The Checker Maven

Tommy's Big Match

A Middle School in Central Florida

This story continues a series we began in previous columns:

Tina and Joey

Uncle Ben's Porch: Making Varsity

The final school bell of the day rang and Tommy quickly put his books in his locker and headed for checker team practice. It was Tuesday afternoon and in just a few minutes Tommy would play his big match with Joey Zee. If Tommy could win the match, he'd have a place on his middle school varsity team next year.


Joey was not a nice boy, not in the least, and Tommy expected some sort of tricks or antics from him. But all day yesterday and today Joey had been strangely quiet, just smiling slightly if Tommy happened to look his way during class or pass him in the corridor. Tommy didn't know what to make of it. It was very uncharacteristic of Joey. Ordinarily, Joey might have tried to give Tommy a shove in the hallway or make rude faces and gestures during class. But there had been none of that, just a strange and unanticipated calm.

Maybe things will work out, Tommy thought. Maybe Coach Hovmiller has warned Joey enough times that Joey is watching his step, afraid of being put off the team once and for all. Well, thought Tommy, I'll just follow Uncle Ben's advice. I'll concentrate on each move and make it count. I won't think about anything else except the move I have to make.

He was just a corridor or two away from the practice room when his cell phone vibrated. He pulled it from his pocket. It was Tina calling.

Tina was also a member of the junior varsity checker team. Over the past months, she and Tommy had developed a special sort of friendship, the kind that seventh grade girls and boys often do.

Tommy answered the phone. "Tina, you should be in practice now!" he said.

"Tommy, help me!" Tommy, hearing the panic in her voice, felt a cold lump in his stomach.

"Tina, what's wrong?"

"He locked me in the girls' room and I can't get out!"

"Who? What girls' room?"

"That horrible Joey! I was on my way to practice and he was following me, just like he's been doing all day. I went into the girls' room and waited a few minutes, hoping he would just go on to practice, but when I tried to open the door it was locked! Oh, Tommy, please get me out of here!"

"Which girls' room?" Tommy said.

"The one nearest the practice room!"

"OK, OK, hold on, I'm headed in that direction. I'm almost there. Stay calm."

Tommy turned the corner and the girls' room stood in front of him.

"Hang in there, I need to put the phone down." Tommy put his cell phone on the floor and walked up to the door. He could hear Tina pounding on the door from the other side. Tommy tugged on the door handle but it wouldn't budge. It had been double locked and couldn't be opened from either side.

"I'll have to get the janitor," Tommy said through the door. "Just stay calm."

"Hurry!" said Tina, also through the door, her words muffled by the thick wood. "He's turned off the lights and it's pitch dark and I'm scared!"

"I'll be back with help!" said Tommy, and he ran off down the hall, grabbing his cell phone from the floor.

The janitor was hard to find, and it took Tommy a good fifteen minutes to locate him and explain what had happened. The janitor, a short man with graying hair and a scraggly moustache, looked skeptical but went with Tommy back to the girls' room. He unlocked the door and a sobbing Tina emerged.


"Well, golly gee," the janitor said. "I tink it was dat mean fat kid what done dis, the one allus shneakin' a shmoke. He was hangin' around here. Looked like trouble to me."

"Tommy, your match!" Tina cried.

"Thanks for your help, Mr. Olafsen!" Tommy said, already running down the hall with Tina following.

Mr. Olafsen

"Hey just a minute you kids--- oh, never mind, I gonna find dat fat kid what did it."

Tommy didn't hear the rest of it. He burst into the practice room. Of course, the matches had long since started. And there was Joey, sitting at his checkerboard, with a smug, self-satisfied smirk on his face.

"Why, you---" Tommy shouted.

"QUIET!" Coach Hovmiller's powerful voice silenced Tommy at once. "I won't have a disturbance while games are going on! You are very late, Mr. Tommy Wagner, and you'd better sit down and play at once!"

Joey must have started Tommy's clock right on the dot of three-fifteen, the assigned time for the match. It was now three forty. Twenty-five minutes had already elapsed, and the game time was set at thirty minutes per side.

That meant that Tommy would have just five minutes to make all of his moves in the game, while Joey would have thirty. Joey had a huge advantage, and he knew it.

"You did this on purpose," Tommy hissed as he sat down at the board.

"Better get cracking, goody two-shoes," Joey whispered back. "Spent a little too much time in the restroom with sweetie, did ya!"


Tima was still trying to control her crying, sitting on a bench on one side of the room. It was all too much for Tommy. He just wanted to pummel Joey's face with his fists, even though that would be suicide for his checker career. He was half out of his seat when he saw Tina look over at him and shake her head. Then she started crying again and fled for the door before Coach Hovmiller could scold her.

Tommy took a deep breath and sat back down. Even though the clock was still running. he closed his eyes, shut out Joey's whispered taunts, and took deep, calming breaths. When he opened his eyes again, there were only four minutes left on his clock, but there was a steely look of determination on his face that announced that the game was far from over. Joey stopped whispering and turned his gaze away, obviously frightened. Like most bullies, he was a coward, and whatever he saw in Tommy's face gave him quite a scare.

Joey had Black and had already moved. Tommy made his reply and the game began to play out. Were Joey's hands shaking just a little when he moved his pieces? Perhaps so, but Tommy kept his focus on the board and the position, making his own moves quickly because he had little choice in the matter.

Some time passed. Joey still had 15 minutes left on his clock but Tommy only had two. It was Tommy's move and the position was like this.

White to Play and Win


Joey thought he had an easy draw, maybe even a win if he could get Tommy to let his time run out. But Tommy thought he saw something familiar in the position; all those Saturday mornings spent studying with Uncle Ben had taught him a great deal. In short, he knew he might have a win, but he didn't have much time to figure it out. He'd have to think fast.

Tommy was right, there is a win here for White. Can you find it? We won't insist that you do it in under two minutes, but see if you can find it. Then click Read More to see the solution and the conclusion to our story.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/26/13 - Printer friendly version
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The Frue Vanner Machine


We're going to guess that very few if any of our loyal readers have ever heard of the Vanning  process or the Frue Vanner machine, unless one of you happens to be a miner or mining historian. Vanning is a means of separating ore, and the Frue Vanner machine automates that process. It was invented in 1874 by a Canadian mine superintendent with the unsurprising name of W. B. Frue.

Did Mr. Frue play checkers? Perhaps. But his contemporary, one T. Vanner, certainly did, and is credited with correctly solving today's problem position, which is part of our ongoing Checker School series.


Black to Play and Win


We won't say that this is an especially difficult problem, and mining for the solution will be like we suppose real-life mining to be at times: long and tedious and requiring care and caution. So dig deep for the winning method, and when you've extracted it, shovel your mouse to Read More to see the solution, sample games, and detailed notes.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/19/13 - Printer friendly version
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Sturges Steamroller


You wouldn't want to get in the way of the powerful looking machine shown above; it's something not to be tangled with. But today's entry from Willie Ryan's Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard is both powerful and tangled. It's a complex situation with quite a fine solution. Willie has a lot to say about it; take the time to play through the notes and variations to enhance your understanding and enjoyment of this one. With the help of modern computer analysis, we've added even more notes of our own.

11-15 16-20 8-11
23-18 24-19 29-25---C
8-11 7-16 10-14---2
27-23 22-18 19-15---3
11-16---A 4-8 3-8
18-11 25-22---B 22-17---U.
Black to Play and Win


"At this point, white has fallen into a hoary snare, first shown by Joshua Sturges in 1800, which has been victimizing the innocents since its inception. The diagram shows the position after white's fateful faux pas."

A---With this move, black inaugurates the Slip Cross opening, one-time favorite of go-as-you-please players. Although white seems to have the upper hand on most variations of play, black's winning chances are by no means meager.

B---The only fertile move at this stage. If white takes 31-27, black can force a draw as follows: 31-27, 9-14, 18-9, 5-14, 25-22, 8-11, 28-24, 3-7, 22-18, 1-5, 18-9, 5-14, 26-22, 11-15, 22-17, 7-11*, 29-25, 6-9*, 17-13, 14-18*, 13-6, 2-9, 23-5, 16-23, 27-18, 20-27, 32-23, 15-29. J. Tonar.

C---In recent years, the prescribed move has been worn thin by wide and constant usage, and it is now being replaced by the lesser known 22-17---1, as follows:

22-17 5-14 18-9 2-7---F 23-16
10-14---D 29-25---E 5-14 22-18 12-19
17-10 3-7 26-22 14-17 18-14
6-24 25-22 11-15 21-14 19-23---G,
28-19 7-10 32-28 10-17 ending in a
9-14 22-18 15-24 19-15 draw.
18-9 1-5 28-19 16-19 Frank Dunne.

D---The great Frank Dunne, "King Kong" of yesteryear's draughts scribes, was the first to show play on this reduction, which at once throttles all threats by white. The move most frequently taken here is 9-14, although it is not so good as Dunne's 10-14 trouble eliminator. All the major points of the 9-14 line are outlined in the following play:

9-14 17-14 10-15 21-17 23-30
18-9 10-17 18-14 16-19 32-7;
6-22---H 21-5 15-18*---M 10-7 drawn.
26-17 3-7 14-10 2-11 Wm. F.
5-9---K 29-25 11-15* 27-24 Ryan.
23-18---L 7-10 31-27 20-27
16-23 25-21 12-16* 30-26

E---White does not have any alternative play here worthy of mention. If he tries 26-22, then the countering play will be: 3-7, 29-25, 7-10, 22-18, 1-5, 18-9, 5-14, 25-22, and we are back to Note C, on the seventeenth move.

F---Another way to draw here is by: 20-24, 22-18, 24-28, 18-9, 28-32, 21-17, 32-28, 31-27, 2-7, 9-6, 7-11, 6-2, 11-15, 27-24, 16-20. Wm. F. Ryan.

G---Black has virtually forced the draw all the way from Note D (10-14). This is big league analysis.

H---Black is not really pinched here. The center jump also produces the draw; viz: 5-14, 29-25, 3-7*---I, 25-22, 11-15, 17-13, 15-24, 28-19, 14-17*, 21-14, 10-17, 22-18, 20-24, 18-15, 16-20, 19-16, 12-19, 23-16, 24-27, 32-23, 6-9, 13-6, 1-19. P. H. Ketchum vs. J. H. Scott.

I---A vital point in the defense. If 11-15 is tried, a draw by black is doubtful against the following play: 25-22, 15-24, 28-19, 20-24---J, 19-15, 10-19, 17-10, 6-15, 23-18, 24-27, 32-23.

J---A player by the name of J. S. Heyes attempted to show a draw here by 3-8, 17-13, 8-11, 22-18, 1-5, 18-9, 5-14, 26-22, 20-24, 22-18, 6-9, 13-6, 2-9, 31-26, 24-28, 26-22, 9-13, 18-9, 11-15, 9-6, 15-24; at this point Heyes recommended 23-18, which allows black to draw neatly by 24-27 etc.; but if instead of 23-18, you play 6-2, the win becomes obvious.

K---Several authors have claimed that this move is a losing one; but it may be played to a draw without exertion. At K, black can also draw by 3-7, 17-14 (if 29-25, 5-9, 23-18 are moved, Note D will apply), 10-17, 21-14, 1-6, 29-25, 6-9, 31-27, 9-18, 23-14, 16-23, 27-18, 11-16, 25-22, 20-24, 28-19, 16-23, 14-9, 5-14, 18-9, 7-11, 22-17, 11-15, 17-13, 15-19, 9-6, 2-9, 13-6, 12-16. A. E. Greenwood.

L---If 29-25 is played, then the draw comes about with: 9-14, 17-13, 3-7, 13-9, 11-15, 25-22, 15-24, 28-19, 7-11, 22-18, 20-24, 9-5, 16-20, 18-9, 24-27, 31-24, 20-27, 23-18, 27-31, 21-17, 11-16, 18-15, 16-23, 15-6, 1-10, 5-1, 10-15. Wm. F. Ryan.

M---The only move to draw. 11-16 loses and sets up a fine problem study by Champion John T. Bradford, American member of the 1927 International Checker Team. We illustrate the position (after 11-16) with a diagram on the next page---**."

U---The loser."

1---The computer, by a very slim margin, seems to still prefer 29-25, but Willie is talking about practical over-the-board play and not deep computer analysis---Ed.

2---The computer shows that Black has gone seriously astray here; 3-8 would have been correct---Ed.

3---31-27 was best to retain White's lead. This allows Black to get back in the game, but it took some extensive computer analysis to come up with this conclusion---Ed.

**---This will be the subject of next month's installment---Ed.

Willie made a couple of errors here, but it's hard to fault him. As the notes show, this particular run-up illustrates the difference between practical play over the board and detailed and often arcane computer analysis. In the end, checkers is intended for humans! In any case, can you find the win? Can you correct the play at Note U and find the drawing line?

Don't let our double challenge steamroller you. Solve the problem and then roll your mouse over to Read More to see the solutions.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/12/13 - Printer friendly version
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The Post-Holiday Blahs


The holidays have speeded by and North America is in the depth of winter. Even here in Waikiki, temperatures drop at night and sometimes get as low as 60F (no, we don't expect much sympathy).

Don't get the post-holiday blahs. Tackling a checkers speed problem will keep the blues away. And to ensure that the desired effect is achieved, we're putting forth a very easy problem. So easy, in fact, that we think you can solve it in a couple of seconds. But, generous as we always are, we'll give you extra time--- a full five seconds, in fact!

Click on the link below to show the problem and start the clock. Think fast!

January 2013 Speed Problem (very easy, 5 seconds)

When you're done, come back and click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/05/13 - Printer friendly version
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