The Checker Maven

Four Kings


Marvin J. Mavin was in Pelham, Alabama, on the occasion of the Alabama State Fair, where he had just given a simultaneous exhibition. As Captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers, a very strong team in the National Checker League, Marvin was in great demand.

Marvin J. Mavin

The previous evening, the Doublejumpers had played a team exhibition against the Birmingham Crimson Cross, a leading team in the Triple-A Southern League, and while the Doublejumpers took the match by a score of 8-2, the hometown crowd enjoyed every minute of it.

Tonight, Marvin's simul had gone well. Out of fifty boards, Marvin won 46 and drew 4 against mostly amateur league opponents. But, like all such exhibitions, it was hard work, and Marvin was ready to relax.

Priscilla K. Snelson

His long-time girlfriend, Priscilla Snelson, had a rare few days off from her corner-office executive job at a major company, and had joined Marvin in Pelham. She was eager to explore the sights and attractions of the State Fair, and while Marvin was more interested in finding a cold pitcher of beer, he did as Priscilla wished.


It was after they had gone on a couple of rides and eaten some cotton candy that Priscilla noticed a drab tent marked Fortune Teller.

"Don't you think that's odd, Marvin?" she said, pointing to the tent. "The sign is hand-lettered and kind of crude and the tent has certainly seen better days. Seems like a strange way to attract clients."


Marvin, who had spied the Bama Beer Garden a little ways further down the path, mumbled something and tried to lead Priscilla in that direction. But she pulled back a little and said, smiling, "Marvin, let's get our fortunes told!"

Marvin sighed. "Aw, you don't believe in that stuff, Prissy. C'mon, let's go ..."

"Of course I don't believe in it. But it's just for fun. Marvin, do this for me, would you?"

There was no resisting. Priscilla was charming and she had her ways. "Okay, Prissy," he said, "but can we make it fast? I'd kinda like to ..."

Priscilla smiled again. "Okay, Marvey, I know you want a beer. We'll just get a quick reading."

"Aw, don't call me Marvey, willya?"

"Then don't call me Prissy." She grabbed Marvin's hand and pulled him toward the tent.


When the couple opened the flap and stepped inside, they were greeted by a dimly lit interior, with a dirt floor covered only by a cheap rug that looked as if it hadn't been cleaned since it left the factory. At the back of the tent, behind a card table, sat a large woman of something beyond middle age, dressed in a colorful robe and wearing a tired-looking turban that might have once been white. And was that a whiskey bottle that the woman was trying to surreptitiously hide behind her seat?

"Welcome, welcome," the woman said in the crackly, low voice of a heavy smoker. "What brings you here?"

"Pretty obvious, don't ya think?" Marvin said.

"Marvin! Be polite!" Priscilla hissed. "We'd like our fortunes told," she said to the woman. "Maybe just the short version."

"Fortunes ... oh, yeah, sure ... just a minute." The woman appeared to take a moment to compose herself, and then began, "Step into my realm, a place of light and darkness, in which all things can be seen by those with the power to discern events that are yet to come. Sit thee down and listen, and I shall tell thee many secrets." She made a flowery gesture toward two metal chairs by the card table.

"Corny, if you ask me," Marvin whispered, rather loudly.

"Stop it!" Priscilla commanded as she and Marvin took the proffered seats.

"How much?" Marvin asked bluntly, but the woman ignored him.


Closing her eyes and making circles over the card table with her hands, she said, "Ah, I see much to come for the two of you. You shall go through trials but you shall survive them." She made more circles. "But just barely." She glanced quickly at Priscilla's left hand. "You shall marry, but it will not be until the sun and the moon grant their blessings. Let me see your palms," she said.

Priscilla extended her right hand, and with her left hand, pulled Marvin's own right hand forward.

The woman used a forefinger to trace patterns in Marvin's hand.

"Hey, that tickles!" he said, laughing.

"I see you are a checker player," she said.

"How did you ... oh ... the brochure." Marvin's photo had appeared in the State Fair brochure, advertising his exhibition.

"You travel much," the woman said, and then noticing Priscilla's quick glance at Marvin, "and so do you," she went on, now looking at Priscilla.

"Oh, cut the baloney," Marvin said. He pushed back his chair and sat up.

The expression on the woman's face changed. "Baloney, huh," she said, the tone of mystery now completely gone from her voice. "Listen boy, this is what I do for a living, just like you play checkers. But if you want to be rude I'll teach you a little respect."

"Whaddya mean?" Marvin said.

"Yeah, you need a lesson, and I've got a checker problem that I betcha you can't solve."

"What? I'm a champion player, and anyhow what do you know about checkers?"

"I know I got one that you can't figure. This ain't no coffee and cake deal. Now put up or shut up. A hundred bucks says you can't get it."

"Hah!" Marvin said. "Five hundred, then!"


"Marvin, what are you doing!" Priscilla said. She was still seated and turned to the woman. "I'm sorry. We should be going. What do we owe you?"

"Forget it, lady," the woman said. "I'm taking that bet from your boy here. Five hundred it is."

Priscilla stood. "Marvin, you're a top flight professional. You can't take her money like this. It's not fair."

"Butt out! This is between me and your high-falutin' checker player!" the woman said.

"Whatever!" Priscilla forcefully said. "Marvin, if you won't come along with me this instant, I'm leaving on my own."

"Honey ... "

"Don't honey me!" Priscilla turned on her heel and strode out of the tent, letting the flap fall behind her.

The woman pulled a checkerboard and a box of pieces from somewhere off to the side. Quickly she set up a position.

White to Play and Win


"There you are, smart guy. I'll give you, oh, eight minutes instead of just five."

"You're on," Marvin said. He sat back down and started to study the board. After a few seconds, he said, "Black to play and win, right?"

The woman smirked. "White to play and win," she replied.

"Nah ... Black has four kings against none! You sure you set this up right?"


"White to play and win. Eight minutes for five hundred bucks. And the clock is ticking. Want a shot?" She started laughing, a strange deep sound that gave Marvin the shivers. "This kind of shot," she said, pulling the whiskey bottle from behind her chair.

"You ain't got a beer, do ya?" Marvin asked, but there was no reply. The woman took a swig from the whiskey bottle and watched as Marvin slowly began to sweat.

Would you bet five hundred US dollars on your ability to find a White win in just eight minutes? Do you agree with Marvin that the terms of the problem must be incorrect? Better stay away from anything stronger than coffee while you work this one out. When you're ready you can click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.null

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03/30/19 - Printer friendly version
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Italy's Mount Vesuvius, an active volcano, has a storied history; the painting above illustrates its eruption in the year 79 C.E., a catastrophic event that obliterated the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The painting is by Jacob Philipp Hackert and dates to 1845; in 2009, it sold at auction for a rather steep 138,000 Euros.

Now, in checkers, there is the famous (or maybe not so famous) Vesuvius Shot, which "buries" 14 pieces from both White (Pompeii, if you wish) and Black (Herculaneum). But there's something else that's buried here. Checker enthusiast Manon Pruitt, of Nashville, North Carolina, used the Kingsrow ML computer engine to help dig it out, and we extended the analysis to find something deeper still. The starting position comes from play in Wood's Checker Studies.

Black to Move and Win?


The following continuation is given in the original publication:

1. 15-19 24-8
2. 3-26 30-23
3. 20-24 27-20
4. 18-27 32-23
5. 14-17 21-14
6. 6-9 13-6
7. 2-27 25-22

At this point Mr. Pruitt found, using KingsRow, that 25-21 instead of 25-22 would draw, thus overturning the problem conditions. But we investigated further and determined that in fact the published move, 25-22, also draws! There is a flaw in the ensuing published play. Here's position after 25-22.

Black to Play, White to Draw


8. 27-31 22-18
9. 7-10 20-27
10. 31-27 25-21
11. ... 10-14

Black would now win if the above play were correct, but it's not. Your challenge is to correct it.

Don't explode or erupt. Stay calm, and you'll find the solution, after which you can let your mouse vent on Read More to see the answers.null

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03/23/19 - Printer friendly version
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The First Move


It's clear in the picture above that those two are attracted to each other, but they are equally clearly agonizing over who should make the first move.

In a checker problem, the first move is often critical, too.

We've written before about the excellent practice site Checker Cruncher, and we do stop by there every so often to try our luck on the site's large collection of interactive checker problems. We highly recommend it.

Site creator Brooks Thomas kindly gave us permission to republish Checker Cruncher problems that we find interesting, and the one below got our attention.

Naturally, it's all about that first move. There's only one move to win; everything else will draw or even lose.

White to Play and Win


Can you make the first move by finding the first move? Solve the problem, and then make your next move clicking on Read More to check your answers.null

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03/16/19 - Printer friendly version
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Miles To Go


In his poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening the immortal American poet, Robert Frost, wrote these equally immortal words:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Today's Checker School "Gem" problem is by the somewhat less immortal checkerist Miles R. Smith. It's really quite nice, and we wish history had preserved more about Mr. Smith.

Black to Play and Win


Black is a piece up, but looks to be in a precarious situation; he can't avoid giving the piece back, hoping for a draw ... or is there another way? Can Black manage to still win this one? Miles to go before Black sleeps ...

See how far you travel in solving this one, then move your mouse inches ... not miles ... to click on Read More to see the solution.null

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03/09/19 - Printer friendly version
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Super Easy


Looks good, doesn't it? It's "Super Easy Pot Roast" from someone who calls herself Chef Savvy and, checking over the recipe, it indeed looks like a great dinner made with minimal effort.

Is there such a thing as a great checker problem, solved with minimal effort? The most pleasing problems seem to be on the more difficult side, but there's another way to look at this: a simple problem solved very quickly can also provide a good measure of satisfaction.

To this end, we've decided to bring back our Javascript clock for perhaps just one time, as today's speed problem is in the category of "super-easy," and we don't want to spoil things by putting the problem diagram in-line. So you'll need to click below and then you'll have five seconds to beat the clock! No worries, that's definitely enough time.

Are you ready? Black to play and win ... and when you're done, come back and click Read More to check your answer.

March 2019 Speed Problem (Super easy)


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03/02/19 - Printer friendly version
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