Contests in Progress:
Our Checker School series has featured several problems and excerpts from Andrew J. Banks' quirky but fascinating book Checker Board Strategy, published back in 1945. Mr. Banks came up with a set of characters, such as Farmer Sneed and Skittle, whom he utilized in short sketches to illustrate various principles related to learning the game of checkers.
Here's a short sketch Mr. Banks entitled A Good Coach.
A Good Coach
Said Aristotle, "The one exclusive sign of a thorough knowledge is the power of teaching." The popular Internationalist, has this power. He usually preferred to demonstrate problems, rather than games. In studying a game is not the student tempted to merely guess at the reasons for the moves? However, in solving a problem, he must think accurately. The Internationalist, without using a board, often solved all the problems in an issue of Wood's Checker Player. With amazing speed, he solved gems that players set up for him; he has mastered over 25,000 problems. Moreover, his teaching ability equaled his great skill.
His method was to tactfully indicate where and why Skittle had failed to solve a problem. Skittle's second attempt consequently was superior to the first; whereupon the Internationalist warmly congratulated him; and this made Skittle energetically try to solve more problems. Encouragement does not make a pupil wiser, but it does enable him to endure correction. Said Mr. Johnson, "The applause of a single human being is of great consequence."
What Skittle learned served him well; he felt that his play was his own---not his teacher's. He received excellent advice and theories, but no set rules. There are no formulas in checker playing---each player must develop his own style. He should remember that study and copy are two different things.
Skittle developed the feel of the game, an observing eye, and new exciting ideas. How did he learn so rapidly? He made mistakes, corrected them; made more, corrected THEM; and repeated this process over and over. Great things are performed not by strength but by perseverence.
In the story, Mr. Banks refers to the "Internationalist." There are several players who were called that. We're not sure who he means. We think it might be Harry Moulding, but we don't know for sure. Can any of our readers shed some light on this?
In any event, here's the problem Mr. Banks provided to go with his little tale.
Depending on your skill level, you might need a little coaching on this one. It's quite clever and pleasing. See how you do and then coach your mouse over to Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
We've all heard the expression "easy as pie" to refer to something that is indeed very easy. But finding the origins of this expression is not quite as easy as pie.
There are a couple of theories. In 1855 the expression "nice as pie" appeared in print. In 1884 Mark Twain wrote "polite as pie." In 1886 "it's like eating pie" was found in Sporting Life. Finally in 1887 we see "it's as easy as pie" in the Newport Mercury.
Another idea traces back to pre-Reformation England, when the rules for computing the date of Easter were called "Pie." The theory goes on to speculate from the context that "Pie" originally meant something overly complicated and morphed into something that was in fact very easy. This seems a bit of a stretch.
And the most unusual idea of all relates the expression to the Maori word "pai" which means "good" and perhaps led to the Australian expression, in the 1920s, "pie at" or "'pie on" which meant "to be good at something" which was itself perhaps "easy as pie." This also seems a bit contrived.
We'll go with the explanations from the 1800s, and present a speed problem which is indeed as easy as pie.
Most players will solve this instantly. See if you solve it at first glance. Novices may have to think a bit but also should be able to get it. No matter your status, treat yourself to a piece of pie after you've verified your solution by clicking on Read More.[Read More]
We anticipate The Checker Maven website being down or inoperable during the period of December 26 to December 30, 2022, as we convert the site from HTTP to HTTPS.
The conversion is long overdue. Some web browsers are starting to block access to HTTP sites for security reasons, and this practice will likely become universal before long.
Please be patient and accept our apologies for any inconvenience. We'll post more about this as we get close to the planned dates.
A Guest Column by Dr. Richard Beckwith
Joe Schwartz has been on the checker scene for decades. In addition to always having plenty of stories to tell, Joe interacted with many of the checker greats of the past. For example, Joe's father even once arranged a checker lesson for Joe from the great Willie Ryan, who was from Bronx, NY at the time. Mr. Ryan explained to a young Joe why certain moves were made in various openings. Willie Ryan had come down for a day to put on an exhibition at the YMCA. Joe has a picture of this day (with him in it) hanging in his home. Men typically wore suits and neckties in those days.
In the 8th International Match Book, Joe mentioned one of his biggest thrills was winning his first tournament as a teenager in Poughkeepsie, NY, the city where Joe was born. There were about 30 players, and Joe was the youngest. Joe only played GAYP back in those days, as there wasn't any three-move restriction activity around him until later in life.
Tom Wiswell lived in Brooklyn. Wiswell came to an exhibition for chess and checkers, where Joe got a book from him. Joe last saw Wiswell at central Park. Tom Wiswell once commented to Joe that the checker position looks different if you get up from your chair and go look at the board from the other side. Joe also mentioned that New York City had a checkers academy on 42nd street where good players met to play for money.
A checker friend Bill Wallace was with Joe during a Florida break and took Joe to a park, some 50 years ago. This is where Joe encountered Richard Hallett again. (Mr. Hallett also lived in Poughkeepsie, NY and fed Joe's cat whenever Joe was away. Later in life, Richard lived in Joe's Florida residence high-rise building.) The three players drove together to the St. Petersburg tournament, where Joe first met Marion Tinsley. Joe asked Tinsley his opinion of what is the better defensive move in the Switcher: 30-25 or 17-14 (from the run-up of 11-15 21-17 9-13 25-21 8-11 and now white to play). Tinsley replied, "30-25 is the better move."
Joe Schwartz moved to Florida in 1991, living with Bill Wallace a few months before locating to Hallandale, Florida (still his place of residence today). Joe's tradition of housing visiting checker players for the night goes back to his New York days, where he hosted the likes of Norm Wexler, Ed Bruch and Harold Freyer. Over the years, Joe sponsored matches between Richard Hallett with both Derek Oldbury and with Elbert Lowder, putting up Lowder and Oldbury (in wheelchair) for the match duration. Joe recalls Derek Oldbury being a very intellectual man who liked classical music, but was not into watching television. His wife Joan was also in a wheelchair.
Harold Freyer once lost a game to Bill Levine at a tournament in Joe's home. In the second game, Freyer eagerly sought revenge and had Levine in a troublesome ending. Mr. Freyer suggested to his opponent that he resign the position in view of the caliber of his opponent. Bill Levine grabbed a pencil, pointed it at Harold, and said, "I have a right to play this game out." Harold snatched the pencil out of his hand. Tempers started to flare, and Joe had to come over to diffuse the situation. Harold shot back at Joe, "I've been thrown out of better houses than yours!"
Joe recalls two other incidents that led to checkers flying off the board. One was Al DuBois vs. Charles Walker. After some apparent ribbing, Mr. Dubois threw the checkers, one of which hit Mr. Walker's wife around the eye and required medical attention. The other was the last game of the National Tournament between Elbert Lowder and Ron King. Elbert appeared to have the tournament won with an apparent even ending on the last game of the tournament that most players would quickly call a draw. But Suki, needing a win, wanted to play the position out further. After some fast moving, Elbert allowed a trade that allowed his remaining pieces to get trapped with the move, which resulted in checkers flying across the table. A position on a nearby non-Master game was disturbed, and they weren't recording their moves to allow reconstruction of their position.
In additional to having several lunches with Marion Tinsley, Joe had dinner with Asa Long ("a very humble man") and even helped take Mr. Long to the hospital after his health issue that occurred shortly after the start of the 1988 U.S. National in Danville, Virginia.
One time Joe Schwartz was playing Elbert Lowder in a tournament on a Single Corner opening. Joe encountered some difficulty with his current game and remarked to Elbert, "I wish I had time to analyze this position." Mr. Lowder proceeded to grab the analog time clock and wound it back to give Joe an additional 30 minutes! Joe concluded the story with, "Lowder beat me anyway."
So, what was Joe's other greatest checker thrill? It occurred in one of Joe's favorite cities to visit --- Las Vegas. This personal achievement came at the 2005 USA-U.K. & Ireland International Match held in Las Vegas, where Joe had the best record of anyone present with 10 wins, no losses and 10 draws.
In addition, here's a problem position arising from one of Joe's games in the aforementioned 2005 match.
Game from 2005 USA vs. U.K & Ireland 8th International Match, Las Vegas
Black: Joe Schwartz
White: Garrett Owens
11-15 21-17 8-11 17-13 9-14 25-21 11-16 29-25 16-20 24-19 15x24 28x19 4-8 22-17 14-18 23x14 8-11 26-23 11-15 25-22 15x24 22-18---A,B 24-28 (see diagram below).
A---While this move does draw, 30-25 is the computer's choice.
B---32-28 loses. Try it out!
As always, you can click on Read More to check your solutions to these problems.
The Checker Maven extends its warmest thanks to Richard Beckwith for providing us with this fascinating article.
Who doesn't love a good mystery? Who, at one time or other hasn't fancied being a detective and coming up with the cleverly hidden solution to some heinous crime?
Today we're pleased to present a very special entry in Mr. Bill Salot's long-running series of outstanding checker problem composition contests, a series he calls the Unofficial World Championship. Each contest has featured a theme, but today, we're not revealing what it might be. It's a "mystery" theme. Can you solve all the problems and figure out the theme? Thankfully, no terrible crime has taken place but the mystery is nonetheless intriguing, fascinating, and perhaps even worthy of Mortimer Holmes himself (as featured in our series, The Checker Murders)!
To start you out, here's an example. Willie Ryan wrote that this problem, published by George H. Slocum in 1894, was "one of the most exquisite stroke problems on the record." The problems entered in Contest 63 demonstrate some of the same characteristics.
Can you get it? You can always click on Read More to see the solution, but we won't give away the Mystery Theme. Be sure to go to the contest page to find our three challenging contest problems. Don't forget to cast your vote for the one you like best.[Read More]
Sal Westerman, of Bismarck, North Dakota, was doing what he did every summer.
It was July of 1955 and Sal and his wife, Sylvia, were spending a couple of weeks at a lakeside cabin near Lake Sakakawea. For years they had rented the same cabin for the same two weeks.
Sal of course missed his Saturday afternoon visits to the Beacon Cafe in Bismarck, where his Coffee and Cake Checker Club met weekly during fall, winter, and spring. But like most such things in North Dakota, there was a pause to enjoy the all-too brief summer season, and the club wouldn't meet again until the Saturday after Labor Day.
At the lake, Sal and Sylvia didn't follow any particular schedule. They went to bed when they were tired, got up when they were ready, went on walks, relaxed on the porch, and just took it easy. Sal, of course, brought along some checker magazines.
This morning, however, Sal decided to take a rowboat out on the lake and try some fishing. At least, that's what he called it. What he actually did was row the boat out a ways, drop a line in the water, and then get out a checker magazine. If a fish bit that was fine but he really didn't care. Sylvia, of course, always hoped he'd catch something to cook for dinner, but she knew Sal's habits and tricks and didn't count on anything.
It was a clear and sunny morning, and it was going to be hot, so Sal knew he should go out early. The fish wouldn't really be biting once the temperature rose, but worst of all was that it would be just too warm out in the sun to focus on his magazine. So Sal rowed out at 7 AM right after an early breakfast.
"Good luck, dear," Sylvia had said, not failing to notice the copy of All Checkers Digest in Sal's tackle box.
It was still nice and cool when Sal put a lure on his hook and cast out his line. Then with a smile of anticipation, he opened up his magazine. Sal loved all the news, features, and analyzed games from professional play, but he especially enjoyed the checker problems, and this issue featured one by his friend Ed from Pennsylvania. Opening up the magazine, he quickly found the problem and was soon absorbed in trying to work out the solution.
He was deep in thought when he heard the line on his fishing reel start to run out at a rapid pace. There was a fish on his hook and it must have been a big one!
He set his magazine down on the seat beside him and took his pole from its holder. The fish was still running out as his started to crank on his reel, trying to pull it back in. It was a back and forth tussle and after about five minutes both the fish and Sal were starting to tire. Slowly but surely, Sal was making headway, pulling the fish closer and closer. Soon he could see the fish almost next to the boat, near the surface of the water. Now, where was that fish net ...
While still holding his pole with one hand, Sal reached down and grabbed the handle of his net. He pulled it up ... and wouldn't you know it but the end of the net hit his checker magazine and knocked it into the water!
Sal dropped his pole into the boat and reached out with his net to try to catch his magazine, which was slowly starting to sink. Completely forgetting about the fish, he went desperately for the magazine, but it was too late. The magazine had sunk out of reach. For a moment Sal thought about diving into the water after it, but at 73 years old diving into cold lake water wouldn't have been a good idea, and if he caught a cold from it he'd get the dickens from Sylvia.
Finally remembering the fish, he turned to the other side of the boat. But by this time, it seemed, the fish had somehow wriggled off the hook and was gone.
Despondent, Sal rowed back to shore, moored the boat, and went back into the cabin.
Sylvia was at the kitchen table doing a crossword puzzle. "Back so soon, dear? Any luck?"
Sal slowly recounted the story of the big one that got away, and the lost copy of All Checkers Digest.
"Oh, Sal, I'm so sorry you lost the fish. It would have made such a nice dinner. And the magazine, too, although I know you brought along several others."
"Yes, I did," Sal replied, "but this was the latest issue, and I was just starting to make progress on this problem by Ed ... "
"It's a shame, dear, but I'll make you a nice dinner tonight and you'll feel better about everything, I'm sure. How about a macaroni and hamburger hot dish?" Sylvia knew that was one of Sal's favorites, and she spiced it up with some tangy cheese.
"Oh, yes, dear, thank you, that would be wonderful." But Sal still looked despondent.
It was about time for lunch and they had a ham sandwich with some canned tomato soup. Sal then announced he would take a short rest and Sylvia said she would need to drive into town to pick up some ground beef and a package of macaroni for tonight's dinner.
After washing dishes, Sal lay down while Sylvia headed off for town. Sal awoke an hour or so later and Sylvia was just coming back into the cabin with a bag of groceries.
"Unpack for me, will you Sal, while I freshen up a little. It's so hot out now!" Sylvia said, placing the bag on the kitchen table.
"Sure," Sal said.
Macaroni went into the cupboards, ground beef into the refrigerator, and so on. "Quite a lot of groceries," Sal remarked, but got no reply.
Wait ... what was that in the bottom of the brown paper shopping bag?
No, it couldn't be. Sal had to look twice, then a third time. Slowly, he took the item out, looking at it in wonder.
"Surprised, dear?" Sylvia asked, now standing at the dining table.
"My goodness," Sal said, "how did you do it?"
"Oh, it wasn't hard. It's a pretty popular item, after all. Just about everyone carries it."
Sal smiled as he looked lovingly first at his wife, and then at the copy of the latest issue of All Checkers Digest that he held in his hands.
It looks as though Sal is going to get to try to solve that special problem after all, and of course you can, too. After you've tried it, though, there's no need to go fishing for the solution; just cast your mouse on Read More to see how it's done.[Read More]
In today's Checker School column, we're going full-bore academic. Here's the abstract from a recent paper entitled When Problem Solving Followed by Instruction Works: Evidence for Productive Failure by Tanmay Sinha and Manu Kapur.
"When learning a new concept, should students engage in problem solving followed by instruction (PS-I) or instruction followed by problem solving (I-PS)? Noting that there is a passionate debate about the design of initial learning, we report evidence from a meta-analysis of 53 studies with 166 comparisons that compared PS-I with I-PS design. Our results showed a significant, moderate effect in favor of PS-I (Hedge's g 0.36 [95% confidence interval 0.20; 0.51]). The effects were even stronger (Hedge's g ranging between 0.37 and 0.58) when PS-I was implemented with high fidelity to the principles of Productive Failure (PF), a subset variant of PS-I design. Students' grade level, intervention time span, and its (quasi-)experimental nature contributed to the efficacy of PS-I over I-PS designs. Contrasting trends were, however, observed for younger age learners (second to fifth graders) and for the learning of domain-general skills, for which effect sizes favored I-PS. Overall, an estimation of true effect sizes after accounting for publication bias suggested a strong effect size favoring PS-I (Hedge's g 0.87)."
If you managed to follow all of that, you might wish to seek out the full paper, which is easily found on-line and is freely available. But what's this got to do with our game of checkers?
As it turns out, quite a bit. Should we study a concept in a checker book (like, for instance, fourth position) and then solve problems based on that theme? Or should we try some problems first, likely encountering failure, and only then go back and study the tutorial material? The paper suggests the latter for all but the youngest age groups.
Well, then, let's put this into practice, shall we? Here's a problem from Richard Pask's best-selling (in checker book terms, at least) Checkers for the Novice. If you're an expert player, you'll find the problem easy and you won't need the instruction. But for the rest of us --- what learning method will work best?
Choose your approach. See what resonates with you. You can actually experiment with the entire book, if you wish.
We won't give the solution here; it's Diagram 57, part of Lesson 11 in Mr. Pask's book. If by any chance you don't have a copy, it's a free download.
So, what method did you choose? What was the easiest way for you to learn the concept demonstrated in this problem? Book first? Problem first? Do let us know what you think.
Although this column is being written some weeks in advance, it looks as though 4th of July 2022 is going to be a vast improvement over the past Covid years. Although we know that Covid will never be completely gone, we're back to at least some semblance of normal, and there will be 4th of July parades and outdoor celebrations. And while the world situation and the economy could be better, we're happy for what we have, and most of all we're happy and proud to be Americans and we love celebrating the anniversary of our nation's independence.
On such holidays we often turn to another American patriot, the great champion Tommie Wiswell. Today we have a problem he called Blitz, and you'll see why when you solve it.
See if you can win it. You don't have to play "blitz" --- take all the time you want, but when you're finished, definitely blitz your mouse over to Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
There's an interesting book titled A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster, published in 2004. The book touches on some valid points about how games are designed and ultimately played. However, when it comes to our game of checkers, Mr. Koster says the following.
"Until now, I've been discussing formal game design--- abstract simulations. But we reely see truly abstract simulations in games. People tend to dress up game systems with some fiction. Designers put artwork on them that is suggestive of some real-world context. Take checkers for example--- abstractly it's a board game about entrapment and forced action, played on a diamond-shaped grid. When we say "king me" in checkers, we're adding a subtle bit of fiction to the game; suddenly it has acquired feudal overtones and a medieval context. Usually, the pieces have a crown embossed on them."
We don't have enough space in this column to discuss all of Mr. Koster's errors and misconceptions; suffice it to say that he seems to have little or no knowledge of checkers played as a serious game. However, we did get genuine amusement from the idea of "feudal overtones" related to the process of crowning a piece. We wonder if, as a potential player, he would also subscribe to the common erroneous advice to "always keep your king-row intact."
So, for today's checker problem, let's use our collective imagination. Think of the kings as bearing jeweled crowns and dressed in the finest of purple robes. Think of the men as clad in leather armor and metal helmets, bearing swords, axes, and pikes. Think of the checkerboard as the field of battle, perhaps in ancient Carthage (ancient rather than medieval, but still quite colorful). Listen to the call of trumpets, the beat of drums, the battle cries of the massed warriors.
Or maybe not. Perhaps you'd just like to solve a good checker problem without a lot of distracting imagery. It's up to you. Was Mr. Koster correct or incorrect with his medieval contexts and feudal overtones? Does it really matter?
See how you do with this one and then click on (or march over to, if you will) Read More to view the solution.[Read More]
In May, Marvin J. Mavin had once again led the Detroit Doublejumpers to another World Series of Checkers Championship, defeating the Los Angeles Leapers over the course of seven hard-fought matches.
June and July were off months; training camp didn't take place until August. Marvin and his financee, Priscilla, usually took separate vacations in June and a vacation together in July.
This year Marvin decided to go to Maine. It would be just about the start of the height of the lobster season, and there would also be fresh fish caught in cold Atlantic waters, of course with a nice crisp beer (or two) as an accompaniment.
It was quite a drive from Detroit to Lubeck, Maine, especially in Marvin's very old Volkswagen Beetle. He took his time and after two overnight stays, checked into Cohill's Inn, a well-known pub with several rustic rooms to rent.
Marvin spent a day or two exploring the town, trying to remain incognito, as even remote Lubeck had its checker fans, and the town had an amateur team appropriately named the Lubeck Lobsters, who competed in a league in eastern Maine.
Of course, a star such as Marvin couldn't help but eventually be noticed. However, though Maine folk are very friendly, they do respect a person's privacy, so Marvin didn't have to do a lot more than sign a few autographs, shake a few hands, and pose for some selfies.
About a week into his visit, Marvin was enjoying some local brews in the Lubeck Tavern. He had gotten to talking with a few of the lobster fisherman and raised a couple of glasses with them. Well, maybe more than just a couple. But fishermen rise early and by about 11 o'clock the tavern was empty except for Marvin and the bartender. Closing time wasn't until one AM but the bartender looked tired so Marvin called for one last beer before going back to his lodgings.
He must have taken his time with his beer, for as he drained the last of it he looked up at the tavern's old grandfather clock and saw that it was exactly midnight. He was going to get up to leave but all of a sudden he noticed a large, middle-aged, ruddy-looking man sitting opposite him at his table.
"Where did you come from?" Marvin said, startled by the man's sudden appearance.
"Where did I come from?" the man replied in a voice that was shaky and distant. "What do you mean, where did I come from! Don't you know me? Everybody around here knows The Great Murray! John Murray, that's me, and they call me The Great Murray because of how well I play checkers. The best in Eastern Maine. Maybe the best in all of Maine. Might even be the best in the world only haven't quite got the title yet."
"But," he continued, "I'm going to get there, and I'll start by beating you. Yes, you're some kind of hot-shot professional but I'm not scared, no sir I am not, because you're nothing compared to The Great Murray."
Suddenly there was a rustic old checkerboard on the table. Murray set it up and quickly made a move with the Black pieces. "Now there, your turn, so play."
Marvin, still startled, replied, "Hey, look, whoever you are, it's kinda late and I've had a couple of ... well a few ... quite a few ... anyhow I want to get to bed, so look, why don'tcha come back another night."
"Play, I said!" Murray banged a fist on the table. "Play if you'd like to get to bed in one piece tonight!"
"Aw, c'mon now ... "
Now the fist was inches from Marvin's face. Marvin looked over at the bar, but the bartender was nowhere to be seen.
A sudden shiver went through Marvin's body. Without even meaning to, he reached out his hand and made a move.
The game went on, Murray glowering all the time. Once or twice Marvin made as if to get up and leave, and on each occasion Murray said, "You may not leave unless you resign the game!"
Eventually the play led to the following position.
"Ha ha ha," Murray laughed, "you shall lose now. And you know what shall happen then? I will spread the word far and wide that The Great Murray beat this so-called professional champion, and you shall see if any pro team wants you after that. You shall die poor lying in the gutter because tonight is when your career ends."
Marvin heard these words, stunned. But something must have gotten through to him, because all at once, he sat up straight and said, "Now wait a minute there pal, just who do you think you are? Great Murray? You ain't great anything, 'cept maybe a Great Windbag! Now take this, you old blowhard!"
Marvin looked down at the checkerboard and made his move.
Is The Great Murray all that great? Is he the equal of Marvin J. Mavin? Are you up to Murray's challenge? See how you do with the position above and then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion to our story.[Read More]