The Checker Maven

A Sports Bar Debate

There was a big Sunday afternoon crowd at the Mojo Sports Bar in downtown Detroit. Glasses and bottles were everywhere to be seen as the crowd buzzed over a just-completed exhibition match, narrowly and unexpectedly lost by the hometown Major League team, the Detroit Doublejumpers, to the Bridgeport Breeches of the AAA Northeastern League. The match, of course, was viewed on the bar's large-screen TV, and broadcast by the Checker Television Network.

In the final round, Detroit captain Marvin J. Mavin had lost his first-board game to Bosco della Bruggia of the Breeches, costing the Doublejumpers the match. The network commentators thought the game wasn't all that well played; and they felt Marvin had missed a last-ditch draw. Some of the bar patrons agreed with this assessment, but they were in turn opposed by a number of the other patrons, who, as fierce hometown supporters, backed Marvin avidly.

A large group was gathered around a table where a pair of fans were going over the game. One of the onlookers, Johnny Jack Jackson by name, had played some semipro checkers a few years back, and was generally held to be the bar's champion (he would play for a beer and rarely went home sober). Johnny was commenting on the game as the moves were run up.


Johnny Jack Jackson Does the Play-By-Play

11-15 23-18
8-11 18-14

"Most of 'em plays 27-23 or some of 'em plays 26-23. 18-14 is a little different but it's OK. I seen it before from that guy Ed Queensline who plays AA checkers for Morristown out in Jersey."

9-18 24-19
15-24 22-8
4-11 27-20

"Aw c'mon Marvin, you oughtta capture toward the center with 28-19."

10-15

"I wouldda played 5-9 but this ain't so much worse."

... 28-24

"25-22 or maybe 21-17 .... you're givin' Bosco the edge here, Marv!"

6-10

"Now, I'd a played 5-9 right away. I 'spose Bosco was goin' for that element of surprise bit."

... 26-23

"Marvin, you give 'em a little on each move! You still couldda played 25-22. You probably got a loss now, pal."

5-9 21-17
9-14 25-21
15-18 ...

"Marv, I'd say you got a real big problem.... like, you lose!"

... 32-27
18-22 30-26

"Some a you guys wouldda played 30-25 instead, but after 1-6 it ain't so great. It's a two for two and Black gets an even easier win."

1-6

"What a stinko move, Bosco! 11-15 wouldda nailed down the game but now Marvin's right back in there."

17-13
14-17 21-14
10-17 23-18
7-10

"We're headed straight for a draw now."

BLACK

WHITE
White to Play and Draw

... 18-14

"Marvin, you're a dumb bum! You blew it---- again!"

11-15

"Well, OK there Bosco, you still win just fine, but I kindda like this line: 12-16 14-7 3-10 26-23 10-15 23-18 6-9 13-6 2-9 27-23 17-21 game over."

... 14-7
3-10 27-23
10-14 23-19
6-10 13-9
14-18 9-5
18-23 5-1
23-20 Black Wins.

"So our boy Marvin runs into an early loss but then Bosco plays a bonehead move and puts Marv back in the game. Does he get his draw? Noooo! He's gotta blow it away a second time with that 18-14 move! Ahhh.... it wasn't such a great game anyhow. Exhibitions, they just goof around sometimes instead a playin' serious."

Loud discussion ensued, with some thinking that 18-14 was indeed the best move and others not so sure. But Johnny insisted, and pretty soon little groups around the bar were playing out the variants and wagering a few tall cool ones on the results.

What do you think? Could Marvin have saved the draw? Would you be willing to bet Johnny a beer (or two) on your answer?

Click on Read More when you've decided.

[Read More]
03/25/06 - Printer friendly version
You can email the Webmaster with your comments on this article.

A Mighty Forest

As writers ourselves, we're keen appreciators of elegance and style, and we profess unabashed admiration for the writing style of a bygone era.

During the heydays of checker magazines, we've noted that the authors and editors of those long-departed publications had a certain verbal flair and often waxed most eloquent. Few examples surpass this one, penned by E. B. Hallman nearly eighty years ago. His subject was How To Study Checkers.

"There are many checker players who would add tremendously to their enjoyment of the game and increase greatly their skill by well directed study. Checkers is not unlike other activities; knowledge of what others have accumulated by their experience cannot be neglected without loss in playing ability. The game might be compared to a mighty forest, crisscrossed by countless paths, some mere "blind alleys," some leading to dangerous swamps, others along safe and delightful ways, with beautiful scenery on all sides. No man can stand on the edge of the forest, a stranger to its wandering trails, and reason or guess where the paths lead; no man can reason at the beginning of a checker game what the effect of a given move will be."

Our columnist then goes on to advocate the study of endgames and presents a sample problem which, alas, we don't think either well represents the "mighty forest" of checkers, or is nearly as gripping as his flowing prose.

So we'll offer you this one instead, which we think adequately encompasses the virtues that our writer so beautifully espouses.

BLACK

WHITE
White to Play and Draw

W:W24,K26,K27:BK11,15,K17,18.

Can you find the path through the forest that leads to safe and delightful ways for White, or will you encounter a dangerous swamp? Have no fear; clicking on Read More will always bring you out of danger.

[Read More]
03/25/06 - Printer friendly version
You can email the Webmaster with your comments on this article.

A Startling Reverse

The title for this problem was bestowed upon the position by Willie Ryan himself, as published posthumiously in the book Big League Checkers. Here's the position:

WHITE

BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:W31,30,28,27,26,25,24,21,20,18,14:B17,16,12,11,9,7,6,5,4,3,2.

Forces are even, but frankly, we don't really like the looks of the Black piece on 17. Can you come up with the move that turns the tables and wins the game?

Give it a spin, and if it all comes out backwards, turn around and click on Read More for the solution.

[Read More]
03/18/06 - Printer friendly version
You can email the Webmaster with your comments on this article.

Look Before You Leap

"Look Before You Leap" is good advice not just for the checker player but for life in general. Willie Ryan used that well-known phrase to title one of the positions in his famous Tricks, Traps, & Shots of the Checkerboard, more of which appears today as we continue our electronic republication of this unmatched classic.

They'll Do It Every Time!

Here is a quick play on the ancient single corner opening that has been dropping the duffers since the days of Anderson and Wyllie. I've scored with this one on countless occasions in my exhibitions.

11-15 22-18 15-22 25-18 8-11 24-19 10-15 19-10 6-22 26-17 9-13 17-14 11-15 28-24 4-8---A.

A---Caught! Either 1-6 or 15-18 will draw.

BLACK

WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W14,21,23,24,27,29,30,31,32:B1,2,3,5,7,8,12,13,15.

Look Before You Leap

One of the first lessons a beginner learns by sad experience is that moves that appear worthy are often the stepping stones to sudden defeat. The accompanying game illustrates the ever present danger of making plausible-looking moves without first considering the consequences of all possible replies. The following sequence of moves creates the pattern in the diagram:

11-15 23-19 8-11 22-17 4-8 17-13 15-18 24-20 9-14 28-24 10-15 19-10 6-15 26-23 12-16---A.

A---A natural advance that turns into a rout. The correct moves are: 15-19, 24-15, 5-9, 13-6, 1-26, 31-15, 11-18, 25-22, etc., resulting in a draw.

BLACK

WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W13,20,21,23,24,25,27,29,30,31,32:B1,2,3,5,7,8,11,14,15,16,18.

Editor's Note: We encourage you to take a good look at these positions before you leap to the solution by clicking on Read More.

[Read More]
03/18/06 - Printer friendly version
You can email the Webmaster with your comments on this article.

Bear Bounty Offered

Brian Hinkle is offering a prize of US $25 to the first solver of his infamous Bear Claw problem (click here to see it again).

Thus far, no one has been able to capture this growling bear. Can you be the first? Brian has a reward for you if you are!

We've delayed publication of the solution until April 8 to give you a little more time to claim the bounty. Can you do it? Send your solutions to Brian as quickly as possible!

This prize is offered by Brian Hinkle and will be awarded at his sole discretion and judgment. The Checker Maven does not offer or guarantee this prize. Offer void where prohibited, taxed, or restricted by law. Staff and relatives of staff of any of the Mr. Fred Investments group of companies are not eligible to participate.

03/11/06 - Printer friendly version
You can email the Webmaster with your comments on this article.

Oh My Goodness

We think we've chosen an appropriate title for this month's stroke problem, which at first glance looks as scary as that big snake in the photo above.

BLACK

WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK5,10,12,14,16,19,20,21,24,29,31:B2,3,4,7,8,15,18,22,26,K28,K30.

Will you be squeezed by the complexity of the problem, or will you slither away successfully? Either way, click on Read More to uncoil the solution.

[Read More]
03/11/06 - Printer friendly version
You can email the Webmaster with your comments on this article.

What Is A Gem?

The definition of a 'gem' problem in checkers is not always clear. We like to think of this in a manner that extends the metaphor: a problem or situation that sparkles and is brilliant in its solution.

Today's installment of our Checker School series presents Dunne's Gem as published in Ben Boland's Famous Positions in the Game of Checkers. Here's the situation:

WHITE

BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:W26,K17:B21,14,K6.

Now, Black is a man up. What's so special, so gem-like, about this position (if, indeed, anything)?

Work out the solution and then you decide. Is this a true gem or just an ordinary lump of coal? As you might expect there is more here than meets the eye at first glance.

When you're ready, click on Read More for the solution, a sample game, and some notes, quotes, and votes.

[Read More]
03/11/06 - Printer friendly version
You can email the Webmaster with your comments on this article.

Instant Gratification

This month we're giving you not one or two but four speed problems. No, we're not being extra-generous; these problems are of a very easy nature and shouldn't take but an instant to solve.

And, knowing us, you know that therein lies the catch. We're giving you all of ten seconds to solve each problem. How good is your pattern recognition? Can you achieve instant gratification by immediately seeing the solutions, or will you be caught by our unforgiving time clock?

Click on Read More to check your solutions, but we doubt you'll need much help here.

Problem One (extremely easy)

Problem Two (extremely easy)

Problem Three (very easy)

Problem Four (very easy)

[Read More]
03/04/06 - Printer friendly version
You can email the Webmaster with your comments on this article.

Inexhaustible

In this age of computerized checkers, with the strongest programs now likely exceeding the capability of even the top human champions; and with the announced intention of the Chinook project to 'solve' the game completely, we often hear that checkers is exhausted, worn out, and no longer of interest.

Well, in this article we're about to disprove that notion--- as if it needed disproving.

Let's look at a position from Richard Pask's excellent book, Key Themes, which, by the way, we'll be offering here in a free, newly typeset electronic edition sometime in this spring (2006). The theme is "The Sunken Piece on Square 5" and we arrive at the diagram below from 11-15 23-19 9-14 22-17 5-9 17-13 14-18! 19-16 12-19 26-23 19-26 30-5.

WHITE

BLACK
Black to Play and Draw

B:W32,31,29,28,27,25,24,21,13,5:B15,10,8,7,6,4,3,2,1.

Let us first assure you that the position is indeed a draw. Black may be a man down but the White piece on square 5 is very much out of the action. Mr. Pask, in his book, gives a continuation from published play, resulting in a draw. But deep computer analysis shows that there are other possibilites, and the Black draw be obtained in at least a couple of different and very interesting ways.

We invite you to do your own analysis, and see how you think Black might draw. Then click on Read More for a few different takes on the position. We think you'll be completely convinced that, as far as the human mind is concerned, checkers is anything but old and tired, and is a truly limitless art.

[Read More]
03/04/06 - Printer friendly version
You can email the Webmaster with your comments on this article.