The Checker Maven

Marvin Meets Mary

A huge crowd had gathered at Manhattan Square Garden to see the National Checker League match between the Detroit Doublejumpers and the New York Draughtsmen, two of the top teams in the league. The Doublejumpers would be lead as usual by their intrepid captain, Marvin J. Mavin.

Marvin J. Mavin

But what was not so usual is that the Draughtmen would be lead by an incredible young checker prodigy, who had recently burst upon the scene, turning pro at the age of 17 and moving at once to the top ranks: Marvin tonight would face checker sensation Mary Baloner.

Mary Baloner

Marvin was more than a little put out. "A teenage girl for crying out loud!" he muttered, but not very loudly; he had been warned by his management that comments about age or gender were completely out of place, as checkers was a democratic sport open to all based solely on ability. Still, Marvin really, really wanted to win tonight.

"She's not even old enough to drink beer!" he said, but again, not loudly enough to be heard.

And now, there she was, standing opposite him as the last strains of the National Anthem echoed through the arena.

"Hey, Mavstah!" she exclaimed as they took their seats and waited for the arena announcer to introduce the teams and players. "Whaddya think about playin' a itsy-bitsy little girl, huh? Yeah, I know whatcha think. But youse gonna get your---" But before she could describe what was going to happen to Marvin, the announcer introduced them, and then the referee signaled for the games to start.

Mary gave Marvin a wink and a grin and made her first move, and the teams settled down to their play.


After Marvin made this move, Mary looked quite surprised. She looked up at him and said, "Oh, a wise guy, is ya, Mavhstah? A normal playah woulda played 22-18 but you ain't normal, is ya?" And then she laughed and turned her attention back to the checkerboard.

But Marvin thought he knew what he was doing. Despite Mary's superstar status, he knew that she wouldn't have experience in many of the offbeat lines of play, and he thought to get an advantage by taking the game into less familiar territory.

7-23 31-27

"Heh, heh, heh, fancy-schmancy," Mary said. "But I seen it all comin'."


Mary looked up at Marvin once again. "I thought youse was gonna play 29-25, Mahvstah. Whaddya doin, tryin ta confuse me or sumthin? Well it ain't gonna work against Mary Baloner!"

Marvin didn't reply. Was he holding his breath a little, waiting to see how Mary would respond to this move?


Marvin breathed a sigh of relief and spoke for the first time during the game. "Well, little Missy, you may think you are some sort of checker rock star, but this game is mine."

Now it was Mary's turn to be silent, a look of consternation gathering on her face as Marvin made his next move.


White to Play and Win


Can you beat Mary at her own game, so to speak? Do you know what move she should have played to hold the draw? See if you're as good as Marvin; find the winning move, and fix Mary's unfortunate error while you're at it. Then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.

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02/26/11 - Printer friendly version
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Through Thick and Thin

It seems that both our editorial and art departments were working at reduced intellectual capacity when they came up with the theme for this week's column, Through Thick and Thin, relying on an obscure and not all that clever multilingual pun.

Though we'd rather not embarrass ourselves with the explanation, here goes: today's position is attributed to late 19th century checkerist George Dick. Now, in the German language, "dick" means "fat" or alternatively--- you guessed it---- "thick." It gets worse from here: the position below, having only a few pieces and those arrayed on just a few ranks of the checkerboard, is rather "thin" in looks. Thus we have "thick" and "thin" although frankly, we'd rather we didn't.

The job market in Hawaii isn't that great, so we won't fire all the staff and start over. Instead, we'll just "carry on" as usual, as there is some great checker content in today's problem, solution, sample game, and notes; there is even a short historical anecdote which contains a supplemental problem.


White to Play and Win


The obvious question is this: what's here that can give White a win? White can win a man but Black will just get it back a couple of moves later. Yet the win is there, even if by just a "thin" margin. Can you find it, or is the problem a bit too dense (i.e., "thick") to solve?

You're surely a hardy checkerist, looking for the win through thick and thin, so go and find the answer, then click on Read More to settle the score.

My goodness, have we ever outdone ourselves this week.

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02/19/11 - Printer friendly version
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Heffner's Hurricane

There's nothing like a hurricane to show the incredible power of nature, and if you've ever experienced one in person, you'll know exactly what we mean. The howling wind, the lashing rain, and if you're near the ocean, the roaring surf, combine in an incredible and fearsome cacaphony. In fact, this might be something better not experienced in person.

Hurricanes can take place on the checkerboard as well, and while they're destructive and fearsome in their own way, thankfully the only thing damaged is perhaps a player's ego, and even that not for long. Willie Ryan, in his fine book Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard, tells us today about a storm originated in the play of checkerist A. J. Heffner, and quite a tempest it is. Here's Willie to tells us more.

9-14 3-7 11-16
24-20 24-19 18-15
10-15 11-16 14-18
22-18 20-11 15-6
15-22 8-24 18-25
25-9 28-19 26-22
5-14 4-8 25-29
29-25 22-18 21-17
7-10 8-11 9-13
25-22 26-22 19-15---B
6-9 1-5 2-9
27-24 31-26---A 32-27---1

Black to Play and Win


A---"If 32-28 is played, then a draw is established with: 11-15, 18-11, 7-16, 22-17, 9-13, 28-24, 13-22, 24-20, 14-18, 23-27, 2-11, 19-15, 11-18, 20-11, 18-23, 11-7, 12-16, 7-2, 16-20, 2-6, 23-27, 31-24, 20-27, 6-10, 5-9.

B---Appears to win, but loses. The correct play is: 6-1, 7-10, 32-28, 5-9, 1-6, 9-14, 6-15, 14-21, 22-18, 29-25, 18-14, 25-22, 14-10; at this point 13-17* is drawable, but 22-26 allows the hidden win by white with: 28-24*!, 16-20, 30-25*!, 21-30, 23-18, 20-27, 19-16, 12-19, 15-22. I missed this pulverizer against Tom Wiswell in the 1940 New York State Championship Tourney."

1---23-18 appears to be better here, but still loses. As the proverbial exercise for the reader, you might wish to work out this alternative line of play, perhaps with the help of your computer---Ed.

Don't be blown away by this one; find your way through the storm and reach the solution. When you're finished, click on Read More to clear the air.

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02/12/11 - Printer friendly version
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Speedy, Short Month

February, the shortest month of the year, speeds by and gives no quarter. 28 days instead of 30 or 31? Don't tell the bank, who wants the same, full mortgage payment. Likewise, don't complain to the landlord, who will only say: Pay the rent--- all of it---- or else. In this short month, it seems we draw the short straw.

In the same spirit of speed and brevity--- though we'd rather skip the unfriendly, uncaring part--- we offer a speed problem that's certainly not very hard, but may be difficult to analyze quickly enough. We're imposing a 28 second time limit, in honor of the month of February. Probably you'll solve it much more quickly, of course--- or will you?

Click below to reveal the problem and start the clock; then come back and click on Read More to see the solution.

February Speed Problem (easy, 28 seconds)

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02/05/11 - Printer friendly version
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