The Checker Maven

Uncle Ben's Porch: Making Varsity


Tommy had a very important match coming up. There was one spot left on the varsity checker team for the coming school year; Tommy, as Captain of the junior varsity, had a shot at it.

Coach Hovmiller tried to be fair about these things. He set up a series of test matches and promoted the players who had the best scores combined with the best attributes such as team play, sportsmanship, and so on. Tommy ranked well in all of the latter factors, but he was having a run of bad luck with the test matches.


It wasn't that Tommy was a poor player; he was one of the best. But he'd blundered in one game and had a loss of confidence, quickly losing two more. Coach Hovmiller knew that Tommy was better than that, but he wouldn't bend his own rules. Fair is fair, and Tommy had to win the next match to gain a varsity position.


The trouble was, the match was with Joey Zee, and Joey was not a very nice boy (see previous Checker Maven column). Joey was almost dropped from the team by the Coach several times during the year for his bad behavior. He had no chance at a varsity position, but Tommy still had to play him to complete the round-robin competition, and Joey would like nothing better than to knock Tommy out of the running. Joey was always calling Tommy "goody two-shoes." Worse, Joey wouldn't leave teammate Tina Tooner alone, and Tommy and Tina had recently become friends in the way that a young boy and a young girl will do.

Joey was insanely jeaous, and Tommy had no idea what he might do. Joey was known to cheat when he could get away with it, and was the author of no end of dirty tricks and mean stunts.


Tommy was on Uncle Ben's porch, as was common most Saturday mornings. Uncle Ben, a retired master player, had some years ago taken Tommy under his wing and given him weekly lessons, always accompanied by a pitcher of his delicious lemonade. He wasn't really Tommy's uncle, of course, but Tommy called him that out of respect.

Tommy and Uncle Ben had developed a very close and open relationship. Tommy often sought the old gent's advice, and this was one of those times. He had just finished explaining to Uncle Ben his loss of self-confidence and his intimidation at having to play Joey Zee on Tuesday afternoon at after-school team practice.

"Everyone loses some games," Uncle Ben explained. "The old saying is that if you don't want to lose then don't play."

"I know, Uncle Ben, but I was doing so well ... "

"Tommy, a checker rating or a won and lost record only tells someone how well you've played in the past. It can't say for sure how well you'll play in the future. Do you know the difference between a great player and an average player?" Uncle Ben asked.

"Skill?" Tommy replied.

"Well, yes, of course, but there's something really fundamental. A great player learns from his losses, takes them in stride, and takes on the next game with confidence. A lesser player isn't able to do that. And Tommy, you're not a lesser player. You have the potential to possibly even rise to the professional ranks some day."

Uncle Ben wasn't liberal with compliments of this type; he didn't want his students to become overconfident or even arrogant. But this was the time to give Tommy's ego a little boost, and in any case, Uncle Ben knew that what he said was true, or he never would have said it.

"Really, Uncle Ben?"

"Yes, Tommy. Now, the problem you're having is that you're thinking too much about that varsity position, instead of thinking about each game and each move as it takes place. If you'll concentrate on trying to make the best move every time, and nothing else, you'll pull out of your slump before you can say 'Jack Robinson'."

"That makes sense, Uncle Ben. I'll do the best I can. But what about Joey? He's so mean and I don't know what he might do."

"Well, Tommy, you can't control that. But you don't have to let it get the better of you, either. Concentrate on playing your game. If Joey acts up, stop the clock and call for the Coach. Stop Joey dead in his tracks. And by all means remain a good sport yourself. Don't retaliate, don't do mean or foolish things yourself. Just play your game and make sure Joey knows that he can't bully you or get away with anything."

"Thanks, Uncle Ben," said Tommy. "That's great advice."


Uncle Ben was pouring lemonade and had turned to the checkerboard on the table in front of them. He passed a tall, frosty glass to Tommy and said, "Now try this one, and work on keeping your focus."

Black to Play and Draw


Tommy sat at the board for the full five minutes that Uncle Ben usually allowed him to solve a problem. "Here it is, Uncle Ben!" Tommy announced, and proceeded to demonstrate the solution.

Would you make the Varsity Team? Show the right stuff by solving the problem (lemonade is optional but highly recommended). When you're done, click on Read More to see the solution, a sample game, and a dozen more examples of this theme.20050904-symbol.gif

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08/25/12 - Printer friendly version
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An Historical Game


In today's entry in our Checker School series, drawn from Ben Boland's celebrated Famous Positions in the Game of Checkers, Mr. Boland is unusually laconic and we had to spend a few minutes divining the reason he titled the study below "An Historical Game." You'll understand it better after you try the problem and then view the solution and notes.

J. A. Finn
Black Plays; White Draws


Forces are even (Black is about to get a second king), but in checkers we know that's only half the story. Black has superior mobility and that often means victory. It looks like White is going to have an historic struggle here just to pull out a draw.

Can you make personal history by solving the problem, or will you just be history? It's not something to become "historical" over; give it your best try and then click on Read More to see the solution and all the trimmings.20050904-symbol.gif

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08/18/12 - Printer friendly version
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Now You Dunne It


We think the poor fellow in the cartoon above is going to be in a lot of trouble in very short order. We only hope that he can somehow win the situation, but that's going to be quite a challenge.

Another kind of win that's a real challenge occurs in our game of checkers (although we'll bet it's easier than the situation depicted in the cartoon). It's known as Dunne's Win and it will be explained to us by Willie Ryan, as we quote from his classic Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard.

"Similar to the difficult George Dick Gambit, the ever practical Dunne's Win is a delicately balanced positional win that white is required to engineer by precise play.

Here's the run-up: 9-14, 22-17, 11-16, 25-22, 8-11, 22-18, 16-20, 18-9, 5-14, 29-25, 4-8---A, and we have the position depicted on the diagram, known as 'Dunne's Win.'

White to Play and Win


A---Black's position is hopeless after this move, with 22 pieces still on the board. The correct procedure is 11-15*, 25-22, 7-11*; now either 17-13 or 24-19 taxes black. For continuation, see Reisman's Pioneer Book, the leading authority on this formation."

Can you do this problem, or will you get Dunne on? When you Dunne done it, click on Read More to see the solution and notes.20050904-symbol.gif

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08/11/12 - Printer friendly version
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Fast Relief


At the time of writing, much of the United States mainland was suffering from unseasonable heat, and the hottest month of the year, August, still lays ahead. We can only hope that our mainland friends get some fast relief.

Fast relief is also the subject of this month's speed problem. As you'll see when you click on the link below, with correct play Black can win quickly and head off to a refreshing shower or a tall, cool beverage ... if the right moves are made. We rate this problem as "easy to medium" and we'll give you a generous 15 seconds to find the win and earn your reward. When you've solved it, come back here and click on Read More to check your solution.

August Speed Problem (easy to medium, 15 seconds)


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08/04/12 - Printer friendly version
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