The Checker Maven

April in Bismarck


The year was 1955 and it was the first Saturday of April. In the city of Bismarck, North Dakota, that day had special meaning.

No, it didn't have anything to do with April Fool's Day, which only fell on Saturday once in a while. It had to do with raking up your yard after the winter season.

It was practically an unwritten law. On the first Saturday of April, you raked up your yard. Period. It didn't matter if there were still some lingering piles of snow, or even that it was likely to still keep snowing during April. You raked up your yard, and if you didn't, you'd get glares and stares from your neighbors, who were out there doing their duty while you were ...

... playing checkers at the Beacon Cafe?


Yes, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, led by Sal Westerman, met every Saturday afternoon from September to May at the Beacon Cafe, where they enjoyed a few hours of checker fun and the outstanding baked goods produced by the proprietor, Deana.

Now, Sylvia, Sal's wife of some 45 years, understood. She knew that Sal was 70 and not up to a lot of yard work, so she hired it out to Ted, an enterprising young man in their neighborhood. But it wasn't so simple for the rest of the boys--- Sal referred to the other club members as 'the boys' even though they were all over 50 themselves.

Young Ted

So when Sal made his way to the big booth in the back of the cafe, where the 'boys' always gathered, there was no one present except Wayne and Dan.

"Raked our yard this morning," they both explained, in more or less the same words. "Got up early to get 'er done. Too bad the others are stuck doing it this afternoon."

Of course, the idea of not raking your yard on this appointed day would never occur to any of them. In Bismarck, that was unthinkable.

"Well, okay," Sal said, with a sigh of resignation. "Less treats for the losers to buy, I suppose."


Deana, who missed nothing that went on in her cafe, called over from her counter, "Too bad, I have peanut butter bars today. Really good."

Sal smiled. "I'm sure they are, and in a little while Wayne and Dan are going to buy me one."

"We'll see about that," Dan said. "And hey, did you rake your yard this morning?"

"You know Sylvia hires young Ted to do that."

"Ah, cop out. Anyone who doesn't rake their yard ought to buy treats for those who did, don't you agree, Wayne?"

Wayne nodded. "Sure do. But let's see what Sal has for us today."

"Something from Brian," Sal said, "and he says it's very instructive."

"That's another way of saying 'hard', right?" Dan said.

Brian was Sal's St. Louis checker pen-pal, and his checker problems always puzzled and pleased. But they were seldom easy.

Sal set up the position on one of the checkerboards on the booth's table. "Here you go. Fifteen minutes ought to do it."

White to Play and Win


"Fifteen minutes! No way!" Wayne complained. "An hour, for sure!"

"Half an hour," Sal said, "and that's final." He crossed his arms over his chest and feigned a severe look.

But the boys were already deep in contemplation.

Peanut butter bars sound good, and you can have one if you can solve the problem (or if you've raked up your yard). When you're done, rake your
mouse over Read More to see the solution.null

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CV-3: Sturges Remembered


Joshua Sturges is best known to us for his early treatise on the game of draughts, or checkers. But as an innkeeper and proprietor of a "publick house" he was known for other things, including his ledger system for other innkeepers. Truly he was a man of many talents.

We continue our series of special Wednesday columns, intended to present a little extra entertainment during the current public health crisis. Today's problem, CV-3, was kindly provided by master problemist Ed Atkinson. He calls it Sturges Remembered (for checkers rather than innkeeping). That title might give you a small hint for this problem.

Once again we'll hold the solution for two weeks, at which time we'll present problem CV-4.

Without further ado, here's CV-3.

Problem CV-3
White to Play and Win


Enjoy solving this one! And stay safe and well, checker fans, wherever you are.null

04/22/20 - Printer friendly version
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Solution to CV-2: Brian's Bridge

Problem CV-2
Brian's Bridge
White to Play and Win


We hope you enjoyed solving this excellent problem.

Once again, in a problem this complex, we can only give a main line and a few variations. Feel free to explore with your computer. The following solution is the one preferred by the composer, master problemist Brian Hinkle.

1. ... 7-3---A 2. 1-5---B 17-14 3. 15-18 31-27 4. 23-26 11-8 5. 4x11 9-6 6. 2x9 27-24 7. 20x27 32x23 8. 18x27 3-8 9. 9x18 8x24 White Wins.

A---17-13? 2. 15-19 32-28 3. 4-8 11x4 4. 2x11 4-8 5. 11-15 9-5---C 6. 23-27 31x24 7. 20x27 8-11 8. 27-32 11x18 9. 19-23 18x27 10. 32x23 28-24 11. 23-18 24-19 12. 18-14 19-16 13. 14-10 16-11 14. 10-6 11-7 15. 6-2 7-3 16. 2-6 3-7 17. 6-2 7-11 Drawn.

B---15-18 31-27 3. 1-5 17-14 Same.

C---8-11 6. 23-26 11x18 7. 1-5 31x22 8. 5x23 Drawn.

As always, our thanks go out to Brian.null

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The Checker Maven has little in common with species who migrate often. But we are due for a different kind of migration.

Our website hosting company is moving us from an old server with old versions of software to a new server with new versions of software. Sounds good? Well, it turns out that our publishing platform, Nucleus CMS, needed a major update to even run at all on the new software.

It took us many hours of work, but we've prepared everything for the server move, and we'd like to hope it will go smoothly (famous last words). Now, the hosting company isn't able to tell us just when we'll get migrated over. We guess it's supposed to be some sort of surprise, which with computers is never a good thing.

We'll do our best to keep everything running as it should, but please help us out by telling us if you notice anything that doesn't work or doesn't look right, no matter how small. Please write to us at Mahalo for your support of The Checker Maven.null

04/20/20 - Printer friendly version
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Marvin at the Checker Academy


The turn of the scholastic year brought in a new freshman class at the elite National Checker Academy. Sponsored and operated by the National Checker League, the Academy put on a four-year accredited undergraduate program leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Checker Studies.

The curriculum was tough and demanding. Only the best could gain admission, and yet, despite major checker scholarships being offered by Big Ten universities, many a top high school player instead opted to brave the rigors of Academy study.

Tuition was free and the Academy provided room and board. Those who made it through the program--- and that certainly wasn't everyone, not by a long shot--- committed to five years of professional play, although many would go on to a lifetime career.


This year, the Academy invited Marvin J. Mavin to address the incoming class, and that invitation raised some eyebrows in the checker community. Usually the frosh were addressed by someone, well, a bit more on the academic side, someone more erudite and polished.

Of course Marvin was a star player, no doubt about it. But there were some who felt he didn't properly model the high academic and self-disciplinary standards that the Academy rigidly enforced.

Marvin, for his part, didn't really know what kind of a speech to give. So he figured he'd just sort of play it by ear.

Marvin was advised by Academy officials that there was a certain dress code observed at the Academy. All students wore suitable formal business attire at all times, which consisted of a white shirt or blouse, blue or brown tie, a conservative brown suit or pant suit, and brown wing-tip shoes or pumps.


"I ain't wearing no tie," Marvin said at once. "You ain't gotta strangle yourself to play better checkers. You gotta breathe, man."

But his longtime girlfriend, business executive Priscilla Snelson, who was invited to be present with Marvin, put her foot down, and when she did, there was no opposing her.

So Marvin came to the lecture dressed in strict Academy attire, and after a brief introduction by the Dean of Freshman, Dr. Reginald Pastor, Marvin took the podium at the front of the Academy's ultramodern Tinsley Hall.


Marvin looked out over the audience. There were about a hundred members of the freshman class as well as many of the faculty, not to mention invited guests and a full compliment of newspaper, radio, and television reporters. And although Marvin didn't know it, his lecture would be live-streamed on the internet for a worldwide audience.

"Well, uh, hi there," Marvin began. "I'm like, you know, glad to be here. And stuff. Yeah."

Priscilla, from her front row seat, gave Marvin a cautioning look.

"Like, you know, you guys are good and all that..."


"We're not just guys," one young woman piped up from her seat in the back. "Women play professional checkers too!"

Marvin, a bit surprised, said, "Oh, sure, you bet. Real good too. I didn't mean ... well, anyhow. Like I said you guys--- and gals, okay?--- you're all good..."

"Why do you have to say 'guys and gals'?" the young lady in the back retorted. "Can't you just say 'checkerists' or 'people'? Why does this have to be a gender thing?"

Priscilla nodded approvingly but again Marvin didn't notice."

"Look here, I ... anyhow I wanted to start off with a really good problem and see how fast you guys--- people--- can solve it."

But by now nearly everyone in the freshman class had started to mutter. Even some of the faculty were shaking their heads.

"Okay, here's the problem," Marvin said. The following diagram was projected on the big screen at the back of the stage.

Black to Play and Draw


"Okay there it is, fellas .... oops ..."

The muttering now turned into much more as catcalls rained out upon Marvin. Again, some of the faculty joined in. It was getting out of hand, and Dr. Pastor stepped up onto the stage, motioning Marvin away from the microphone.


"Mr. Mavin," Dr. Pastor began, addressing the crowd, "doesn't realize we respect and acknowledge all fifteen genders..."

Someone in the audience interrupted, "That's gender identities and there are sixteen, not fifteen!"

"Yes, excuse my error," Dr. Pastor replied. Thankfully the crowd was quieting down. "I'm sure Mr. Mavin won't repeat his errors. Isn't that right, Marvin?" Dr. Pastor concluded, looking directly at Marvn.

"Yeah, doc, didn't mean to make any of you boys angry."


That was it. The crowd erupted again and two uniformed security guards appeared on stage, quickly leading Marvin off, telling him it was for his own safety.

About half an hour later Priscilla met up with Marvin at the Security Office, when the security staff felt it was finally safe for him to leave.

On their way to the car Priscilla did little more than glare before finally saying, "I've warned you time and time again to be careful about disrespectful remarks."

"Disrespectful?" Marvin replied. "All I said was ..."

"Don't you dare repeat it!"

"But honey ..."

"Don't 'honey' me, either!"

"Okay, okay, I'm sorry. Can we go get a beer or something and kind of like make up?"

Priscilla shook her head in dismay.

"Like, maybe when we get to the airport?"


"Get in the car, Marvin. Sometimes, I wonder just what I see in you."

Marvin, at this point, knew it would be best to keep very quiet and do as he was told.

The students at the Checker Academy never did get to solve Marvin's problem. Can you? We guarantee that the solution is 100 percent gender free. See what you can do and then click on Read More to check your moves.null

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04/18/20 - Printer friendly version
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Checker Jargon


It seems that an obsession with jargon has dominated the business world during the past few decades. There's "rightsizing," "synergy," "proactivity," and thousands more, and it seems that such terms offer very little other than a way to take up screen space in yet another stultifying PowerPoint presentation.

In today's Checker School entry, our friends Skittle and Nemo return. You'll recall that they are to be found in Andrew J. Banks' fascinating book, Checker Board Strategy. Let's listen in as Skittle instructs Nemo. Note that Skittle prefers the word "vocabulary" over "jargon."

"As we solve problems," Skittle suggested to Nemo, "let's use the checker vocabulary. When you jump two pieces, call it a 'Two-Shot.'"

"Why get technical?" protested Nemo. "Solutions flash on me. Checkers is the silent game."

This raises an interesting question: Just how much does 'checker jargon' such as "Two-Shot", "Breeches," and all the rest, add to our learning and understanding? We'd posit that when a name reinforces the idea concerned, it's useful. A "breeches" position is easy to picture and easy to remember. A "Two-Shot" is just as clear. But the names of openings, for instance, while providing a convenient shorthand, don't really tell us much in and of themselves.

Mr. Banks uses the following position as an illustration. Can you solve it--- and come up with some "checker jargon" to describe the solution?

White to Play and Win


You won't be able to merely talk your way through this one, and we don't know if the solution will "flash" on you, but we won't insist that you solve it silently. Do however give it a try. It's not especially difficult. Flash your mouse on Read More when you're ready to see the solution.null

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04/11/20 - Printer friendly version
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CV-2: Brian's Bridge


The bridge and trail above, near Martin, Tennessee, are named after Brian Brown. That's one example of "Brian's Bridge."

Today, for the second in our series of special Wednesday publications, we present problem CV-2, composed by Brian Hinkle, which is his own interpretation of "Brian's Bridge." Needless to say, it's a difficult problem--- something to keep you occupied during the present public health emergency--- and we'll give you two weeks to solve it before publishing both the solution and the next problem in our series (and let's hope this doesn't go on long enough to reach problem CV-19).

Here's the position.

Problem CV-2
White to Play and Win


It is our wish that this problem, along with our regular Saturday columns, will provide you some needed entertainment during difficult days. Stay safe and well, checker fans, wherever you are.null

04/08/20 - Printer friendly version
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CV-1 Solution

Problem CV-1
White to Play and Draw


Brian Hinkle's 2x3 problem published two weeks ago, which we've called CV-1, is a deep and difficult setting. ACF Bulletin editor Jim Loy wrote to Brian saying that there are probably a thousand drawing possibilities and it would take a year to unravel. This is surely one of the best 2x3 problems ever published. There is no doubt that the draw is subtle, finely balanced, and relies on moves which at times don't seem intuitive or natural.

It's impossible for us to go into everything in a single column, so we'll just show a couple of options and let you use your computer to work through the many different variations.

When you're done, Brian would like to know what your favorite drawing line might be. Write to him at with your comments.

Brian points out three major drawing themes: a line that ends in Payne’s Double Corner Draw, one that ends in Roger’s Draw, and one that ends in Dr. Brown’s Draw (as in Boland's Famous Positions page 19).

Brian elaborates: If Black keeps the man on 12, then Roger’s Draw is needed. If Black advances the man on 12 to 20, then Payne’s Double Corner Draw is in order. Finally, the important transposition into Dr. Brown’s Draw shows why White must start with 4-8* and 8-11*.


First, we'll show Brian's chosen solution, the one he thinks best represents the trunk line. The solution is very long, and you may wish to use this animation. Notes were provided by Brian.

1. ... 4-8

Note that the seemingly "obvious" 2-6 (chasing with the king) will lose, as will 2-7.

2. 12-16 8-11
3. 16-19 11-15
4. 19-23 ...

Or 19-24 15-10* 24-27 2-6 (chasing with the king is now correct) 9-13 10-14 27-31 6-10 31-27 10-15 27-23; this is the same draw as in Dr. Brown's Famous Positions, p.19, colors reversed.

4. ... 15-18
5. 23-26 18-22
6. 26-31 2-6
7. 9-13 6-10
8. 31-27 10-14
9. 27-23 14-10
10. 23-19 10-14
11. 19-15 22-25
12. 15-11 25-22
13. 11-7 22-25
14. 7-2 25-22

Stopping the Black king with 14-10? might be tempting but it loses by 15. 13-17 10-14 16. 17-21 25-22 17. 2-6 14-18 18. 6-9 18-23 19. 9-13 23-26 20. 5-9 26-23 21. 9-14 23-26 22. 14-17 22-18 23. 17-22 Black Wins.

15. 2-6 14-18
16. 6-9 18-23
17. 9-14 23-26
18. 14-17 22-18
19. 17-21 18-22
20. 21-17 22-18
21. 5-9 26-23
22. 17-14 18-22
23. 14-10 23-18

White has to defend accurately; if 23-26? then 24. 10-15 26-23 25. 9-14 23-26 26. 14-18 22-25 27. 13-17 Black Wins.

24. 10-7 22-25
25. 7-11 25-22
26. 11-16 22-25
27. 16-20 25-22
28. 20-24 22-25
29. 24-27 25-22
30. 27-31 22-25
31. 31-26 25-30
32. 26-31 30-25
33. 31-27 25-22
34. 27-24 22-25
35. 24-19 25-22
36. 19-16 22-25
37. 16-11 25-22
38. 11-7 22-25
39. 7-2 25-22
40. 2-6 22-25
41. 6-1 25-22
42. 1-5 18-23
43. 9-14 23-26
44. 5-1 26-23

Precision play is required: if 26-30? then 45. 1-6 30-26 46. 6-10 26-23 47. 10-15 23-26 48. 14-18 22-25 49. 13-17 Black Wins.

45. 1-6 22-18
46. 6-9 18-22
47. 14-17 22-18
48. 9-6 23-26
49. 6-2 26-30

With the Black king way back on square 2, White must now force the Black piece on 17 into square 21. If 18-22? then 50. 2-7 22-18 51. 7-11 26-30 52. 17-21 18-22 53. 11-15 30-26 54. 15-19 26-30 55. 19-23 22-26 56. 23-18 26-31 57. 13-17 31-26 58. 18-14 26-31 59. 17-22 Black Wins.

50. 2-7 30-25
51. 17-21 25-22
52. 7-11 18-23
53. 11-16 23-27
54. 16-19 27-32
55. 19-23 32-28
56. 23-27 28-32
57. 27-31 32-28
58. 31-27 28-32
59. 27-24 32-28
60. 24-19 28-32
61. 19-15 32-27
62. 15-10 27-23
63. 10-14 23-26
64. 14-10 26-23

Drawn. An example of "one holds two."

Next, we'll show a line that we took from the KingsRow engine, using its 10-piece endgame database. Brian called this one, "The King Goes on a Vacation." An animation can be found here.

1 ... 4-8
2. 9-14 8-11
3. 5-9 2-7
4. 14-18 7-10
5. 18-22 11-15
6. 22-25 15-18
7. 25-30 18-23
8. 9-13 10-14
9. 12-16 14-10

Brian comments, "This white king decides that now is a good time to 'go on vacation' because the other king on 23 is doing all of the heavy defensive lifting."

10. 13-17 10-7
11. 17-22 7-3
12. 16-20 23-27
13. 22-25 3-7

The computer here gave 22-26 which no human would likely play.

14. 25-29 7-10
15. 29-25 10-15
16. 25-22 27-32

This has now transposed into the solution of Brian Hinkle's A Walk Through Time from Ed Salot's problem composing contest 39.

17. 22-26 ...

20-24 is interesting, hoping for the blunder 32-28? Black Wins. But if White avoids the trap, 20-24 only draws.

17. ... 32-27
18. 26-22 27-32
19. 22-17 ...

The computer gives 22-26, leading to repetition, but this is another try.

19. ... 15-11!

Not 15-18, which loses.

20. 17-14 ...

The computer gives 17-22.

20. ... 11-15
21. 30-26 32-27
22. 14-9 15-10
23. 26-22 10-15
24. 9-14 15-19
25. 14-18 19-24
26. 18-15 24-28
27. 15-19 28-32
28. 22-18 32-28
29. 19-23 28-32
30. 23-19 32-28

Etc. Drawn. A double corner defense which will work as long as the remaining single Black man can't crown.

There is much, much more to this problem and indeed one could spend a year on it. We'll just copy the line seen in many an advanced math textbook: "The rest is left as an exercise for the reader."

Our thanks to Brian Hinkle for this problem, and to Brian and Jim Loy for much of the analysis.null

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All Is Not Lost


Some situations seem pretty hopeless. In the image above, things don't look so great for our hero. But you might guess that he's not one to easily give up.

The same is often true on the checkerboard. Take a look at the position below.

White to Play and Win


White is going to lose a piece and nothing will stop that. But indeed all is not lost---there still is a way to win, if you don't give up hope and can find your way through. This isn't quite a speed problem, but it isn't all that difficult, either. Stay the course and win the battle, then click on Read More to verify your victory.

And stay safe and well, checker fans, wherever you are.null

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04/04/20 - Printer friendly version
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