The Checker Maven

Happy Holidays to All

During the winter holiday period, The Checker Maven closes its offices for a week or two, and staff spend time with their families. But that doesn't mean that checkers go off the agenda. Not at all! It's our wont to publish an interesting and entertaining checker problem or two, so our loyal readers can have a little extra checker enjoyment during this festive time of year. And when we look for a special checker problem, we inevitably turn to the master himself, Tom Wiswell; and what better choice than a problem he calls New Year's Resolution. Here's the position.


Black to Play, What Result?


The position comes from a game in a New Year's Day tournament played in New York some decades back. As a holiday present, we'll give you a large hint: Mr. Wiswell, playing Black, won this game.

We would not say that this position is particularly easy, and in fact, it may use up a certain number of your holiday leisure hours. So please enjoy, but don't neglect your family time! When you've found your solution, click on Read More to see the full game, Mr. Wiswell's winning play, and KingsRow's computer analysis.

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12/27/08 - Printer friendly version
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Shearer's Cleaver

This week we return to our popular series taken from Willie Ryan's Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard, a true all-time classic of checker literature. We feature a setting called Shearer's Cleaver in which Willie shows us how, after a misstep by the Black side, White mercilessly chops him down. Let's let Willie narrate the tale.

"The masters often get into spirited controversies over who was first to show a particular line of play or shot. This Bristol Cross trap is a case in point. D. G. McKelvie, of London, England, claimed he was first to show it, but H. F. Shearer, of Scotland, published it first in 1892 and received credit for it. If an analyst has in mind a certain new play or analysis, but does not publish it, he has no legal claim of authorship or priority to it. It has been demonstrated time and again that champions often independently discover the same play and 'cooks,' but wishing to use these discoveries in future matches and tournaments, they keep their play under cover. More than one champion has yelled 'foul' when another has published a play or received credit for an analysis that he thought nobody else knew!

This is the way you start:

11-16 7-10 5-14
23-18 22-17 29-25
16-20 9-13 3- 7
24-19 27-23---A 31-27
10-14 13-22 7-11---B.
18-15 25- 9 See the

White to Play and Win


A---An alternate trap can be set here by 26-22. Now 5-9, 30-26, 2-7, 27-23, 7-11, 32-27, etc., will end in a draw; but if after 26-22 at A, black replies with 2-7, white explodes with: 19-16, 12-19, 27-24, 20-27, 32-16, 10-19, 17-10, 7-14, 22-17, 13-22, 25-2, and white wins. H. F. Shearer.

B---Starts the stroke. Black's only draw move is: 1-5*, 25-22, 20-24*, 27-20, 7-11, 22-17 (not 22-18, 6-9, 15-6, 11-16, 20-11, 8-31, black wins), 11-27, 32-23, 6-9, 17-13, 10-15, 19-10, 14-17, 13-6, 2-9, 21-14, 9-27. D. G. McKelvie vs. James Searight."

Can you find the winning method, or will this problem take a slice out of you? Take a cut at it, and when you've hacked out the answer, click on Read More for the sharp and incisive solution.

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12/20/08 - Printer friendly version
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Always Drink Water

The primary offices of The Checker Maven are, as we've noted from time to time, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the American Southwest. Santa Fe can be described as "high desert" as it lies over 7,000 feet above sea level and the climate is rather dry. It's a place where the altitude and the dryness combine to make dehydration a real issue. Tourists often complain of headaches, not realizing that they need to drink a lot of water to replace water loss silently taking place at a rate to which they are not accustomed.

Today, in our monthly Checker School column, we are asking you to "drink water" in a different manner. The topic of our lesson is Drinkwater's Draw, attributed unsurprisingly to old-time checkerist F. W. Drinkwater. It's another of those eminently practical maneuvers that will save you many a game--- if you know how. Here's the basic position.


White to Play and Draw


Black is clearly in the lead here, having a King and two men to White's three men, and one of the White men is under attack. Would you be able to save this one?

Give it a try, but if it's too much to swallow, click on Read More to drink in the solution, a sample game, and copious notes.

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12/13/08 - Printer friendly version
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We're Now Four Years Old

This week the Checker Maven completes four years of on-time regular weekly publication, with not a single missed edition. It's yet another waypoint we never knew we'd reach, but it's a certainty that our unprecedented success is owed completely to our thousands of regular weekly readers.

While no one can say what the future will bring, it's our intention to keep on publishing for as long as we're able, and, if all goes as planned, you'll find a new edition of the Checker Maven online for your checker pleasure every Saturday morning for many years to come. Thank you one and all for your support and encouragement.

And now, in celebration, we present below a new short story starring a new character: Benny, of Newark, New Jersey, way back in the 1940s. We hope you enjoy today's checker tale.

12/06/08 - Printer friendly version
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An Afternoon at Benny's: Newark, 1946

Mid-afternoon on a weekday was usually quiet at Benny's Bar, a long, lazy lull when lunch was over and the factories had not yet let out the crowds of workers seeking a beer or two before taking the streetcar home.

The atomic bombs had fallen on Japan last year; the war was over and times were good in Newark, as the economy returned to a peacetime footing. Though Benny was getting older, and feeling it more each day, he enjoyed running his bar, conversing with his customers, and keeping the place tidy; but above all, Benny enjoyed his checkers. Through the hard times of the '30s, the even darker years of the war, and now into a new era of peace and prosperity, Benny would take on anyone, sitting at his corner table and putting as much as five or ten dollars on the line, winner take all.

Benny sipped his Ballantine's, idly moving the checkers around the board, waiting, as he often did at this time of day, for a customer to come in, and not being in a particular rush for that to happen. He was thinking about an endgame study he had seen in the Roseville Citizen, trying to absorb the play, when the front door of the bar opened and in came a dapper, 40-ish man, dressed neatly in a suit, sporting a trim moustache and slicked-back hair.

“I'm looking for a beer,” the man called. “Anyone here?”

“Back here,” replied Benny from the corner. “You like a Ballantine's on draught? I'll get it for you.”

“Sure, a Ballie's is fine,” said the man, glancing back into the corner from which Benny's voice emanated. “So you're the barkeep...” and just then the man noticed the checkerboard on Benny's table.

“You play?” the man asked Benny. “I'm here in Newark for a few days, and we're between rounds over at the ...”

“I play a little,” Benny replied as he made his way behind the bar and drew a glass of beer from the row of taps along the top of the bar. It was Benny's usual come-on. “Care for a quick game while you drink your beer?”

“Well, sure,” the man replied, “but you ought to know...”

“Couple of bucks on the game?” Benny interrupted. “Just to give things a little more life; this afternoon's been pretty quiet.”

“Well, like I was saying,” the man resumed, “you really should know that....”

“OK, maybe five bucks then? You look like a real sport!”

The man seemed a bit annoyed at Benny's interruptions, and his face took on rather a different look. “How about a sawbuck?” he said in a determined voice. “That would sure liven things up for you if you're bored.”

Benny didn't hesitate. He never did. “Ten bucks it is!” he said. “Come on over to the table. Tell you what. It's nearly an hour 'til the factories let out their first shift and it starts to fill up in here. I'm a sport, too. You go ahead and take the blacks first, and we can play until someone wins.”

“That might not be so long,” the man mumbled, more or less to himself, as he took the glass of beer from Benny and went over to the checkerboard, where Benny joined him after refilling his own glass.

“Ah, the Roseville Citizen,” the man said, noticing Benny's newspaper. “You know I do some writing myself...”

“Yeah,” said Benny, getting impatient to start play, “I'm sure you send a lot of postcards, but how about let's play our game now.”

The man squared his shoulders and simply said, “I tried to warn you; now, have it your way.” And with that, he made his first move and the game began.

There was no further discussion as play went on, the two of them alternately making a move on the board and taking sips of beer from their glasses. Benny was taking his time on each move; his opponent was playing a sharp game, well above the level of play Benny usually encountered. He was secretly wondering if he had made a mistake in taking on this evidently skilled stranger.

The stranger, on the other hand, showed visible impatience, making his own moves rather quickly and with seemingly minimal reflection, as if Benny wasn't a player who needed to be taken very seriously.

The game went on for a good fifty minutes, when Annie, Benny's portly wife and a second bartender during busy hours, came through the back door. “Hey Benny, where are ya?” she said in a loud voice. “We'll be getting busy around here in a few ...”

“Ssh! Quiet hon, I'm in the middle of a tough one here,” Benny said in a vexed tone. “Let us be!” A cross look came over Annie, then she just shrugged her shoulders, put on her apron, and went behind the bar. A couple of factory workers had already made their appearance, expecting to be served their Ballantine's and Shaefer's.

The contestants exchanged a few more moves. Factory workers continued to stream in and some of them started to watch the game. There was surprisingly little banter; somehow, they sensed from Benny that he had a real contest on his hands and didn't want any disturbance or interruption. The stranger made another move. Benny looked at the board, then looked again, a puzzled expression on his face. Some few minutes passed. The dapper, suited man, growing more and more impatient, growled in exasperation, “Will you play already! I haven't got all....”

The man fell silent. He too stared intently at the board, his countenance changing by degrees from unsure to grim. Finally, Benny looked up from the board and said, “You're good, mister, real good, but you shoulda been more careful.” Then, with a surprisingly firm hand, Benny made his move.


White to Play and Win


For the conclusion of our story, the solution to the problem, and story credits, please click on Read More.

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12/06/08 - Printer friendly version
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