Last year we had the great pleasure of meeting the well-known and highly respected North Carolina checkerist and checker correspondent J.R. Smith, when he and his family spent a few days in Hawai`i Nei.
We all had breakfast at Keoni's in Waikiki, where we asked J.R. if we could write a column about him; he graciously agreed. Here's J.R.'s story, told in his own words.
"I grew up on a farm in a rural community called Porter in Stanley County, NC. I was the 4th child of five brothers and five sisters. We all played checkers as kids and especially on winter weekends. One of my earliest memories was helping my older sister, Nina make a checker board and pieces. She mostly did it while I helped a little.
She cut the squares out on a wide pine board with a pocket knife and the pieces were sawed from an old broken broom handle. We smutted the grooves on the board and the dark squares & pieces from the fireplace. We were acting on stories we heard about our Grandpa Smith who ran a saw mill and made his own checkerboard.
There was a country store about two miles from our home to which we would walk or ride double on a bicycle and watch older folks play in the back around the stove. When I was in FFA (Future Farmers of America) I won the checker championship twice in a row. This was a summer camp program offered through our school system. We would save our money so we could go each summer to White Lake, NC. This was one of many events during that week of camp.
I also remember buying my first checker book in the book store at NC State College, Raleigh, NC while participation in our FFA judging contests as: Seed, Weed, & Tool Contest; Land Judging; Cattle, Poultry, Swing, & Dairy, etc. The State Finals were held at NC State College.
It wasn’t until 1997 that I knew anything about organized checkers. I read in the Greensboro News & Record about a National Checker Tournament being held at Howard Johnson Inn – South, in Greensboro, NC. I visited the tournament which was August 11th - 15th and I met Merle Vaughan, Bill Stanley, and Clint Pickard. Merle Vaughan actually invited me to play a few practice games with him. This was my first experience with professional checkers, and I learned about North Carolina Checker Association and the America Checker Federation.
I later attended some local and state tournaments with Bill McClintock.
At the NC State Open Tournament in July 1999 at the Best Western-Cary Inn & Suites, Cary, NC I joined NCCA as a life-time member by persuasion from Cecil Lowe and Clint Pickard.
Les Balderson, ACF President worked closely with NC and us. We held five Nationals in Sanford and Greensboro, NC. I recall Les was big on promoting Life-Time ACF memberships which I bought mine in 2000. We strive to keep District 4 healthy for the Carolinas, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, and Georgia. NCCA also took a special interest in promoting 11-Man Ballot Checkers, originally because Elbert Lowder loved this style of play and other District 4 players picked up interest and respect for the depth it adds to our wonderful mind sport. I feel the same things about checkers that fascinated and entertained our forefathers still exist today. The game is so simple a child can play it and yet no one has mastered it.
I suppose I got bit by the checker bug while mingling with the key individuals like Clint Pickard, Cecil Lowe, Raleigh Johnson, Bill McClintock, Elbert Lowder, and John Webster who supported and help organize North Carolina checkers. They started our trust fund which helps support our tournaments and preserve NC Checkers.
I feel it’s important and I enjoy helping to continue our NC checker legacy. The grand old game is a hobby, a mind sport with beauty and complexity sometimes missed by today’s general public because of the relative simplicity of the rules of checkers as compared to chess. The game is worthy of our attention and preservation.
In 2005 I was elected Secretary and Bill McClintock as Treasurer of NCCA, approved by the Executive Committee. Clint Pickard held the Treasurer’s position and Elbert Lowder was Secretary who both wanting to transfer their duties to younger members.
Cecil Lowe, NCCA President and Clint Pickard were great mentors; I feel I got excellent guidance and counsel from both.
We started our NCCA website in 2004, I originally wanted to do something like Eric Strange did with ICF but at the time I didn’t have the where-with-all, resources, or game database. We decided to stick with a checker calendar for upcoming tournaments and events, report results, and have picture of players and the events. We want to promote checkers, and keep everyone informed."
"There are no short cuts to obtaining Master Skill. It takes a good memory and many hours of study, practice, and playing. This means you use books or the internet to download study games, positions, and problems. I like Strange’s ICF site, ACF, Newell’s Checker Maven, Al Lyman’s Checkerworld, Kacher’s Library, and Jim Loy’s site (which is down now) to do this. You need to play as much as possible with a better player who will help you or play in an internet game room like Play-OK.
Checker programs like Checkerboard with Cake or Kingrow and WCC are great tools to improve your game.
I know what I should do to get better but haven’t dedicated the time or discipline to do it. I also like reading checker history and reading about yesterday’s greats which brings me to Jay Hinnershitz’s OMOCH site. Roberto Waldteufel also has an excellent site.
I think it is important to have a local checker club or regularly scheduled gathering to keep up the interest and recruit new player from public exposure and activities. We have weekly meetings every Tuesday. We play checkers in a supportive environment to improve knowledge and skill as well as fun and friendship.
I will close my checker story with mentioning my concern about our obligation to promote our great game. We desperately need to set up checker clubs and tournaments in public and private middle schools. We must grow checkers from the ground up by getting youth playing checkers. These programs must be coordinated with the school system and Principal. It will take everyone in your checker club to share the load and duties to establish and supervise study sessions and nurture an after school checker program."
We asked J.R. for a game or a line of play that he found interesting. He mentioned several but this one turned out to be fascinating.
"One of my pet or favorite games is one I borrowed from Jerry Lattimer from Waverly, NY. He was a Champion Mail player and had a nice checker site but it close in 2002 like so many others have over the years. The game is a variation of Old Fourteenth as 11-15, 23-19, 8-11, 22-17, 4-8 forms the Old Fourteenth but White elects to continue 25-22, leaving the trunk line with this variation 9-14, 17-13."
At this point J.R. mentions that 14-18 has up to now been considered a loss, and indeed it is inferior to 14-17, which still leaves White with a bit of an edge but much less of one.
We give the whole run-up here.
9-13 or 15-18 give equality. The text move sends Black down a hard road.
14-17, as we noted, would have been better. We now have the problem position.
Demonstrating the win takes some time and effort. J.R. can do it; can you? It's not so easy, but one thing's for sure: clicking on Read More will show you how it's done.
It's now a clear win for White.
Black is well and truly doomed.
Black must lose a man and the game. The Checker Maven thanks checker great J.R. Smith not only for working with us on this story, but for all of his contributions to the game of checkers.