The Checker Maven

Uncle Ben's Porch: Back To School

When we last visited with Tommy on Uncle Ben's Porch, he was getting ready for the Varsity Checker Team tryouts, and even though he was quite young, was hopeful of winning a Varsity berth. Now, the new school year has started, and the tryouts were over. We rejoin Tommy on the first Saturday morning after the opening of school.

A very sad Tommy was sitting on Uncle Ben's porch this Saturday morning. "I didn't make it, Uncle Ben," he said in an almost despairing voice. "I didn't make the Varsity Checker Team. I got all the way through the tryouts and I was all set to make the final cut. Then Coach Hovmiller tested us on problems ... and ... and ..."

Tommy just couldn't continue.

"Let me guess, Tommy," said Uncle Ben in a kindly manner. You were able to solve the first few, but then you missed one that the coach thought a Varsity candidate should have solved."

Tommy was silent for a moment and then blurted out, "But I got the rest of them right! It isn't fair!"

"Fair, Tommy?" answered Uncle Ben. "How can it be unfair? All the students at the tryout had the same opportunity to solve the problem that you did."

"Only two boys and one girl got it right," said Tommy, "and they're a year older and...."

"And they got the Varsity slots," concluded Uncle Ben. "As is right and fair. But let's not cry over spilt milk! Next year you'll be a year older yourself, and you'll almost certainly make the Varsity. Meanwhile, this year, do your best on Junior Varsity. No doubt you'll be the top player and get selected Captain! But show me the problem that troubled you."

Tommy arranged the pieces on the board. "It's Black to win," he stated, "and I looked at it for a while and had an idea."


Black to Play and Win


"I thought 12-16 was the winning move, Uncle Ben, but then Coach Hovmiller played 27-24. I played 13-17 to prevent 26-22, meaning to follow-up with 10-15."

"Yes, Tommy," replied Uncle Ben, "but what was wrong with that idea?"

"Well, Coach Hovmiller played 24-19, squeezing my man on 16, and then I saw that 10-15 was impossible now! So I failed, Uncle Ben... I failed!" Tommy concluded, practically on the verge of tears.

Uncle Ben knew it was time to pour the lemonade. He waited while Tommy took a few comforting sips, and then said, "You didn't fail, Tommy, you just made a simple mistake while under pressure. Players both average and great have done that. And if you are honest with yourself, you'll know it means you need another year of play to really be ready for Varsity on a team as good as the one that plays for your school."

"Yes, sir, I know that," admitted Tommy at last, "but I do hope you aren't disappointed with me, and will still keep me on as your student."

"Oh, Tommy," cried Uncle Ben, "never fear! You are a talented youngster and I'm proud to have you as my student. Now, let's have another look at that position, and let's have you master it once and for all!"

Was that the trace of a smile starting to appear on Tommy's face? "You bet, Uncle Ben!" he said with genuine enthusiasm, and the two of them, the young student and the old master, bent over the board to study in earnest.

Would you have passed Coach Hovmiller's final test? Try out the problem for yourself, and then click on Read More for the solution, a sample game, and numerous additional examples of the same theme.

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08/30/08 - Printer friendly version
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Some Good Exercise

We all know that exercise is good for us, but that few of us do enough of it. What is true for the body, of course, is true for the mind, and today we challenge you to do some checker exercise. (We're tempted to call it "checkersize" but perhaps that's just a little over the edge.)

First take a look at the position below; it's one of those odd "White to Play, Black to Win" sort of things.


White to Play, Black to Win


What do you make of this? The exercise we invite you to try is to think about the possible White moves, Black replies, and ensuing lines of play. What gives White the best chances? How are those chances foiled by Black? Spend a little time on this and stretch your checker muscles; your technique and skill is bound to benefit. Then exercise your mouse finger by clicking on Read More to see our idea of the solution.

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08/23/08 - Printer friendly version
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The Paisley Pickle Barrel

With this entry in our very popular Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard reprint series, we're in a bit of a pickle ourselves, as the unthinkable has happened: from our computer analysis of the position presented by checker legend Willie Ryan, we've found that Mr. Ryan seems to have made a most untypical error. So our "pickle" is this: do we publish the correction, or simply give Mr. Ryan's position and analysis as originally published?

In the end, we decided to print the new analysis, as we're certain that Mr. Ryan would have always preferred to see the best moves brought forward.

So, first we'll listen to Willie explain the situation. Then, we'll see his analysis followed by what the computer has to say.

"On my road travels around the country, I am frequently asked, 'Mr. Ryan, with what particular play do you win most frequently in your exhibitions?' There is no doubt that my No. 1 haymaker is a nondescript concoction, which I have tabbed the Paisley Pickle Barrel, because I have pickled more plebes with it than you can shake a stick at. This is it: 11-16, 24-19, 8-11, 22-18, 10-14, 25-22, 16-20, 29-25---A and we reach the fateful fix shown on the diagram.


Black to Play and Win(?)


A---Natural, but probably a loss. 22-17 results in a draw, and so does 19-15, 4-8, 22-17, etc."

What do you make of this particular pickle? Think it over --- it's anything but easy --- and then click on Read More for some deep and fascinating insights.

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08/16/08 - Printer friendly version
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A Small Problem

In the winter scene depicted above, it seems that the owner of the car has "a small problem" to deal with. And, while the solution to such a problem is straightforward, the amount of effort involved looks to be considerable.

Checker problems, though, follow different definitions. "Small" checker problems generally deal with relatively few pieces; in today's offering, drawn from our Checker School series, there are but three pieces per side. The solution to "small" checker problems is not always, or even often, straightforward; and the amount of effort needed to find the solution is at times substantial.

Here's the situation we ask you to consider.

D.G. McElvie

White to Play and Win


White is certainly better off, but is it enough to win? That's your little problem! Dig your way out and then click on Read More to see the solution, notes, and a sample game.

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08/09/08 - Printer friendly version
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Marvin's World

Marvin J. Mavin
Captain, Detroit Doublejumpers

The world of Marvin J. Mavin is featured often in the columns of The Checker Maven, and today, in this extra edition, we're providing you with all the details. How did it happen that (at least in Marvin's world) checkers became America's number one sport, eclipsing baseball and football by large margins?

At long last, you can read the full background story. Click on the link to find out about Marvin's World.

08/03/08 - Printer friendly version
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An August Stroke

Early August certainly is thunderstorm season in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area, where one of our Checker Maven editorial offices is located, and strokes of the electrical variety are very common. But today we return to a different kind of stroke, that of the checker variety, and a complex problem that will either please or annoy depending on your skills and predilections. Here's the situation; you will need excellent visualization skills and a good imagination to sight-solve this one.


White to Play and Win


No doubt you will get a charge out of the solution, if you don't actually find it shocking; but we can, as always, state that it is safe to click on Read More to see the electrifying solution.

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08/02/08 - Printer friendly version
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