The Checker Maven

The World's Most Widely Read Checkers and Draughts Publication
Bob Newell, Editor-in-Chief


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The Lindyville Checker Club, Part 1

20150529-lvcclub.jpg

Today, at long last, we begin another seven-part serialized story, The Lindyville Checker Club. We'll give a little more background into the story at its conclusion, but for now we'd just like to begin telling the tale.

A checker problem will be found at the end of each installment. The problems in this series are generally easy.

We hope you enjoy our latest contribution to the literature of checker fiction.

# # #

20150529-daposse.jpg

The law was in pursuit, and they couldn't be more than a couple of hours behind. The posse would be at least twenty strong and they would have easy access to fresh horses. For Carl and his three companions, time would soon run out.

"We're going to have to split up," Carl told them. "If we stay together, they'll get all of us. If we go our separate ways, we'll have better chances."

The other men shifted in their saddles and grumbled. But they knew Carl was right. Their horses were tired and they couldn't push them any harder.

They thought it was going to be easy. After weeks of observation, they worked out when the gold deliveries to the Iowa City bank were made. Ambushing the wagon outside of town would be simple; in order to disguise the shipments, the wagons were only lightly guarded.

Everything went according to plan right up until the last minute, when the Federal Marshall decided to ride out and escort the wagon into town. Maybe someone tipped him off or something made him suspicious. But he showed up just as Carl's gang were taking the sacks of gold off the wagon.

The Marshall saw the dead bodies of the wagon driver and the single guard riding with him, and knew better than to take on the gang alone. Realizing that the gold would slow down the gang and tire their horses, the Marshall went back to town and assembled a posse, figuring to catch up with the gang before too long.

"The gold's too heavy for the horses," Carl said. "We gotta unload it and bury it. It's slowing us up too much. When this all blows over, we can come back to get it."

"That means we gotta trust each other," one of the men said. "I don't like it."

"I don't like it neither," Carl said.

"So what's the idea then?" another asked.

"I'll show you," Carl said, grinning. Before the others could react, he had his Colt out of his holster and shot two of them through the head.

The third man, Grigg, was just fast enough. Rather than drawing his gun and trying to shoot it out, he wheeled his horse and took off. Carl fired a couple of shots but Grigg was already too far away.

There was no time to chase him down. Grigg would have to be dealt with in the future. But for now, there was work to do.

20150529-oldgold.jpg

Carl dismounted and took the sacks of gold from the dead men's horses. He put them on his own horse, mounted, and took off.

Carl rode a few more miles. He still figured he had an hour's lead. Then he took his horse off the trail and rode off into the brush. It didn't take him long to stop and bury the gold, making a careful note on his map so he could find it later. Much later, from the looks of it.

He got back on the trail and rode on. Luck was with him; he reached Lake City ahead of the posse. He abandoned his horse and walked into town. He got even luckier when he got to the train station and found that a train going back East was due to leave in just ten minutes. He bought a ticket with one of the gold coins he had secreted in his boots and got on board.

As the train was pulling out, he saw a group of riders coming down the main street. It was the posse. He smiled and chuckled to himself. A change of train or two and they'd never find him. He'd be home free. All he had to do was lay low for a year or two in New York, and then make his way back out west. No one would find the gold where he'd buried it, and it would be waiting for him when the time came.

Grigg might be a problem, but Grigg would never find the gold, and would never find him, either.

Things were going to work out really well. Carl would just have to be a little patient.

# # #

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Andrew Lopez, professor of mathematics at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, couldn't wait to be done with his last lecture of the day. Bernalillo Books, his favorite antiquarian bookstore, had left him a message saying that they had just gotten an 1898 edition of American Checker Player, and they'd hold it for him for 24 hours.

It was quite a find, and Professor Lopez didn't want to pass it up. All he wanted to do was wrap up this Abstract Algebra seminar and race down Central Avenue to the bookstore.

He thought about asking the students if they'd like to quit early, but the fact was that anyone dedicated enough to enroll in Abstract Algebra was there for the duration.

Half an hour to go. He felt like he was about to burst at the seams, but somehow, he held on. Who wanted to bother with finite Abelian groups when a copy of American Checker Player hung in the balance?

Apparently, his students did.

The bell finally rang, ending the class period. A couple of students started toward the front of the room, obviously with time-consuming questions on their minds, but Professor Lopez waved them off as he quickly gathered up his papers and briefcase. "Come during office hours!" he said, making a beeline for the exit.

He made record time through the parking lot, pulled out of the driveway, turned onto Central Avenue, and drove off at a speed that astonished even him.

Luckily, he wasn't ticketed, and he got to the bookstore just before their 5 PM closing time.

20150529-abqbooks.jpg

It was all worth it. A few minutes later, he was on his way back to his car, carrying nothing less than a full set of the 1898 issues of American Checker Player.

A pleasant evening was definitely ahead, and he smiled in anticipation.

But then he remembered: He had promised to take his girlfriend, Samantha, to dinner. He had cancelled a couple of times already, and the second time, it was clear that she was losing patience.

If he cancelled again so he could stay home and read his checker magazines, he knew he might not get another chance.

Samantha was nice, and he truly cared for her. It was just that he hated having to choose between his girlfriend and checkers.

TO BE CONTINUED.

# # #

Yes, the problems in the series are definitely related to the story, but we won't spoil things for you at this early stage.

Problem One
BLACK
20150529-lvillep1.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W25,17,6:BK26,K18.

Click on Read More to see the solution, and be sure to stay tuned for future chapters in our story.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/27/15 - Printer friendly version
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Capers on the Kelso, Part 7

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The racehorse Kelso was without question one of the greatest of all time, winning five "Horse of the Year" titles and setting nine track records in an eight-season career. Kelso retired after suffering an injury in March, 1966, with total winnings just shy of two million dollars, an amount that wasn't surpassed for many years.

We're not aware of anyone winning anything like two million dollars in checkers, but the Kelso opening has its share of fame, too, and has produced both winners and losers. Today, we continue our extended series on the Kelso, drawn from Willie Ryan's classic Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard.

Here's the run-up to today's position. For comments, see previous columns in this series.


1. 10-15 22-18
2. 15x22 25x18
3. 11-15 18x11
4. 8x15 21-17
5. 4-8 17-13
6. 9-14 29-25
7. 6-10 24-20
8. 1-6 28-24
9. 8-11

Much inferior to 15-19.


9. ... 32-28
10. 3-8---C

The best move in this position, though white retains an advantage. Willie's recommended 14-17 is a probable loss. Note C will be found with the solution.

BLACK
20150517-tts-kelso7.png
WHITE
White to play, what result?

W:W31,30,28,27,26,25,24,23,20,13:B15,14,12,11,10,8,7,6,5,2.

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06/20/15 - Printer friendly version
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Burning the Candle at Both Ends

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Today's Checker School entry is a fascinating position we call "Burning the Candle at Both Ends," because the terms could just as well have been "White to Play and Draw." To be sure, this isn't in keeping with the traditional meaning of the phrase, but to us it seemed rather apt. See if you agree: First White must find the right move to save the draw. But then Black has the same task and must hew to the correct path. It's a double-ended problem with both ends burning.

E. M. HARDEN
BLACK
20150507-fp163.png
WHITE
White to Play, Black Draws

W:W31,27,25,21,20,19:B14,13,12,11,10,5.

Can you work out both sides of this very interesting endgame? We hope you won't have to burn your own candle at both ends in so doing, and rather than stay up all night, you can always click on Read More to see the solution, a sample game, and detailed notes.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/13/15 - Printer friendly version
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Not So Fast

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Last month we brought you "not quite" a speed problem, and this month is no different. We originally were going to publish today's entry as a speedster, but the position requires a little thought, so again we're dispensing with the JavaScript clock and letting you take all the time you need.

BLACK

WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W26,K21,K12,11:BK29,K4,K3,1.

At first glance (aren't those famous last words?) it looks like White has it sewed up, as all three Black kings have no safe moves. That just leaves the single Black man ... oh ... wait ... Black has "the move" and White can't necessarily trap the Black man ... hmmm ... not so simple after all.

The winning technique is well worth knowing, so take your time and see if you can figure it out; then click on Read More to see the solution and notes.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/06/15 - Printer friendly version
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Uncle Ben's Porch: A Sad Day

Tommy didn't want to go to Uncle Ben's that Saturday for his regular weekly checker lesson, even though the Florida State Scholastic Championships were coming up in just a week, and Tommy was supposed to lead his highly-rated middle school team in the Miami competition.

Tommy's grandfather had passed away only last night, and Tommy was heartbroken, not just for his own sake but for his grieving Mom, who had just lost her father.

Gramps had lived a long and happy life, and Tommy knew that at age 90, the last day would eventually come. But that didn't make things any easier when it finally happened, and Tommy, at age fourteen, had never experienced the loss of a loved one at first hand. But his Mom insisted that he go to Uncle Ben's. "There's little you can do here except watch me cry," she said, "and you've got your tournament coming up. I know you want to be here for me, but your life needs to go on. So shoo!"

Mom managed to smile, even if it was a little forced. Tommy loved her all the more for it, and so he put his notebook in his backpack and walked the half dozen blocks to Uncle Ben's house.

Ben wasn't really Tommy's uncle, of course, but he didn't want to be called "Mr." and "Uncle Ben" seemed like just the right thing. Uncle Ben was a retired professional checker player, who had since written a number of highly-regarded checker textbooks. He took on just a handful of young students, never charging a dime for his tutoring, which he did as a community service.

Tommy had studied with Uncle Ben for several years. Nearly every Saturday morning, they'd sit on Uncle Ben's porch and drink Uncle Ben's fine homemade lemonade while Uncle Ben taught him a new theme or tactic. It had all paid off; Tommy had become a rising young star, perhaps even destined for the big leagues himself one day.

Uncle Ben, of course, had heard about Tommy's grandfather, and as soon as Tommy arrived, he offered his condolences. Tommy sat down at the waiting checkerboard, but it was all too much for him, and he couldn't fight back tears any longer.


20140806-ft17-8.png

White to Play and Win

W:W31,K13,K6:BK29,K16,14.

Uncle Ben just sat quietly. Eventually Tommy cried himself out. He took a few deep breaths and gave Uncle Ben an embarrassed look.

"It's okay, Tommy. You have to express your grief. You can't just hold it in forever. Sometimes it's braver to cry than to try to act strong."

"I don't know how I can go to the championships, Uncle Ben," Tommy said. "It just doesn't seem right. Grandpa's funeral is going to be right in the middle of the competition."

It was true. The opening round was on Wednesday and the funeral was scheduled for Thursday morning. "How can I let Mom go to the funeral by herself?" Tommy asked. "I've just got to be there."

Uncle Ben took his time before answering. In a quiet voice, he said, "What does your mother say?"

"My mother says I've got to decide for myself, but she thinks I have an obligation to my team. The thing is, I think I have an obligation to my mom."

"Indeed, you do, Tommy, although that obligation may not be quite what you think. But you're leaving out the most important question of all."

Tommy look puzzled. "I don't understand, Uncle Ben. What other question is there?"

"The question you need to ask, Tommy, is, what would your grandfather have wanted you to do?"

Tommy smiled. "Gramps and I talked about it a lot," he said. "Gramps was really proud of me and wanted my team to take the championship this year. He thought we had a really good shot at it." Tommy's smile quickly vanished and he felt near tears again. "But he won't see it now ... it just doesn't seem to matter any more."

"Oh, it does matter, Tommy. It matters quite a bit. But you really didn't answer the question. What would your grandfather want you to do?"

"Well ... he was always telling me things like 'life is for the living' and saying I would only be young once and not to miss out on anything. I never really understood all of it, I guess."

"Do you understand a little more of it now?"

Tommy thought for a moment. "You mean now that he's gone? Actually, Uncle Ben, I think he was trying to tell me something."

"And what might that be?"

"That he was old and he wouldn't be around forever, and that life would go on?"

"Very good. And now, can you answer my question?"

"He'd want me to go, wouldn't he? He'd want me to go and play my best and bring home the trophy."

Uncle Ben sat back in his chair and didn't say anything.

"But what about my Mom?" Tommy asked. "Shouldn't I be with her?"

"The hardest time for your Mom, Tommy, will be when the funeral is over and everyone has gone home. You'll be there with her then, when she really needs you the most." Uncle Ben paused. "Now, I can't tell you what to do. You have to decide for yourself, and we'll all respect your decision. That's all I'm going to say, so are you ready for some lemonade now?"

Tommy sat up straight and nodded. "Yes, please, I'd like that, Uncle Ben. Thank you. And I think we'd better get down to my lesson. I've got a championship to win, you know!"

Uncle Ben smiled and reached for the icy pitcher of fresh lemonade.

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Editor's Note: Clicking on Read More will take you to the problem solution, a sample game, many more examples of the problem's theme, as well as additional commentary.20050904-symbol.gif

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05/30/15 - Printer friendly version
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Capers on the Kelso, Part 6

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Finally, we go to the source. Shown above is the River Tweed in the Kelso area of Scotland, and as we all know, the 10-15 Kelso opening is named for this region.

We continue this extended series on the Kelso with Willie's "Variation 2," as presented in his famed and famous Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard. Variation 2 is reached as follows. (Annotations are shown in previous columns in this series.)


10-15 21-17 24-20
22-18 4-8 1-6
15-22 17-13 28-24
25-18 9-14 8-11---1
11-15 29-25 32-28---A
18-11 6-10 14-17---B,C
8-15

A---"Forms a position made famous by American Champion A. J. Heffner of Boston, who published much fine play on it years ago. The ramifications of this formation should be mastered by every aspiring player, as it has been the nemesis of many headliners in the checker firmament."

1---Willie has previously noted that this is a very weak move. 15-19 is really the only way to go for Black.

Notes B and C are shown in the solution.

The last move, 14-17, is critical. What if Black plays 15-18? How about 14-18? It turns out that both of these moves lose.

After 15-18
BLACK
20150415-ttsk6-1.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W31,30,28,27,26,25,24,23,20,13:B18,14,12,11,10,7,6,5,3,2.

After 14-18
BLACK
20150415-ttsk6-2.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W31,30,28,27,26,25,24,23,20,13:B18,15,12,11,10,7,6,5,3,2.

So, you have two problems to solve. The first is easier than the second, especially as our computer analysis explored some improved play in the second problem. See what you can do, and then go to the source by clicking on Read More to see the solutions.20050904-symbol.gif

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05/23/15 - Printer friendly version
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A Textbook Win

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"Hitting the books" is something we were admonished to do throughout our academic years, from grade school all the way through graduate school. There was certainly a lot of knowledge in those weighty textbooks, and though acquiring that knowledge wasn't always an enjoyable experience, hitting the books usually paid off.

The same is true with checkers, although we have to admit to enjoying checker study a little more than we enjoyed things like tensor analysis or the works of Kant in the original German. Besides, if we want to be good at checkers, book learning is a necessity, not an option.

Today's study definitely could have come from a checker text.

WHITE
20150407-textbook.png
BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:W28,21,K15:BK27,13,9.

White has just played the losing 19-15. What should White have played? And more importantly, how can Black win? This problem is another example of the beautiful subtlety of checkers.

It's only fair to warn you that it will take Black a little while to win this. But the process is no more than a logical and methodical application of textbook principles.

Write a chapter in your own checker textbook by solving this problem, then click on Read More to see our own annotated solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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05/16/15 - Printer friendly version
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Mulholland Drive

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We had a little more trouble than usual with today's Checker School theme.

There was a very famous engineer, William Mulholland, but the surname's spelling isn't the same as the name in our theme. Mr. Mulholland designed and directed the construction of the 233-mile long Los Angeles aqueduct, which opened in 1913. Mulholland Drive and other places around Los Angeles are named after him. His career had an unfortunate ending after the deadly collapse of the St. Francis Dam in 1928.

But what about Mr. Lucas? The name is common enough, and we uncovered numerous engineers and engineering firms bearing that name.

There is at least one modern-day person named Lucas Mullholland, with that exact spelling, but for privacy reasons we won't publish a photo or travel any further in that direction.

Of course, there's the famed 2001 Mulholland Drive movie, as shown above.

What has all of this to do with checkers? We don't know, but it's almost a certainty that William Mulholland at least knew how to play the game.

Today's study consists of two problems based on a single diagram. It all comes down to who moves first.

LUCAS - MULLHOLLAND
WHITE
20150331-fp160.png
BLACK
Black to Play and Draw
White to Play, Black Wins

B:W28,26,22,21,19:B14,13,12,11,10.
W:W28,26,22,21,19:B14,13,12,11,10.

This is an excellent and subtle study, and it's well worth your time. See if you can engineer the solutions, then click on Read More to see notes, commentary, analysis, and sample games.20050904-symbol.gif

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05/09/15 - Printer friendly version
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Not Exactly a Speed Problem

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Today's problem was sent by regular contributors Lloyd and Josh Gordon of Toronto, Ontario. We were going to feature it as a speed problem, and indeed there are some speed problem aspects here. But the problem goes deeper than the first few moves, as you'll soon see.

So this month, we'll spare you the Javascript clock and let you take as much time as you need. We don't doubt that you'll see the "speed" part pretty quickly. After that, you'll likely need to think it through.

Here's the position.

BLACK
20150408-notaspeed.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W32,30,27,24,21,15,K2:BK31,22,20,14,12,3,1.

It's an interesting study. Take all the time you need, then click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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05/02/15 - Printer friendly version
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The Joker

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It's been a while since we featured a Chris Nelson problem. Mr. Nelson was a checker analyst and composer who lived in that one-time hotbed of checkers, Brooklyn, New York.

Today's problem gets its name from Tom Wiswell, who says it has fooled many an expert with a "joker" or false solution. Mr. Wiswell continues, "We doubt that you will get it the first time."

BLACK
20150404-dajoker.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W26,K10,K7,5:B28,K21,17,1.

Don't let the joke be on you. When you think you've got it, check twice and see if you've really solved it. Then click on Read More to see that it really wasn't that hard after all.

Or was it?20050904-symbol.gif

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04/25/15 - Printer friendly version
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