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You'll Get A Kick Out Of This

Today we are pleased to present another crowd-pleasing Tommie Wiswell composition. In Mr. Wiswell's own words, "You'll get a real 'kick' out of this one. The solution is short and snappy and the 'key' move is quite a shock --- to Black."

Here's the position, and we don't claim that it's an easy one.


White to Play and Win


White is a man up, but Black has two kings and threatens to even the material count. Can you find White's win, or will this problem kick your posterior? Give it a try but don't kick the bucket; instead, click on Read More to see the solution.

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07/26/08 - Printer friendly version
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The Steel Stroke

One thing Willie Ryan could do as well as any checkerist who ever lived was to tell an entertaining story. Here, in our monthly installment from his classic Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard, Willie relates a couple of anecdotes about a checker position that dates back over 200 years but still astounds us today.

'Now we come to an old chestnut credited to James Steel, of Newcastle, England, identified as the Steel Stroke. When Joshua Sturges reached the diagrammed position below in his "Guide to Draughts" (1800), he overlooked the stroke, playing 17-21 to a draw instead! After the 1905 American-British International Checker Match, former World's Champion Robert Stewart, of Scotland, was persuaded by friends to play "Ajeeb," the automaton checker player, then on exhibit at the old Eden Musee in New York City.

When the position shown below was reached, Stewart moved 12-16 to start the shot. When the "figure" failed to respond, the attendant told Stewart he would have to move faster. Whereupon, Stewart informed the attendant it was Ajeeb's move. The attendant then pretended to wind up the figure, announcing that the game could not be finished because the main steel spring in the machine was out of order!

11-15 21-14 28-24
23-19 15-18 11-16
8-11 19-15 26-23
22-17 4- 8 16-20
9-13 24-19 31-26---B.
17-14 13-17---A See the
10-17 diagram.

Black to Play and Win


A---White has a trap here, for if black moves 11-16, white will win with 26-22, 16-23, 15-10, 6-15, 25-21, 18-25, 27-4.

B---Right after Ajeeb made this move, he developed mechanical cramps. The proper play to draw is: 15-10, 6-15, 19-10, 17-22*, 25-21, 12-16*, 32-28, 16-19, 24-15, 22-25, 29-22, 18-25, 21-17, 7-11*, 30-21, 11-18, 23-19, 18-22*, 19-16, 2-7, 17-13, 22-25, 13-9, 25-30, 9-6, 5-9*, 14-5, 7-14, 27-24---1, 20-27, 31-24, 1-10, 5-1, 14-18*, 1-6, 10-14, 6-10, 18-22*, 10-26, 30-23, and black can draw with care---2. This fine play is by World Champion Walter Hellman.'

1---The King's Row computer program chooses 6-2 instead and finds what looks like an easier draw than Hellman's line with the calculated line of play being 6-2 30-25 27-23 25-22 23-19 14-18 16-12 8-11 19-15 11-16 28-24 20-27 31-24 16-19 24-20 19-24 20-16 18-23 16-11 23-26 15-10 26-31 2-6 and it's clearly a draw---Ed.

2---King's Row agrees that this position is a draw despite Black being a man down---Ed.

No need for you to have cramps or a broken spring over this one; unwind the tension by clicking on Read More to see the solution.

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07/19/08 - Printer friendly version
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Similar But Not Quite The Same

Click on the image for a full-size version.

Can you find a total of eight differences in the two pictures above? It's a classic sort of puzzle, and unless you're rather skilled with images, finding the last little variation is often quite a challenge.

In today's edition of Checker School, we present two "similar but not quite the same" positions. The optical differences are a little easier to find than in our teaser above, but the over-the-board solutions may prove somewhat more resistant.

In both of today's positions, shown below, White is to play and win. We'll give you a small tip: one of the positions is quite a bit easier than the other, despite similar appearances. Not much of a tip, we agree, but we are known to be notably stingy in the hint department.

White to Play and Win White to Play and Win
W:WK15,K22,K27:B16,K20,K21. W:WK11,K22,K32:B16,K20,K29.

Make a difference and find the solutions; but if you can't tell the difference, it will make no difference if you click on Read More to see the answers along with a sample game and detailed commentary. And, for extra non-checker related credit, identify the U.S. destination known as "The City Different."

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07/12/08 - Printer friendly version
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Fourth of July Picnic

Tommy always looked forward to going to the Fourth of July Picnic with his family. There would be hot dogs, hamburgers, watermelon, ice cream cones, and a host of summer treats. There was the three-legged race, the pie-eating contest, and more fun than could ever be imagined, topped off with an exciting display of fireworks. Tommy's home town in Florida really knew how to celebrate America's birthday.

But this year was even more special. Tommy was going to play in the adult section of the Fourth of July checker tournament! Normally, he would play in the elementary school section, but this year he had managed to get permission to go straight to the top and play with the grownups.

Now, Tommy had been studying checkers every Saturday morning with Uncle Ben (see our Uncle Ben's Porch series of columns). Uncle Ben wasn't really his uncle, but everyone called him that; and under his mentoring, Tommy had come a long way with his checker skills.

Uncle Ben was at the picnic, of course, but as a full-fledged professional wasn't allowed to enter the tournament. Tommy wanted to make him proud and was determined to play well. But playing against experienced adult checkerists was no easy assignment.

The tournament was "single life" elimination. If you lost your round, or if your game was a draw in two rounds, you were out of the competition.

The first round was about to begin. Tommy was paired with a very tough opponent, 47-year old insurance agent Bob Fernastus, one of the top adult amateurs in the area. Bob was captain of the county champion recreational checker team, the Mutual Farm Draughts Oxen.

Bob Fernastus

They met at their assigned board. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Fernastus," said Tommy politely as they shook hands. "Same here, young man," said Bob in return; was he perhaps being just a bit condescending to his much younger opponent? But just at that moment, the tournament director gave the call, "Start your clocks!" and the tournament was underway.

Tommy had White and the game unfolded as follows.

Black: Bob Fernastus
White: Tommy
1. 12-16 22-18
2. 8-12 25-22
3. 16-20 24-19
4. 4-8 22-17
5. 9-13 30-25
6. 13x22 26x17
7. 10-14 17x10
8. 7x14 18x9
9. 5x14 25-22
10. 6-10 22-18
11. 1-5 18x9
12. 5x14 29-25
13. 11-15 25-22
14. 15x24 28x19
15. 3-7 32-28
16. 2-6 (see diagram) 28-24
17. 8-11 22-18
18. 6-9 18-15
19. 11x18 21-17
20. 14x21 23x5
21. 7-11 27-23
22. 20x27 31x24
23. 21-25 5-1
24. 11-15 1-6

Draw Agreed.

"Wow," said Bob, you really had me going there! Great game, Tommy, but do you realize you missed a win at move 16?"

Tommy, pleased to get a draw against a highly skilled adult player, looked puzzled. "A win, Mr. Fernastus? Really?"

"Yes, Tommy, you could have won the game! Do you want me to show you?"

"Yes, sir, if you would ... I had no idea ...."

"Well, then Tommy," Bob continued, "Here it is."


White to Play and Win


Could you have found the win where Tommy didn't? We'll warn you, it's subtle and probably well beyond the skills of even a very talented grade schooler. Give it a try and click on Read More when you're ready to see the solution and complete game notes.

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07/05/08 - Printer friendly version
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Software Upgrade

In order to serve you better, we've upgraded the software (Nucleus CMS) that we use to run our site. After a few moments of bug-fixing panic, everything now looks fine from our end, but if you experience any problems please help out by letting us know. You can reach us at

By the way, we can't help but take this opportunity to editorialize a bit. The Checker Maven relies greatly upon free, open-source software (often abbreviated as FOSS) such as Nucleus CMS. We hope you'll join us in supporting the FOSS movement.

07/04/08 - Printer friendly version
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