The Checker Maven

USA vs. Great Britian Internet Challenge

Team matches in checkers between the United States and Great Britain began almost exactly 100 years ago, in 1905, when the British team defeated the Americans in a convincing manner. Since that time, there have been six more such matches, with the Americans gaining the edge; and an eighth match will take place this fall in Las Vegas as a 100th anniversary celebration of this fierce yet friendly rivalry.

But, very recently on the time scale of a full century, the internet has come on the scene and has offered all sorts of opportunities for checker play, of every type and quality (see our site reviews for a rundown on this). Last year, a team match called USA vs. the World was played out at the It's Your Turn play site (the games are documented and annotated at Jim Loy's web site). The teams were ad hoc and the level of play varied widely, but it was a great match overall.

Now, the historic US-Great Britain rivalry is about to be taken up on the internet, and for this matchup, the teams are staffed with top notch, championship grade players. The US team, captained by Yunior Lopez, will have in its lineup stars such as world champion Alex Moiseyev and living legend Richard Fortman. Not to be outdone, the British team, captained by Lindus Edwards, will field players of the caliber of mail-play champion George Miller, and special guest Jan Mortimer, who this fall will challenge Patricia Breen for the women's world championship.

The match begins at the It's Your Turn site on April 4. The games will be 3-move restriction and played postal-style with three days allowed for a move. Complete details can be found at the official web site for the match, and you can follow the results there as they come in.

This promises to be a history making, not-to-be-missed match. Put a few tall ones in the refrigerator and tune in at the official web site!

03/31/05 - Printer friendly version
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Wednesday is 'Anything Can Happen Day'

At the suggestion of our readers, instead of publishing everything on the weekend, we'll be trying out the idea of dividing up our new articles between Wednesday and Saturday. Although we'll likely feature a problem on most Wednesdays, "anything can happen" so stay tuned, and be sure to let us know what you think of our revised publication schedule.

Now, on to this week's Wednesday problem. Originally published over 80 years ago, it was billed as a beginner's problem. And it's surely a case of "anything can happen" in that there were flaws in the original setting, clever though it was, and so we've made a few changes.

We start with this position, as originally published:




White to Play and Draw
The published solution gave 14-17 to a draw, and that is correct; however, computer analysis shows that both 14-10 and 14-9 will also draw. Too many solutions spoil the problem.

But in the diagram above, what is the move that comes to mind at once, and that a beginner in particular would likely choose? It's 14-18, attacking two Black men at once. Yet this move loses! Here's the position, and the challenge for you:

WHITE

BLACK
Black to Play and Win

Did you get it? Click on Read More for the solution, and decide for yourself, though this is a situation a beginner might encounter, if this is truly a beginner's problem.

By the way, you get bonus points if you can recall where the idea of Wednesday being "Anything Can Happen Day" originally came from.

[Read More]
03/30/05 - Printer friendly version
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The 'Fun Shot' in the Single Corner Opening

The Auditorium at Detroit's Public School 1115 was packed with kids of all shapes and sizes. They were all here to listen to their hero, Marvin J. Mavin, the Captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers and a star professional checker player in the National Checker League. Marvin was making one of his many school visits to promote the sport of checkers among our youth. And at P.S. 1115, he had come to the right place, as this school fielded several very strong teams in the Central Detroit Grade School Checker Federation.


Students at PS 1115 greet Marvin J. Mavin
All eyes were on Marvin as he stood on the stage.

"Hi there boys and girls!" he intoned in his deep baritone voice. Or maybe it wasn't all that deep. "Today we're going to talk about a really special checker opening line."

A few expressions of "yeah, right" seemed to float up from the back of the auditorium. But Marvin continued without a pause.

"I'm sure your coach has taught all of you to play 11-15 as your first move with Red, because it's a strong play toward the center and is considered to be Red's best starting move."

A chorus of "tell us something we don't know, Marvin" seemed to emanate from the left side of the main aisle.

"Now, as White, a reply often made to this is 22-18.."

"Yeah Marvin, the Single Corner, OK?" was called out by a student near the front.

"Very good, yes, Single Corner, I was sure you knew that!" Marvin replied. "But how many of you know the best continuations from this point?"

"Whaddya think, we're stoopit?" was heard from another student off to the left. But Marvin simply continued with his talk.

"If Red plays 11-15 - hey, that's your school name!" Marvin said, grinning, as the audience groaned some more, "and then after 22-18 the captures follow with 15-22, 25-18..."

"Duh, Marvin, they trade checkers, like we didn't know that!" piped up a boy somewhere in the middle of the auditorium.

Marvin swallowed, paused, and went on. "So now if Red plays 12-16, and White goes 29-25, then if Red tries 10-14...."

"Aww what kinda move is dat! Da coach 'ud trow me offa da team iffn I did sumthin' like dat!" interrupted another student in a strident voice.

Was Marvin actually turning just a tiny bit red? He cleared his throat lightly and carried on nonetheless. "Yes, I know 9-13 is popular here, but there's a special line in this opening that isn't seen very often. It's called "The Fun Shot" and I wonder if any of you have ever heard of it?"

The audience had become suddenly silent. Evidently Marvin had taken them into new territory.

"I didn't think so!" Marvin said triumphantly, and was that a slight smirk on his face? He quickly changed his expression to a neutral one. "The Fun Shot was given that name by Farmacio Fotocopia, a former player with the St. Louis Switchers, who analyzed it ..."

The audience was stirring again; they were quite young, after all. "That old guy!" one of them called, "he musta played fifty years ago!"

Marvin set his jaw tightly. "Well, then, who can show me the Fun Shot? Can you?" he said, pointing to the last interruptor.

The fifth grader squirmed in his seat and didn't reply.

"OK then, pay attention," Marvin continued, and went over to the huge demo board at the center of the stage. "Now, here's how it goes."

Marvin moved the large wooden pieces rapidly from peg to peg on the demo board, playing out these moves:

1. 11-15 22-18 2. 15x22 25x18 3. 12-16 29-25 4. 10-14 24-19

When he was done, the board showed the following position:

WHITE

BLACK
Black to Move
There was dead silence in the auditorium as the students awaited Marvin's next moves.

"Here's where Red can take what amounts to a four-for-four shot," said Marvin, and made the following moves:

5. 7-10 19x12 6. 3-7 12x3 7. 14-17 21x14 8. 10x17 3x10 9. 6x29

Now the board looked like this:

BLACK

WHITE
White to Move - and Win?
"So what do you think?" Marvin asked, flashing his trademark Belcher's Best Lite Lager grin.

Slowly the audience began to react. There were the sounds of seats shifting and feat scuffling. Finally, one student stood up, raised his arm and said, "Geez Marvin nobody'd ever play that one! Wassamattawhitcha anyhoo, showin' us dumb stuff like that! You been drinkin' too much a that beer a yours!"

This time, Marvin definitely turned red. "Well," he said. "Well, well, well."

Another kid piped up, "Hey that's a deep one Marvin, ha ha ha!"

Marvin paused at length, and finally seemed to become a bit more composed. He continued, "This is in fact thought to be a win for White, which is why this shot is seldom seen." Marvin grinned. Was that an evil grin on Marvin's face? "Perhaps, young man," he said in an even tone, "you would like to take the Whites, while I play the Reds, and you can show me just how smart you really are by demonstrating the win."

There were hoots from the crowd, followed by cheers and applause, and cries of, "C'mon Billie, take 'em on! Show 'em yer stuff!" Then amidst nearly thunderous noise and commotion, the heckler stood up, ruffled his hair, tugged on his shirt and jeans, and started toward the front of the auditorium.

"Go Billie! Go Billie! Go Billie go!" the crowd chanted, over and over, louder and louder, until Billie arrived at the demonstration board on the stage. He grinned a little, looked back at the audience, then turned to the board and played......

Well, dear reader, just what did Billie play? Was the sassy fourth grader able to win this position against a top pro such as Marvin J. Mavin? Can you win this position?

To be continued.....

03/26/05 - Printer friendly version
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The 'Masked Man' Returns for March

We're pleased to present our Masked Man problem for March. The challenge is twofold; solve the problem, and identify the composer, who is pictured in the photograph above.

Here's the problem:

WHITE

BLACK
Black to Play and Win
We won't keep you waiting this time, so click on Read More to check your answers... but please do try the problem first, as it's a nice one.

[Read More]
03/26/05 - Printer friendly version
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The Sayings of Tom Wiswell

If you've read much at all of Tom Wiswell's writing on the art and science of checkers, you'll find gems of wisdom sprinkled liberally among the pages. A long-term friend of Tom's in New York City collected thousands of these pithy proverbs, and many of them can be found at the following two web sites:

Daily Speculations
Great Speculations

If you haven't visited these web sites yet, you really owe it to yourself to go there and learn a few new lessons of checkers and life from someone who mastered the art and science of both.


Tom Wiswell often played here. Can you identify the location?
Click for the solution:

[Read More]
03/22/05 - Printer friendly version
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A Switcher Autopsy

The Checker Maven is delighted to present an article contributed by Richard L. Fortman with new analysis on the Switcher opening. It's a Checker Maven first and an exclusive! Our sincere thanks go to Mr. Fortman for this fine contribution, and to Brian Hinkle for both expert assistance and editorial preparation. Please send Mr. Fortman your comments on this new analysis: rlf111 at webtv.net. And, if you have analysis of your own that you'd like to see published, please write to the webmaster.

A Switcher Autopsy

Featuring new defenses from KingsRow and Chinook!
Notes by Richard L. Fortman, February 24, 2005.
Editorial assistance and additional computer analysis by Brian Hinkle using KingsRow.

1. 11-15 21-17 A
2. 9-13 B 25-21 C
3. 8-11 D 17-14 E
4. 10x17 21x14
5. 6-10 F 22-17 G
6. 13x22 26x17
7. 15-18 H 24-20 I
8. 2-6 J 29-25 K
9. 18-22 L 25x18
10. 10-15 28-24 M
11. 15x22 32-28 N
12. 6-10 O 23-18 P
13. 22-25 30x21
14. 10-15 27-23
15. 15x22 14-10
16. 7x14 17x10
17. 22-25 23-19
18. 11-15 20-16
19. 25-29 16-11
20. 29-25 11-7
21. 25-22 7-2
22. 5-9 Q 10-6 ? R
23. 1x10 2-7
24. 9-14 7-11
25. 14-18 31-27 S
26. 4-8 T 11x4
27. 22-26

Tinsley defeated Lowder, Game 4, 1975 Florida Open.

A - History tells us that James Wyllie used this weak reply in many of his GAYP exhibitions in order to "switch" or defer his opponents from their favorite Old 14th or Single Corner lines.

B - Applying the cramp which forms the opening. Other replies in 9-14 or 8-11 are seen in the 3-move openings.

C - To fill in the hole, to prepare for the exchange- other ways in 24-20 (Scott's Snake) or 23-18 are inferior, although Asa Long once tried the latter in the 1927 2nd international match vs. Harry Moulding, the English 'weak link.' Asa once told me, "I had won the first game with black and since this was close to the finish, with our team far ahead, I decided to go for the win with the weak side, much to the dissatisfaction of team captain Gus Heffner. Upon reflections it was a mistake, as I had to struggle to draw. (Black might have scored with Rubin's "Whipper-Snapper" gambit. --RLF)

D - Standard, as 5-9 instead is more often seen from the 9-13, 21-17, 5-9 opening.

E - Of the three major defenses, this was the original, as favored in the Willie Era - both Heffner and Bradford favored the 24-19 exchange, as witnessed in the 2nd I.M. whereas the third, the Andrew Jackson 30-25 remained in obscurity until adopted by Rubin in the 1929 7th American tournament (Cedar Point) or the 4-8 Switcher played in the 2nd I.M. The trunk reply was the overwhelming favorite; adopted 37 times followed with 24-19 5 times: then 23-18 and 24-20 - with 30-25 a notable absentee! - the last named was a lifetime favorite with Marion Tinsley. He told me he once asked his close friend Walter Hellman why he had stayed with the less restrictive 17-14x and Walter replied, "Well, Marion, they can only play one move at a time against it, and I know them all!"

F - Following up with the bind originated at note B; 4-8 instead allows a 'doctor' idea with 29-25, 6-10 and 23-19 etc. shown to draw.

G - Necessary. White cannot delay with 29-25, 10-17 and 25-21 as 4-8* 21-14 then 15-18x* etc. to a p.p. black win.

H - Marion Tinsley had long favored the 4-8 and 1-6 attack throughout his long career but when faced with a 'do or die' decision, playing Elbert Lowder in the final 4th game of the final round in the 1975 Florida Open ty. he "switched' to the text. In discussing this game on a later visit to Springfield, Ill., he said, "As you know, I had to win this game, as a draw would win this tournament for Lowder on honor points so I decided this "surprise" element might confuse him; however, as play progressed, I began to think it might have been a mistake as he kept on making the necessary moves - as it turned out. Only a little 'swindle' saved me."

I - Checker theory recommends advancing toward the center and avoid side moves such as this, but there are exceptions to every "rule" that have been proposed - here 24-19? 4-8 29-25 11-15 28-24 8-11 17-13 10-17 23-14 then either 15-18 or 17-22 rupture the white formation - and if 29-25 instead, black has Wyllie's 18-22 pitch to penalize the defense by his long time opponent Robert Martins. However, KingsRow prefers 7. ...23-19

WHITE

BLACK
Black to Play
8. 18-22 (8. 11-16 19-15 9. 10x19 24x15 10. 4-8 29-25 11. 16-20 30-26 12. 2-6 17-13 13. 12-16 25-21 14. 16-19 27-24 15. 20x27 32x16 16. 7-11 16x7 17. 3x17 21x14 18. 6-9 13x6 19. 1x17...draw, KingsRow) 27-23 9. 2-6 24-20 10. 11-15 30-25 11. 15x24 25x18 12. 24-27 31x24 13. 6-9 17-13 14. 10x17 13x6 15. 1x10 18-14 16. 10-15 23-19 17. 15-18 19-15 18. 17-22 15-11 19. 7x16 20x11 draw, KingsRow. It seems KingsRow has an affinity for 23-19 here and at note P!

J - Holding the bridge, instead of the other formidable attack in 1-6, followed with 3-8, leading into the classic win by 18 year old Asa Long over his more experienced opponent, English champion Alfred Jordon in the semi-finals of the 1922 5th Amer. Ty. at Boston, Asa then going on to win his first American tournament by defeating Jordon again in the final round. While visiting me in 1985, Asa commented, "Perhaps, my most satisfactory win, as I had little respect for Jordon as a sportsman, forcing me to play out endings as if I was a beginner."

K - Here the early 28-24 loses after 6-9*, as shown in Master Play (see Marion Tinsley's remarks in note H). However, there is a new sound defense confirmed to draw by Chinook with 17-13x! No analysis was sent in from Jonathan Schaeffer so KingsRow provided this line: 8. ...17-13 9. 10x17 23x14

WHITE

BLACK
Black to Play
10. 11-15 31-26 11. 15-18 29-25 12. 17-21 28-24 13. 6-9 13x6 14. 1x17 24-19 15. 4-8 19-15 16. 5-9 26-22 17. 17x26 30x5 18. 21x30 5-1 19. 30-26 1-5 20. 26-22 27-23 21. 22-26 23-18 22. 26-23 18-14 23. 23-19 15-10 24. 8-11 10-6 25. 19-15 6-1 26. 7-10 14x7 27. 3x10 5-9 28. 11-16 20x11 29. 15x8 draw, KingsRow.

L - Black is now confined to this one powerful reply.

M - Also, 27-24, 15-22 and the key 32-27 is the same, as played in an obscure game, J. Steele vs. Harry Pillsbury - the last named was rated as the strongest 'mixed' player of the 'sister games' - chess and checkers, along with Newell Banks.

N - A valuable "waiting" move, again avoiding the 24-19 advance shown to lose. As Tinsley once observed, " Knowledge is power!"

O - The position reached by Tinsley vs. Lowder, mentioned in note H. I was not present, but Howard Owen wrote me later that the majority of players had completed their round but stayed over to watch the finish - he said, " The tension was high, and you you could almost hear a pin drop! Was the world champion on the verge of losing his first tournament since Paxton in 1950?"

P - The first small chink in white's armor, giving the champion a faint ray of hope - here, Wyllie's 24-19 (avoided earlier) is now best, as played vs. Robert Martins - in a later letter, Tinsley told me he had been over this 23-18 in his early career, when stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Center in Chicago (1946) and studying at the Rex Wood Library in Gary, Ind. He said he had found a little 'kink' (as he put it) that varied from the Master Play variation, and later tried vs. his playing partner Roy Hunt. - Instead of either 24-19 or 23-18, Ed Gilbert's KingsRow checker software came up with a new defense in 23-19! that has remained hidden for the past century and a half! ... 12. ... 23-19

WHITE

BLACK
Black to Play
13. 11-15 17-13 14. 10x17 19x10 15. 7x14 13-9 16. 17-21 9-6 17. 1x10 20-16 18. 12x19 24x6 19. 22-25 6-2 20. 25-29 2-6 21. 14-17 6-10 22. 29-25 10-14 23. 25-22 28-24 24. 4-8 24-19 25. 8-11 27-24 26. 3-8 24-20 27. 8-12 31-27 28. 22-25 14-18 29. 5-9 18-23 30. 9-14 23-26 31. 25-22 26-31...man down draw, KingsRow.

Q - The play from note P is virtually forced - the text is the Tinsley 'kink' (or cook) as mentioned in note P which varies from the Master Play 22-18, which also requires care to draw after 31-27* (not 21-17, 18-22 to a black win) then 4-8 and the 10-6 exchange to draw.

R - With the clock running, the position is murky. It is obvious that white must pitch to escape the bridge, and on the surface it might appear that either way would draw - but not so! This loses, whereas, 10-7* escapes after 3-10, as played by Hunt, although he didn't send their conclusion. I looked at 2-7* (as 2-6 lets in 4-8, 6-13 and 8-11) 9-14, 7-11, 22-18, 11-7, 18-23, 24-20 etc. to draw.

S - The king move with 11-7 allows18-23, 7-14 22-18 19-10 and 18-9 strands the piece, black wins.

T - A neat conclusion to a hard fought game.

03/19/05 - Printer friendly version
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Solutions and Followups from February, 2005

The feature problem for February was The Little Fooler by Tom Wiswell and Jimmy Ricca. Did it fool you? Click above to go back to the problem and see the elegant solution.

Also in February we started our Masked Man series. Could you identify the problemist and, just as importantly, solve the problem? Again, click above to go back, take one last look, and find out how well you did.

Didn't solve them all this time? Take heart. Last month's lean and mean two-by-two problems were harder than you might have expected. But don't give up. Try out this month's problems and watch your skills improve.

03/19/05 - Printer friendly version
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Publication Calendar

Now linked in the left column is our projected publication calendar, which will give you an idea of what's planned for upcoming Checker Maven editions. Of course, we need to make the disclaimer that the schedule is subject to change without notice at any time, and that accuracy is not guaranteed. We do want to have a few surprises now and then!

That said, feel free to browse the calendar and as always send us your comments and suggestions.

03/17/05 - Printer friendly version
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No Work Today: A Midweek Bonus Problem

It's stormy today (March 15, 2005) in the mountains of New Mexico and our office has been closed for two days straight. Although The Checker Maven usually publishes on weekends, today is special, and we invite you to warm by the fire with this midweek bonus problem.

BLACK

WHITE
White to Play and Win
Can you see your way through this one? Stroke problems, artificial as the settings often are, make for great visualization practice. So, when you're ready, click on Read More to check your solution.

[Read More]
03/15/05 - Printer friendly version
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Avoidance Maneuver

Sometimes in a checker game you try to achieve a certain position, formation, or situation; and at times it's just the opposite. That principle leads us to this month's first teaser.

Here's the layout:

BLACK

WHITE
White to Play and Draw
Look easy enough? It's a bit easier than some others we've featured, but this one has been known to frustrate experienced players. Give a whirl, keeping the title in mind, and then click on Read More to check your solution. Were you able to ..... oops, we'd better not give it away!

[Read More]
03/12/05 - Printer friendly version
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Who is Your Favorite Checker Book Author?

In the columns of The Checker Maven we rely a great deal on source material from our collection of classic checker books; in fact, you probably know we maintain an extensive and growing page of book reviews (see the link in the right-hand column).

Through the history of the game, many books have been written and many authors have tried their hand, some with great success and others with less spectacular results. And so, we'd like to ask our readers a question: who is your favorite checker book author?

In this survey, we've listed a few of the most prolific and well-respected authors. Which one do you enjoy reading the most? Enter your vote and then compare it with the choices of other readers.

03/12/05 - Printer friendly version
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Two More Easy Pieces

We're continuing our long-term project of electronic republication of Willie Ryan's Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard with another pair of introductory problems. As usual, Willie's own inimitable commentary accompanies each. When you've worked out your solution, click on Read More to check your answers.
EXAMPLE 3

White to Play and Win
'Basic ideas never change, but they may occur on different areas of the board with more or fewer pieces involved. In Example 3, we have a snap layout of a double corner compound in which the winning plan is precisely the same as the one used in Example 2, but the arrangement of the pieces is different. A common fault of the beginner is his tendency to associate a particular tactical idea with only one position. This is undoubtedly an obstruction to progress. The main purpose of studying a problem position is to master the idea (or ideas) it illustrates so that the student may use it in any other situation where the same idea can be successfully applied.'
EXAMPLE 4

White to Play and Win
'One of the more spectacular fundamental principles is the "smother" idea. Example 4 frames an easy setting of a delayed smother coup in which first black's piece on square 22 is driven to a fatal spot (square 25), and then white makes two sacrifices in succession, winning by a weird tie-up. The description given to each example in this review of basic ideas is intended to help the reader to develop concepts of logical procedure. If we say "delayed smother" we mean the smother is not immediate, but that white can force black to make a certain move (or moves) that enables white to drive black into the coup position.'

[Read More]
03/05/05 - Printer friendly version
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March Speedsters

To start the month, here are two more speed problems, with the timer running to see how fast you can find the solutions:

No. 1. Very easy.

No. 2. Easy.

After you've solved them, click on Read More to check your answers.

There's the green flag ..... go!

[Read More]
03/05/05 - Printer friendly version
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Introducing Marvin J. Mavin

We'd like to introduce you to Marvin J. Mavin, the hero of this webzine and the Captain and First Board player for the Detroit Doublejumpers, one of the leading teams in the Central Division of the National Checker League.


Marvin J. Mavin
Captain, Detroit Doublejumpers
Marvin is, of course, a leading professional in the highly popular sport-checkers world, and his team makes it to the playoffs more seasons than not. However, Marvin sometimes gets distracted by his lucrative promotional ad contracts, and he has been known to skip practice in order to shoot spots for his sponsors, Super Slick Shaving Soap and Belcher's Best Lite Lager. And as to that latter product, well, Marvin also sometimes misses practice to bend an elbow with a few of his buddies at the local watering holes. (We recommend that you not emulate this behavior yourself.)

Marvin was a top player on his grade school and high school teams, being named to the All-State squad three years running in his home state of New Jersey. He moved on to collegiate checkers, receiving a full-ride scholarship from the prestigious University of Champions in Mississippi. Following college he was a first-round draft choice of the St. Louis Switchers, who started him out with their Triple-A farm club, the Louisville Leapers of the Southeastern Checker League.

Marvin made the "big show" within a year, moving up to the Switchers, but became a free agent after his two-year contract expired, as he and the Switchers were unable to come to terms, with Marvin asking $12 million a year and the Switchers capping their offer at $8 million. The Doublejumpers then signed him on for $10 million per year plus performance based bonuses. The rest, as we all know, is history.

Join us in the columns of The Checker Maven later this month (March 2005), as Marvin pays a visit to a Detroit grade school and gives a lesson (or perhaps gets a lesson) on the "Fun Shot" in the Single Corner opening.

03/05/05 - Printer friendly version
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Checker Maven Score Sheets

As a bonus to our readers, we'd like to direct you to some score sheet forms we developed a little while back. They are suitable for single or double-sided printing and are easy to use and logically arranged. Simply download and print to a PostScript capable printer.

You can get them here. Let us know what you think.

Oh...yes, these are for checkers, in case you were wondering!

03/01/05 - Printer friendly version
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