The Checker Maven

A Thanksgiving Feast

We've often said in these columns that Thanksgiving is far and away our favorite holiday. It's distinctly American (and we're unabashed patriots), non-sectarian in celebration (even if not in origin), and a wonderful family event which we greatly enjoy each year.

As a special Thanksgiving treat to accompany your turkey and pumpkin pie, here's a checker problem that we found to be fascinating, in that it has two solutions: one very ordinary and prosaic, and one surprising and snappy. Take a look if you will:


White to Play and Win

White is a man up and ought to win, but can you find the way that gets you to that second slice of pumpkin pie the fastest? Feast on our problem for a while, then click on Read More for your dessert, in the form of the surprising solution.

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11/29/08 - Printer friendly version
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Tommy Meets Marvin

It was a Saturday morning in the Florida fall, and as was usually the case, Tommy had rushed over to Uncle Ben's porch for his weekly checker lesson. Of course as you know by now, Uncle Ben wasn't really his uncle, but calling the kindly old gentleman "Uncle Ben" just seemed like the right sort of thing to do.

"So, Tommy, you must tell me all about it!" exclaimed Uncle Ben from his comfortable seat on the porch's outdoor sofa.

Tommy Wagner

Tommy couldn't wait to tell Uncle Ben his news--- Tommy had met professional checker star Marvin J. Mavin in person, and had played against him in a simultaneous exhibition at Tommy's grade school!

Marvin J. Mavin, as our regular readers are aware, is the team captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers, in the American Conference of the National Checker League. Marvin is well-known for his work in schools with the up-and-coming checkerists of the next generation. Marvin is also known as being, shall we say, somewhat of a character.

"Yes, Uncle Ben, I got to play in the simul against Marvin!" said Tommy excitedly. "First he gave a lecture to all the students and then workshops for our teams and ..."

"Whoa, slow down a bit, Tommy!" asked Uncle Ben. "That's rather a lot at once! Tell me first, what kind of impression did Marvin make on you?"

Marvin J. Mavin

"Well," replied Tommy, "he knew everything about checkers and there wasn't any question he couldn't answer! I'd sure like to be a great checker player like Marvin some day, although...." Here Tommy hesitated a little.

"Go on, Tommy," urged Uncle Ben.

"It's just that his hair looked like he ought to maybe, you know, wash it? And he did kind of smell a little like beer..."

"Ah yes," said Uncle Ben, "in my own professional playing days, we took a little more care with our image and the impression we made. Marvin is a fine checker player, but you'd be best advised not to imitate some of his, shall we say, less desirable characteristics. But enough of that; it's great that you got to play in the simul, so tell me about it."

"I got to play because I'm Captain of the Junior Varsity this year," said Tommy, "and that gave me a table at the simul. Would you care to go over the game with me?"

"Of course, Tommy," said Uncle Ben. "I imagine Marvin won? It would be tough even to get a draw against a seasoned professional."

"He did win," said Tommy, "and I don't feel bad about that at all. I was just happy to have a chance to play. Still, at one point I thought I might have gotten a draw. Here's how the game went."

11-15, 22-18, 15-22, 25-18, 12-16, 29-25, 9-13, 26-22, 16-20, 24-19, 5-9, 21-17, 8-12, 25-21, 4-8, 30-26, 1-5, 28-24, 8-11, 32-28, 11-16, 19-15, 10-19, 24-15, 16-19, 23-16, 12-19, 27-24, 20-27, 31-24, 7-10, 17-14, 10-17, 21-14, 2-7, 15-11, 7-16, 24-15, 3-7, 26-23, 16-20, 23-19, 20-24, 15-10, 6-15, 19-3, 24-27, 14-10, 9-14, 18-9, 5-14 (diagram)

"Look at this, Uncle Ben!" Tommy went on. "I had lost a man, but I thought that it still wasn't so easy for Mr. Mavin to win. But he played this great series of moves..."


White to Play and Win


"That's what makes him a top player," said Uncle Ben, "not missing an opportunity to bring home the win. But this is a familiar theme that is worthy of further study. Do you know where you went wrong, and do you understand now how Marvin was able to win?"

"Yes, sir, I do," said Tommy. "I know which was my losing move, and here's how Mr. Mavin got the win."

Are you as good as Marvin J. Mavin, and can you find the winning moves in the position shown below? Can you find and correct Tommy's losing move?

Give it some study, and when you've come up with your answer, click on Read More for the solution, a large selection of additional examples of this theme, and the conclusion to this week's story.

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11/22/08 - Printer friendly version
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Workman's Whizzbang

The workman shown above has a real whizzbang of a job ahead of him in restoring what's left of that automobile; but in this month's installment from Wille Ryan's Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard, we'll look at a whizzbang of a much different kind, attributed to a checker workman eponymously named Workman. Willie will tell us all about it.

"Take a really good look at this classic crossboard skirmish between Champion Herman L. Rudolph, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and E. E. Workman (former champion of Virginia), of Washington, D. C. It was played at the 1948 Cedar Point (Ohio) Master's Tourney, and shows how the benign gentleman from Virginia unexpectedly floored hard-hitting Herman with a bristling double-action flourish. Play:

10-15 22-18---A 11-15---B
24-20 15-22 20-16
15-19 25-18 8-12
23-16 8-11 30-26---4
12-19 17-13 6-10---D
27-24 3-8 27-23
7-10 26-22 1-6---E
24-15 9-14 29-25
10-19 18-9 14-17---F,
21-17 5-14 forming the
11-15 32-27---2 diagram.

White to Play and Win


A---A distinctive departure from all orthodox play---1, but quite sound.

B---Splendidly played by black to here. The following is much stronger, but results in a draw only: 11-16, 20-11, 8-15, 29-25, 4-8, 27-24*, 1-5---C, 25-21, 14-18, 22-17, 18-22, 17-14*, 6-9, 13-6, 2-18, 21-17, 19-23, 24-19, 15-24, 28-19, etc. Wm. F. Ryan.

C---If 8-11 is moved, 22-18 will produce a draw at once; if 6-10 is used, then 25-21, 2-6, 22-17, 8-12, 30-25, will do it easily---3.

D---Against 14-17, white replies 27-24, 6-10* (17-21, 16-11, 21-25---5, 11-8, 4-11, 22-18, and white wins) and 13-9 catches the draw easily. If instead of 13-9 white takes the shot by 22-18, black scores this brilliant win based on a problem gem by Dr. Brown: 22-18, 15-22, 24-6, 12-19, 31-27!, 22-31, 27-24, 1-10, 24-6, 2-9, 13-6, 17-21*, 28-24, 4-8*, 24-20, 8-12*, 6-2, 31-26, 2-6, 26-22, 6-10, 22-18, 10-6, 18-15, 6-9, 15-11, 9-14, 12-16, 14-18, 16-19, 18-22, 19-23*, 22-18, 23-27, 18-23, 27-32, 23-19, 32-28*, 19-16, 11-15*, 16-12, 28-24, 12-16, 15-18*, 16-12, 24-19, 20-16, 18-14, 16-11, 14-10, 11-8, 10-7, 8-4, 7-3, 4-8, 19-15. The play in this note proves that there are losing shots as well as winning ones.

E---Against 14-17, white must play carefully to draw: 14-17, 23-18, 17-21,18-11, 21-25, 31-27*, 25-30 (nothing better)---6, 26-23, 19-26, 27-24, etc.

F---Asleep at the switch! Seemingly deceived by the blase appearance of the situation, Rudolph innocently walks into Workman's deadly trap. Of course, 14-18---7, 23-7, 2-20, 25-21, 6-10, would have nailed a draw."

1---32-27 is a good move here; with the text move, Black starts to get a small edge---Ed.

2---At this point, KingsRow thinks Black has a recognizable advantage, though certainly short of winning---Ed.

3---KingsRow actually prefers a move Willie didn't give, 8-12, in this position, for instance 8-12 25-21 14-18 22-17 19-23 24-20 18-22 17-14 22-25 21-17 25-29 and Black probably should be able to win---Ed.

4---16-11 would have been a likely draw here according to KingsRow---Ed.

5---Here 16-11 would be better but still is a probable loss----Ed.

6---Actually KingsRows finds 1-6 to be substantially better and likely winning! For instance, one continuation is 1-6 17-22 25-30 26-22 30-25 22-18 25-22 18-14 19-23 14-7 23-32 7-3 12-19 17-14 22-18 14-9 18-14 9-5 14-10 29-25 6-9 13-6 10-1 25-22 19-23 3-7 23-26 7-10 32-27 10-14 27-23 28-24 26-31 22-17 31-27 24-20 23-19 14-10 27-23 and the man on 11 can't be saved; Black Wins---Ed.

7---2-7 also draws according to KingsRow---Ed.

Can you, in a workman-like fashion, reproduce the win that Mr. Workman found here? Do your work, and then make easy work of it by clicking on Read More to see how a real crafstman does it.

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11/15/08 - Printer friendly version
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The Passing of a Legend

The Checker Maven notes with great sadness the passing of legendary checkerist Richard L. Fortman, on November 8, 2008, in Springfield, Illinois, at the age of 93. Though we never met Mr. Fortman in person, we exchanged emails with him at times, and he honored us a few years back by permitting us to publish his latest Switcher analysis in our columns.

Mr. Fortman might well have been the last of the great men of the heyday of checkers. As those days have passed, so too have its champions. Mr. Fortman was a master player, analyst, and writer; but above all he was a gentleman and the best of ambassadors for our game. A man such as Mr. Fortman cannot be replaced. A page has been turned in the history book of checkers, never to be turned back again.

11/11/08 - Printer friendly version
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Review Your Work

Music teachers point out the classic wisdom that one's technique in playing a musical instrument either improves or falls back; it never stays constant. We know this to be true as well of our skills in many human endeavors, be it business, the arts, or our game of checkers. Constant practice and study are required if we are to maintain our technique, let alone move it forward.

Today's lesson in our Checker School series provides us with an important opportunity to review our work. The position shown below should be familiar to most checkerists, and certainly so to regular readers of our weekly columns. We've seen this before, and more than once.


White to Play and Win


If you don't recall how to win this one, now's the time to brush up and review the method, as it's an eminently practical example, sure to arise in your own play. Think back and see if you can solve it; then click on Read More for the solution, notes, and sample games.

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11/08/08 - Printer friendly version
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A Rush of Cold Air

In our main location here in North America, it's the time of year for those first gusts of really cold air, telling us that we've turned the corner towards winter, and we'll be spending more time indoors in front of the checkerboard. This month, to warm your interest, we have a speed problem that is instructive, interesting, and not all that hard--- if you don't get blown in the wrong direction.

We'll give you twenty seconds to gust through it and find the answer. To begin, just click on the link below to display the problem and start our cold-hearted Javascript clock.

November Speed Problem (fairly easy)

Got it? Click on Read More to breeze over to the solution.

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11/01/08 - Printer friendly version
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