The Checker Maven

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Bob Newell, Editor-in-Chief

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A Bristol Broadside, Part 4


You've surely heard the expression, "Can't hit the broad side of a barn," and it's apt for the play on today's theme, as various erroneous moves cause the balance of the game to change often. It seems as if the players couldn't hit the broad side of the checkerboard, so to speak.

It all takes place in this, the fourth and final part of A Bristol Broadside, as found in Willie Ryan's incomparable study, Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard.

Here's the run-up to this variant.

1. 11-16 24-20
2. 16-19 23-16
3. 12-19 22-18
4. 10-14 18-15
5. 7-10 20-16
Black to Play


From this point, Willie looks at the move 9-13. But we're going to present things a little differently today. Here's the actual play for the next couple of moves:

6. 9-13 16-12
7. 5-9 27-23

From here, Black should win. But the challenge for you, our reader, is not just to find the Black win, but to critique the line of play given just above, starting with 9-13.

Willie had his own ideas, and they were mostly right. The KingsRow computer engine, as usual, has its ideas, and they diverge from Willie's at various points.

What are your ideas? Can you hit the broad side of the checkerboard? Take your time here; this is most definitely not an easy setting. When you've completed your analysis, click on Read More to see some detailed analysis.20050904-symbol.gif

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England was kingless (and queenless, for that matter) for a few brief periods in a history of otherwise unbroken monarchy. One of those times was during the rule of Oliver Cromwell, who took the title of Protector.

Bill Salot has given a new meaning to "kingless" in his latest checker problem composition contest, in which all problems are to consist of single men only; no kings are allowed. We doubt that Mr. Salot has ambitions to be another Cromwell; his fame as a promoter of modern-day problem composition is already assured.

You won't want to miss the entries in this contest; you can see them here. Be sure to try them out and vote for your favorite.20050904-symbol.gif

08/15/14 - Printer friendly version
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Showdown in West Texas


The small group crowded around the table in the rear of the saloon backed away a few steps, still watching, but now wary.

It had all started around an hour ago. Old Billy Matson came into the saloon around one in the afternoon, as he did nearly every day, and took his usual seat at his usual table, back to the wall, a clear view through the length of the saloon all the way to the swinging doors in the front. Not that there was generally much danger, but you never could tell, and Billy didn't get to be "Old Billy" by being careless.

He set up his checkerboard, again just like always. The folding board was getting a little tattered and the checker pieces were pretty grimy, but he didn't care and the few who said anything received the merest of shrugs by way of reply. Appearances and aesthetics weren't what it was all about.

It would surprise no one that the main concern was money: stakes won and, much less often, lost by Billy; wagers among the spectators as to who would win, although if you were going to bet against Billy you'd better get long odds, because Billy didn't lose that much. He dropped just enough games to keep the marks coming. It wouldn't have done to win every single game and make taking him on seem hopeless.

But today, things weren't going the way they usually did. A stranger had come into town, riding a Palomino and wearing a six-shooter low on his hip. The first thing he did after he hitched his horse was to ask one of the townsfolk where he could find Old Billy.

"Whatcha looking for Billy for? He don't never do nothin' but play checkers in the saloon," the townsman replied. It was Chet Johnson, the farrier.

The stranger gave Chet a look that made Chet step back involuntarily. "I ain't gotta give you no reason," the stranger said. "Answer my question. Where's Old Billy?"

"The ... the saloon, like I said," Chet replied, and then lit off as fast as he could.

The saloon was easy to spot; it was the biggest building along Main Street. The stranger went on over and pushed through the swinging doors, letting them flap behind him. The barkeep raised his head as if to say something, but one look at the stranger made him change his mind. "Old Billy. He here?" the stranger demanded.

"In the back," the barkeep said, and then tried to look really busy polishing glasses.

The stranger walked to the back, his spurs clicking against the wood floor. When he reached Billy's table, he leaned his arms on it and bent forward, his face mere inches from Billy's.

"You Billy Matson?" he asked.

"Yep, that's me." Billy had met swaggering challengers before and he knew enough to keep his cool and not get stared down or intimidated. "Who's askin'?"

The stranger leaned back, then pulled out a chair and sat down on the other side of the checkerboard. "I'm Danny Douglas, and I hear you're good at checkers."

"Some say that I am," Billy said.

"Well, you ain't as good as me and I'm gonna prove it. I'm the best. The best with a gun and the best with checkers."

"I figure you're here to show me your checker skill, not your gunfighting skill?"

Danny laughed. "You're a funny one, ain't cha. Either way, old man, I can take you either way."

"Then I suggest we stay with checkers."

"Sure," Danny said, "that suits me fine. A hundred a game?"

That was a really big stake, enough to make even Billy think twice, and besides, he wasn't sure if he could come up with the cash if he lost. But he'd been in this kind of situation before, and he hadn't ever backed down. Doggoned if he'd do it now, especially with a cocky gunslinger who thought he could play checkers.

"You're on," Billy said. "First one to win two games collects a hundred bucks."

Danny just nodded and, since the Black pieces were facing him, made the first move.

A few people had overheard the conversation and started to take an interest. A couple of side bets were made.

Half an hour passed, and Danny won the first game.

The buzz among the spectators increased. Someone ran outside and must have told some others, for a few minutes later he came back followed by at least a half a dozen townsfolk, all of whom went straight to the back of the saloon to watch the action.

Billy wasn't sure what had happened in that first game. Danny was good, real good; there was no denying it. Billy knew he'd have to buckle down. This was no easy mark.

Billy won the second game. The gunslinger swore a few times but then stopped himself. "All right, old man," he said. "You're as good as I heard you were. But you ain't gonna win the next game, and then I'll be livin' high on that hundred you'll owe me."

Billy didn't reply.

The crowd of onlookers was in a real state. They had never seen anything like this. No one had ever put up a real contest with Billy, not like this one. Money was changing hands and some large wagers were made on the third and final game.

Both players were very cautious, taking their time with their moves. Slowly but surely, it looked like Danny was getting a little bit of an advantage. He pressed hard, and though Billy fought back, Danny's advantage increased. Finally, the position was like this. Billy had White and it was his turn to move.

White to Play and Draw


It looked pretty bad. Billy was going to go a man down and there wasn't anything he could do about it. Danny knew it and was sitting back in his chair, his thumbs hooked in his gun belt, a smirk on his face.

Billy was looking for a way out, but in the back of his mind was the frightening thought that he'd end up owing a hundred bucks to this gunslinger, with no way to pay it. That wouldn't be good. Maybe the Sheriff could intervene; he'd get likely get word of the goings-on at the saloon and come to check up on things. Billy could only hope for something like that.

Unless ... suddenly, Billy saw a line of play that he hadn't considered before. Yes ... there was only one move that could save things ... if he moved there, Danny would have to choose between ... yes. That was it!

He raised his head from the board and looked over at the still-smirking Danny. Billy smiled at him, then let the smile vanish from his face, replaced by a serious, deadly look.

"Draw!" he said suddenly and loudly.

There was an explosion and Billy fell back in his chair, a bullet hole in the middle of his forehead, Danny's smoking gun pointed right at him, no more than a foot away.

"Drop it!" That was the Sheriff. He had come in just as the shot was fired. He was holding his gun in both hands, keeping it steady on Danny.

Danny knew better than to try anything. He slowly lowered his six-shooter and placed it gently on the table. He was careful not to disturb the checkerboard.

"You're under arrest for the murder of Billy Matson!" the Sheriff declared.

Still careful not to make a sudden move, Danny said, "Murder! What do you mean! He challenged me!"

"Ain't the way I saw it," said one of the braver bystanders. "You drew down on him an' plugged him, and he didn't do nothin' afore you killed 'im."

"Draw!" Danny said. "He said draw, so I did! He woulda killed me if I hadn't."

The bystander started to laugh. He probably felt safe with the Sheriff keeping his gun on Danny. "Ha ha! That's a good one! Billy don't even carry no gun! When he said 'draw' he meant the game was a draw. Cain't cha see that? I thought you was some kind a good player but I guess you ain't, and now you're gonna swing for it!"

Danny Douglas did hang for the murder of Old Billy Matson, but the town was never the same, and no one would play checkers again in the back of the saloon.

In the diagram above, White does have a draw but it will take a "star" move to make it happen. Can you do it? Solve the problem and then draw your mouse over to Read More to check your solution. Just be careful what you say and how you say it in a West Texas saloon!20050904-symbol.gif

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08/09/14 - Printer friendly version
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Lightning Stroke


Lightning storms are common during summer in much of North America. Some lightning-prone areas have a keraunic level of over 100, which means there is lightning activity an average of 100 days per year. But science marches on, and the traditional keraunic level statistic is being replaced with the more informative flash density measurement. That's another topic, though, and a rather electrifying one.

This month we present a stroke problem that is neither modern nor difficult, but definitely informative. We think you'll agree that the solution is like a stroke of lightning: quick and powerful, no matter what your means of measurement.

White to Play and Win


Blitz this problem and then flash your mouse on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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08/02/14 - Printer friendly version
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The Incredible On-Line Checkers Library


Anyone who has tried to buy checker books in recent years has discovered very quickly that these are hard to come by, and often quite expensive when they can be found. There are very few checker books in print, and the used book market offers less and less as time goes by.

The Checker Maven has provided some newly typeset editions of classic works, but these take a lot of time to produce, and to date only a limited number have been completed.

Enter Jake Kacher's on-line checkers library, his personal effort to make checker literature readily and freely available to devotees of the game.

Jake is originally from Kiev and currently lives in California. He's held a long string of titles in various varieties of checkers, and still teaches pool checkers to an international set of students. But right now, his library, at

is his major ongoing project.


The checker library started out with what Jake called his "Russian project" and specialized in the literature of shashki, or Russian checkers. But it soon expanded into other varieties of checkers, and now contains extensive collections not only on Russian checkers, but on pool checkers, 10x10 checkers and "straight" checkers, as well as the Brazilian, Canadian, and Italian variants.

As word spread, players from around the world started submitting scans of checker literature of all types. The library now is vast. At latest count there were 250 Russian checker books, 170 straight checkers books, over 100 books on the 10x10 game, thousands of magazines of all kinds, 10,000 animated Russian checker games, several thousand straight checkers championship games and positions, various other articles and literature, and links to sites containing even more material. The library numbers four to five thousand items in books and magazines alone.

Putting an item in the library isn't a simple matter of uploading a scan; there's an intensive quality control process which requires cleaning and sizing each individual page. Some pages require a hundred or more modifications to remove graphic artifacts, increase legibility, and compress the size so that loading times will be reasonable.

Everything in the library is available free of charge, and users don't need to worry about advertising pop-ups and similar annoyances of Internet life. The concept is that the library is a place where readers and researchers can access material without the need to download (although that's available), and with referential integrity: a reference to a certain page of a certain book will produce a consistent result.

The "straight checkers" section of the library contains some extraordinary treasures, including a number of rare books such as Payne's seminal 1756 publication.

The collection continues to build, and the next stage will be the creation of a searchable database, allowing users to locate items by author, title, or year.

The library welcomes assistance from checker enthusiasts who can contribute high-quality scans of material not already in the collection.

Again, the library can be found at, and Jake can be contacted either through his site guestbook or on Facebook at


The only downside? Once you get on the site, you're going to be there for hours and hours, browsing through the most extensive and fascinating collection of checkers literature anywhere in cyberspace.

Of course, we wanted this week's checker problem to come from the material in the library; making a choice wasn't easy with so much to choose from, but we decided on this one.

Black to Play and Win


Can you find the correct line of play? It's not terribly difficult but there is one interesting twist. See if you can book the win, and then click on Read More to leaf through the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/26/14 - Printer friendly version
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A Bristol Broadside Part 3


Ouch! Someone broadsided a police car. That is definitely not recommended, and whoever did it is going to be in very hot water.

In our third installment from Willie Ryan's Bristol Broadside in his classic work Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard, Willie considers another meaning of the word "broadside" with a second variation from his main line. We've given it below along with the full run-up. Here's how it goes.

Variation 2

11-16 24-20 16-19 23x16 12x19 22-18 10-14 18-15 7-10 25-22 14-18 29-25 9-14 20-16 5-9---A

White to Play and Draw


A---"The lineup at once is imperative. If the play goes 8-12, then white will win with: 16-11*, 12-16,11-7*, 2-11,15-8, 3-12, 22-15, 4-8, 27-23, 5-9, 31-27, 16-20, 23-16, 10-19, 25-22, 9-13, 22-18, 14-23, 27-18, 20-24,18-15, 6-10, 15-6,1-10, 30-25, 10-14, 25-22. Wm. F. Ryan."

It turns out there are two drawing lines. Neither one is particularly easy to find, and we'd have to classify this as a master-level problem. But even if you're a mere mortal in the world of checkers, you'll learn a lot by exploring this position and then studying the solution.

So start your engines! Then crash your mouse on Read More to see how to do it.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/19/14 - Printer friendly version
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Famous Shots IX


Our Checker School series of Famous Shots concludes this month, and as in previous entries, we ask you to solve the shot, name the shot, and, if you wish, name the "shot" in the photo above. During the past eight months we've taken a tour of the checker "big shots"; these are positions that every learner must master and every master must know.

Here's the finale, with the full run-up. Once again the game is not especially well played, but the ending is great.

11-15 23-18 8-11 27-23 4-8 23-19 10-14 19x10 14x23 26x19 7x14 19-15 11x18 22x15 14-18 21-17---A 12-16 24-20 16-19 20-16 2-7 17-13---B 9-14---C 31-26 5-9 25-21---D 18-23---E 29-25---F 14-18---G 21-17---H 7-11---I 16x7 3x10 (see diagram)

A---24-19 is probably better, although deep computer analysis doesn't shown a Black advantage.

B---Ouch. 25-22 was best. This move might actually lose for White.

C---19-23 was better.

D---Loses; 16-12 was better.

E---7-11 would have won. This return blunder is only good for a draw.

F---Loses again! 16-12 was fine.

G---Gives the draw back again! 7-11 wins.

H---Doesn't lose but gives Black a real edge. White just doesn't seem to want to play 16-12.

I---8-12 was best. The game now unravels for Black.

White to Play and Win


This one isn't too difficult, at least as far as these things go, so shoot it down and then click on Read More to check your answer.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/12/14 - Printer friendly version
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July Speed Problem


It's summer, and we hope you are able to get out and enjoy summer sports, such as a speedy ride on a bicycle. The winter of 2013-14 was pretty harsh in most of North America, and we're certain you're happy to be outdoors. Do it while you can, summer doesn't last forever. Unless you're in Hawai`i, of course!

Our speed problem for July isn't especially hard, but we're still allowing you 30 seconds to solve it. Such generosity! It's a very practical setting and we hope you like it. When you're ready, click on the link below; then come back and click on Read More to verify your solution.

July Speed Problem (30 seconds, relatively easy)


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07/05/14 - Printer friendly version
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4th of July Special


Every year we say the same thing: we love celebrating the Fourth of July, America's birthday. We are proud to be American patriots, and invite our American readers to celebrate along with us.

Similarly, every Fourth of July we turn to a man who served America with honor and distinction, Mr. Tom Wiswell. This year, we present a situation from one of his matches with Millard Hopper, yet another patriot and, like Mr. Wiswell, a champion go-as-you-please player.

Here's the situation.

Black to Play and Draw


It's quite a complex situation but the draw is there and you can work it out with some effort. Find the solution and then celebrate by clicking on Read More to check your answer and to see the transcription of the full game.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/28/14 - Printer friendly version
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Bristol Broadside, Part 2


In this month's installment from Willie Ryan's Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard we continue with his exposition on the 11-16 Bristol opening. For the run-up to the play below, see our previous column. The notes are in Willie's own words.

Variation 1

"14-18---A 27-23---E 18-27 32-16 7-10 31-27 10-19 16-12 (see diagram)

Black to Play and Draw


A---In the Stewart-Banks world's title match of 1922, Stewart tried 19-23 here and brought about a draw. This line is very old and was widely used before Champion Stewart appeared on the scene. It may be rightly classified an American innovation, as W. R. Barker was the first to play it, in a match with Wyllie in 1874. Two decades later, Willie Gardner sprang it on Wyllie in the second England-Scotland team match of 1894, winning with the black pieces. The following model play will assist the student in securing a working knowledge of the feature points of the 19-23 line:

19-23 25-22 9-13 25-22 13-17 drawn.
26-19 6-10 22-18 11-15 21-14 Robert
7-11 27-23---C 8-11 30-26 10-17 Stewart
15-10---B 11-15 18-9 15-24 23-19 vs.
6-24 32-28 5-14 22-18 24-28 Newell
28-19 15-24 29-25 3-7 19-16 Banks.
1-6 28-19 4-8 18-9 17-21;

B---An excellent alternative for the draw, and one that we consider equal to the text is: 28-24, 11-18, 19-15, 2-7, 30-26, 7-10, 32-28, 10-19, 24-15, 3-7, 27-24, 9-13, 26-22, 5-9, 24-19, 18-23, 19-16, 8-11, 15-8, 4-11, 16-12, 23-26, 12-8, 26-30, 28-24 (8-3, 14-17*, 21-5, 30-21, 3-10, 6-15, will earn the draw), 7-10, 8-3, 11-16, 20-11, 14-18, 22-15, 10-28, etc. James Lees. Again at B, we tried the Lees' way (28-24) against Arch Henshall, a strong amateur from Scranton, Pennsylvania, and almost lost when Henshall made a three-point landing in our king row like this: 28-24, 11-18, 19-15, 9-13 (Arch didn't know Lees' play, but his 9-13 looks good), 24-19, 5-9, 27-24, 18-23, 15-10 (if 25-22 is used, 8-11 is correct), 6-15, 19-10, 14-18, 25-22, 18-25, 29-22, 9-14, 20-16, 14-18, 22-15, 23-27, 32-23, 8-11, 15-8, 3-28, 23-19, 28-32, 19-16, 32-28,16-11, 28-24, 10-7, etc., a draw.

C---Safer for a draw than 19-16, 11-15, 16-12, 8-11---D, 27-23, 3-7, 12-8, 14-18, 23-14, 10-26, 30-23, 11-16, 20-11, 7-16, 8-3, 15-18, 23-14, 9-18, 21-17, 5-9. Willie Gardner.

D---9-13, 30-26, 8-11, 27-23* (better than 26-23, 3-7*, 23-18, 14-23, 27-18,15-19,12-8,11-16, after which black is strong, though white can still size the draw with careful play), 2-6, 31-27, 4-8, 29-25, 5-9, 32-28, 15-18, 22-15, 11-18, 26-22, 10-15, 28-24, 8-11, 23-19, 6-10, 19-16, 3-7, 12-8, 18-23, 27-18, 14-23, 8-3, 9-14, 3-8, 14-17, 21-14, 10-26, 8-3, 7-10, 16-7, 26-30; a draw. J. Macfarlane.

E---Equally good for a draw is: 21-17, 9-13, 17-14*, 6-10, 15-6, 1-17, 27-24 (safer than 25-22, 18-25, 30-14, 2-6, 29-25, 8-11, 27-23*, etc., which also produces the draw), 19-23---F, 26-19, 8-11---G, 25-22,18-25, 30-14, 2-6, 29-25, 6-9, 25-21, 9-18, 20-16, 11-27, 32-14, 4-8, 19-15, 8-11, 15-8, 3-12, 31-26, 12-16, 26-22, 16-20, 22-18, 13-17, 18-15. Hugh Henderson vs. A. B. Scott.

F---A fool-proof safe line to a draw is: 5-9, 24-15, 17-22, 26-17, 13-22, 32-27, 8-11, 15-8, 4-11, 28-24, 7-10, 24-19, 3-8, 25-21, 9-13, 21-17, 11-15, 20-16, 15-24, 27-20, 8-11, 16-7, 2-11, 30-26, 11-15, 20-16, 15-19, 26-23, 19-26, 29-25. Melvin E. Pomeroy.

G---18-23, 31-26, 8-11, 19-16, 17-21! (Pomeroy notes this as a Chicago "special" that improves on published play by 4-8, 26-19, 8-12 etc.), 26-19, 13-17!, 32-27*, 2-6*, 16-12, 4-8!, 19-15, 11-18, 25-22, 17-26, 30-14, 6-10, 24-19, 10-17, 19-15, 17-22, 20-16, 22-26, 27-24, 26-31, 24-20, 7-11, to a draw. Melvin E. Pomeroy."

In the diagram above, can you find the move to draw? Willie showed one of them, but there are actually two. Can you find them both? When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solutions.20050904-symbol.gif

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