The Checker Maven had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Alan Millhone, President of the American Checker Federation (ACF), via email. Mr. Millhone was kind enough to give us many insights into his own life, his checker career, and his aspirations as ACF President.
Checker Maven: Tell us a little about your background.
Alan: I am married to Victoria Lee Millhone and have a grown daughter, Joclaire, and her husband Thomas and our three grandsons, Forest, Solomon and David. I was born in Parkersburg, W.Va. in 1948 and have lived all my life in Belpre, Ohio. I graduated from Belpre High School in 1966. My 9th and 10th grades were spent at Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, Va. I attended 4 years at Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio and earned a B.S. in Business Administration. After college I was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1970, and spent time in the US and in Korea. (I was) Honorably Discharged in 1972. My father was a building contractor in Belpre since 1955 and I helped him in my school years, summers and while I was in college. After the Army I began full time work as a builder/remodeler and do that to this day in the Belpre,Ohio area. Aside from being ACF President I am also the local Board President for Habitat for Humanity.
Checker Maven: When and how did you become interested in checkers?
Alan: I used to play my father when I was little and he would get me into little 2x1 shots, etc. That must have been the early beginning to learn more about the game. In high school I was tutored by the late Walter Kaneff of Constitution, Ohio. While attending college in Columbus, Ohio I met and was mentored by the late Mr. B.T. Shafer. He loved problems and would always have one set up for me to solve when I visited his home in New Albany, Ohio. He taught me early on to never 'touch' the pieces and always try to 'sight solve' and visualize solutions to board problems.
Checker Maven: What made you interested in a leadership role in checkers, and how did it come about that you became ACF president?
Alan: In 1970 I left checkers when I entered the Army and forgot about the game till around 1999. That Christmas I was visiting our daughter in Charlotte,N.C. and her husband Tom had a computer and indicated he knew I played checkers years back. he told me I could play on line which fascianted me as to date I had never touched a computer. He set me up with a nickname and got me onto MSN gaming zone. I played the afternoon and was 'hooked' once more. At the Pennsylvania Open I met Mr. Alexander Moiseyev and we chatted in my room one evening. Later on I met him again at the Ohio Tournament and he told me he liked what he saw in me and offered to be my campaign manager if I would run for ACF President. I ran as an unknown after my 30 year absence and won over Mr. Charles Walker by a mere 7 votes!
Checker Maven: How would you characterize the state of "organized" checkers today? How does that compare with the past and what are the hopes and prospects for the future? How do you think the ACF will do in years to come?
Alan: Checkers and the ACF has been on the decline since the advent of television in the early 60s. For the game to survive and for the ACF to remain we have to attract and keep young players. The ACF needs a corporate sponsor to help our youth. My goal is to find that sponsor and have them join ranks with the ACF to promote one of the finest mind sports ever conceived by man. The ACF cannot continue to do 'business as usual' or we will perish in time. It is time for different thinking and for the infusion of new ideas if we are to survive in today's video oriented world.
Checker Maven: What do you think the effects of computers have been on the game of checkers? Do you think checkers will ever be solved, and what difference do you think that might make, if any?
Alan: Computer programs have been a blessing to analysts and those who want to 'hammer' out new lines of play. Checkers may be solved one day, but that will not make me another Tinsely when it does become solved. The computer/internet lets players from all over the globe interact and chat while playing on a variety of playing sites. Even the mail players are using the internet now to play mail games where it used to take months via snail mail. Many contend that computer programs have killed mail play.
Personally I love going to different tournaments and meeting and playing a variety of players from all over the USA and abroad. I consider checker players as my second family.
Checker Maven: What about the effect of computers on correspondence play?
Alan: I have never played any correspondence checkers, but realize that many new lines of play come from the mail players and the lines they have 'hammered' out from those games. Checkers used to be a game of mental analysis. My good friend Mr. Karl D. Albrecht will be noted in checker history as one of the greatest analyists who ever played the game. However today one can program in the moves you want and go to bed and let the computer program do the rest. Programs to me have taken the human element out of the game to some degree.
Checker Maven: What would you say to those who think that checkers is boring, or just a kid's game?
Alan: Most people play 'skittle' checkers and never scratch the surface of the game nor ever learn to appreciate its deep beauty . I have had many tell me checkers is a game of luck; well, luck comes to those who are well prepared. The late and great football coach, Mr. Vince Lombardi once remarked , "Luck is the residue of preparation" . The great William F. Ryan once remarked that one should avoid those who do not appreciate the deep intricacies of checkers. Yes, checkers is a game you can learn to play in a few minutes (how pieces move, taking jumps, movement of King,etc.) but then spend the rest of your life attempting to master.
Checker Maven: You often call yourself an "average" player but your tournament results are quite outstanding. Do you have any ambitions such as winning titles or being a grandmaster level player?
Alan: My goal is to improve my play over time and to see my rating inch up a little now and then. I know just enough about checkers to now realize how little I actually know about the game. I fear no player and love to play the best at any opportunity. To play better you have to play the better players.
Checker Maven: What moments in checkers are you personally most proud of?
Alan: In the late 60s while in college I organized two simultaneous exhibitions for Mr. Tommie Wiswell and Mr. Newell W. Banks. Both men also stayed at my home years ago. The great Marion Tinsley was a house guest years ago on several occasions. Most recently getting to play on the USA International Team vs. GB, Ireland and Scotland was a highlight in my life. I went to observe the match and ended up playing 7 rounds. A fine book commemorating this match will be published soon.
Checker Maven: What advice would you give to the young or up-and-coming player, or to the plain-old ambitious checkerist?
Alan: As Dr. Gerry Lopez likes to admonish, " Knowledge is Power." You can't beat the player who is well 'booked' on published play and has crossboard ability as well. Attend and enter tournaments as you can, get yourself a good program to play against on your computer, and build yourself a good checker library of reference books. I like Mr. Fortman's Basic Checkers, Dr. Shuffett's and Tommie Wiswell's America's Best Checkers , and Mr. Alex Moiseyev's new book Sixth .
Checker Maven: Anything else?
Alan: The American Checker Federation is always looking for new members and we publish six bulletins a year full of checker news, games, etc. Visit our web site at www.usacheckers.com for more information.
Our thanks to Mr. Millhone for granting us this information-filled interview.