The Checker Maven

The World's Most Widely Read Checkers and Draughts Publication
Bob Newell, Editor-in-Chief


Published each Saturday morning in Honolulu, Hawai`i


Contests in Progress:

Composing Championship #59


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State of the Art

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Shown above is what's said to be a "state of the art" kitchen. At least, that's what it was ten years ago. But things move ahead. Ten years is a long time. A lot can change.

In recent times, there have been some significant developments in the field of computer checker engines. Machine learning arrived in KingsRow and later in Cake. That was a huge accomplishment, but it wasn't quite the last chapter of the story.

When today's latest computer engines didn't solve Brian Hinkle's "Prize Problem" world class checker programmers Ed Gilbert and Martin Fierz both looked into the issue. Their conclusions were similar and reasonable. Computer engines are set up for maximum strength during practical play, not for solving highly unusual problems.

But of course Ed and Martin didn't stop there. Ed created a selectable "solver mode" for KingsRow while Martin made some changes to the search function in the Cake engine. The Prize Problem was now solvable. (These new program versions have yet to see public release at the time this article was written.)

But Brian didn't stop his work, either, and went on to create a series of more and more unusual problems which took longer and longer for computers to solve..

So what was the outcome? There may always be problems which it simply isn't practical to program computers to solve in any reasonable amount of time. But the state of the art for checker engines has definitely advanced with the intriguing new work done by both Ed and Martin.

Here's one that Brian sent to Ed and Martin. We warn you, it's not easy.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK9,K10,K17,K18,K19,K22,24,32:BK1,2,K5,13,26,K29,K30,K31

Do attempt a solution on your own before clicking on Read More to see how it's done. These problems are a great deal of fun and definitely test your thinking. Best of luck!null

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12/04/21 -Printer friendly version-
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Problem Composing Contest 59: Compound Strokes

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In Chinese calligraphy, characters are formed from basic strokes and compound strokes of the writing instrument. The basic stroke involves one movement of the instrument while the compound stroke involves more than one.

In checkers, there are compound strokes as well. We'll let Mr. Bill Salot explain them as part of Unofficial World Championship Problem Composing Contest #59, which is now active and available on the contest page. Four tantalizing and action-packed problems by some of today's finest and most talented composers await your solving pleasure.

Be sure to vote for the one you think best.

Here's a sample of a compound stroke problem. It was the winner of Contest #44.

Crossing
Leo Springer
BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK1,K12,17,19,23,26,K30:B6,K10,11,14,K21,K24

See if you can sight solve it; lacking that, set it up on your board and try moving the pieces around. But there's no need to compound your frustration; pounding your mouse on Read More will show you the solution.null

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11/20/21 -Printer friendly version-
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A Different Prize Problem

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The P=NP problem in computer science is one of the Millennium Prize Problems and if you can solve it, you'll win a cool $1 million prize from the Clay Mathematics Institute. We won't attempt to explain the problem here but it certainly can be said to be at the ultra-difficult level. The prize is yet to be claimed.

Turning to checkers, we recently we presented Brian Hinkle's Prize Problem which carried with it an award of $100 (not $1 million) to the first correct solver. Alas, that reward went unclaimed. Today we have a different sort of prize problem. It was published back in 1907 in the Canadian Checker Player magazine. The prize was a six-month subscription to that excellent publication of bygone days, and the prize was indeed awarded to a successful correspondent.

We'll not claim that the problem is up to Brian's grandmaster composing standards, nor will we offer anything beyond personal satisfaction for finding the solution. But it's nevertheless an interesting composition.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play, What Result?

W:WK11,K25,32:BK14,18,K19

Would you have won a half-year subscription to one of history's best checker publications? We'd offer you a free six month on-line subscription to The Checker Maven but that wouldn't be much of a prize given that our publication is already free. So solve it just for the fun of it, and claim a look at the solution by clicking on Read More. If you like, write to us and tell us if you might have been a winner well over a century ago.null

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10/23/21 -Printer friendly version-
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In Need of a Spare

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Uh-oh. Someone is going to have to get out that spare tire, and no matter how many times you've changed a tire on the road, it's never much fun.

There are other kinds of spares, of course. There is spare time (a rather rare commodity in the Checker Maven offices). You can be "spared" something unpleasant, like a visit to the dentist. A spacious home has "room to spare" --- and so on.

In today's Checker School column, we present a very old position attributed to William Payne. "Spare" also has a meaning in checkers, as you'll see.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W6,K22,26:BK7,K15,21

Of course, the problem is extremely easy and will be solved in a couple of seconds by players with even a moderate level of experience. But after you solve it, use a spare couple of minutes to click on Read More to see what point Andrew J. Banks, author of Checker Board Strategy, was trying to make.null

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10/16/21 -Printer friendly version-
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Action-Packed

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No, the folks above aren't talking about a movie or a video game. They're actually touting a summer camp, packed with active rather than passive adventure. Sounds good to us.

This month's speed problem is action-packed, too--- and quite active. Solve it and see why.

BLACK
20210823-ackpak.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W32,27,26,25,24,23,21,15:B18,14,12,9,8,7,6,1

We'd say it's on the upper end of easy in difficulty, not quite medium, but certainly not trivial and very nice. Skilled players won't need a lot of time. The rest of us might need a little longer, but it's definitely within reach. Take action, try it out, and then click on Read More to check your solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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10/02/21 -Printer friendly version-
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Contest 58: Kingless

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"Kingless" in chess isn't possible. The White King must be somewhere. The above chess position was originally presented as a "find the White King's square" puzzle. Unfortunately the puzzle is trivial and flawed with multiple solutions.

"Kingless" in checkers, on the other hand, is quite a normal situation.Contest 58 in Bill Salot's spectacular long-running Unofficial World Championship Checker Problem Composing Contest series has begun. and the theme of this contest is indeed Kingless. It features four disparate problems, all of whose settings contain no kings. However, this set of problems is free of multiple solutions and certainly isn't trivial.

The contest can be found, as always, at contests.checkermaven.com. It runs until the end of October. Be sure to try out the problems and cast your vote for the one you think should win the title.

For today's problem, Bill provided us with a "sample" kingless problem. It's not part of the contest but it illustrates what you have to look forward to. The problem is entitled Bewildered and is by well-known composer Roy Little.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W12,13,21,26,27,30,32:B4,6,7,14,15,19,20

Bewildering? Perhaps. You don't need to be the king of checkers to solve it, though; it's within reach if you put in the effort. When you're ready, give your mouse a kingly click on Read More to see the solution.null

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09/18/21 -Printer friendly version-
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Labor Day 2021

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It's Labor Day weekend at the time of publication of this column, and on Monday, we recognize and celebrate the contribution of workers in all walks of life. The drawing above shows just a few of the many ways in which people contribute. There are lots more, and we've always said that we think all honest work is praiseworthy and honorable.

After some really tough times, we're happy to note that America is getting back to work, and in fact the demand for workers is high. So let's give Labor Day an extra measure of emphasis this year and enjoy the day as never before.

We usually turn to Tommie Wiswell for a problem on holidays such as this, but instead today we've got one that Tommie selected for inclusion in one of his books. It's by William Link, who composed this problem while still playing as a youth in New York City a nearly 80 years ago. Mr. Wiswell viewed him as an up and coming champion, but we've not heard or read much about him. Perhaps something derailed his checker career? We don't know, but we do know that the following position, which Mr. Link called Out on a Limb is an interesting one. Mr. Wiswell calls it "simple, pleasing, and instructive."

BLACK
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WHITE

White to Play and Win
W:WK11,12,21:B10,24,K32

You should be able to solve it, but if you can't, you won't be out on a limb, as clicking on Read More will show you the solution.null

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09/04/21 -Printer friendly version-
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Solution to Brian's Prize Problem

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Our Prize Problem contest, sponsored by Brian Hinkle, has ended. No, we can't offer the Nobel Prize, but Brian did offer $25 to the first person to solve it. He later upped his offer to $50, then $75, and finally $100.

But no one submitted a correct solution so Brian got to keep his money.

For those of you truly puzzled by the problem (which must be just about everyone), don't feel bad. The two most powerful computer engines in the world, KingsRow and Cake, couldn't solve it either! Here's Brian's solution and brief notes.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK3,5,11,21,22,25,26,29,30,32:B1,2,4,10,12,16,19,20,23,28

3-7 10-15 7-10 20-24 21-17---A 24-27---B 11-7 2x11 10-6 1x10 22-18 15x31 17-14 10x17 25-22 17x26 5-1. White Wins.

A---Planning ahead for the fireworks.

B---16-20 25-21 24-27 11-7 2x11 30-25 23x30 32x7. White Wins.

WHITE
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BLACK
Final Position, Black is Lost

B:WK1,29,30,32:B4,11,12,16,19,23,26,27,28,K31

White is down no less than six pieces, but still wins as Black will eventually run out of moves in this incredible block position. Marching the checkers on 11 and 4 down the main diagonal won't work as White will simply allow his piece on 29 to capture both of Black's approaching men. Try working through it on your own. You won't find a single variation in which Black doesn't eventually become completely blocked.

Block problems, along with fortress problems and "fugitive king" problems are notoriously difficult for computers to solve, and Grandmaster problemist Brian Hinkle has here created what may be the ultimate block problem of all time. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. In fact, if you'd like to see another Brian Hinkle classic, check out Bear Claw, published back in the early days of The Checker Maven.null

08/28/21 -Printer friendly version-
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Easy Going on a Hot Day

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On one of those hot, hot summer days in the Northern Hemisphere, the best thing to do is relax and cool off, as the young lady in the photo is enjoying doing. There are days when we just don't want to be bothered with any amount of effort or exertion.

Even we have to admit that on hot summer days, our attention can be drawn away from checkers. So today we've got an easy problem sent to us by regular contributors Lloyd and Josh Gordon of Toronto. It's one of those settings for which you'll either see the solution immediately, or you'll go astray at the outset.

WHITE
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BLACK
Black to Play and Draw

B:W6,16,21,30,32:B3,7,14,18,24

Experienced players will make short work of this, and the rest of us will get it with a little thought. Keep your cool, see how quickly you can solve it and then click on Read More to check your line of play.null

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08/07/21 -Printer friendly version-
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Pushed Into The Corner

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We're sure many readers of The Checker Maven will understand the context of the cartoon above. It's a bit of American history, in which a powerful man found himself pushed into a corner with no way out.

We continue our ongoing Checker School series, currently featuring problems and situations taken from Checker Board Strategy, a most unusual and entertaining book by Andrew J. Banks. Here is a "gem" problem composed by famous problemist S. J. Pickering and originally published in Elam's Checker Board.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK8,15,22,K26:B1,7,20,K27

The title of today's column gives a huge hint and we suggest you take full advantage. Don't get cornered; work out the problem and click on any corner (or even the middle) of Read More to see the solution and notes.null

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07/24/21 -Printer friendly version-
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The Checker Maven is produced at editorial offices in Honolulu, Hawai`i, as a completely non-commercial public service from which no profit is obtained or sought. Original material is Copyright 2004-2021 Avi Gobbler Publishing. Other material is the property of the respective owners. Information presented on this site is offered as-is, at no cost, and bears no express or implied warranty as to accuracy or usability. You agree that you use such information entirely at your own risk. No liabilities of any kind under any legal theory whatsoever are accepted. The Checker Maven is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Bob Newell, Sr.

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