The Checker Maven

Checkersland

The amusement park in Cedar Point, Ohio, isn't known as Checkersland, though it could well have been so named, instead of bearing the much less orignal title of Cedar Point Amusement Park. We're certain that it's a fine amusement park, though we doubt that it honors the history of Cedar Point as the home of a series of high-level championship checker tournaments some decades back. More's the pity; we could envision some sort of checker-themed roller coaster as a major attraction.

However, there really is a Checkersland; but it's a relatively new checker-playing computer program. In recent years we've come across very few new checker playing programs that were intended to be more than toys, but Checkersland certainly is a serious effort. It plays a very wide variety of checker games, running the gamut from American-British "straight" checkers, to Russian, to pool, and even Turkish and Sri Lankan and many more. The graphics are attractive and there are a number of useful features, such as reading PDN, position set-up, and the like. Best of all: Checkersland is coded in Java and so will run on Windows, Linux, Mac, and in fact on just about any computer that boasts a conformant Java implementation. The Checkersland web site can be found here.


Screenshot from Checkersland

We were more than anxious to try out this latest checker-playing effort, and pleased to see that it featured many levels of play, from "easy" right through "impossible." So we carried out our standard test, playing Checkersland at its highest level, "impossible," against Martin Fierz's Simple Checkers We gave Simple Checkers five seconds per move to match up with the time that Checkersland seemed to take on our laboratory test system, Konanekane, a dual-core 2.5 Ghz machine with 4GB of memory.

To make a long story short, our testing showed that Checkersland is a work in progress, at least with respect to "straight" checkers; even at its "impossible" level, it was handily defeated by Simple Checkers.

You can see the full game in animated form, with brief comments, by clicking here. But first, we'd like to show you a position from the game. Checkersland has just made a weak move, and now Simple Checkers, playing Black, can play a winning line.

WHITE

BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:W32,29,26,25,21,20,18:B12,11,10,9,5,3,1.

Our challenge to you is to find the win for Black. It's certainly not at the "impossible" level, but it does require a bit of thought and follow-through. After you've done the possible, or found it not possible, click on Read More to see one possible winning line, or else go back and view the animation to see the solution in the context of the entire game.

We hope that the Russian author of Checkersland continues to work on his product, as we believe it has a lot of unrealized potential. And, by the way, Cedar Point Amusement Park take note: we'd still like some day to ride on a checker-themed roller coaster.

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01/30/10 - Printer friendly version
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McCullough's Draw

The McCullough Memorial Bridge spans Coos Bay in Oregon, and not surprisingly was called the Coos Bay Bridge when it was completed in 1936. No, it's not a draw bridge; it's what's known as a cantilever bridge. It was renamed some years later, not after checkerist R. McCullough, but instead in honor of the designer, Conde McCullough. We were unable to determine if the latter Mr. Mccullough was a checker player, but we can surely speculate that he might have been.

Today, in our Checker School lesson, we hark back to the days of checkerist McCullough, who is credited with a very practical checker draw (which has little if anything to do with a cantilever). The subject position is shown below.

McCULLOCH'S DRAW
BLACK

WHITE
White to Play and Draw

W:W20,K14,K10:BK26,K19,12,5.

It's another of those situations that the average checker player might write off as a loss, but in which the expert would see drawing possibilities. Can you leverage your skills and find a draw for White? When you've spanned the gap, cross over to the solution by clicking on Read More.

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01/23/10 - Printer friendly version
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Ryan's Bell Ringer

The words "bell ringer" may evoke all sorts of images, from the classic sculpture above, to the chiming of the Liberty Bell, to the exquisite sound of handbells in a church choir. In its simplest form, though, a "bell ringer" is some sort of spectacular or noteworthy positive happening. Bell ringers abound on the checkerboard, and surely one of the most knowledgeable on this topic had to have been Willie Ryan. Today, in an excerpt from his book Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard, Willie shows and tells about a "bell ringer" that is definitely worth our time. Willie tells us about it below, modestly referring to his study as "better than average"!

"Among my collection of checker papers, I came across the better than average example on the Ayrshire Lassie, played out on the next page, which is good enough to inveigle even champion players, as the trap occurs on a line of play favored by the heavyweights.


11-15 5-9 14-18---A, 3
24-20 17-13 32-27
8-11 11-16 9-14---B
28-24 20-11 26-22
3-8 7-23 4-8---C
23-19 27-11 31-26
9-14 8-15 15-19---D
22-17 24-20 forming
the diagram
BLACK

WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W13,20,21,22,25,26,27,29,30:B1,2,6,8,10,12,14,18,19.

A---A weak move. The following play will earn a draw easily: 4-8, 25-22, 15-18, 22-15, 10-19, 29-25, 1-5, 25-22, 14-17, 21-14, 9-25, 30-21, 8-11, 26-22. Wm. F. Ryan.

B---Forced, as 10-14 loses to 26-23, while 1-5 goes down to 20-16, 12-19, 26-23, 19-26, 30-7, 2-11, 21-17, etc., with white winning. Wm. F. Ryan.

C---All that's left. 2-7 allows white to clean up with: 13-9, 6-13, 22-17,13-22, 27-23,18-27, 25-2. Again at C, if 1-5 is played, white rings the bell with this bright play: 1-5, 31-26, 2-7, 26-23, 4-8, 13-9, 6-13, 22-17, 13-22, 21-17, 14-21, 23-14, 10-17, 25-2, 8-11, 29-25, 11-15, 27-23, 5-9, 2-6, 9-14, 6-10, 15-18, 10-15*, 18-27, 20-16, 12-19, 15-31, 14-18, 31-26. Wm. F. Ryan.

D---A promising move that collapses. Black's only line of play for a draw is 2-7*---4, 26-23, 15-19*, 23-16, 12-19, 22-15, 7-11*, 30-26, 11-18, 20-16, 8-12, 16-11, 12-16. Wm. F. Ryan."

3---The computer however thinks this move is a likely draw, although computers don't distinguish the between the practical reality of an easy draw vs. a hard draw---Ed.

4---The computer prefers an alternative drawing line in which Black goes a man down for a little while: 8-11 27-24 18-23 26x19 14-18 22-17 18-23 17-14 10x17 21x14 23-27 19x10 6x15 25-22 27-32 14-10 32-28 10-7 28x19 7-3 19-23 3-8 etc. to a draw. This is a line of play that a human player would be most unlikely to select in the presence of a more straightforward option---Ed.

Can you ring the bell and solve the problem, or will you just hang around ringing the chimes? Let your mouse sound the Read More note to see Willie's solution.

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01/16/10 - Printer friendly version
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The Varsity Team

Tommy was, as usual for a Saturday morning, visiting with Uncle Ben on Uncle Ben's porch. Southern Florida winters are mild, and there were few Saturdays that Tommy and Uncle Ben didn't meet on the porch for Tommy's weekly checker lesson, and a glass or two of Uncle Ben's world famous lemonade--- or at least, Tommy thought it was good enough to be world famous.

Tommy was in great spirits and had just shared some fantastic news with Uncle Ben: a place had opened on the varsity checker team, and Coach Hovmiller had chosen Tommy to fill the position!

"Well, Tommy," Uncle Ben said, "you've worked long and hard for this. I know you were disappointed last year when you didn't quite make varsity, but you did very well as captain of the junior varsity, and I'm sure your coach felt you were ready for the 'big time.' Congratulations, young man!"

Tommy was all smiles--- who would not be? "Thank you, sir," he replied.

"Of course, Tommy, now you'll face some very tough competition. Middle-school varsity checkers in Florida is no piece of cake, no indeed. There are some very strong teams and some very good players, and you'll have to be at the top of your game. Now, you're already a fine player, but you will surely meet up with other boys and girls who are top notch as well. So, each week, we're going to work on problems and positions that are a little harder each time. How do you feel about that?" Of course, Uncle Ben always gave Tommy a little wink when he asked him difficult questions.

"I'm so pleased to have you helping me," Tommy said. "Not everyone is so fortunate as to get private lessons from a famous checker author! So, whatever you say, Uncle Ben, and I'll do my best!" (Ben, naturally, wasn't really Tommy's uncle, but all the young checkerists called him that, just out of courtesy and respect.)

"Then shall we begin?" asked Uncle Ben. "I have a very practical situation set up on the board here ... and of course, there's some lemonade as an aid to thinking!" So saying, he poured out two glasses and handed one to Tommy.

"Thank you Uncle Ben," Tommy said, but his voice drifted as he started to concentrate on the following position.

BLACK

WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK14,K19,21:B12,13,K22.

Several minutes passed and Tommy had gotten through most of his glass of lemonade before he finally said, "Wow, Uncle Ben, that's a tricky one! But here's how I think White can win it ..."

Can you keep up with the newest member of the varsity team? When you've worked out the solution, click on Read More for the solution, a sample game, and numerous additional examples of the winning theme.

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01/09/10 - Printer friendly version
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Happy New Year 2010

Today's publication date is the day after New Year's Day, 2010. The parades and bowl games are over, and if you celebrated a little too enthusiastically on New Year's Eve, you're likely to be fully recovered and ready to face the year.

It sounds to us like a good time to take a moment to contemplate a checker problem. Checkers may not have the external glitz and flash of the Rose Bowl Parade, and there isn't going to be a crowd of thousands in the stands watching the game (that only happens in Marvin J. Mavin's world). But as all avid checker fans know, there is an excitement of a different nature. Today, we present a problem that is tough indeed but guaranteed to be a great and entertaining way to open your checkeristic year.

BLACK

WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W30,28,27,26,22,K1:B21,19,16,15,13,9,2.

It's hard to believe, but even a man down, White can win this position! Experts on both sides of the Atlantic thought it to be no better than a draw for many a year. To borrow from the late Margaret Farrar, this is a two-cups-of-coffee problem, if you can get it at all. But perhaps you can start the year with a bang, who knows until you try? In any case, one thing is this same this year and every year: clicking on Read More will bypass the coffee pot and take you right to the solution.

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01/02/10 - Printer friendly version
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