The Checker Maven

JR Smith Visits Hawai`i Nei

Your editor and J.R. Smith
with Princess Ka`iulani

Last year we had the great pleasure of meeting the well-known and highly respected North Carolina checkerist and checker correspondent J.R. Smith, when he and his family spent a few days in Hawai`i Nei.


We all had breakfast at Keoni's in Waikiki, where we asked J.R. if we could write a column about him; he graciously agreed. Here's J.R.'s story, told in his own words.

"I grew up on a farm in a rural community called Porter in Stanley County, NC.  I was the 4th child of five brothers and five sisters. We all played checkers as kids and especially on winter weekends. One of my earliest memories was helping my older sister, Nina make a checker board and pieces.  She mostly did it while I helped a little.

She cut the squares out on a wide pine board with a pocket knife and the pieces were sawed from an old broken broom handle.  We smutted the grooves on the board and the dark squares & pieces from the fireplace.  We were acting on stories we heard about our Grandpa Smith who ran a saw mill and made his own checkerboard.

There was a country store about two miles from our home to which we would walk or ride double on a bicycle and watch older folks play in the back around the stove.  When I was in FFA (Future Farmers of America) I won the checker championship twice in a row.  This was a summer camp program offered through our school system.  We would save our money so we could go each summer to White Lake, NC.  This was one of many events during that week of camp.

I also remember buying my first checker book in the book store at NC State College, Raleigh, NC while participation in our FFA judging contests as: Seed, Weed, & Tool Contest;  Land Judging;  Cattle, Poultry, Swing, & Dairy, etc. The State Finals were held at NC State College.

It wasn’t until 1997 that I knew anything about organized checkers.  I read in the Greensboro News & Record about a National Checker Tournament being held at Howard Johnson Inn – South, in Greensboro, NC.  I visited the tournament which was August 11th - 15th and I met Merle Vaughan, Bill Stanley, and Clint Pickard.  Merle Vaughan actually invited me to play a few practice games with him.  This was my first experience with professional checkers, and I learned about North Carolina Checker Association and the America Checker Federation.

I later attended some local and state tournaments with Bill McClintock.

At the NC State Open Tournament in July 1999 at the Best Western-Cary Inn & Suites, Cary, NC  I joined NCCA as a life-time member by persuasion from Cecil Lowe and Clint Pickard.

Les Balderson, ACF President worked closely with NC and us. We held five Nationals in Sanford and Greensboro, NC.  I recall Les was big on promoting Life-Time ACF memberships which I bought mine in 2000. We strive to keep District 4 healthy for the Carolinas, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, and Georgia.  NCCA also took a special interest in promoting 11-Man Ballot Checkers, originally because Elbert Lowder loved this style of play and other District 4 players picked up interest and respect for the depth it adds to our wonderful mind sport.  I feel the same things about checkers that fascinated and entertained our forefathers still exist today.  The game is so simple a child can play it and yet no one has mastered it. 

I suppose I got bit by the checker bug while mingling with the key individuals like Clint Pickard, Cecil Lowe, Raleigh Johnson, Bill McClintock, Elbert Lowder, and John Webster who supported and help organize North Carolina checkers. They started our trust fund which helps support our tournaments and preserve NC Checkers. 

I feel it’s important and I enjoy helping to continue our NC checker legacy.  The grand old game is a hobby, a mind sport with beauty and complexity sometimes missed by today’s general public because of the relative simplicity of the rules of checkers as compared to chess. The game is worthy of our attention and preservation.

In 2005 I was elected Secretary and Bill McClintock as Treasurer of NCCA, approved by the Executive Committee.  Clint Pickard held the Treasurer’s position and Elbert Lowder was Secretary who both wanting to transfer their duties to younger members.

Cecil Lowe, NCCA President and Clint Pickard were great mentors; I feel I got excellent guidance and counsel from both.

We started our NCCA website in 2004, I originally wanted to do something like Eric Strange did with ICF but at the time I didn’t have the where-with-all, resources, or game database.  We decided to stick with a checker calendar for upcoming tournaments and events, report results, and have picture of players and the events.  We want to promote checkers, and keep everyone informed."

J.R. continues:

"There are no short cuts to obtaining Master Skill.  It takes a good memory and many hours of study, practice, and playing.  This means you use books or the internet to download study games, positions, and problems.  I like Strange’s ICF site, ACF, Newell’s Checker Maven, Al Lyman’s Checkerworld,  Kacher’s  Library, and Jim Loy’s site (which is down now) to do this.  You need to play as much as possible with a better player who will help you or play in an internet game room like Play-OK.

Checker programs like Checkerboard with Cake or Kingrow and WCC are great tools to improve your game.

I know what I should do to get better but haven’t dedicated the time or discipline to do it.  I also like reading checker history and reading about yesterday’s greats which brings me to Jay Hinnershitz’s OMOCH site.  Roberto Waldteufel also has an excellent site.

I think it is important to have a local checker club or regularly scheduled gathering to keep up the interest and recruit new player from public exposure and activities.  We have weekly meetings every Tuesday. We play checkers in a supportive environment to improve knowledge and skill as well as fun and friendship.

I will close my checker story with mentioning my concern about our obligation to promote our great game.  We desperately need to set up checker clubs and tournaments in public and private middle schools. We must grow checkers from the ground up by getting youth playing checkers.  These programs must be coordinated with the school system and Principal.  It will take everyone in your checker club to share the load and duties to establish and supervise study sessions and nurture an after school checker program."

We asked J.R. for a game or a line of play that he found interesting. He mentioned several but this one turned out to be fascinating.

"One of my pet or favorite games is one I borrowed from Jerry Lattimer from Waverly, NY.  He was a Champion Mail player and had a nice checker site but it close in 2002 like so many others have over the years. The game is a variation of Old Fourteenth as 11-15, 23-19, 8-11, 22-17, 4-8 forms the Old Fourteenth but White elects to continue 25-22, leaving the trunk line with this variation 9-14, 17-13."

At this point J.R. mentions that 14-18 has up to now been considered a loss, and indeed it is inferior to 14-17, which still leaves White with a bit of an edge but much less of one.

We give the whole run-up here.

1. 11-15 23-19
2. 8-11 22-17
3. 4-8 25-22
4. 9-14

9-13 or 15-18 give equality. The text move sends Black down a hard road.

4. ... 17-13
5. 14-18

14-17, as we noted, would have been better. We now have the problem position.

White to Play and Win


Demonstrating the win takes some time and effort. J.R. can do it; can you? It's not so easy, but one thing's for sure: clicking on Read More will show you how it's done.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/30/16 - Printer friendly version
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M. January


Yes, it's janvier, meaning "January" in French, and Janvier happens to be the name of the old-time American checker player and writer, J.D. Janvier, to whom today's study in our Checker School series is attributed.

White to Play and Win


Black has the early king. Still, White is about to go a piece up, but Black will quickly even the count. How can White win? This problem is rather easier than most of our Checker School studies, but it's interesting nonetheless. Trouvez la solution and then click on Read More to verify your answer, read the explanatory notes, and play through a sample game.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/23/16 - Printer friendly version
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21st Century Checkers, the 12-16s


Today we present the seventh and final volume of Grandmaster Richard Pask's 21st Century Checkers, comprising the 12-16 ballots. 21st Century Checkers will surely be the definitive reference for many years to come, and The Checker Maven is proud and privileged to be able to offer Mr. Pask's work, absolutely free for the taking thanks to Mr. Pask's boundless generosity to the checker-playing community.

Looking forward, Mr. Pask contemplates an "omnibus" which will be comprised of all seven parts in a single book, to be entitled Complete Checkers; it will be available most likely later on in 2016 as a free downloadable electronic version. We are also contemplating a printed edition, which of course cannot be free, but will be offered on a non-profit basis, with all proceeds above costs being donated to support youth checkers.

Meanwhile, volume seven can be downloaded here or from the "Richard Pask" page linked in the column on the right. And to get you started, here's a fascinating position taken from the book. The run-up is as follows:

1. 12-16 22-17
2. 16-20 17-13
3. 11-15 25-22
4. 8-11 24-19
5. 15x24 28x19
6. 11-15 19-16
7. 4-8 29-25
8. 8-12 22-17
9. 12x19 23x16
10. 15-19 25-22

We have now reached {v14, #2096 in the book}

11. 9-14 27-23

A losing move. Detailed computer analysis shows 30-25 to be a narrow (and very hard to find) draw, but can you find the Black win here?

Black to Play and Win


This problem is certainly in the grandmaster category. But we urge you to try it anyhow. Doing the analysis will surely develop your skills, and when you click on Read More and view the solution, you'll learn something no matter what your current skill level. Advanced problems are a great challenge for top players and a source of inspiration and education for the rest of us.

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01/16/16 - Printer friendly version
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The Lindyville Checker Club, Part 5


Saturday morning dawned sunny and cold. It was the kind of morning made for staying in bed late and snuggling under warm blankets.

But at about 8 AM Andrew was out of bed, nudging Samantha. "Come on, sleepyhead, there's a busy day ahead! I want to get to Lindyville when the library opens at ten!

Andrew figured Lindyville to be about an hour's drive, given the likely snow-packed condition of the two-lane road that lead there from Lake City.


"Look, I know you're tired out from yesterday's excitement ..."

He ducked the pillow that Samantha threw at him, but didn't see the second one coming, and it hit him square in the face.

"Excitement," Samantha muttered, throwing the covers aside and getting out of the bed. "Dusty basement records rooms and a drive through town highlighted by a tour of the Lake City Sausage Factory. Even your old checker magazines would top that."

"Glad to hear you're showing an interest," Andrew said, rubbing his face. "Waffle House for breakfast?"

"Like there's a choice?" Samantha went into the bathroom and closed the door.


They arrived at the Lindyville Library at about 11 o'clock. "Let me handle this," Samantha said. "You haven't done very well with Miss Victor so far, and she doesn't know me."

"Okay," Andrew said. "I want to see if I can find the site of the old checker club, so I'll just pick you up here in about an hour."

Samantha got out of the rental car and waved as Andrew drove off. Then she turned and faced the Library entrance.

The building was a lot larger than she had expected. Lindyville's population was under two hundred but this looked like a decent-sized library and it was in a rather new-looking building on a generously sized lot.

Samantha pulled open the glass door and entered. The interior was divided into three rooms, two of them quite large, all of them lined with bookshelves around the walls and tables and chairs in the middle.

To her left was what was obviously the checkout and reference desk. And Samantha had no trouble at all recognizing Miss Victor, who was favoring her with a cold glare.

"Haven't seen you here before," Miss Victor said. She was exactly what Samantha had expected: a rather large middle-aged woman with florid features and dark hair pulled back into an untidy bun. Her voice was low and rough. Definitely a smoker, as Andrew had pointed out.

"I'm not from around here," Samantha said.

"Don't have to tell me that," Miss Victor said.

"I ... I'm just visiting."

"Don't get many visitors in Lindyville. None of them come to the Library, either."

"Well, let me be the first!" Samantha said, affecting a bright tone.

It didn't work.


"Must be here for a reason," Miss Victor said. "You didn't just sort of end up here."

It's time to take this on, Samantha thought. She walked over to the desk and faced Miss Victor.

"Yes, I'm here for a reason," Samantha said. "I came here with Professor Lopez from the University of New Mexico."

Miss Victor's eyes flicked. "Him," she said. "He doesn't listen very well."

"That's as may be, Miss Victor," Samantha said. "But we're doing research, and I would think that as the town's librarian, you'd want to be helpful. Now, surely you know something about the old Lindyville Checker Club. What can you tell me?"

"Nothing. Can't tell you nothing ... er, anything."

"Surely you've heard of it? Surely you know about the murder?"

"That's an old, old story, long done and gone. What are you, one of them ... er... those ... big city troublemakers, trying to make our town look bad? People don't care for that, you know. Outsiders stirring things up, I mean."

There was an awkward silence. "Well, if you can't help me," Samantha finally said, "do you at least have a reference section? You know, someplace where I can do a little research?"


"Library's full of books," Miss Victor said.

"I meant, you know, the history of Lindyville ..."

"Look around. You're bound to find something. Now if you'll excuse me I have work to do." Miss Victor looked down and started turning the pages of a copy of Vogue.

"I thought your job was ... never mind." Samantha walked off toward the bookshelves.

History is bound to be here somewhere, Samantha thought. I wonder what call number is for local history? No use asking the librarian, that's for sure.

Samantha somehow found herself looking at 790s bookcase. 794.1, books on chess ... 794.2 ... checkers! Maybe there would be something here. Let's see ... Lee's Guide ... Churchill's Compilation ... Checker Magic. The books all looked pretty old and worn, and nothing about a Lindyville Checker Club.

She absently pulled a book from the shelf and leafed through the pages. She replaced it and pulled out another. As she did so, a tattered photocopy fell to the floor. Samantha bent down and picked it up.

It was just a handful of pages stapled together. The title was typewritten. Cudworth's Problem Book, by Bill Cudworth. There was a typewritten note on the cover as well. "Replacement of Lost Original from Lindyville Checker Club".


Had Samantha hit the jackpot? That librarian had to have known about this. Why didn't she say anything? Samantha was starting to get suspicious.

She stole a glance at the checkout desk. Miss Victor was deep in her "work." With a quick motion, Samantha folded the photocopy in half and stuffed it into her purse. Then she replaced the book she had pulled out, and strode nonchalantly toward the exit, keeping her purse on the side of her body away from Miss Victor.

"I'll be leaving now," she said brightly. "Thank you for all your help."

Miss Victor looked up briefly. "Don't like troublemakers," she said to Samantha's back.

About fifteen minutes passed, when, all of a sudden, an expression of horror came over Miss Victor's face. Moving very quickly for someone of her girth, she got out of her chair and sped across the room to the third aisle from the end, reaching the 794.2 section in seconds. She pulled a book from the shelf and flipped through the pages.

"It's gone!" she exclaimed. "How could I forget about the copy!" She ran toward the exit. "That little thief ..."

The bright sunlight struck her eyes as she pushed the door open and looked up and down the road, but Samantha was nowhere to be seen.


Today's problem can be solved in two different ways. Perhaps you can find them both, but give yourself full credit for finding either one. This is a classic endgame, one that it would do you well to know how to win.

White to Play, Black to Win


See if you can win it, then click on Read More to see the solutions.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/09/16 - Printer friendly version
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Happy New Year 2016


This column will appear on January 2, 2016. You've had Friday off from work, most likely, and you've hopefully shaken off any New Year's Eve excesses, had your fill of football games, and are ready to settle down to a little checkers to get the new year rolling.

Today we present a full game based on the Single Corner opening. It comes from master play from an earlier day. There are two parts to our checker problem. First, here's the whole game, without commentary.

11-15 22-18 15x22 25x18 12-16 29-25 9-13 25-22 16-20 24-19 8-11 19-16 4-8 16-12 11-16 18-14 10x17 21x14 6-10 22-17 13x22 26x17 8-11 30-25 11-15 23-19 15x24 28x19 16x23 27x18 1-6 25-21 10-15 18x11 7x16 31-27 16-19 32-28 2-7

White to Play, Black Wins


When originally published, this was correctly left as a Black win (with White to play). Now, the first part of our problem is to demonstrate the win. If you're any sort of advanced player, you'll be able to do this easily enough. If you're a non-expert, it's an excellent exercise in winning a won game.

The second part of the problem is much harder. Can you go back into the game and find out where White went wrong? Again, experts will realize quickly that this line in the Single Corner is not so common. But there's one move that can definitely be said to lose. Can you correct the play?

You'll need to get out your board for this one; we recommend that instead of a computer, as we don't want you to be tempted to simply look at computer analysis.

Will this start the year off right? Only you can say. See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solutions.20050904-symbol.gif

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