The Checker Maven

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

Published every Saturday morning in Honolulu, Hawai`i

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Mysteries of Dama


Julius D'Orio was an interesting character. An Italian immigrant who eventually ended up in California, he was a master checkerist in the early part of the 20th century, even if a somewhat lesser player than the very best in his times. He wrote one book, Mysteries of Dama, an autographed copy of which sits on the shelves in the Checker Maven offices. Mr. D'Orio is known for his promotion of the "triangle" defense, which as a general principle of play has never been widely accepted, as it has substantial flaws (as demonstrated by Jim Loy and others).

But his book is fascinating to read, and today we present an interesting position found within it.

Black to Play and Draw


Mr. D'Orio characterizes Black's position as seemingly hopeless, and indeed, White appears to have the upper hand. Mr. D'Orio proposes a solution, which is both neat and valid. Can you find it? We asked our computer--- KingsRow with the 10-piece endgame database--- and it came back with something completely different and unexpected. Dama is indeed full of mysteries.

Don't be mystified; Mr. D'Orio's solution is within reach, even if the computer's solution might remain, well, mysterious. When you're ready, click on Read More, after which all secrets will be revealed.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/25/15 - Printer friendly version
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Capers on the Kelso, Part 8


Built by the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad in 1905, Kelso Station was once an important place. In the middle of the Mojave Desert, Kelso Station served as a source of water for steam engines, a place where passengers and crew could get something to eat, and a location for "helper" engines to assist in pulling trains up a steep nearby grade.

Of course, it's all a matter of history today, as the heyday of rail travel, just like the heyday of checkers, is behind us. Will rail travel make a comeback? Will our game of checkers? We can only hope, and continue to work towards that goal. The Checker Maven is intended to be our contribution to this worthy effort.

We continue our extended series on the Kelso opening, taken from Willie Ryan's Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard, with more exploration of his "Variation 2." Here's a quick run-up without commentary. Detailed notes can be found in previous columns in this series. Our analysis has found some play that overturns one of Willie's conclusions.

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

Willie now gives the next move as 25-21, but in a note, he offers 25-22 as an alternative, resulting in the position below:

Black to Play and


Willie, of course, proposes his own solution and it's a good one. But we found a different solution with KingsRow, and it's even more spectacular than Willie's.

Take full credit if you find either solution, and count yourself a master or better if you find both. When you're finished, click on Read More to see both solutions.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/18/15 - Printer friendly version
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The Wyllie One


Wiles, wits, and wisdom make up the toolkit of champion checker players. To be the best, skill and knowledge--- wits and wisdom--- need to be augmented by a special sense, an almost undefinable quality of wiliness, that makes the difference between the best of the best and the merely very good.

We all know of Edinburgh checkerist James Wyllie, "the Herd Laddie," who was a dominant force in checkers in the mid- to late-19th century, holding the world championship for no less than 40 years. He was indeed a wily one, and our Checker School position below is attributed to this great player.

Black to Play and Draw


How wily are you? We think that if you get the first move, you'll have little trouble with the rest. Test your wiles and then click on Read More to see the solution, sample game, and detailed notes.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/11/15 - Printer friendly version
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Fourth of July Celebration


This year our Fourth of July column appears on the day itself, America's birthday. It's a time to reaffirm our patriotism and honor the greatness of America. At The Checker Maven, we're proud American patriots who are profoundly grateful for the opportunities and blessings that come from living in America, and thankful to the men and women who give so much to defend our freedom.


There's nothing like a Fourth of July picnic to celebrate, and there's nothing like a Tom Wiswell problem to make checkers part of the day. Mr. Wiswell was a great American player, problemist, and patriot, one of the "Greatest Generation" who served in our armed forces during the Second World War.

Here's the problem.

White to Play and Win


Mr. Wiswell called this one "Strolling Through The Park" because he happened upon some players in the park (presumably Central Park in New York City) and saw the White player miss the win. We wouldn't say that the problem is super-hard, but it does require a good eye and good judgment.

Take a little stroll with this one, then walk your mouse to Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/04/15 - Printer friendly version
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The Lindyville Checker Club, Part 1


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.

# # #


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.


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.

# # #


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.


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.


# # #

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
White to Play and Win


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


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.

White to play, what result?


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Burning the Candle at Both Ends


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.

White to Play, Black Draws


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


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.


White to Play and Win


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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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.


White to Play and Win


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.


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


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

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
White to Play and Win


After 14-18
White to Play and Win


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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The Checker Maven is produced at editorial offices in Honolulu, Hawai`i. Original material is Copyright © 2004-2015 Avi Gobbler Productions, a division of Mr. Fred Investments. Other material is the property of the respective owners. Information presented on this site is offered as-is and bears no express or implied warranty as to accuracy or usability.The Checker Maven is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Bob Newell, Sr.

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