The Checker Maven

Happy Birthday America


You probably won't be surprised to hear that in The Checker Maven offices, old-time radio shows are popular; but like checkers, their heyday ended with the widespread availability of television programming in the early 1950s. But that really isn't our point today.

In those old radio shows, patriotism was in. Love of country was not only accepted, it was the norm, the expectation, the duty of all. And so as we come up on the Fourth of July, America's birthday, we have to ask: What's happened to us? Why has patriotism today become something that needs an explanation, even an excuse? Why is patriotism seemingly out?

We refuse to buy into that.

We refuse to disparage and apologize for our great nation, as regrettably even some of our top leaders have felt it acceptable to do.


We are patriots and proud of it.

We invite our many US readers to join us in celebrating the wonderful holiday of Fourth of July by affirming the greatness of America and the greatness of her people.

As always, our column recognizes the day with a problem by Tommy Wiswell, a man who served the nation in both war and peace, and arguably America's greatest checker problemist.

White to Play and Draw


This is one of Mr. Wiswell's few composed stroke problems, and it is a fine and pleasing offering. Can you work it out? To verify your solution, click on Read More.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/29/13 - Printer friendly version
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A Checker Wedding


It was Byron and Yvette's wedding day; they had waited the requisite year after their engagement and were anxious to finally be married. And so, on a beautiful summer day, they took their vows in a beautiful new church in downtown Denver.

A large tent had been set up on the lawn across from the church. The wedding reception would take place there. Many guests were in attendance from both families, some of them having traveled substantial distances.

One of the guests who had made such a long journey was Yvette's Uncle Harvey.

Now, as you will know if you've read our story about Yvette and Byron's engagement, Uncle Harvey was, well--- a little rigid in his ways. He was an expert checker player the author of a little instructional booklet called "Our Boys at Home." The booklet recommended checkers as the pastime of choice for young men (certainly not young ladies, who ought to be knitting or cooking), steering them away from all sorts of evil things, like going to baseball games or being out after dark.

Uncle Harvey, you may recall, felt that young women could determine if young men were suitable to "embark upon the sea of matrimony" by testing their character via games of checkers. (Uncle Harvey didn't explain how the young ladies could do this if they were knitting or cooking instead of playing checkers.)

Yvette did test Byron with a checker problem, but it was a test of character, not of checker knowledge, and Byron passed easily.

This did not satisify Uncle Harvey, and he told Yvette as much in every letter he wrote to his seemingly errant niece.

"Marry him if you must," he had said upon greeting her last week when he arrived at the Denver train depot, "but if the boy can't even play checkers properly, he's probably doing all sorts of bad things."


In fact, Byron worked very hard at his father's buggy business, although it must be said that he did at times go out at night and was quite guilty of playing baseball on some weekends.

But Yvette and Byron's happiness couldn't be diminished by Uncle Harvey's dissatisfaction; after all, he /did/ condescend to attend the wedding, coming all the way from Chicago to do so.

Everything was fine until the newlyweds, making their rounds at the reception, came to Uncle Harvey's table, where he was sitting with his wife, Mrs. Hopkins, and some other Chicago-area relatives.

"Congratulations, you two," he said. "It may not be a union that I would bless myself, but nonetheless I wish you well, even if the odds are not in your favor."

"Why Uncle Harvey, whatever do you mean?" Yvette exclaimed.

"You know what I mean, niece," Uncle Harvey said. "The young man was not tested properly. In a true trial, he would undoubtedly have failed."

"Uncle Harvey, Yvette did offer me a trial by checkers, and I passed the trial," objected Byron. He was starting to fidget a little. Yvette squeezed his arm as a sort of warning: best not to dispute with her Uncle.

"You did no such thing!" Uncle Harvey said. "Please do not claim a victory that you did not earn. My niece explained to me the circumstances of the trial, and you most certainly did not solve the problem she set before you. And pray do not ascribe failure to solve..."

"... to an error in the setting." Byron concluded the sentence for him. "I /have/ read that booklet of yours, you know."

Yvette glared at Byron, but it was too late.

"Is that how you speak to your elders and betters?" cried Uncle Harvey. "You, who play at baseball and are not home some nights, dare to mock my work and make light of the sound principles expounded within it?"

Byron waited for him to comment about children today having no respect. He didn't have to wait long.

"No respect, none at all, the younger generation is morally bankrupt, and no wonder, what with baseball games being played at night under electric lights and other such societal corruption!"

Yvette's fingers were digging into Byron's ribs, warning him again to back off before an irremediable breach occurred. Byron realized that he had best heed her warning, and attempted to become conciliatory.

"Uncle Harvey, perhaps you could teach me a bit about checkers so that you may become convinced of my worth and sincerity in becoming a member of your family. I did not intend to malign your excellent booklet and apologize to you."

In uttering these words, Byron did his best in managing not to look ill.

Uncle Harvey glowered, but he stopped his tirade. "Harrumph," he said, "maybe there is hope for you after all." He paused for a moment. "Well, then, I propose we contest a game of checkers straight away so that I can at least get a preliminary sense of your depth of character."

"Right now, Uncle?" Yvette said. "But we must visit with our guests...."

"Won't take long, my dear," Uncle Harvey said. "Your young man will be quickly defeated, I am certain. Then you may return to your visiting. Ten minutes should suffice. Allow your Uncle this small satisfaction, and allow your new husband the chance to show what stuff he's made from."

Yvette noticed that Uncle Harvey had a little trouble saying "husband" in reference to Byron. Oh well, let him have his wish. It was her duty as a niece.

"All right, Uncle," she said. "I have no doubt you will quickly prevail."

To no one's surprise, Uncle Harvey just happened to have a checker set handy. He quickly set up the board and pieces on the table and bade Byron to sit opposite him.


Now, Byron and Yvette shared a little secret. Byron, in an attempt to improve his mind, had been faithfully attending the local checker club ever since his engagement to Yvette. For the past year, he had played and studied checkers with a level of dedication and commitment that surprised himself as much as anyone else. The players at the club had remarked at his enormous progress over the course of the year.

Yvette had wanted to tell Uncle Harvey about this, but Byron had begged her not to, saying that he wanted to be accepted on his own merits, and not just because he had a newly found interest in checkers.

This game with Uncle Harvey was definitely going to be interesting.

Uncle Harvey took the Blacks and made the first move.

1. 9-13

"There," he said, "I have deliberately chosen the weakest opening move in order to give you more opportunity."

1. ... 24-19
2. 6-9 28-24
3. 11-15 22-17
4. 13-22 25-11
5. 8-15 21-17
6. 9-14 17-13
7. 4-8 29-25
8. 8-11 25-21
9. 5-9

"Why Uncle," said Byron, "should you not have instead played 15-18? Is 5-9 not a bit unusual?"

Uncle Harvey gave Byron a "how would you know" look but said nothing.

9. ... 13-6
10. 2-9 26-22
11. 1-5

"Oh, Uncle," Byron said, "surely you did that on purpose to find out if I can win the game, for your move most definitely loses. Would not 9-13 have been the proper play?"

Uncle Harvey harrumphed, not once but twice. "What are you saying, boy? I have made a fine move. Fine move, I say."

By now the game had drawn quite a few bystanders and observers, several of them keen checker players in their own right. Several whispered side conversations were going on.


Byron's time at the checker club and with his checker books had not been for naught. He had a win on the board, and he knew it.

White to Play and Win


Byron seems pretty confident. Can you find the win that he sees here? When you've solved the problem, click on Read More for the solution and the conclusion to our story.20050904-symbol.gif

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King Me: Review and Commentary


King Me, a film from Think Media Studios of Cleveland, mirrors its subject. Like checkers, the film is filled with subtlety and punctuated with explosive moments.

Checkers is no simple game, and King Me is no simple movie. Humorous and serious, compelling and moving, writer/director Geoff Yaw has made a work of significance out of a game that few adults ever think is more than something for kids or old folks.

After watching King Me you'll never think about checkers the same way again. You'll experience a story about hope, courage, triumph and loss. It's Rocky and Cinderella and maybe even a little Chariots of Fire.


On one level, the movie tells the story of Lubabalo Kondlo, a black man from an impoverished South African township. Kondlo plays checkers at the grandmaster level, but due to disputes with white-dominated Mind Sports South Africa (MSSA), the national governing body for games such as checkers, he was blocked from competition on the international level.

Is the leader of MSSA racist? Or did Kondlo flout MSSA's rules? King Me strives to present a balanced picture, and herein lies one of the movie's subtle touches: you'll draw your own inevitable conclusions, but you'll draw them from the facts, not from a skewed or agenda-driven presentation.

Alan Millhone, President of the American Checker Federation, managed to pull international strings, line up sponsors, and break through bureaucratic roadblocks. Kondlo came to America to compete, and ere long he was the challenger for the world championship of what's known as "Go As You Please" (GAYP) checkers. This is the version of checkers that we all grew up with.


Enter Ron "Suki" King, reigning GAYP champion since the 1990s, a superstar in his home, the island nation of Barbados. King's personality looms large on camera; he's flamboyant and more than a little egotistical. But he's also very, very good. Challenger Kondlo was facing an uphill battle.

It's the classical underdog vs. establishment scenario. Kondlo is poor, short on resources, and struggling. King enjoys tremendous support from both government and business in Barbados. He's wealthy and confident.

Director Yaw makes real drama out of the 24 game King vs. Kondlo match. Can checkers keep you on the edge of your seat? You bet it can, and the emotional content in the match sequences is high. You'll find yourself cheering for the challenger, and you'll share his feelings when the match is ended.


Yaw and crew traveled to both South Africa and Barbados to film on location. The poverty of the South African townships and the lingering after-effects of apartheid come through all too clearly. The contrast with the sequences shot in Barbados is another of the film's subtleties. Barbados is hardly a wealthy place but Yaw captures the differences in a way that you can't help but notice.

There's a lot of color content about checkers, of course. Many of the "big names" in American checkers appear in the movie, although unfortunately a number of them aren't identified by name. Yaw portrays them as a largely eccentric lot. While there is certainly truth in this characterization, it seems overemphasized. Checker players, unlike chess players, tend to be of the man-in-the-street variety.

If you're a checker fan, King Me is an obvious must-see. If you know a little about checkers and want to learn what it's all about at the uppermost levels of play, watch this movie. Even if you're not especially interested in the game, but you enjoy real-life drama and are moved by the heights to which the human spirit can soar, there is much here for you.

Geoff Yaw has done extraordinary and unexpected things with King Me. A documentary about checkers? You're going to be amazed.


King Me can be rented or purchased from Amazon, iTunes, and VUDU.

Stills from King Me are used with the kind permission of Geoff Yaw and Think Media Studios. This review originally appeared on Mr. Victor Niederhoffer's Daily Speculations website.

Here is a problem situation from game 24 of the King-Kondlo match, as seen in King Me.

BLACK (Kondlo)
WHITE (King>
White to Play and Win


Click on Read More to see the run-up and solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/15/13 - Printer friendly version
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"Whitney" is a common surname and a not-uncommon first name in the English speaking world. There are the famous Pratt and Whitney aircraft engines, for one thing. There is also J.C. Whitney Auto Parts, an old and famous institution still very active today.

Something else that is old and famous, and active today for sure, is our game of checkers. This month's problem in our Checker School series is attributed to a different Whitney--- one G. Whitney, to be exact. While analyzing Mr. Whitney's position, we turned up something new and interesting, and so we've modified things a little.

Black to Play and Win


Black definitely has a win here. In the problem as originally published, Black missed the win and after Black's errant move, the terms of the problem became "White to Play and Draw." In the solution section, we'll show you the original situation, but for now we're asking you to find the Black win. It's sort of like original auto parts and modified high-performance parts.

When you've found the winning line of play, rev your mouse on Read More to see the run-up to this position and how Black can get it right--- or get it wrong.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/08/13 - Printer friendly version
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June Speed Problem


For better or worse, the Supersonic Transport, or SST, is long gone, and there has never been a commercial replacement.

Now, we won't say that this month's speed problem requires the faster than sound swiftness of the SST. Not quite, that is. But the problem is easy enough that we're not about to let you dawdle at propeller driven speeds, either. We think ten seconds is a very generous time allotment, and that's what we're offering.

When you're ready, click on the link below to show the problem and start the timer. When you're done, come back here and click Read More to verify your solution.

June Speed Problem Easy, 10 seconds


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06/01/13 - Printer friendly version
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