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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Four In A Row

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Four-In-A-Row, sometimes called "Connect Four" is a strategy board game that is actually quite good. Shown above is a large outdoor game set that you can buy for your backyard for only ... um ... $300.00 plus shipping.

At The Checker Maven, though, our game is checkers, and nothing will cost you $300.00 (or anything at all, as our content is completely free). However, our theme for this column is indeed "Four In A Row."

In today's Checker School entry, we're trying something a little different. When you click on the link below, you'll be presented with not one, not two, nor even three, but four elementary checker problems. Your job? Solve them as quickly as possible, and our Javascript clock will "help" you keep track of your time. Can you solve four in a row?

A top player won't require more than a minute or two, which includes time to read the problem terms and look at the diagrams. Those of us with lesser skills will require more time, of course, and perhaps quite a bit more.

But no matter; do the best you can. Are you ready?

Click to display problems

When you're done, click the "back" button on your browser and then Read More to check your solutions, all in a row.null

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12/14/19 - Printer friendly version
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15th Anniversary

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With this column, the Checker Maven completes 15 years of uninterrupted on-time publication with no missed Saturdays and no missed deadlines. Each weekend we've put something to do with checkers before our readers, who continue to number in the thousands. From what we can tell, you've by and large been pleased with our efforts.

It all started from a discussion with Brian Hinkle, and things went on from there.

Originally we were going to publish for 10 years. We extended that to 15. But we won't stop here. Although we can't give a timeline--- health and age have crept up on us and your editor has serious eyesight issues--- we'll go on as long as physically possible. We know one day we'll have to quit, but we hope that it won't be very soon.

One of the unique things we've done is to tell checker stories, and it's likely we've written more checker fiction than everyone else in the history of the game put together. So for our 15th anniversary, we have a story and a problem. The problem is by Brian (one of his best ever), and the story is set at The Beacon Cafe. It all somehow seems fitting.


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It was the first Saturday in December, a sunny, crisp and cold day. Sal was all smiles as he walked from his home on 7th Street over to the Beacon Cafe.

Certainly, he was bundled up against the cold. His wife Sylvia wouldn't have let him go out without his wool cap, gloves, and scarf, not to mention his heavy winter coat. "It'll get cold after dark," she warned, and she was right. At this time of year it got dark around four-thirty in Bismarck's northerly latitude, and he knew he'd be at the Cafe until its five o'clock closing time.

On Saturdays the Coffee and Cake Checker Club met regularly, but the holidays were approaching and after today there was only one more meeting until the New Year, so the boys would want to make the most of it. But there was more. Today Sal was bringing something extra special to the session.

Sal enjoyed the walk but just the same he was glad to get into the warm interior of the Cafe. He said hello to Deana, the proprietor, and made his way to the big booth at the back. A couple of the boys were already there: Dan, Mike, and Louie were sitting in front of steaming cups of coffee.

"Hey Sal," they all said, "you're late!"

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Sal looked up at the clock on the wall. It was three minutes after one. "Just a little," he said, "but you have a point. You're going to need a lot of time today."

The boys--- none of them younger than fifty--- exchanged glances. But just then three more members arrived: Delmer, Larry, and Wayne. It was just about a full house.

When everyone had settled, Sal immediately commandeered one of the checkerboards. "Have I ever got something today," he said. "It's from my pal Brian who said he composed it based on an idea he got from Ed."

Everyone groaned. Brian and Ed composed tough checker problems, but this promised to be really tough.

"Yep," Sal said, "it's a hard one. But it's one of the best ever. You boys will really enjoy it. And I'll enjoy my coffee and cake. You might as well buy it for me right away because you'll never ever get this one."

For years, the idea had been that someone would pose a problem and win or lose coffee and cake depending on whether the others could solve it.

"What've you got today, Deana?" Sal called, looking over to Deana's counter.

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"Chocolate chip zucchini bars," Deana replied. "Really good."

Everyone smiled. Who in North Dakota didn't love zucchini bars?

Sal laid out the problem. Then he grabbed two more boards and repeated the position on each of them. "I'll give you an hour," he said, "and you're going to need a lot of coffee."

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W24,31,K9,K14,K28,K30:B16,K4,K5,K15,K22,K29

The boys looked surprised. Usually they only got ten minutes or so to solve a problem. An hour? And Sal was over at the counter buying coffee for everyone? Something was going on, that's for sure.

After about ten minutes, Dan, Mike, and Louie said they thought they had it. But then they changed their minds. "Nope, doesn't work," Dan said, and the others nodded their heads.

An hour passed, then two, then three. Finally Sal interrupted. "It's after four o'clock," he said. "Time to buy me a couple of zucchini bars before it gets too late!"

But there was no reply, just the sound of moves being discussed and pieces being shifted on the checkerboards.

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Finally, it was four forty-five. It was dark outside and Deana was saying she was closing in fifteen minutes and couldn't stay late because her boyfriend was picking her up on the dot of five.

"Okay, Sal, show us," Mike said. "We'll buy you a bar to take home."

"Two bars," Sal said. "One for Sylvia."

He paused and after a moment said, "No bars, no solution."

"Aw, c'mon Sal!" Wayne said.

"Bars," Sal repeated.

"Unfair!" Larry said. "This one was too hard and you knew it!"

It was now five to five.

"Everyone OUT!" Deana said, very impatiently.

Now, Deana was not one to trifle with. When she said 'out' then out you went.

"Tell you what," Sal said. "I'll give you until next week to solve it. But if you don't get it, you buy double, okay?"

The boys, not wanting to annoy Deana further, were putting on their coats. "Sure Sal, whatever you say," Mike said, and the others nodded agreement.

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"My boyfriend's here," Deana said, shooing everyone toward the door. She turned out the lights and pointedly held the door open.

With the setting of the sun, a wind had sprung up and it was now very, very cold. And Sal had to walk all the way home without a chocolate chip zucchini bar.

"Never mind," he said to himself, "I'll collect double next week."


The boys at the Beacon Cafe might have to wait to see the solution, but you don't. However, we suggest that you spend some time on this problem. It's rather difficult, but highly intriguing. Of course you can click on Read More to see the solution whenever you wish, but do really take the time to explore the problem first.null

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12/07/19 - Printer friendly version
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Thanksgiving Weekend

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We say it every year: Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday. It's typically American (and, of course, Canadian), it's relevant to every belief and creed, and it unites us all in giving thanks for the many blessings we have. No matter our station in life, we can all find something to be thankful for.

We like to turn to the great American checkerist and problemist Tom Wiswell for holidays such as these, and what better than a problem, arising from an actual game, that Mr. Wiswell called Dixie.

Mr. Wiswell noted, "We met with the well-known O. J. Tanner, who got us into the following predicament."

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Draw

W:W12,18,21,22,25:B2,4,K26,K30

White may be a piece up but his options are severely limited by the two Black kings. Can you find your way out of this one? Make yourself a hot turkey sandwich (with mashed potatoes and gravy, of course) as you contemplate this one, and then--- when you've finished the sandwich and come up with a solution--- click on Read More to check your answer.

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11/30/19 - Printer friendly version
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Uncle Ben's Porch: Girl Trouble

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Tommy Wagner had girl trouble, and as a ninth grader, he had never expected any such thing.

20081102-boy.jpg
Tommy

It all started when he had a match-up against rising star Letitia Wong (see previous Checker Maven story). Tommy won his game, but he was especially impressed with Letitia's sportsmanship and gentle manner. It had given him a funny feeling that was hard to describe.

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Letitia Wong

So a week later, even though he knew maybe he shouldn't be doing it, he gave Letitia a call. Despite his nervousness, Letitia had been very receptive and friendly and even suggested that they go to a movie together on the following Sunday afternoon.

Tommy didn't know how to refuse--- he wasn't even sure that he wanted to refuse--- and that's when the trouble began.

The problem was this: Tommy had been keeping company with another girl, Tina, for quite some little while. They had gone to grade school together and were close friends.


Tina

It was just Tommy's luck, or maybe it was fate, that Tina and her older sister went to the very same movie at the very same theater on the very same Sunday. Naturally, she saw Tommy and Letitia together. Tina immediately burst into tears, and after the movie both she and her sister confronted Tommy and Letitia.

It was not a pretty scene and Letitia, mortally embarrassed, was quite angry with Tommy--- although maybe not as angry as Tina was. In the course of not even five minutes, Tommy went from two girlfriends to none, with Tina and her sister stomping off angrily and Letitia telling Tommy pointedly that she'd take the bus home by herself.

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Tommy was in a down mood all week, and it persisted into his Saturday morning checker lesson with Uncle Ben, a retired checker professional and Tommy's long-time mentor.

Tommy dragged up the steps to Uncle Ben's front porch and plopped into a chair with only the barest of greetings.

"Something's wrong, isn't it?" Uncle Ben asked. He could have chided Tommy for his lack of manners, but Uncle Ben was too kindly for that.

"No, sir," Tommy muttered. "Everything's fine."

"I don't think so," Uncle Ben said firmly. "Now, you don't have to tell me about it, but please don't deny it. After all these years I think I know you pretty well."

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Tommy sat silently while Uncle Ben, wishing to put Tommy at ease, poured out tall glasses of his deservedly famous lemonade.

Tommy couldn't help but relax, if only a little, after his first sip. "Thank you, Uncle Ben," he said, and then, at all once, launched into the story of his girl trouble.

It was Uncle Ben's turn to sit silently for a few moments. Then he said, "Well, Tommy, and who do you suppose is to blame for this situation?"

"If Letitia hadn't asked me to go to the movie with her ..."

"Just a minute! There are three things wrong with that. First, Letitia didn't know anything about Tina. Second, you didn't have to accept her invitation. And third, you're the one who called Letitia to begin with."

"Um ... yeah ... kind of looks like I brought this on myself, doesn't it?"

Uncle Ben didn't need to reply.

"But now, I don't know what to do about it!"

"What does someone do when they've hurt or offended someone else?"

"Er ... well ... they say 'sorry'?"

"Exactly. You've taken the first step by admitting responsibility. That's a big thing. But it's not enough by itself. Now you have to do something even harder. You have to face the people you've hurt and apologize. Do you think you can do that?"

"I don't know ... but I have to, don't I? So I guess ... well, I just have to. Right away."

"Very good, Tommy, the sooner the better. But not quite right away. You can do what you must this afternoon. I think it will go better if you do a little checker study first to clear your head and focus your thoughts."

Uncle Ben pointed to the checkerboard he had set up on a little porch table. "Today we're going to study something known as the back shot. Take a good look at this position. Push everything else out of your mind and focus. Then tell me how to solve it."

WHITE
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BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:WK4,13,17,21,26,27,32:B1,3,6,10,14,19,20

Tommy took a deep breath, then another, and began to concentrate. After about five minutes, he said, "I'm ready, Uncle Ben."


Do you need a checker problem to clear your head and put you in a frame of mind for doing ... whatever you need to do? We certainly hope you don't have girl (or boy) trouble! Do give the position a good try and then click on Read More to see the solution, notes, and numerous additional examples of the theme.null

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11/23/19 - Printer friendly version
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Return to The Beacon

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It was September and the Coffee and Cake Checker Club was meeting for the first time after the usual summer hiatus. There was a good turnout this week with Sal and five of the boys present: Wayne, Delmer, Louie, Dan, and Mike. The "boys" were all over 50 years old, but nevertheless that's how Sal Westerman, the club's leader, thought of them.

Sal should have been happy. He loved these Saturday afternoon gatherings at The Beacon Cafe more than just about anything else. It was September, 1955, and the weather in Bismarck, North Dakota had started to turn cooler.

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Sal Westerman

So it might surprise you to hear that Sal wasn't the least bit happy.

It all started when Deana, the proprietor of the Beacon Cafe in Bismarck, North Dakota announced that she had fresh lemon bars this afternoon, and Sal frowned. More like scowled, because Sal didn't like lemon bars, not one little bit. He just plain didn't like them, no matter how good they were.

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Dan Kemper

"Lemon bars, Sal!" Dan Kemper, one of the boys, said in a teasing tone. "Don't you want to win one?"

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"No, I do not," Sal said emphatically. He looked over to Deana's service counter. "Deana, don't you have anything else?" he asked her.

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"Got some fudge brownies left over from yesterday," she said. "Half price for day-old. But the lemon bars are fresh and good." She frowned in turn. Sal had been coming to the Beacon for so long she knew exactly what he liked and didn't like, but she always felt a little insulted when her customers didn't care for her baked products. Everyone said she had the best desserts in town. Even Mayor Lips came here often for coffee and treats with his political pals.

Dan continued, "Come on, Sal, I know you've got a coffee and cake problem for us. Heck, you don't have to eat lemon bars if you don't want to--- more for us!" Dan said, and the rest of the boys added their agreement.

"Okay, okay," Sal said, "it just happens that Ed sent me a nice one." Ed was Sal's checker pen pal in Pennsylvania. "Guess I'll have to settle for those day-old brownies when you boys can't solve it."

They all laughed. "Hey, how about if we do solve it you have to eat a lemon bar?" Dan suggested.

"That's not even funny," Sal replied.

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Deana Nagel

Deana wasn't laughing, either. "You make fun of my food, you leave," she threatened. Deana didn't get upset very often but when she did, you had better watch out.

Sal realized that things were going into the ditch in a hurry. "Okay, okay!" he said. "Let there be peace! I'll show you Ed's problem, and whether you solve it or not, I'll buy lemon bars for everyone and a brownie for myself! How's that sound?"

Everyone now smiled, even Deana. The tension was relieved and Sal set out the following position on one of the checkerboards in the big booth that the club always occupied.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK2,15,16,K20,26:B1,K14,19,K30

"Ed calls this one Sweet Spot," Sal said. "What do you boys think?"

Five minutes passed with everyone scratching their heads and looking puzzled. "Five more minutes," Sal announced.


Can you win this one? And what's your take on lemon bars? (Be careful what you say; Deana might hear you.) When you've given this one a good try, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of today's story.null

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11/16/19 - Printer friendly version
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Logical Checkers Vol. 3: Two-Move Expert

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Today we're delighted to announce the immediate availability of the third volume of Grandmaster Richard Pask's Logical Checkers series, subtitled Checkers for the Two-Move Expert. In this new book, which runs to close to 300 pages, Mr. Pask presents new material on endgames, landings, and a vast array of tactical themes, as well as a survey and analysis of two-move ballots (as a stepping-stone to eventual study of three-move ballots).

You can get the book from the Richard Pask page as linked in the right-hand column, or directly here. The book is of course completely free of charge thanks to the generosity of Mr. Pask.

As a bit of a teaser, here's a position found in the book. It's one of Mr. Pask's own devising which he calls Life's Not Fair.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK3,13,17,21:B5,6,10,K22

To see the solution, download the book and go to Diagram 391 on page 92.

The Checker Maven thanks Mr. Pask for the continuing privilege of editing and presenting his work.null

11/09/19 - Printer friendly version
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A Cakewalk

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The Cakewalk goes back a long way, and is intimately connected with Black history and pre-Civil War southern plantation life. But today, a Cakewalk is something of a carnival game, something like musical chairs but with a cake as the prize. The word has also come to mean something that is extremely easy to do or accomplish.

And no, today's column doesn't have anything to do with our ongoing Coffee and Cake series; we've chosen the title Cakewalk because today's problem is very easy indeed. It's so easy that we've resurrected our long-neglected Javascript timer.

Expert players will take longer to read the terms of the problem than they will to solve it; an instant solution is likely. Even intermediates will solve it just about at once. Beginners may have to reflect a few seconds but they too should not have much trouble.

Why such an easy problem? Well, we present hard ones week after week and once in a while we think it's good to go in the other direction. Players of all levels should find a home in our columns. The position was sent to us by regular contributors Lloyd and Josh Gordon of Toronto and arose over the board.

So here we go. Click below to show the problem and start the clock.

Cakewalk (very easy)

Got it? Of course you did. But click on Read More all the same, just to be sure.null

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11/02/19 - Printer friendly version
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Season Opener

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It was Opening Day for the National Checker League as the 2019-2020 season was about to begin, and Marvin J. Mavin, Captain of the defending champion Detroit Doublejumpers, was ready.


Marvin J. Mavin

August training camp had been rough, with lots of physical and mental training. But Marvin had to admit it felt good to be in top shape, even though he thought the coaches had been pretty tough on him. No beer for a whole month, and running laps constantly.

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This afternoon, the Doublejumpers were facing the Seattle Single Corners at Starbugs Stadium in Seattle. A sellout crowd of over 50,000 was on hand to see what promised to be an exciting contest.

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Marvin, on first board, was paired up against the Seattle captain, a short, squat fellow that just went by the name Sluggo. In high school and college, Sluggo was a champion weight lifter and wrestler, but he was so good at checkers that he decided to take a pro contract. Still, one look at him told you that he had definitely kept up the physical training.

Word had gotten around the League about Marvin's experiences in training camp this year, and Sluggo started to ride Marvin as soon as they took their places across the checkerboard.

"Heard you had to run some laps," Sluggo said. "Must a been tough for a wimp like you." Sluggo laughed, a deep, nasty sound that had intimidated many an opponent both over the board and in the ring.

"Yeah, well, unlike you I got a brain," Marvin said.

"Not very original," Sluggo replied, "and anyhow you won't have one yourself after I bust up your head."

"Hey! Are you threatening me? You can't do that!"

Sluggo looked Marvin right in the eye. "Really? Whatcha gonna do about it?" Sluggo raised his clenched fists to chest level.

Marvin involuntarily took a step back, but just then the referee's whistle blew and the call "Play checkers!" resounded across the field.

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Sluggo stuck out his hand for a handshake, but Marvin didn't take it. He was afraid Sluggo would break his fingers. That got another low laugh from Sluggo. "Have it your way, little boy," he said. "I'll beat you on the board, over the board, and into the board."

The game proceeded as follows. Marvin had Black and Sluggo had White.


1. 11-16 23-18
2. 10-15 18x11
3. 8x15 24-19
4. 15x24 27x11
5. 7x16 28-24
6. 4-8 22-18
7. 8-11 26-23
8. 16-20 31-27
9. 6-10 18-14
10. 10x17 21x14
11. 9x18 23x14
12. 11-15 30-26
13. 3-7 26-23
14. 1-6 25-21

Loses. 25-22 was correct.

WHITE
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BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:W14,21,23,24,27,29,32:B2,5,6,7,12,15,20

Marvin chuckled. "Hey, you did pretty well up to now--- for a lamebrain. But that last move is gonna cost you the game."

"Oh yeah?" replied Sluggo. "Sez who?"

"Sez me, Marvin J. Mavin."

"You're dead meat. Nobody beats Sluggo."

Marvin chuckled again. "We'll see about that," he said, and made his move.


Can you beat Sluggo? No, not on a wrestling mat, but over the board? See if you can find the win and then slam your mouse on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.null

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10/26/19 - Printer friendly version
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Hogan's Heros

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Hogan's Heros was an American television program that ran from 1965 through 1971. It was pretty popular in its time, although today's politically correct, looking-to-be-offended crowd would find it unacceptable.

But there was a different and earlier Hogan, namely E. W. Hogan of Emo, Ontario, who is a hero to us in a checker sort of way. Some time in the latter part of the 1930s he published a problem that to this day is a bit resistant to computer solution. Take a look at the diagram below.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W5,7,10,11,16,18,K19,23,26,31:B1,2,4,9,12,17,20,22,25,K28

Yes, the KingsRow computer engine found the solution ... but it did have to think about it for a few seconds (normally KingsRow solves positions virtually instantaneously).

So we think you'll find it to be an interesting challenge. Don't worry about being politically correct; become one of E. W. Hogan's heros and try to solve it. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution.null

[Read More]
10/19/19 - Printer friendly version
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One Last Gem

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For the last several months our monthly Checker School columns have been featuring "gem" problems. Whether or not they were all truly "gems" is for you, our reader, to decide, but we have one last entry in the current series to present to you today. It's by S. J. Pickering and apparently first made its appearance in the old (and excellent) checker magazine Elam's Checker Board.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK8,15,22,K26:B1,7,20,K27

White has two kings to Black's one and has a centralized position. Should be easy, shouldn't it? But checkers is subtle and complex, and the win may not be so simple.

Does this one sparkle for you? Can you appreciate its facets? See if you can solve it and then let your mouse shine on Read More to see the solution and notes.null

[Read More]
10/12/19 - Printer friendly version
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The Checker Maven is produced at editorial offices in Honolulu, Hawai`i, as a completely non-commercial public service from which no profit is obtained or sought. Original material is Copyright © 2004-2019 Avi Gobbler Publishing. Other material is the property of the respective owners. Information presented on this site is offered as-is, at no cost, and bears no express or implied warranty as to accuracy or usability. You agree that you use such information entirely at your own risk. No liabilities of any kind under any legal theory whatsoever are accepted. The Checker Maven is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Bob Newell, Sr.

MAVEN, n.:

An expert or connoisseur, often self-proclaimed.


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