First hand story of a match between a Minor Player and the World Champion
Written by Watson Franks
I don't exactly remember the first checkers game I played. I grew up watching my Dad and my Grandpa play. They were both very good and quite competitive. My Dad used to go to downtown Shreveport and play with a group of guys. In fact, current Masters Player Albert Tucker played my Dad back in the early 60s. Albert told me Dad was quite good.
My Dad taught me the game. He traveled on the road a lot, but when he came in, we always got the checker board out. Dad did not like to ever let me win. However, when we played, he would take two of his men away to start the game. When I got to where I could beat him like that, he only took off one man. When I reached the stage, where I could beat him like this, we both would play with 12 men.
Finally, when he was in his 70s I got to where I could beat him. I felt it was not really fair to him. I played quite often on the computer at the time. The only time he got to play was when I came in to visit with my family. When I beat him twice in a row, he said "That's it." He never played me again. He was very competitive.
The funniest story about his checkers playing involved him and country music singer Johnny Horton. My Dad was his personal manager and played the bass fiddle with him on stage. Daddy and Johnny wrote many songs together including, "North to Alaska", Honky Tonk Man" and "I'm a One Woman Man." Daddy and Johnny loved to play checkers. Before each show, while they waited to go on, they would get the checker board out and play a game. They both hated to lose very much. One game, they had a bet on the game. The bet was whoever lost had to drop his pants and moon the stage. The only reason Dad made this bet was because he was sure he would win. Johnny won the game. Dad got mad and turned the board over and they never played again. Dad was very competitive. Johnny laughed about that moment a long time.
I served as a Baptist Pastor for many years and raised four children. My method of relaxing was to get online and play checkers. Yahoo Checkers was popular then. I could always get plenty of games as there were hundreds usually online playing the game. I joined a group called AE. Clint Olson was the leader and was a very good player, and still is. I could never beat him..well maybe a couple of times.
I consider myself a crossboard player. I tried studying the books with games published, but I did not enjoy it. I was never good at memorizing. I would always want to try to solve the checker problem of the game myself. My gift, I felt, was just seeing the board and trying to find a solution. Sometimes, this would work for me, sometimes not. Sometimes it seemed as if I could see the board very clearly. Sometimes I could not see the game at all. Maybe a lot of folks feel this way.
In 2000, I went to my first Checkers tournament in Mississippi. I enjoyed it immensely. I played in Minors and thought I did average. I learned I was not as good as I thought I was. That kind of humbled me. I went to my next tournament a few years later in Tennessee. Again, these were very good players. I played Minors and I believe I placed second. Its been quite a few years.
I still played online quite often. I played mostly one minute games with 2 second increments. This is not a good way to learn for a crossboard player, but that's what I did. My goal was not to get great. My goal was simply to enjoy the game and relax. As I played online, I noticed that there were quite a few program players playing. I could never really tell for sure. I always figured if I was having fun, that was all that mattered. Occasionally, one would get under my skin. At that point, I would have to back off from playing for a while until I began having fun playing again.
I began playing more as I grew older. I played online, and I played with an app on my phone. In fact, I played a lot. I never really paid attention to the numbers. I rarely went back and studied a game when I lost. I just tried to win the next. The person that really got me involved more in checkers tournaments was Joe McDaniel. Joe personally built up the Branson tournament to a major attraction. I went to the tournament in 2014, and played in Minors. I think I placed second.
In 2015, my son and I went back to the Branson tournament. My son does not play in tournaments, but he went to watch Dad. I was under pressure! The first day of that tournament, I played very poorly. I do not know why. That night, my son and I were talking and he told me I would play better the next day. I believed him. The 2nd and 3rd day, I did not lose a match. My son was watching every game. In the final match, I played the leader and got two draws. I believe I won about $400 or so. I was thrilled. It was a lot of fun.
This past July, I went back to Branson. I played in the Minors. My rating is below 1700. Some games, I thought I played very well and had a lot of confidence. Some games, it felt like I had no confidence. I managed to play the final match for the championship. I lost the first game, but won the second game. We were co-champions and both won about $450. She got the trophy because of Honor Points. My family was proud. Most of all, I had a lot of fun. My wife bought me a trophy exactly like the one we shared in Branson. I have a good wife.
This past October, 2016, my wife encouraged me to go to the Alabama State Tournament. I did not decide officially to go until just a few days before the tournament. I had no idea who would be there or how many. I arrived late at night the day before the tournament started. I had a very difficult time finding the hotel. My phone had died and I could not get it to take a charge. So I had no GPS. I was beginning to think I was lost. Being a guy, I did not want to stop and ask directions. Besides, I was not seeing anything that was open. Suddenly, I looked up and there was the Holiday Inn sign right in the middle of nowhere. I was glad to find it.
The next morning, the business meeting was held at the beginning of the tournament. They discussed how to do the Master's Tournament. There would only be two divisions as there was about 16 people there or so. As they were looking at how to run the Master's Division, they decided they wanted to do a Round Robin. That did not matter to me one way or the other. I did not really know any Master Player personally except for Albert Tucker. Albert and I have played a few times. He usually always beats me. He is a great player and a great man.
The Master Players realized that in order to have a Round Robin Tournament, they would need to have 8 players to make it work right. They only had seven signed up. They asked for a volunteer to move up from the Major Division. These was no Minor Division at this tournament. No one wanted to move up, as this would affect your prize money. You would win more money by placing well in Major Division that by finishing last in Master's Division. Finally, I volunteered to move up. They were appreciative. I was the sacrifice. The way I saw it, this was a great opportunity to play the World's best and also have a great time. There was no pressure on me. Very few thought I would get a draw, much less a win against any of the players. So, I could relax and just play the game.
The first Master player I played was Michael Holmes. I thought I played well both games and I was able to get two draws. Michael was very encouraging to me. He went back and studied the games we played on computer. He told me the next day, he thought he had played a poor game against me but he said he was wrong. He said he put the games on the computer and saw that he did not make a wrong move. He said I played excellent. Both games were draw games. This gave me a lot of confidence and encouraged me. The second match, I played Larry Keen. Larry gave me some encouragement also. Larry won both games, but I felt that I had played well against him. It did not get any easier for me in the third round, as I played Jim Morrison. I found out from playing my first two matches, that these players think a long time. Well, Jim thinks more than anyone, I think. Our first game lasted one hour and thirty five minutes. I was amazed. The thing that I found out is that I actually can play better when my opponent thinks a long time. It makes me think also. I am usually one that thinks for a bit, and then moves quickly. I got a draw against Jim in the first game. I was very pleased. He beat me the second game. The final match of the day was against John Webster. He beat me handily. He is a great player. In fact, all seven of my opponents were players far above my ability. However, "on any given checker board"… On the first day, I played 5 matches and had achieved 4 draws.
In the back of my mind, I knew that I would be playing Alex, the Russian Bear, the next day. Alex Moiseyev , the World Champion of 3-moves from 2003-2013. Alex Moiseyev, the author of 2 books on the game of checkers! I would be playing him. To me, this was way cool. I did not know which round. It did not matter to me. However, I was thinking I very much hoped we would draw a good opening.
The first two rounds of the day went well. I had another two draws. Going into the final round, I had a total of 6 points over the 7 matches. I was very pleased. Everyone knew I would play Alex the final round. I remember, one of the contestants told me in joking, "If you were to beat Alex, that would be more of an upset than Trump beating Clinton". I told him, "strange things can happen….on any given checker board." He laughed. I smiled. The TV station was at the room earlier in the morning interviewing Alex. I watched and was impressed with how well Alex handled the questions.
The final round was beginning. The funny thing is that in the final round, Alex and Larry Keen were tied with the same amount of points. Larry knew even if he played his two matches and even if he won both games, that Alex would still tie because Alex would beat me two rounds. So, Larry took the two draws along with every one else in majors and minors and left. It was only Alex and I that remained. All Alex had to do to win the tournament was to beat me one game and to draw the other. When I went into the room to play Alex, no one was there but me and Alex along with tournament director Frank Davis and his wife Mary.
I made my way to Alex's table. He was very cordial. I had only spoken to him at a couple of tournaments. I did not know him well at all. The first tournament I went to years ago, I got my picture made with him and had him sign my checker board. I took it back and told my family I had met the World Champion and got him to sign my board. My family was impressed. It is not every day I get to meet the World Champion! This was the world champion of the very game that I have loved my entire life. It is not easy to be the World Champion of any game or sport. It takes discipline, dedication and desire. Alex has certainly put in the hard work and dedication to achieve the success he has had in his life. I admire him greatly.
On the final day of the tournament, I always wear my lucky checker shirt. It is a shirt my Dad wore a lot and I inherited. I always feel my Dad with me when I wear his shirt. My Dad always encouraged me and believed in me. I could very much feel my Dad's presence as I sat down to play. I felt very calm and very confident. I have no idea why. But I do think it was my lucky shirt. My Dad always told me, "You're a lot better checker player than you think you are." I would always respond, "I know". It was our little joke. When I sat down, I was thinking of my Dad. I know he would have told me "…on any given checker board". Frank and Mary were sitting at a table on the other side of the room. Frank and Mary always do outstanding work in directing these tournaments. They give of their time and talents to make these weekends a success. Frank is always fair in his decisions. Mary's sweet spirit always makes the tournament go smoother.
Alex and I sat on the far side of the room. There was no one around us. It was very quiet. Alex shuffled the 3-move opening cards. In my mind, I knew it would be a good opening. By good opening, I mean one that I was very familiar with. Sure enough, the opening was 11-15, 24-19, 15-24. A ‘Go As You Please' opening! I thought this would be an advantage to me. Of course, I realize this thinking was ridiculous. This was an opening that Alex has been known for great success around the world. I would think no one knows this opening better than Alex. But I was thinking this opening would work to my advantage. It is quite helpful when a person is confident. A person will play much better checkers when he is confident. He will take risks that otherwise he would not take. He will see the board more clearly. He will see moves that otherwise he would not see.
The first game, it seemed as if every move he made, I was able to see a counter move. I found I could see the game very clearly. I felt good in my responses and attacks. I did not see any obvious mistakes. I remember at one move about midway in the first game, that Alex took 25 minutes to move. I was reminded what my brother used to tell me, "Study long, study wrong!" I did not say that as I have better sense than to tell the World Champion that saying. As he studied this long, I attempted to study every possible move also. It seemed to make the time go much quicker. I usually never play this slow. The game reached a turning point. I thought I had decent position. I was pleased with my shape. I knew what my next move would be. It looked very good for me. He looked at me and said, "Would you like a draw?" I looked at the board for a bit. I said to him, "If you think this is a draw, then it's a draw. But I think I have very good shape." He said, "It looks drawish." Of course, I could have kept playing if I had wanted to do so. It was my choice to accept draw. I could have made a bad move and lost the game. But at the point of draw, I realize now that I had winning position. I was very proud of that game.
The second game, we had of course, the same opening. The funny thing is that I can never remember the names of the openings. You would think I would know all the names, by now, but I do not. So I am not ever sure the name of the opening we played. But I know it well.
This game I took the white. I actually like the white side in this opening. We began the game. No unexpected moves. Again, I felt good about the game. I am by no means a good analyzer of games. But to me, the turning point in this game came at move 12(27-24). This set up was what my Dad used to play all the time against me. He liked it. I never thought much about it. However, when this move came up, I was thinking my Dad was watching. I could almost hear him saying, "Move there Watty". It was really cool for me to think that at that point. It sort of calmed me down and I was able to focus even more. The next move to change the game in my opinion was 19-15 exchange. To me, this was the winning move. He never recovered. I have not put this game on the computer to see what other moves he could make here. So, I don't know. But to me, I was thinking "I have him!". The next key move, in my opinion, was 15-10. Again, I have not put this in a computer program to check, but I think that move was the key to the winning position. By this time, Alex was in serious trouble. We were two hours into the match. Frank had checked on us a few times. He was surprised to see the first game was a draw. Alex was studying the board. I did not see a single good move for Alex. I saw my win. I was happy. I think Alex saw no way out.
I do not know why, but it seemed like someone was nudging me. The voice was saying "offer the draw." I was thinking the game is almost over. I have it. No one else believed I could win. If I win, Larry gets the championship. But Larry had left. Everyone had left. But I kept thinking I needed to offer draw. I cannot fully explain why I offered the draw except to say at that point, I was very happy to get a draw against the World Champion. I knew three things. It had been a long day and I was tired. I knew that Frank and Mary had been very patiently waiting for us to finish. I knew I had a 700 hundred mile trip ahead of me that day. I knew I had the win. So I said to Alex, "Would you like the draw?" Alex looked up at me surprised. Alex could see it was over. He smiled and said, "Yes, I would. Thank you." We shook hands and that was it. It was a very good feeling for me.
I do not write down the moves as I play. So, after the game Alex allowed me to take a picture of the 2 games he had written down. Alex and I talked to Frank and Mary. Frank was very proud of me. I had gotten to know Frank at the Branson tournament. He told me he thought I had won the first game when I drew. I said, "Maybe, but I am not sure." Alex had left the room and was coming back. While he was gone, I showed them the ending of the second game. After I set it up, Frank said, "Are you sure there were not other pieces on the board? This could not be the ending." I said "I am sure." He was looking at it as Alex re-entered the room.
Alex was very encouraging to me. He told me I had played very well. He told me to continue to study published play and he thought I could move up to Master's one day. He gave me a copy of his book, which I will always appreciate. He said he felt like he had played poorly and was sorry for that. I smiled and told him, "I thought you played very well, Alex."
I probably won't ever know the names of all the games or put in the study on published play. But I will always enjoy the challenge. I am happy where I am. I was very pleased that I came away with the two draws. It simply goes to show you that anything can happen ... "on any given checker board"! I look forward to meeting you at the next tournament!
November 11-12, 2016
Alex Moiseyev vs Watson Franks
Opening 11-15, 24-19, 15-24
22) 31-27 *
35) DRAW ACCEPTED
*In Alex's annotations, he listed move 22 incorrectly as 31-26. I corrected it to 31-26 as the actual move
31) DRAW ACCEPTED