Tommy had a very important match coming up. There was one spot left on the varsity checker team for the coming school year; Tommy, as Captain of the junior varsity, had a shot at it.
Coach Hovmiller tried to be fair about these things. He set up a series of test matches and promoted the players who had the best scores combined with the best attributes such as team play, sportsmanship, and so on. Tommy ranked well in all of the latter factors, but he was having a run of bad luck with the test matches.
It wasn't that Tommy was a poor player; he was one of the best. But he'd blundered in one game and had a loss of confidence, quickly losing two more. Coach Hovmiller knew that Tommy was better than that, but he wouldn't bend his own rules. Fair is fair, and Tommy had to win the next match to gain a varsity position.
The trouble was, the match was with Joey Zee, and Joey was not a very nice boy (see previous Checker Maven column). Joey was almost dropped from the team by the Coach several times during the year for his bad behavior. He had no chance at a varsity position, but Tommy still had to play him to complete the round-robin competition, and Joey would like nothing better than to knock Tommy out of the running. Joey was always calling Tommy "goody two-shoes." Worse, Joey wouldn't leave teammate Tina Tooner alone, and Tommy and Tina had recently become friends in the way that a young boy and a young girl will do.
Joey was insanely jeaous, and Tommy had no idea what he might do. Joey was known to cheat when he could get away with it, and was the author of no end of dirty tricks and mean stunts.
Tommy was on Uncle Ben's porch, as was common most Saturday mornings. Uncle Ben, a retired master player, had some years ago taken Tommy under his wing and given him weekly lessons, always accompanied by a pitcher of his delicious lemonade. He wasn't really Tommy's uncle, of course, but Tommy called him that out of respect.
Tommy and Uncle Ben had developed a very close and open relationship. Tommy often sought the old gent's advice, and this was one of those times. He had just finished explaining to Uncle Ben his loss of self-confidence and his intimidation at having to play Joey Zee on Tuesday afternoon at after-school team practice.
"Everyone loses some games," Uncle Ben explained. "The old saying is that if you don't want to lose then don't play."
"I know, Uncle Ben, but I was doing so well ... "
"Tommy, a checker rating or a won and lost record only tells someone how well you've played in the past. It can't say for sure how well you'll play in the future. Do you know the difference between a great player and an average player?" Uncle Ben asked.
"Skill?" Tommy replied.
"Well, yes, of course, but there's something really fundamental. A great player learns from his losses, takes them in stride, and takes on the next game with confidence. A lesser player isn't able to do that. And Tommy, you're not a lesser player. You have the potential to possibly even rise to the professional ranks some day."
Uncle Ben wasn't liberal with compliments of this type; he didn't want his students to become overconfident or even arrogant. But this was the time to give Tommy's ego a little boost, and in any case, Uncle Ben knew that what he said was true, or he never would have said it.
"Really, Uncle Ben?"
"Yes, Tommy. Now, the problem you're having is that you're thinking too much about that varsity position, instead of thinking about each game and each move as it takes place. If you'll concentrate on trying to make the best move every time, and nothing else, you'll pull out of your slump before you can say 'Jack Robinson'."
"That makes sense, Uncle Ben. I'll do the best I can. But what about Joey? He's so mean and I don't know what he might do."
"Well, Tommy, you can't control that. But you don't have to let it get the better of you, either. Concentrate on playing your game. If Joey acts up, stop the clock and call for the Coach. Stop Joey dead in his tracks. And by all means remain a good sport yourself. Don't retaliate, don't do mean or foolish things yourself. Just play your game and make sure Joey knows that he can't bully you or get away with anything."
"Thanks, Uncle Ben," said Tommy. "That's great advice."
Uncle Ben was pouring lemonade and had turned to the checkerboard on the table in front of them. He passed a tall, frosty glass to Tommy and said, "Now try this one, and work on keeping your focus."
Tommy sat at the board for the full five minutes that Uncle Ben usually allowed him to solve a problem. "Here it is, Uncle Ben!" Tommy announced, and proceeded to demonstrate the solution.
Would you make the Varsity Team? Show the right stuff by solving the problem (lemonade is optional but highly recommended). When you're done, click on Read More to see the solution, a sample game, and a dozen more examples of this theme.
For the problem solution, see No. 1 below.
"Well done, Tommy," said Uncle Ben. "I think you kept your concentration. But as you've got an important match coming up, I'm going to make you work harder today. There are twelve more problems I want you to solve, all in a row, so you can practice sustained concentration. I've called your mother and she's given you permission to stay here until after lunch. I'll make us some roast beef sandwiches after you're done. How's that sound?"
"Great!" said Tommy. "Let's get started!"
To be continued ...
The following sample game, notes, and additional settings are from Ben Boland's Familiar Themes in the Game of Checkers.
Game---12-16, 24-20, 8-12, 28-24, 9-14, 22-18, 3-8, 18-9, 5-14, 23-19, 16-23, 27-9, 6-13, 26-23, 10-15, 31-27, 1-6, 23-19, 15-18, 25-22, 18-25, 29-22, 6-9, 27-23, 7-10, 32-28, 10-14, 30-26, 2-7, 22-18, 13-17---A, 19-16, 12-19, 23-16, 14-30, 21-5, 8-12, 5-1, 12-19, 24-8, 4-11, 1-6, 30-26, 28-24, 26-23, 6-2---B
Forms No. 1 at 2nd.
A---7-10 runs into the famous "Cowan's Coup Position," 7-10, 26-22, 11-15, 18-11, 8-15, 20-16, 14-17, 21-5, 10-14, 19-10, 12-26, 5-1, 26-30. Drawn.
B---Game 162 13th Scot. Tourney, 1905, H. Henderson vs. G. Buchanan. Henderson misses the drawing idea, losing first money and the championship. He continued 23-18, 24-19, 18-23, 19-16, 23-19, 16-12, 19-16, 2-6, 16-19, 12-8, 11-15, 8-3, 7-11, 6-10, 15-18, 3-8. White wins.
1. P. Thirkell. No. 744 D. W. Vol. 15, 1900. Black draws.
27-23, 28-24, 11-16, 2-11---1, 23-18---2. Mr. Thirkell arrived at this ending from a Switcher Game.
1---20-11 7-16 24-19 16-20 Drawn---Ed.
2---An interesting situation. 11-7 loses to 16-19 24-15 18-2 and Black wins on the move (11-8 loses in a similar manner). So all White can play is 24-19 leading to an immediate draw---Ed.
2. Drs. W. M. Purcell-F. N. Johnson, No. 2 N. A. C. B. Vol. 1. Either plays, B. D.
White: 3-8, 31-26, 2-7, 26-22, 7-11, 22-18, 8-4, 15-8, 4-11, 12-16, 24-19, 16-23, Dr.
Black: 31-27---A, 3-8, 15-10, 8-11, 27-23, 11-8, 23-27, 8-3, 10-15, 2-6, 27-23, Dr.
A---15-11, 24-19, 31-27, 3-7, 27-24, 7-16, 24-15, 16-19, W. wins by 1st Pos.
This Pos. given by Dr. P. in a footnote, correcting play by Mr. Chipman in Chicago Tribune about 1878.
Janvier used Pos. in his "Sturges' with Dr. P. permission, but without giving him credit. For history see North Am. Ck. Brd. Vol. 1, pages 15 and 92.
3. F. Dunne, No. 31 His Guide. B. W. by 13-17.
For game leading to this Pos. see Duffy's Single Corner, No. 20, Var. 39 K. at 2.
4. D. Milligan, No. 122 Ency. B. D.
15-19, 10-15, 19-24, 15-22, 24-28, 2-6, 28-32, 6-10. 32-28, 10-15, *28-24, 15-10, 24-28, 10-14, *28-32, 22-18,*13-17.
5. L. J. Vair, No. 146 N. A. C. B. Vol. 6. B. D.
27-31, 26-23, 31-27, 22-18, 11-15, 18-11, 27-18.
6. D. Wallace, No. 54 W. P. Bk. W.W.
20-16, 10-19---A, 6-10 as Dunne.
A---12-19, 6-2, 10-14, 15-10, W. W.
If 10-1, 16-11. W. W. Note to No. 122 in Ency., shows like setting by C. Hefter.
7. C. Hefter, No. 435, Horsfal's Prob. Bk. White draws.
14-9, 18-14, 9-6, 2-9, 13-6, 14-10, 6-2, 10-7, 8-12, 7-16, 2-7.
8. C. Reich. No. 522 H. P. Bk. W. D.
10-6, 2-9, 15-6, 14-10, 20-16, 12-19---A, 6-2, 10-14, 15-10.
A---10-19, 6-10, 8-11. Dr.
9. A. B. Jones, No. 983 D. W. Vol. 20, 1902: No. 147 H. P. Bk. White wins.
18-23, 26-30, 22-18, 30-25, 23-19, 25-22, 19-15.
10. E. A. Jones, No. 1902 D. R. 1933. B. draws.
16-20, 3-8, 11-16, 8-12, 20-24, 12-19, 30-26.
11. B. Boland, No. 5350, R. C. 2-20-36 (one var.). B. to win.
15-19, 11-8, 19-23, 8-11, 23-27, 28-24, 12-16. B. wins.
12. Fig. 42, D'Orio's Mysteries of Dama. Black draws.
13-17, 5-14, 27-23.
Here is an instance where the idea cannot be used: W. D. Benstead, Gem No. 685, Draughts World. White to draw.
22-18---A, 25-22, 18-15, 22-18, 15-10, 18-15, 10-6, 15-8, 24-19, 8-11, 6-1. 9-14, 1-6, 13-17, 19-23, 11-15, 6-9, 15-18, 23-19. Drawn.
A---If 24-19 (going for the idea) then 25-18. 19-15, 18-22, 21-17, 12-16, 11-7, 16-19, 15-24, 22-26. B. W.
Uncle Ben's Porch is a purely fictional series of stories about the retired life of the great checker author Ben Boland. It is an ambitious and difficult project, and errors are bound to appear. Please send corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org.