The Checker Maven was site down for more than nine hours yesterday (Saturday, January 21, 2018), in what was probably the longest outage in our more than thirteen years of publication. Of course, it would have to take place on a Saturday, which is our weekly publication day, and when offices are closed and tech support staff are few and far between.
After 70 minutes on the phone with hosting provider GoDaddy, we were told that the server had gone down (we knew that) and it could take as long as three days to move us to a new server. Fortunately, that got done in about six more hours, and then we were up again.
Well, not quite. The new shared hosting server had some configuration differences, and we were here in the office well into Saturday evening getting things squared away. Doing this kind of work "au pied levé" isn't anyone's idea of fun, but we have to do what we have to do.
Fortunately, all is well once again, and our headache is receding. Our apologies for the inconvenience and our thanks for staying with us.
Part Two: First Move
Our serialized story continues. Be sure to go back and read Part One if you haven't already done so.
Reggie even surprised himself, but he couldn't wait to get to his English class the next morning. For once, he found himself glad that the class met five days a week.
He was there early, waiting outside the door of the classroom, hoping to catch Katie on her way in. She was always early, so Reggie felt his chances were good.
But there were a couple of problems. First, Reggie had no idea what to say. It wasn't as if he and Katie were in any way acquainted.
He thought he might start with something like, "I didn't know you were interested in draughts." But that didn't seem very gripping. Neither did variations such as, "Hey! We're both draughts players!"
Reggie's experience with girls was pretty limited. He had had a few dates here and there, but they usually ended with the girl saying something about how she forgot that she had to be somewhere else.
The second problem developed a little later.
Dr. Rowan, coming down the hall to the classroom, noticed Reggie waiting outside. "Ah, Mr. Pastor," Dr. Rowan said, "while it's nice to see you here on time, the class actually takes place inside the classroom."
Reggie had no choice but to go in and take his usual seat. Katie entered a few minutes later, just as class was beginning. She muttered an apology to Dr. Rowan about having missed the bus. She didn't even glance in Reggie's direction.
Well, maybe he could catch her after class? But Dr. Rowan was directing a question his way about some Middle English verb or other. It was a not so subtle hint to pay attention.
Never did a class seem so long and dreary, but finally the bell rang and Dr. Rowat brought things to a close. "Quiz tomorrow!" he said, as everyone was getting up to leave. "It covers the first ten Canterbury Tales!"
Reggie packed his text and notebook as quickly as he could. Where had Katie gone? How did she get out of the room so quickly? Why had he lost track of her?
He was just getting out of his seat when he felt a warm hand on his shoulder.
"I saw you at the draughts exhibition last night." The voice was warm and sweet. Reggie turned.
"Katie?" It came out almost as a croak.
"I'm not Chaucer's Prioress!" she said, laughing.
"Uh ... yeah. Well, uh, I saw you there too," he said. Even he knew he wasn't exactly pouring on the charm, but he felt almost paralyzed.
"Are you going for lunch?" she said. What a smile she had! Reggie thought.
"Yes, I mean, yes, I am, I have my sandwich. You know, cheese and Branston pickle."
Katie raised her eyebrows a little. "I've got a salad. But let's go eat together and talk about last night's exhibition."
Reggie was ecstatic. So much so, that he tripped over his chair and almost went flying. Katie laughed and Reggie, picking himself up, turned red.
"That cheese sandwich has you pretty excited," she said.
They had a pleasant lunch together in the cafeteria area of the Student Union. Reggie, after a few false starts, managed to speak coherently, at least for the most part.
It turned out that Katie was indeed a draughts fan and followed the fortunes of the school draughts club; that's how she had come to know about Reggie, who was, she said, thought to be the most promising young player in the group.
Reggie said something self-effacing, and Katie encouraged him to have more self-confidence.
It was just about time for them both to leave for their next classes. Katie had math and Reggie was going to sociology.
"Oh, did you know," Katie said, "there's that new movie playing over the weekend. I'd really like to see it." She mentioned a title.
"Didn't know about it," Reggie said. "Well, got to run now."
Why did Katie frown? "I thought ... oh, never mind," she said. "I"ve got to go too." She abruptly turned and made for the exit.
Reggie knew something had gone wrong, but he couldn't say just what. All he knew was that that wonderful feeling he had been experiencing had gone away.
There was draughts practice after school; the club had a big match coming up the following week against a club from nearby Lyme Regis. And of course there was that dratted quiz on Chaucer to study for. But Reggie didn't want to study and didn't want to go to practice. He just wanted to mope, yet he was not one to skip practice, no matter how bad the circumstances.
What had he missed? What had gone awry?
He'd ask Jack at draughts practice. Jack Rite, a good friend, had some experience with girls. He'd gone out on quite a few dates. Reggie even recalled him once missing practice to go somewhere with a girlfriend. Reggie didn't understand it at the time and had even been critical of Jack. Now, suddenly, he understood. A little, at least.
The coach, a Mr. Talovich, pushed them hard that afternoon. In his distinctive Russian accent, he eminded them of the importance of next week's match and the need to be at the top of their game.
Reggie, though, was anything but that.
"Why you are making many mistake?" Mr. Talovich asked, as Reggie lost his second blitz game in a row. "You are better player than this. Something is wrong? Maybe you are having girl trouble?"
Reggie turned red and everyone in the room laughed, even Mr. Talovich. "No, no, is not possible," he said when the laughter had subsided, "Reggie would not be having distraction like girl. Life of Reggie is dedicated for draughts playing! Coach Talovich only make joke. Now, Reggie, play better next game, okay?"
Reggie had just played 27-24 instead of 26-23 which would have drawn easily.
Reggie did manage to win the rest of his games, but finally it was six-thirty and practice was over. He followed Jack out of the practice room and out of the building. Jack was tall and walked fast. Reggie had to hustle to catch up.
"Jack, Jack! Just a minute! I need to ask you something!" Reggie was out of breath and huffing, but Jack turned around.
"Reggie! What is it! Don't blow a lung or anything!"
When Reggie finally got his wind back, he told Jack about his conversation with Katie at lunchtime.
Jack shook his head. "Wow, Reggie! You really do have girl trouble! Who ever would have guessed? This is almost worth missing my bus for."
"I won't keep you, Jack," Reggie said, "I just want your take on what went wrong."
Jack gave a little chuckle. "What went wrong? You mean you don't know? It's so obvious!"
Reggie actually scratched his head. "I ... I just don't see it."
"Reggie, she wanted you to ask her out. Why do you think she was getting on about that concert the way she did? And then you didn't ask her out, and she was disappointed. What's not to get?"
"Really? It was a movie, not a concert."
"Yes, really, old pal, and it doesn't matter if it was a movie, a concert, or a funeral. Now look, I'm off to my bus, and if you've got half an ounce of sense, you'll call this young lady tonight to apologize and to beg her, if necessary, to let you take her to the movie. Got it?"
"Um, well, ..."
"See you!" Jack ran off toward the bus stop, where a bus was just pulling in.
Reggie walked much more slowly in the same direction. His bus wouldn't come for another ten minutes, and he needed that time to think.
Actually Reggie thought about Katie and the movie while he waited, on the entire bus ride back to his student apartment, and for some while afterward. He didn't even give a single thought to his imminent Chaucer quiz, and worse still, he didn't think a bit about draughts. He managed to make himself a peanut butter and banana sandwich for dinner, but he was hardly aware of what he was eating.
He'd probably be able to get hold of Katie's phone number one way or another. Come to think of it, Dr. Rowan had put everyone's email and phone number online to "foster discussion" as he called it.
Reggie looked up the number and got out his phone, and then stared at the screen in a near state of paralysis. He just couldn't do it. Yes, they had talked with great animation and pleasure at lunch, but now ... after the way Katie had walked off ... Reggie was, in a word, afraid.
But then it came to him. He thought back over their conversation ... of course draughts had figured prominently in it. But somewhere along the line, Katie had mentioned that she came from Suffolk.
It all clicked in Reggie's head. He quickly used his phone to access the internet. It was just as he thought ... Suffolk Fair Maids! That was a phrase that had been used centuries ago in praise of the beauty of the women of Suffolk.
He pulled out a sheet of paper and began to write.
He actually smiled. There was just no way this could fail.
In the end, he did three drafts of his letter before he felt it was perfect. He then carefully folded it and put it in an envelope. He wrote "Katie" on the outside. He'd give it to her before class tomorrow.
Oh ... class tomorrow. Reggie dug into his backpack for his Chaucer book. He still had a little time left to study.
Click on Read More to see the solution to the checker problem.[Read More]
Last month we presented a "twin" problem by Brian Hinkle. Today's Checker School entry is a bit reminiscent of the "twin" idea. Originally found in Ben Boland's classic Famous Positions in the Game of Checkers, Mr. Boland showed a position in which, supposedly, if Black plays then White wins, while if White plays, then Black wins.
But much to our surprise, we found that, in the original edition of the book, the second member of the twin was in error!
The first problem, which Mr. Boland says isn't that difficult for top players, requires quite a lot of nuanced play.
The second problem, which existed for many years without the correct solution being found, may prove difficult, but honestly, we thought it was relatively straightforward--- if and only if you find the correct first move, something that eluded the experts. (We understand that the problem terms and solution were corrected in a later edition of Mr. Boland's book.)
It's not a "twin" problem; it's more like the "evil twin." Can you solve both parts? If you can, consider yourself a top player, but in any event, clicking on Read More will show you the solutions, several sample games, and detailed notes and analysis.[Read More]
The New Year has sped in with a bang. The holidays are over and it's back to work and back to school.
Can you rush to a solution and work out the winning moves? When you've got it, click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
We're publishing this column just ahead of New Year's Eve. Now, usually our New Year's column appears just after the holiday, and we like to publish an easier problem in case you, well, indulged in a bit of celebration, such as the Honolulu revelers above are doing.
But you've got until Sunday night this year (2017) which gives you most of a weekend, so we don't at all feel guilty about publishing something a little more difficult.
This is indeed fascinating. Black seems hemmed in and has little in the way of safe moves. How can he possibly win it?
Finding the solution actually isn't all that hard, and it's a very pleasing one. Can you do it before the year runs out? That's your challenge, to ring in the New Year with a checker victory. Clicking on Read More will allow you to verify your work.[Read More]
It's the holiday season, which means family, friends, and feasting. So, we at The Checker Maven thought, why not treat our readers to more coffee and cake?
Our old friend Brian Hinkle sent us a composition of his own that he thought would make a great "coffee and cake" problem, and we heartily agree. It's a 3x3 twin with, as Brian points out, the unique feature that no matter who plays, White wins.
So, in between courses at your holiday dinner, or maybe after dinner with a second helping of coffee and cake, you might want to try this one out. We think it's easier when Black is to play, but you'll have to decide that for yourself.
Can you earn that coffee and cake? We'll give you credit if you make a good effort, after which you can click on Read More to see the solutions.[Read More]
Today we begin a seven-part, 10,000 word serialized novelette entitled: "Three Move Opening, A Checker Romance." It's our current intention to publish one installment per month from December 2017 through June 2018. We hope you enjoy our latest addition to the literature of checker fiction.
Reggie didn't necessarily find English Literature a thrilling subject of study, but it was something he had to get through. But couldn't it have a least been something a little more contemporary? At the rate the instructor was going, they wouldn't even make it out of the 16th Century before the end of the term.
Reggie was a student at Weymouth College, which was unsurprisingly located in Weymouth, on England's southern coast. Reggie had lived in the area for all of his 20 years, and really hadn't given much thought to going anywhere else. The Dorset area was nice, he loved the sea and the relatively mild seasons, at least by English standards, and he knew he never could have stood the hustle of London.
Dr. Peter Forbes Rowan, the instructor, was at the moment waxing enthusiastic about Chaucer. Reggie, whose enthusiasm was somewhat less, stifled a yawn and let his thoughts drift. There was a draughts exhibition that evening in the Student Union to be given by Dante Oldman, a great master of the game.
"Bored, Mr. Pastor?" The instructor's voice jarringly interrupted Reggie's little reverie. That was followed by a sinking feeling as Reggie realized the instructor was addressing him.
"Mr. Pastor, I asked you a question. Does Chaucer bore you? If so, I'm quite willing to excuse you from this class, permanently, if you so desire."
Reggie squirmed in his seat. All eyes had turned upon him, but he especially noticed Katie Walton staring in his direction, with what almost seemed to be a look of disappointment. Katie, a pretty blonde of about Reggie's age, normally sat toward the front of the classroom and participated eagerly.
"Um, no, sir, I'm not bored, I just didn't sleep well last night is all and ..."
"Excellent improvisation, Mr. Pastor," the instructor replied. "But from now on, please get sufficient rest and at least make an attempt at showing some interest."
Did Katie smile, if ever so briefly, before turning her attention back to the front of the classroom?
Reggie managed to be attentive for the rest of the class period, and the instructor didn't seem to notice that Reggie's gaze was focused more on the back of Katie's head than it was on the blackboard.
# # #
The draughts exhibition was to start at seven o'clock in the evening. Reggie figured he could defer homework until the following morning, even though he had a pretty long math assignment to do, and of course Dr. Rowan had assigned another of the Canterbury Tales to read. "In Middle English, please," he had said, "we don't want to ruin the experience with some horrid modern translation." Ugh. Well, Reggie told himself he'd get through it. Tomorrow.
Draughts wasn't the most popular sport at Weymouth College, but it still had enough of a following, and of course the presence of a superstar like Dante Oldman would draw at least a small crowd. Mr. Oldman was going to take on all comers in a "simultaneous exhibition" with dozens of checkerboards arranged on tables making a large circle. Mr. Oldman would play all of the games at once. There would be room for about fifty participants, and Reggie made sure he was near the front of the line when the doors to the venue opened.
Reggie passed the remaining time reading an old draughts book he had brought with him, sight-solving the problems with little difficulty; he had done most of them dozens and dozens of times. But finally, at a few minutes to seven, the line started to move forward and into the room.
Reggie quickly sat down at a draughts board, putting his book into his backpack and hanging it from the back of his chair. He recognized some of the others from the college draughts club, and nodded at a few of them as they too got settled.
Within about five minutes, most of the fifty boards were taken up by eager draughts players. There were only a couple of boards still vacant when Dante Oldman made his entrance.
He was impressive in every way. He dressed like a 19th century scholar, and he had a commanding presence, with piercing eyes that told of great intellect and prowess. He exuded confidence. The idea of playing almost fifty boards at once didn't seem to faze him in the least.
There was a polite round of applause from the assembled particpants, and the event's host, the president of the draughts club, made a brief introduction and then explained the rules of the exhibition. Mr. Oldman gave a slight bow and the exhibition was underway.
Reggie had already made his first move and was waiting for Mr. Oldman to reach his table, when out of the corner of his eye he saw someone arrive at the last open board. He glanced briefly in that direction and did a mental double-take, then took another look.
Suddenly Mr. Oldman was in front of him, offering to shake hands. Reggie tore his gaze away and, almost reluctantly, greeted Mr. Oldman, who then made his own first move and went on down the line to the next board.
Katie? At the draughts exhibition? A Chaucer enthusiast, no less?
Reggie knew he was going to have some trouble concentrating on his game this evening.
His game went on, although there were not-infrequent glances directed by him toward the end of the room where Katie was sitting. For some reason, he found the way she picked up the checkers and moved them utterly fascinating. Those long fingers, at once delicate and strong; her air of quiet confidence; the way her blond hair hung when she leaned over the board; it was just a magical combination.
But Reggie realized he had a combination of his own to make. His game had reached a critical point, and he was about to lose a man. But he thought he might see a way through; he had better bear down and concentrate fully. He'd have to will himself not to take his eyes off the board.
Could he get a draw against someone who was arguably England's best draughtsman?
The position on the board was as follows.
Reggie spent a while thinking, using his one-time option to wave Mr. Oldman off to gain extra time to consider his move. But finally, Mr. Oldman returned to Reggie's board on the next trip around, and Reggie had to make his move.
To see the rest of Part 1 and the solution to the position, click on Read More.[Read More]
"Fast Win" is, it seems, a computer shop on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. We can't explain how the name came about, and frankly it would seem to apply more to checkers or some other game than to computers. We have seen so-called "fast win" computerized slot machines, but we suspect that the fast winner there would be the operating venue.
Now, every once in a while we publish an "oddball" problem. This one is original, although it is inspired by something published long ago. The idea is to find a "fast win."
Well, sure, it's completely obvious that White wins, but what's the fastest way to win, given an effort by Black to hold out as long as possible?
It's not all that difficult, and we'll give you a large hint: we found a 5-move win. Can you go us one better?
Give it a try, and see if you can either make Black hold out longer or White win more quickly. You can see our own solution by clicking on Read More.[Read More]
For reasons that we won't go into here, the number 13 is considered unlucky by some. Yet, for us, it's always been just the opposite, and in fact, this week The Checker Maven completes 13 years of uninterrupted, no-fail on-time weekly publication. It's a record we're proud of, and we hope to be able to carry on until our projected wrap-up at the 15 year mark.
To celebrate our 13th anniversary, we turn to Richard Fortman's Basic Checkers and explore one aspect of Ballot No. 13: 9-13 23-19 5-9. It's a reasonably balanced ballot, with maybe a little advantage to White.
(22-18 also a good choice instead of 27-23.)
Black is lucky; there are actually four moves to draw at this point. Mr. Fortman gives 11-15, which is arguably the best, but it isn't the only one. 9-14 or 11-16 or 10-14 instead of 11-15 also draw.
Fortman calls the first two probable White wins but they are all draws, though perhaps rather narrow ones.
For the purpose of today's study, let's consider 11-16 with the likely reply 22-18.
In the book, Mr. Fortman gives 16-20 as Black's next move. This gives White a substantial edge, and though we wouldn't yet call it a White win, Black is going to face a hard time.
What should Black play instead to ensure a draw? Can you sketch out a possible line of play?
We're asking you to match wits with one of the great checker analysts of all time. But it's a great exercise, and, luckily, clicking on Read More will show you the solution.[Read More]
Every year we express our delight when our favorite family holiday, Thanksgiving, rolls around on the calendar. What's not to like? It's uniquely American in origin, it appeals to all faiths and creeds, and it's a great time to show our gratitude for the things we have in our lives, and there are more of those than you might think at first glance.
On special occasions we like to turn to Tom Wiswell. Today we present one of his traditional "coffee and cake" problems, developed years ago over that very same pair of treats with Milton Loew. Mr. Loew at the time was just 16 years old and already the U.S. Junior Champion. Here's the position, which came from one of Mr. Loew's tournament games.
White is a piece down and is under attack. But Black has some problems, too. Can you win "coffee and cake" from your checker friends with this one? It's not as hard as you may think. Give it a try, and be thankful that you can always click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]