of study, the win or draw might be obvious, but at my level, while I can see the general theme well enough, I don't know that I would be able to solve the position over the board. Perhaps this is something for a strong computer program to show the way.

In this chapter, the section on Motifs is especially valuable. The Landings section concentrates on the Pioneer and Defiance. No surprise; a lot of openings reach lines in these systems.

Pask made some good decisions about the contents of the Openings chapter. In an advanced text of a general nature, it obviously isn't possible or desirable to reproduce the contents of standard works on three-move restriction play such as Basic Checkers or Solid Checkers. So here, Pask took the "overview survey" approach. There is a very interesting ranking of strength in the three-move openings, followed by a survey of various ballots. These are classed as arising from Go-As-You-Please, 2-move, or 3-move play, though they are all shown as the actual 3-move ballot which brings them into effect. (If this is confusing, fear not, as the book is quite clear.) The main line and perhaps one major variant is given. This is enough to give a feel for each ballot; detailed study would then take place in one of the standard references.

At the end of the book is Pask's recommendations for 50 books to form a quite complete and well-rounded checkers library. Well, as an obvious checkers bibliophile, I found this list of great interest and value. There is just one catch: a goodly number of these books are rare and hard to find, and costly when found. I would estimate two to three thousand dollars to assemble the recommended collection. (Admittedly, this value is skewed by a few individual, extremely costly books. But this is no proposition for misers or pikers.)

Problems appear throughout the book; they provide good illustrations of the material and are nice studies in their own right. The level of difficulty is correct for a more advanced work.

At the very front of the book, and in one or two other places, the author lists additional material scattered amongst a large collection of books and periodicals. I imagine advanced players have all these references, but intermediates almost certainly don't. It points to the unfortunate reality that checker references are not always easy to come by.

As a well-organized, thorough, and understandable text for the more accomplished intermediate or the advanced player, this book is without equal. Make no mistake that study of this book will require considerable time and effort, which will be richly rewarded. While there is a long history of publication in the world of checkers, checker books, until now, have never seemed to have the structure and organization that is more the norm with books about Chess or Go. Pask's books remedy this once and for all and put checkers literature on the same high plane. Again, I do wish there were some way in which this latest offering could be made more generally available to the checker-playing public.

Mr. Pask says this will be his last book on checkers (yet he lists several works-in-progress at the end). Indeed, he has been a most prolific author and his works span the gamut of checker play. Let us hope that he does indeed continue onward.

The Compleat Draughts Player by Irving Chernev (out of print). Categories: Intermediate, General

This book was recommended to me by an expert player as the best intermediate book around, and there is something to this statement. (It is ironic that Chernev, like Reinfeld, is also best known as a chess writer.) The book has advice on many things, including the classic endgame positions in some detail; a long section on shots and traps in the openings (with a couple of errors, unfortunately); very brief recommendations on opening play, which, however, are supported by numerous annotated games; and additional well-annotated master games. A good set of problems is also included (be careful while solving as the solutions are given just under the diagrams and it's easy to "peek"). If you get this book, though, you'll still need something that discusses opening variations in more detail, such as Lee's Guide.

This book can be used to complement Reinfeld, who does not provide complete games or problems, although this really understates the value of this fine work. The collection of master games in this book sparkles and instructs; if I have a few odd minutes to spend at the checkerboard, I'll often reach for this volume. It can be a bit hard to find, but it is well worth the effort and expense.

Banks' Scientific Checkers by Newell W. Banks (out of print). Categories: Intermediate to Advanced, General, Openings, Games, Problems

This is a rather unusual book which could conceivably appear in the "Openings" section but there is a great deal of other material, making it a rather general book. The book claims to be a manual for beginning to advanced players, but I think a less than advanced beginner would have trouble with this text.

That said, I like this book a lot, and am trying to figure out how to rebind my falling-apart copy. The book contains some general advice and philosophy, including some exercises on visualization that I have yet to totally fathom. There are 100 problems at the front of the book; they are said to be for beginners but that is certainly not the case except for perhaps the first dozen or two. This is followed by "The Twelve Great Masterpieces" which is a brief study of standard endgame positions (First through Sixth, Petterson's Drawbridge, etc.)

Then there are writeups on "two move restriction" openings. The writeups include variations, complete games, and a generous amount of commentary. This section, while excellent, I don't believe can be considered complete enough to be a manual of play, so to speak; and because of the organization, finding a particular line could be a bit difficult. For instance, if you're searching for the Old Fourteenth. you'll need to dig through the "E-5" section. (E-5 is the two-move restriction opening 11-15 23-19.)

The final section is a wonderful collection of 105 well-annoted games with examples of many different openings; and then there are 8 games from the 11-man ballot system, which are of less general interest.

All in all this is a fine book, even if a bit hard to use as an openings book, and the annotated games are a treat.

Let's Play Checkers by Kenneth Grover and Tom Wiswell (out of print) Categories: Intermediate, General, Openings, Midgame, Endgame, Problems.

This 1940 book is often referred to as Wiswell's best book for beginners, but I think you would need to be at the advanced beginner stage at minimum to benefit most from it.

The book starts with the usual treatise on "the move" in terms that would hardly motivate a beginner--- yet it seems the majority of older books do this. However, the next chapter, titled "Games" is really an excellent suggestion and elaboration on learning a limited repertoire of openings. The idea is that a less-than-expert player can avoid the need to know reams of published play on every conceivable opening line, instead steering play into just a few lines in which study has been concentrated. As I comment elsewhere, I once found this very successful in playing chess, and I can see easy application to checkers. (Not everyone agrees with this approach, of course.)

The "Cross" (23-18 in reply to 11-15) is recommended for White, instead of 23-19. Interestingly enough the Cross is recommended due to greater winning chances, avoiding the "safe draws" of 23-19! The Cross has been often seen in modern go-as-you-please master play; this is indeed an interesting recommendation. For Black, 9-14, the Double Corner, is the choice put forth, with the comment to the effect that only expert players will know how to reply correctly! A number of games on the major lines and variants for these openings are given; and then, since it is pointed out that White will need to know how to reply to openings other than 11-15, some play is given on the other six possibilities. This is a bit spotty; for instance, numerous games are given for the Bristol (11-16) and the Dundee (12-16) but only one for the Kelso (10-15).

But all-in-all this approach and suggested study of openings is well done and quite appealing.

The book continues with a section on the mid-game. This is a difficult topic to tackle, and few books do it well (Starting Out in Checkers and Play Better Checkers & Draughts seem to do it best). A few traps are shown, and then a series of "landings" arrived at from various starting points. The book goes on to the endgame, with 11 situations shown. These are primarily tactical, and do not include First Position and all of the usual. It's a nice change of pace; but you will definitely need to supplement this with other books.

Finally, there is the inevitable problems section; in this case a full 100 of them from many sources, and they are not on the easy side. The collection includes 6 problems by Samuel Gonotsky; I haven't seen many Gonotsky problems elsewhere. In my copy, some of the diagrams are very poorly printed and telling Black from White is a chore. Within this section you'll even find a poem about a particular problem setter!

If you like well-annotated games with definite organization and didactic purpose, good problems, and if the opening "repertoire" concept suits you, you'll want this book. There are a few "bald spots" but by and large this is a book well worth having, and worthy of serious study.

Fortunately, the book isn't too hard too find nor too expensive. While I don't include it in my top recommendations, for some reason (personal preference, I suppose) this has become one of my favorite, most-used books.

Learn Checkers Fast by Tom Wiswell (out of print) Categories: Intermediate to Advanced, General, Openings, Endings, Problems

I have a 1974 Tartan trade paper version of this 1946 book; it reminds me very much of the Tartan books on chess I used to collect. This book, with an introduction by boxer Jack Dempsey, of all people, might qualify for beginners but probably pretty advanced beginners. It is filled with all sorts of practical advice ("don't play fast") and checker wisdom.

The book shows model lines and a few major variants for the "basic seven" openings (as viewed from the Black side). This is not nearly enough to qualify as an opening treatise but it does suffice to give basic coverage, with some good notes and complete games. There is then a section listing and categorizing the 137 three move openings (that was the number current as of the date of this book), with some play and variants on a few of the more difficult ones. Frankly, this section seems totally out of place in a book intended for beginners or even intermediates, and is too skimpy to be of any use to advanced players.

This is followed by a section of a dozen games called "Checker Brilliancies" with good annotations. These are true gems and a great pleasure to peruse. The book continues with 56 problems of all types, with well annotated solutions. Finally, there is a section on 12 classic endgame positions, with discussion and variant lines that are much too brief to be of real use.

Certainly this is a good enough book, and is worth having for the "brilliancies" and the problems, but the material in the rest of the book is better presented, or more detailed, in many other works.

Scientific Checkers Made Easy by William F. Ryan (out of print) Categories: Intermediate, General, Openings, Problems, Endings.

The book starts with Ryan's idea on how to study and learn checkers, modestly called "A Master's Advice." You may or may not agree with Ryan's masterful advice, but it is at the very least interesting and entertaining in true Ryan style.

The book then goes into some reasonably nicely annotated games and variations on seventeen of the two-move openings. This is certainly enough to include this book in the "openings" category but it is by no means anything near a complete treatise. This is usual for Ryan; he limits his scope but what he does cover, he covers well and in depth.

There is a good section on the "ten major" endgame positions, which seems to be an obligatory thing, but then there is a very interesting chapter on identical positions, set up with a number of problems and many examples to help teach how certain similar positions arise from different lines of play. Although Ben Boland does this, in spades, in his books, Ryan's chapter is well annotated and very accessible as a starting point. This is a nice feature of this book.

A selection of 50 problems follows, with solutions and interesting commentary on a number of them. This is supplemented by 25 problem "gems" from William Wood.

I rate this book as intermediate, but it is certainly suitable for the advanced beginner, at least except for the problem section. Ryan does not set out easy problems!

Play Winning Checkers by Willie Ryan (out of print) Categories: Intermediate, General, Openings, Problems, Endings.

This book is a 1978 Cole's paperback reprint of Scientific Checkers Made Easy with black and white rather than two-color illustrations, and the unexplainable deletion of some philosophical/descriptive passages. You are better off with the original hardcover, but this edition will do if you can't find the other.

Checker Board Strategy by Andrew J. Banks (out of print) Categories: Intermediate, General, Problems.

This book, which appears to be self-published, is hard to classify and may be one of the most unusual items in my collection. It is witty and entertaining, filled with little stories of characters with names such as Skittle and Farmer Sneed, as well as odds-and-ends articles (including one by Willie Ryan on the "right" attitude toward checkers), and seemingly incongruous paragraphs such as a list of the names of the members of the (at the time) New England Checker Association.

The books starts out with a "games" section, which in fact is a compendium of traps and strokes in various opening lines. The rest of the book is devoted to problems; there is a section of "snappy" problems; a strangely numbered and excellent beginner's section; some selections from Denvir's Strokes; a group of "Gem Problems for Everybody" and then some "Nice Problems Demonstrated." Interspersed are the random articles mentioned above and even a poem about solving problems. There are a few errors in the book, unfortunately.

It is hard to know exactly what to say about this book. It is a lot of fun, and the problems are useful and well-selected, but the book is a strange duck indeed.

Checkers How to Win by Henry Spayth (out of print) Categories: Intermediate, General, Openings, Problems, Games.

I am most unsure where to classify this book. It is another old classic with the very spare annotation so common in these books. It claims to be a book for beginners but this is not where I would advise a beginner to start out.

The book shows about 18 "critical" positions in essentially problem format. The positions are not really categorized or named, and the solutions are shown merely as a list of moves. This is followed by a game section, meant to illustrate play in the major openings, with a single game each, with no variants and perhaps one or two tiny notes per game.

After this is a rather nice section on traps and catches, again presented in problem format; and then another game section, with a handful of games to illustrate various problem-like situations.

There is no real reason to have this book, unless you are merely collecting, except for the very last three pages, on which is presented a short story about checkers called "Encounter at Midnight." The story includes two problems, given without solution. The story is very well done and worth whatever you might pay for this book. Checkers fiction is rare indeed, although there is an interesting sci-fi, parallel universe story about checkers here.

The Complete Encyclopaedia of Draughts (6 vols) by Derek Oldbury. (out of print) Categories: Intermediate to Advanced, General. (review in progress)

Although this set of six volumes is eclectic and difficult in many places, Oldbury's entertaining style makes them a true delight. Oldbury is never afraid to be controversial, never afraid to express his opinion, and has a fighting, play-to-win and take-the-chances to make-the-chances attitude that I admire and respect. There is nothing dull or mundane about Oldbury and the oft-taught tenet, "keep the draw in sight" doesn't apply here.

I'm working my way through, slowly, as time allows. These books are not always easy to find nor particularly inexpensive, but they are a "must buy" even if a full set might be a bit costly.

Part 1: The Plan. As much history and philosophy as it is anything else, this first volume, cleary aimed at the intermediate player who wishes to rach the expert category, talks of the need for "a plan" to learn draughts in a thorough manner. The "plan" is about opening lines; choosing them, learning them, and perfecting them.

 


BOOKS ON OPENINGS

Lees' Guide to the Game of Draughts or Checkers, various editions (all out of print). Categories: Intermediate to Advanced, Openings.

I have the 1944 edition with additions by John Gregg. Be sure not to get older editions as this edition has a lot of corrections and supplementary games. This is a tough book for the complete beginner (who should avoid it), because although it consists of many, many games for almost every conceivable opening variation, it has the sparse notation and limited explanation typical of so many checker books. So why is this book highly prized by checker players? Simply because it is so complete and the play is generally sound.

At some point in your checker playing career you'll need this book, without any doubt. It is deemed the standard reference for openings by just about everybody, despite its age. To be sure, there is more recent published play and different ideas about certain lines; after all, the book is 60 years old. But by and large it has stood the test of time.

The book also includes some problems and endgame studies, but it is really a book on openings (and I don't include it in any other category).

The British Draughts Player by various authors (out of print). Categories: Intermediate to Advanced, Openings.

This book was originally advertised as a hardbound collection of 26 pamphlet-like extended articles on various opening groups. For instance, the "Old Fourteenth" article is by Strickland while "Will O' the Wisp" is by Willie Gardiner. That said, the book is quite cohesive and very similar in content to Lee's Guide although the individual openings seem to cover more pages, with slightly less sparse (but still sparse) commentary. The book overall is about 150 pages longer than Lee's and is purely about openings (except for a gratuitious article in front about "the move"). I'm not experienced enough to know why Lee's is considered the standard and this book is not (although it seems well respected). I find this book a bit easier to navigate, but the choice is yours. Or just buy both, if you can find them at an acceptable price.

Sturges Guide to the Game of Draughts with additional material by J. Kear (out of print). Categories: Intermediate to Advanced, Openings, Problems.

This is an old classic which has lots and lots of opening variations listed in columns like the old railway timetables. I seldom refer to this book as Lees' Guide is easier to use, presumably more up-to-date, and not so spare in form. However, there are some advanced players who feel that the play shown in this book is quite sound and solid, if a bit hard to access, and find this a still-vital reference book. There are no annotations at all, just lists of moves, and a beginner should surely stay away. 215 "additional positions" (problems) are given at the back of the book, in diagrams of a size and quality that will send you running for your bifocals. The problems cover a lot of ground, and seem to be very good.

The front matter in the book is worth the price of admission, though. There is a French poem about the play of the game (with a very fanciful and inaccurate English translation), and a series of Prefaces and Introductions, all of which are a true must-read. Naturally, the rules and "The Move" are included. Even if the long dreary columns of moves later on in the book don't particularly attract you, the first part of the book will give you a fascinating glimpse of the writing style of bygone times.

The American Checker Player's Handbook by Erroll A. Smith (out of print). Categories: Intermediate, Openings.

Actually this book seems suitable from the advanced beginner through the advanced intermediate level. It take a different approach than Lee's Guide, Sturges' Guide, or British Draughts Player, while being somewhat similar in format. The goal of the book is to present a series of opening lines which forms an effective "minimum set" for good play. That is, you learn these lines (only) and stay with them in cross-board play. It is not a bad idea; when younger, I had a couple of chess books like this. Learning only the Sicilian Dragon instead of every possible king's pawn opening made a lot of sense for someone with limited time; the idea is the same here.

For example, if you play 11-15 and the response is 23-19, the book advises 9-13 (Will O' the Wisp) to avoid myriad other variants. Certainly well through the intermediate level there is merit to this.

The book organizes openings into seven "Master Openings" with major variations and minor variations. (There are some straggler openings at the end as well). There is an opening chart and a transposition chart, to show different "landings" for these openings. Then the book goes on like many of the others: columns of moves for the openings and variations, fortunately punctuated by copious and useful notes.

There are a couple of position studies scattered through the book (unindexed), and a tiny handful of endgame problems, but this is really a book about openings.

I think I would rather use this book than Lee's or the others for pure study as opposed to reference. The key ideas are well expressed, the content is relatively easy to follow, and I imagine the play is accurate enough for the purpose.

However, I must quote this most interesting comment: "...our text...attains the object of all scientific play, a sound draw." The term "sound draw" appears many times in the book. Is the purpose of "scientific" checkers really obtaining a draw?! Well....I'm happy with a draw against a strong computer program or a much superior player, but I don't see playing for a win in any way incompatible with "scientific" checkers!

Duffy's Single Corner by Duffy (out of print). Categories: Intermediate to Advanced, Openings.

A very complete listing of variations, with minimal commentary, for the Single Corner opening. I'm not sure why I bought this book; I guess at one time I thought I'd limit myself to 22-18 in answer to 11-15; probably not such a great idea due to the large amount of published play on this move. But in any case, if you want to know about it, it's all here.

Or, almost. The book doesn't cover variations which transpose into positions in other lines (i.e. Kelso). But this is thought to be the most complete reference anywhere on Single Corner published play, and probably is. The book is very well done and quite accessible despite the narrow theme and long lists of moves.

Championship Checkers Simplified by Willie Ryan (out of print). Categories: Intermediate to Advanced, Openings, Problems.

This book is probably suitable to an advanced beginner but has information useful to all grades of player, including the advanced player.

There is a great deal of Willie Ryan's typical philosophy, humor, and million-dollar ego in the first pages (all of which is highly entertaining). After that the book goes into a detailed exposition on a few openings (Ayrshire Lassie, Dodger, and Defiance). The approach is refreshingly different. There are copious notes, many full games, detailed study of variations, and all in all a lot of high quality material-- at least, if you're interested in these openings. (The "Dodger" by the way, is Willie's own idea, named after the storied Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team.) The focus may be narrow but this book is anything but boring.

The book concludes with about two dozen excellent and challenging problems.

This is a "niche" book, to be sure, but a very good one, and it will have you searching dusty bookshop corners for more of Willie Ryan's interesting and entertaining writings.

Hill's Manual of the Game of Checkers by James Hill (out of print) Categories: Beginner, Intermediate, Openings, Endings, Games, Problems.

This is a slim, old volume, printed on very thick paper, and intended to be a "pocket manual" for someone with sizable pockets. The book has some unique and interesting contents. It is primarily a book built around openings, but there is endgame and sample game material too.

It starts with a few pages of games, in the railway timetable format popular at one point in the history of the game. I don't know what purpose this section serves, but there it is. Of course, the Theory of the Move comes after this --- could there be a book without it? --- and then, "A Short Lesson on Second Double Corner Play" again in railway timetable fashion.

We then jump to "elementary positions" and "elementary King endings" which turns out to be a brief set of illegible diagrams illustrating tactics for the beginner. This section is actually quite well done; just get out your reading glasses. Then we cover First, Second, and Fourth position with brief expositions.

Next comes "Traps for the Unwary" and "Thirty Early Traps for the Amateur to Avoid." This is a nice compendium of traps in many different popular openings. But the best part of the book lies ahead: a sequence of 20 so-called "Consultation Games." In these games, you are to imagine that you are playing one side or the other in any of a range of common openings. Your teacher, the author, makes extensive comments as you play. This ends up being quite effective, in fact, surprisingly so, and playing over these 20 games a number of times will yield excellent results.

The book ends with a problems section; there are 54 varied problems (which look difficult) followed by 6 stroke problems.

Buy the book for the consultation games, though. I haven't seen this approach very often in other publications.

Draughts and Backgammon by 'Berkeley' (out of print) Categories: Beginner, Openings, Endings.

Oh my oh my. The first thing we learn in this book is that the checkerboard is turned 90 degrees relative to the way a chessboard is placed. Why is this? That's simple: it's because checkers is played on the white squares! Was this an innovation the author was trying to promote? Was it to avoid explaining why conventionally, checker books show men on white squares for legibility's sake?

(There is a possible historical reason. Payne's landmark work and Sturges' first book showed play on the white, I understand. But by 1925, when 'Berkeley' wrote his book, play on the black was the long-established custom.)

It gets even better. We are taught the move notation system but told that it is often 'confusing' to have to count in the opposite direction when the board is turned, so we are given rules for a means to 'reverse' the notation (applying the rules turns out to be a lot harder than simply doing things the right way). And some of the openings shown in the book are given with both normal and 'reversed' notation!

A survey of the first few moves of a series of representative openings follows, with an illustrative game for each, and a few notes about variations. Some of the openings are not well identified, for instance the Bristol and the Edinburgh are called "No Name" and "Nondescript" respectively. We then have some "General Directions" which are interesting but quite general, for instance "Before making a move, look well over the board to discover your adversary's drift."

Of course, the obligatory discussion of "The Move" is not omitted, but it includes a "right angle" rule not often seen.

There is then a series of twelve "Middle Positions" or problems, which are useful, if contrived, examples of various tactical devices. Next, we have a series of basic endings and some illustrative endgame problems; the rules get put in the mix somehow; and there is one illustrative full game with the Single Corner Opening.

There is a lot packed into the 64 pages of the Draughts section of this book; but some of the advice seems curious if not questionable. If you want this book, it will be more for the novelty factor; I could hardly imagine using it for serious study.

I spent a fair amount to get a tattered copy of this book, and I'm close to regretting it.


PROBLEM BOOKS

101 Checker Puzzles by Robert Pike. Categories: Beginner to Intermediate, Problems.

What is very nice about this book is that the puzzles are sorted by type (early, mid, and late game) and are in order of difficulty. They are not especially easy for the beginner but make for very good practice. Work these to completion; try not to give up too soon. Then when you have one solved, look over the variations. Why does a move work or not work? Your efforts will be well repaid. (An error or two in this book is corrected on Jim Loy's site.)

The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Checker Puzzles by Robert Pike. Categories: Beginner through Intermediate, Problems.

The book contains 370 puzzles that are very nice indeed, all solvable in seven moves or less, just about all of a tactical nature. Whether you find them easy or hard will depend on your stage of tactical development. (I once found them quite hard; then studied Reisman's book on tactics and now find them much easier.) These are great exercises. Try to solve them mentally from the diagrams if at all possible. Get out the board if you absolutely must, but as I recommend above, don't give up too soon. I like the small format of the book, which means it can go along in a jacket pocket for use in odd moments. It is wonderful to take to doctor's appointments or on airplane trips. There is enough here to keep most players busy for quite some time. The puzzles are not grouped in any way, and do not appear to be in order of difficulty. Nonetheless, this little book is highly recommended and is in print. If you work through the problems again and again until you can see the solution principles at a glance (as they do in Go academies), your tactics will be well advanced and you'll be the terror of the 4th of July picnic.

Gould's Problems, Critical Positions, and Games by James Gould. (Out of print) Categories: Intermediate through Advanced, Problems, Endings.

This book from the "Golden Age" contains no less than 1,083 problems and positions to be solved. It is mostly out of the reach of the beginner in terms of actually solving these (although I've been able to do a couple of them at least), but great for serious study. The book starts out with "Elementary" positions, the first of which is First Position--- elementary in one sense, but very difficult to solve unless you've studied it. The book has some nice notes and ends with a supplement on bridge problems (in the 3rd edition, which I recommend you look for). The best way to use this book is to set up the positions (first mentally, and later, with a board and men) and work at them. See how much you can understand. Try out different ideas. After some hours of this (yes, hours), refer to the solution. How close did you come? How did your ideas differ? Play through the solution and variations for more hours. (At this rate, you have about 8,000 hours of work to finish the book!)

Side note: I have seen conflicting advice about how long to spend on a problem. Some experts say you should stick with it, while others say you should give up the attempt after a few minutes. I don't know who is right; I just know that I seem to benefit from lots of hard thinking, no matter how long that takes. And, if you give up after a few minutes, you may develop a habit of giving up.

Checker Magic by Tommie Wiswell (out of print) Categories: Intermediate through Advanced, Problems.

This is a sparkling collection of 100 problems by Tommie Wiswell and other composers, rounded out with what seems to be the usual "twelve standard" endgame positions. This is a small book that can fit in a (large) coat pocket and be taken along for study in odd moments. A nice touch is that the solutions are printed on the same page as the problems (which are neatly presented one per page, with a short introduction to each); but the solutions are upside down to discourage peeking. (If you're a good upside-down reader, as I am, still don't peek!)

The bottom of every page has collateral material such as pithy sayings ("think fast, play slow") and there are poems and articles interspersed. There is a priceless article on "The Drawn Game" by H. L. Singrey, which presages the era of the strong computer player in its remarks! The article also posits that with perfect play, a draw is the inevitable result. Compare that with the (ignorant) author of a backgammon book who stated that in checkers, the first player inevitably wins in expert play.

I can well recommend this book, both for its excellent problems and its wit, humor, and checkers folklore, presented in the prose style of a bygone day.

Stroke Problems by A. C. Hews (out of print) Categories: Beginner through Advanced, Problems

This book is just filled with fun. Now, "stroke problems" are not to everyone's liking. They are considered artifical by some people and are often disdained as "lightweight" and not for serious study. It is true that often the settings are unlikely to arrive in the course play, and at times completely impossible. But stroke problems are fabulous tests of visualization and enhance your ability to "see" the board numerous moves ahead in the most complicated, complex arrangements of men and kings you might ever imagine. And if you enjoy cross-board "fireworks" a stroke problem or two will satisfy your cravings.

A "stroke" problem, unlike the usual checker problem, contains a forced win for one side, through the medium of a series of jumps on (eventually) both sides; usually multiple jumps are employed at various stages. If you think this is easy, try one of the harder problems in this booklet!

The arrangement is nice and great information is provided. There is an introduction to the stroke problem concept, followed by 50 "easy" stroke problems. "Easy" is a relative term, and while I think a beginner ought to try the first dozen or so, this might be a bit of tough going. However, once you solve a few, you start to get the idea. By all means do these mentally if you possibly can, but get out the board if you must. Play it through when you're done solving, just to see the beauty of some of the ideas embodied in these gems.

After the "easy" section, the author talks briefly about the art and craft of stroke problem composition. This is very nicely done, and if you have the temperment and skills, might lead you to try your hand at this. Then comes the meat of the matter: 250 of the author's compositions, in rough order of difficulty. Some of these look extremely complex and difficult.

Stroke problems are a lot like chess problems. As noted above, the settings are unusual, and not always, or often, related to real-life play. Both stroke and chess problems generally rely on finding an initial "key move" (or two) after which the rest follows. Finding the key move is an adventure and not always a simple thing. Don't give up and go to the solutions unless you really must. You'd be missing out on a lot of enjoyment.

This is a great little booklet that will keep you busy for days if not weeks or months. By all means get a copy if you can find one.


BOOKS ON ENDGAMES

Familiar Themes in the Scientific Game of Checkers by Ben Boland (out of print). Categories: Intermediate to Advanced, Endgames, Problems.

This is a slim little book, with examples centered around particular winning themes. It is wonderful. Although it requires very careful study, that study is greatly rewarded. There are something like a dozen examples for each theme, with a complete games generally provided to show how the position can arise in actual play. There is one caution here (and for Boland's work in general). Play may be shown to a certain point and then one side or the other declared the winner. You may actually have to work out a few more moves to clearly see the win (although this is usually pretty easy to do for an intermediate player, and intutitive for an expert).

Famous Positions in the Game of Checkers by Ben Boland (out of print). Categories: Advanced, Endgames, Problems.

This book seems to me to be related to Boland's Familiar Themes but is much larger and more comprehensive.

This is a study of many, many end-game positions (with numerous variations but few annotations) based around central themes (such as First Position). It seems that it would be essential for the expert to really understand these positions, and Boland gives example games to show how the positions arise in play. This is another book that requires careful study which will be greatly rewarded. I find the book substantially more difficult than Familiar Themes. There is a delightful and instructive lighter touch with a series of quotations and homely advice about checkers, from Ben Franklin to James Hill's immortal comment: "Beware of the cobbler, he generally knows more tricks than a political leader." Well, at checkers, at least.

Boland's Bridges in the Game of Checkers by Ben Boland (out-of-print). Categories: Advanced, Endgames, Problems.

All sorts of important, thematically related (bridge) endgame positions are shown, with many variations and some example games to show how the positions arise in actual play. Bridges are important to understand for the intermediate and advanced player; but I rank this book as "Advanced" due to the specialized and focused theme of the book. Everything you ever want to know about bridge positions is in this work, shown by example. This book will require serious effort but if you are an aspiring checkers master, you'll need to learn this material.

Masterpieces in the Game of Checkers by Ben Boland (out of print). Categories: Advanced, Endgames, Problems

Another of Ben Boland's tour-de-force collections of end-game themes with numerous examples and complete games to support the presentation. In this book, themes are gathered into families named after, presumably, the player who demonstrated, played, or elucidated the theme originally.

This book doesn't seem to have a particular organizing principle; Ben Boland has "simply" collected more examples of more themes. There is some overlap with other Ben Boland books, but there are new examples and new games. This is a great book for advanced study of endgames.

Border Classics by Ben Boland (out of print). Categories: Advanced, Endgames, Problems

As expected from the title, this is a book about border positions in the late middle and endgame: positions, generally, in which some pieces are held at the sides of the board. Boland categorizes these into families, such as "Left Side Herding" and so on (usually naming the position after a player or composer, though). There are numerous examples for each position type. Unlike most of Boland's books, there are no complete game examples.

Again, border positions are something that need to be understood in depth by advanced players. There is no doubt that this book provides all the material needed to master border positions.

Checkers in Depth by Ben Boland (out of print). Categories: Advanced, Endgames, Problems

This 1974 book is Ben Boland's next to last (I once thought it was his last), something he calls in the introduction "A gift to myself" and dedicated to his late brother Nathan Boland. Ben was 64 when he wrote this book, at an era when checkers was past the glory days during which Ben grew up. He lived on to the age of 89, writing one more book in 1984. (Many thanks to S.B. Boland for updated information on "Uncle Ben.")

This book is a very detailed study of Fifth Position, and related sequences and families. There are many examples for the themes and lots of complete games. This is probably a book for experts although it certainly seems very comprehensible by lesser mortals. This book is a worthy member of the latter part of the decades-long writing career of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, checker writer of all time.


GAME COLLECTIONS

America's Best Checkers by Tom Wiswell and Robert L. Shuffett (out of print) Categories: Intermediate to Advanced, Games.

You have to love the dust-jacket notes: "Here, for the first time, is a book that reveals the jealously guarded secrets of the masters of checkers." The book is in fact the record of four high-level matches: Tinsley vs. Hellman, Hellman vs. Case, Hellman vs. Chamblee, and Tinsley vs. Avery. All in all, there are 112 games, with decent notes and annotations covering about a page per game.

If you enjoy playing through games of master players, you'll like this book, and it has the merit of good annotation, something often missing from simple records of match play.

By the way, this is one of the few Wiswell books without a problems section.

Twentieth Century Checkers by Kenneth M. Grover and Tommie Wiswell (out of print) Categories: Intermediate to Advanced, Games, Openings, Problems

This book might be classified as "general" but the purpose of it is really to present the 1944 Pacific Coast Championship Match between author Kenneth Grover and Jesse B. Hanson. The match was played from November 4 through December 10, 1944 in Tacoma, Washington. The book presents all 29 games of this match, with generally good annotations and variations, averaging a couple of pages per game.

In order to fill out the volume, it seems, the 137 (at the time) "Twentieth Century Openings" or three-move restriction openings, are then each shown for about five moves per side, with some commentary and variations. This could be useful as an overview, I imagine, but there are detailed reference works (including one on-line) which take this very much further.

Of course, a Wiswell book is incomplete without a problems section, and the book contains about 16 of them. There are a few more articles which are interesting enough but again, the book must have been too short and some additional "filler" was likely needed.

I'd hardly call this a must-have book, but it does contain some nice match games with more than the usual spare annotation.

Big League Checkers by William F. Ryan (out of print). Categories: Intermediate to Advanced, Games, Openings.

The cover of the book lists Ryan as the author, but it was published posthumiously after parts of the manuscript passed through a number of hands. The book is evidently intended as a tribute to the most colorful character in the history of the game, but a lot more care should have been put into it. The proofreading and typesetting is terrible, and the book is a merely a thrown-together compendium of previously unpublished Ryan material, with no recognizable organizing principle. Willie deserved a lot better than this. In addition, some of Willie's less-than-friendly comments about players who fall short of the champion flight are printed, referring to them as "duffers" and "eager beavers" too anxious to criticize their "acknowledged superiors." We all have our moments, and I believe the editors would have served Willie's memory better by doing a little more editing.

The first and best part of the book is a record of the 1951 Ryan-Cameron match held in St. Petersburg, Florida. The annotations are copious and entertaining, in Ryan's expansive and inimitable style. The next part of the book is a record of the 1953 Ryan-Young match in Pittsburgh. There are the barest of notes for all but one or two of these games.

The book continues with Ryan's notes and "cooks" in preparation for his 1954 match with Walter Hellman; Ryan passed away just 10 days before the match would have opened. This section is quite extensive and well-annotated. The book concludes, seemingly to fill up space, with Warren's Corrections and Improvements of Ryan's Modern Encyclopedia of Checkers. Perhaps there was simply nowhere else to publish this material.

If you are a Ryan fan, or a collector of his play, you will want this book. I bought it, in fact, and totally by accident, within only a few weeks of the 50th anniversary of his untimely passing. It is too bad a better job was not done with this volume. There was never anyone like Willie, and likely never will be again.

USA vs. The World by Jim Loy (Internet publication at http://www.jimloy.com) Categories: Intermediate to Advanced, Games.

This is not really a book per se although I made one out of it, and you should too. Find this on Jim Loy's superb web site, copy into Open Office or your favorite freeware word processor, do a little minimal formatting (the web page text is already nicely arranged so there's little to do but add page breaks), print it all out (30 pages or so), and then glue or staple together. Voila! You have a nice little match book or pamphlet on a unique modern-day match. (I use a simple homemade binding press to easily make perfect-bound books, but I digress.)

The match took place in August 2004 completely via the Internet, on the turn-based game site It's Your Turn (see my companion page for details and reviews). It was an ad-hoc affair put together through the inspired thinking of young checker star Jesse Priest. Ten players from the USA faced off in individual matches against 10 players from the "rest of the world." Each match was four games; two go-as-you-please and two three-move restriction. The players were of varied skill levels, none of them less than advanced/expert, probably none of them more than master. So, the play was less than grandmaster quality but generally quite good, always interesting, and contained a few significant play innovations. (Some of the games were of a lower quality class, but Jim annotates these well, also, and it's instructive to understand how and where mistakes are made. So there's a lot of value here too.)

Jim Loy, a distinguished checkers writer, annotator, and correspondence player, collected all forty games and annotated them copiously. Jim helps you through the twists and turns of play and points out new ideas, alternate lines, deviations from published play, and all in all makes the match come alive in your hands.

Now, all is not easy and study of these match games entails some serious work on your part. In many places, Jim points out a winning or losing move and you'll have to fill in the details, either through your own analysis or more likely with your computer. That's quite fine; nothing ventured, nothing gained. But if you don't take the time and make the effort to do this, you will miss out on many subtle features of the games that Jim points out but doesn't detail (if he did, we'd have a 250 page book that no one could follow). So, play through the games, and pursue those points that interest you, elude you, or perhaps even annoy you.

A free internet match book, with excellent expert commentary on many interesting games, is surely not to be missed. By all means go to Jim's web site and get it now.


 

COMPUTER TUTORIALS

Straight Checkers Gold Series by Al Lyman (review in progress)

The Straight Checkers series is developed and marketed by Al Lyman, one of the immortals of postal checkers, and a man who has contributed immeasurably to checkers analysis and to the game in general. He's seen fit to put some of his extensive expertise into a set of computer-aided tutorials, or checker lessons, as he likes to call them.

There is a lot here so this will be a "review in progress" for some time to come. There are five components in this series:

  • Straight Checkers Gold

  • Mini 1

  • Mini 2

  • Straight Checkers Gold 2

  • Straight Checkers Gold 2+2

 

While you can buy individual components, there is a $99 package deal for the whole works, which is substantially less expensive than individual purchases, so I took the plunge and went for the whole works. This is the cost of maybe three or four checker books on the used market, so that will make a pretty valid point of comparison in terms of value.

Here is a quick first-impressions summary prior to completing a detailed review.

Good features:

  • Large amount of material of all kinds. Certainly the equivalent of a half dozen or more books.

  • High quality of material: it's reliable, accurate, and up-to-date.

  • Good notes, annotations, and move explanations, especially in the openings sections.

  • Animations make moves easy to follow and visualize.

  • No area of checkers is neglected.

Downsides:

  • Some amount of duplication.
  • Disorganized, and less-than-stellar writing style
  • Some material hard to find.
  • Inconsistent interfaces.
  • Would provide more benefit to beginners with more extensive tactics drills.

Overall:

  • Lots here for the price, although this decreases progressively with later products in the series.
  • A unique product not available anywhere else.
  • Requires self-discipline and patience; make yourself a study plan before you really dive in.
  • Definitely recommended for the serious checker student, who will save himself a lot of time and trouble with a packaged product such as this.
  • Not for dabblers or casual players; not for the novice, either. Best used by the advanced beginner upwards (not sure of the upper limit).

Bottom Line: Do I recommend these products? The answer is a clear 'yes' but if you don't want to splurge on the whole works, the first module, Straight Checkers Gold, provides far and away the most value for the money. You might start there and see how you like this approach to learning. Personally, I'm finding that if I only have an odd 10 or 15 minutes to spend on checkers on a given evening, these products provide me with maximum learning in minimum time, provided that time is taken up front to become well-oriented to the approach and the contents.


 

OTHER BOOKS

 

Books from other genres can sometimes be relevant. In particular, there are some chess books that may provide useful advice to a checker player. Generally, these books require some knowledge of chess and chess notation.

Andrew Soltis' The Inner Game of Chess (currently in print), subtitled "How to Calculate and Win", is the source of many useful and practical ideas on determining candidate moves, building mental move trees, etc. There are also some excellent suggestions on improved visualization. While all of the examples given are of course for chess, the concepts carry over very nicely to checkers. This book is to be recommended for players of all pure-strategy board games who also understand chess. It is well written, well-organized, and indexed; these are qualities most checker books unfortunately lack.

Alexander Kotov's Think Like a Grandmaster is also often recommended for checker players who understand some chess, and is not hard to obtain. While I don't like it quite as much as the Soltis book, it too has good advice about candidate moves, move trees, and the like, as well as down to earth advice about not overlooking the obvious. There are a couple of sequels to this book (e.g. Play Like a Grandmaster) but I haven't examined them as yet.

A book I just came across (August 2004), The Tao of Chess: 200 Principles to Transform Your Game and Your Life, by Peter Kurzdorfer, sounds a bit pretentious or New Age but is actually quite a good book. It is probably 95% about chess, but some of the more general principles (those which apply to "life" perhaps) are of use to checker players. "Know the basic endgame postions," "Know the basic tactical themes"; that's good advice all around. But the one I like best is "Sit on your hands." If you're a checker player who also is reasonably serious about chess, you might want this book.

Another chess book I found (November 2004) is also rather interesting: it's Winning with Chess Psychology by Pal Benko and Burt Hochenberg. This 1991 book (perhaps out of print but easy enough to find) reverses the common advice of "play the board, not the player" and gives fascinating insights into the psychology of over-the-board, in-person, head-to-head play. The examples are drawn from chess, of course, but the advice applies readily to checkers. It's up to you to decide if this is your sort of thing..... but think about the role your own psychological state has played in your own wins and losses, and you'll quickly see the point of this most fascinating book.

It may be that books on Shogi or Xiangqi may have something to offer to the checker player, but I have no specific recommendations. Books on Go don't seem to cross over very well, except for philosophy of play and study. But that is no small thing. Checker players could learn a great deal from the way serious Go players approach the study and mastery of their game, the practice of patience and perseverance being obvious traits. You might read parts of Peter Shotwell's Go! More Than a Game if this sort of thing is of interest, especially his interpretations of the Chinese classic, Thirty Six Strategies: The Secret Art of War.

Other, probabalistic games such as Bridge and Backgammon seem to map poorly. I have a reasonably substantial backgammon library, but these are just two different worlds (and I've written about that elsewhere).

However, as of January 2006, I've come across a notable exception. Bill Robertie, a backgammon champion and author of well-reputed backgammon books, is also a chess master and has been writing for some time about chess. So this has what to do with checkers?

While I don't necessarily suggest that you run right out and buy Robertie's chess and backgammon books, they teach one thing that many chess books, and perhaps most checker books, do not: the idea, friends, is to win. You won't see anything in Robertie's writing about "keeping the draw in sight." Backgammon is about winning, and winning money (the more the better); Robertie carries that philsophy over to chess, and we in turn can transport it to checkers. While checkers will likely never be about money, it can certainly be about winning. I've previously mentioned my admiration for fighting players such as the late Derek Oldbury; he played to win and as he said himself, took the chances to make the chances. Robertie is cut from the same mold, and I suspect many if not all top backgammon players are, too.

So we can learn from these guys after all.


RECOMMENDATIONS

 

A newcomer to serious play, but who knows the rules and perhaps little else, should first get Hopper's Play Winning Checkers, and go all the way through it. Then work through Reisman's Checkers Made Easy - use the download version if you don't want to spend big bucks on a used copy - and Pask's Starting Out in Checkers at the same time. Work through both of them until you can recall them in your sleep. You might want Reinfeld's How to Win at Checkers during this time frame also. This will provide enough material for many weeks or months of study, as well as just enough reference material to use for actual play (either post-game analysis or correspondence-style play). The books recommended here are all currently available, fortunately (considering the download version of Reisman). The newcomer who doesn't yet know the rules should check on-line for any one of dozens of good explanations, the one at Jim Loy's site being preferred.

This will bring you to the "advanced beginner" stage, at which time you should get Play Better Checkers & Draughts, Lee's Guide, and Boland's Familiar Themes. That will get you, after some time, to the intermediate level.

After this it's up to you. Some problem books would be good to have, and maybe some game collections; and you'll want more of Ben Boland's works at some point, too.


 

OBSERVATIONS

Hunting for checker books is an adventure, and if you set out to do this yourself you'll find it's a great one. You'll roam the highways and byways of the internet; you'll frequent estate auctions and yard sales; and you'll probe the musty corners of used book stores wherever you travel, hoping for a rare find.

The books themselves transport us into another world, into a bygone era, the days of my parents and grandparents, when checkers was an "in" thing, when newspapers vied to have the best checker columns, and major tournaments attracted national media coverage. The use of English in these books is often quaint and amusing, and the didactic approach is often the authoritarian style we associate with the schools of old. It is fun to just page through these books, feeling a sort of nostalgia for the days before I was even born.

Though the world has advanced unfathomably far since then, we still have lost some things. Players of those halcyon days were always impeccably dressed and groomed, if we can judge by the photos in the old books. Sportsmanship and honor seemed as important as winning; at least, the poor sport got short shrift in the checker books and literature of the time.

Not all, of course, was roses. It is easy to forget that the great days of checkers in America were spanned by two terrible world wars, and prejudice, intolerance, and segregation were part of the normal order. Life was often cut short by diseases which today would be cured with ease.

Yet it's fun to go back, to hold these books in your hands, to turn the pages, and to enjoy and learn. The masters of checkers of the golden era had no computer except their brain, but their mastery was so great that an overwhelming percentage of their play and analysis holds good today, in the era of Nemesis and King's Row.

The golden days of the grand old game will likely never be seen again. But we can, if we wish, carry forward the best of those days, in our own sportsmanship and play. And we can read the old books and wistfully smile.

The old books often had stories and poems. Here is one that I found quite relevant:

In my checker books, with pages old
There lies a world of a bygone day
With a fascinating story to unfold
Of a long-past era of checker play.
In the days of my father, and grandfather too
They loved this game, as many had
I rediscovered it, as if it were new
When I was a very little lad.
Now I, in older age return
To the grand old game of years ago
The game so many now do spurn
As simple, boring, and much too slow.
Yet if in these old tomes we delve
Our game of checkers comes alive
The armies, red and white, of twelve
Across the board do march and thrive.
No easy game, but one of great skill
We find the challenge does yet beckon
A game which can involve us still
In depth and grandeur without reckon.


 

CONTACT

I continue to seek out and buy worthwhile checker books (although price is definitely a consideration as my checker book budget is limited). Right now (January 2006) I'm especially seeking H.C.Lyman's book of problems.

I'll write about any new acquisitions after I receive them and get the chance to use them for a little while.

Your comments are always welcome; if you have observations on any of the books discussed here, they would be most valuable. Please write bnewell@bobnewell.net .


Forthcoming Reviews

As of January 2006, I have a very long and growing backlog of books to review. The following list is way out of date; I've added many books in the interim.

In the library but not yet reviewed:

Mitchell, Checkers Should be subtitled "Memorize those moves."

Lasker, Chess & Checkers: The Way to Mastership. Doesn't seem to be a lot here.

Walton, Inside Checkers Move by move, errors and all.

D'Orio, Mysteries of Dama Tops the strangeness charts and doubtlessly misleading.

Ryan, It's Your Move Vintage Ryan philosophy, ego, and writing.

Reisman, Pioneer Everything you want to know about this opening.

Held, Held's Guide to the Game of Checkers Has some interesting collateral material.

Dunne, Draughts Praxis Many match and tourney games.

Mccullough's Anderson, The Game of Draughts Simplified, 7th ed. A real classic.

Ginsberg, Principles of Strategy in the Game of Checkers No leaks in this Dyke. Paid too much for it.

Chamblee, Checkers and the Experts General principles and an annotated match. Paid too much for it.

Ryan, Tricks Traps and Shots of the Checkerboard A fabulous compendium, perhaps one of Ryan's best works.

Wiswell, Secrets of the Checker Board. Purportedly for beginners - but far above that level!

Wiswell, The Science of Checkers. Somehow I ended up with two copies of this excellent problem book.

Wiswell and Hopper, Checker Kings in Action. The Wiswell-Hopper unrestricted play championship match, and a selection of problems. Looks like a very nice little volume.

Wiswell and Ryan, World Championship Checkers. The only book jointly written by two of my favorite authors (my other favorites being Pask, Boland, and Oldbury); a fabulous record of two famous matches.

Oldbury, Hellman v Oldbury 1965. A record of this world championship match, won 7-1-27 by Hellman (Oldbury neglects to give the final match results!)

Oldbury, Chequer Chiaroscuro. A rare and unusual item; a mosaic of historical quotes and problems; a precursor to the Encyclopaedia.

Banks, Morris Systems Scientific Checkers. An earlier and shorter version of Scientific Checkers.

Hopper, An Invitation to Checkers. Finally arrived and well worth the wait. At first glance this 1940 volume looks like an excellent all-round beginner's book.

Wiswell, Checkers Made Easy.

Denvir, Denvir's Guide to Checkers.

Pask, Key Landings.

Pask, Key Openings.

Oldbury, Student's Encyclopaedia.

Denvir, Traps and Shots.

Greene, Stroke Problems

...and more all the time.

In addition, many reviews are being revised and expanded as time permits.


Bob Newell, Santa Fe, New Mexico; last modified 09/15/07.

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