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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Marvin's Summer Vacation


Marvin J. Mavin, Captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers, a highly ranked team in the National Checker League, was on summer vacation. The League wrapped up the World Series of Checkers in May, and players were off until training camp started up at the beginning of August.

Ten weeks of vacation. He'd spend some of it with his girlfriend Priscilla, although she could only get away from her corporate executive job for a week at a time, and only now and then. He'd spend four weeks doing outreach work in the inner cities. And he'd spend three blessed weeks at a lake cabin, kicking back and thinking of little else but when to pop open his next beer. No cell phone. And definitely no checker board.

Except it didn't work out exactly like that.


Marvin booked a cabin in Idaho under the name of John Smith. He thought that was pretty clever. Of course, he was a national sports figure and pretty easy to recognize, but he always looked for a cabin that was out of the way and isolated, and then he stuck pretty much to himself, arranging to have the refrigerator well stocked before his arrival, so that he could just hang around the cabin, walk down to the lake, and not be bothered by anything or anyone.

It must have been on the third or fourth day when he saw a familiar looking figure walking further down the lakeshore. Now, Marvin's cabin was indeed well separated from the others, so it was pretty far, but the figure was quite unmistakable. Marvin just hoped he hadn't been noticed, and he was pretty careful to check each time he went to the lake thereafter.

Two evenings later, Marvin had just finished with dinner --- he had plenty of microwave meals in the cabin's freezer --- he was about to open another beer when there was a knock at the cabin door.

Marvin was pretty surprised. Could it be the camp manager? No one else was supposed to bother him. He got up, opened the door, and saw ---



Yes indeed, Dmitri Tovarischky. The guy he had seen further down the lakeshore. The guy who was his archenemy, a former Soviet champion who was asked to leave the National Checker League over a gambling violation, and who now stalked the star players.

"Ah, Checkers Boy. I see you other day by lake. How conwenient we are staying in same campsite," Dmitri said. "Maybe coincidence, maybe not, eh? I come in now, da?"

Dmitri entered before Marvin could reply.

Marvin made a mental note to later find out who leaked his vacation plans.

"We play one game, da?" he said. "Play maybe for wodka. I win, you give me couple bottles Stolichnaya. You win, I give you same thing, only you don't win, this I know already."


"I ain't got no 'wodka,' Pinko. Never touch the stuff. Now leave and don't come back."

"Ah, Checkers Boy should not be rude. I have little set here, I put on table." Boris quickly got out a portable checker set and made it ready. Marvin could tell it was going to be hard getting rid of him. "Maybe play for hundred bucks?"

So that was what it was all about. Dmitri was an inveterate hustler. Marvin replied, "Okay. One game. A hundred bucks to the winner. Nothing on a draw. But no matter what you get lost permanently."

"Easy money for me," Dmitri said. "Deal."

The two of them sat down and the game began. Outside, the sun was setting over the lake and the air was cooling. It was a beautiful Idaho evening but neither of them noticed.


Dmitri played Black and Marvin had White.

1. 11-15 23-19
2. 8-11 22-17
3. 4-8 26-22
4. 9-13 ...

26-22 was weaker than 25-22. Perhaps Marvin was throwing Dmitri a bit of a curve ball? But Dmitri missed the opportunity to reply with 15-18.

4. ... 27-23
5. 5-9 23-18
6. 10-14 17x10
7. 7x23 19x10
8. 6x15 31-26
9. 23-27 32x23
10. 2-7 23-18

"Hoo, Checkers Boy, you are making stupid move. Why you not play 23-19? Now Dmitri have big winning game!"

11. 7-10 ...

"Dmitri can even win by playing of 12-16. So many ways to win, so nice, da?"

Marvin, for his part, was starting to sweat. How could he have made such a blunder?

11. ...21-17
12. 1-5 ...

"Uh, hey there Commie, I think you blew it. You even mentioned 12-16 your own self, why didn't ya play it?" Marvin said.

"I am still going to win, Checkers Boy, do not worry yourself." But Dmitri sounded a bit less confident.

12. ... 25-21
13. 9-14 18x9
14. 5x14 26-23
15. 11-16 30-25
16. 16-19 ...

At this, Marvin started to laugh. "Nice try, get an early king, that's what you think? You shoulda played 8-11, pal. Now you lose."

16. ... 23x16
17. 12x19 ...
White to Play and Win


Does Marvin now have a win on the board? Did Dmitri make a huge blunder in his own right? Study the position and see if you can find the winning moves. This one actually falls on the easy side. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.null

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William Veal


William Veal was a British problemist of some renown, perhaps best known (to us, at least) for composing a monster stroke problem featured some years ago in our columns.

Did Mr. Veal's ancestors at one point deal in veal? That would fit with popular theory, which insists that names like "Smith" eventually trace back to someone who was a smith, and so on. Of course, those links are likely very tenuous if they exist at all.

But one other possibility was turned up by our Research Department. "Vieil" is the Old French term for "old" and this became "viel" in Anglo-Norman French. It refers to an old man or the elder of two people with the same name. It's not a long leap from there to "Veal."

A long leap? That brings us back to checkers and this month's Checker School column, the first of a series of "gems" from, of course, William Veal.

White to Play and Win


Certainly at first glance a White win is anything but obvious, and Black is poised to crown one or perhaps two of his men. Can you match Mr. Veal and find the solution? There's a bit of a clue (just a bit) in the writeup above. See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution.null

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Short and Neat


In the latter 1940s, back in the heydays of checkers, men's hairstyles were short and neat, and in general, appearances were more dressy than today. Men wore fedoras, and suit with a white shirt and tie was almost a sort of uniform.

The following problem was published anonymously in an old newspaper, which declared it to be "short and neat." We're surprised it didn't appear next to an advertisement for grooming products!

Black to Play and Win


Short and neat? We'll let you decide, but in any case Black, being a piece up, ought to win. Yet as we've often said, showing the win is the hard part. Can you find a short and neat solution? Or even a long and messy one? Give it a try--- more than a short try--- and then neatly click your mouse on Read More to see the solution.null

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The Deep End


We're definitely diving into the deep end with this month's mind-boggling stroke problem. You'll really need to keep your wits about you to solve this one.

White to Play and Win


Can you solve it without moving the pieces? It's an enormous test of visualization skills. And though it's hardly a practical over the board situation, we think this sort of problem builds your ability to see ahead and calculate (and do go ahead and move the pieces if it's all just a bit too deep).

Don't go off the deep end yourself; try it out and then click on Read More to dive into the solution.null

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Coffee and Cake at The Beacon


Back in the day, the mid 1950s, Sal liked to wear a white shirt with a bow tie, a checkered jacket, and tweed pants. He said it fit his style, and he wore it pretty often, especially on Saturday afternoons when he went to The Beacon Cafe to preside over the Coffee and Cake Checker Club.

The coffee and cake idea wasn't original with Sal; he had read about it in one of Willie Ryan's books. Sal thought of Willie as the greatest checker player ever and hoped to meet him one day, if Willie ever made it out here.


But that didn't seem likely, as the The Beacon was in the Provident Life Building at Fifth Street and Rosser Avenue in Bismarck, North Dakota, a kind of out of the way city in an out of the way state that didn't attract a lot of visitors.

The proprietor at The Beacon was a lady named Deana Nagel. She was also the chief cook and baker. Deana put in a lot of hours and could be testy once in a while, but she was fond of her regulars.

Deana Nagel

Most of the boys in the checker club, like Sal, were somewhat on the elderly side although a few youngsters (meaning someone under the age of fifty) showed up once in a while. A typical Saturday in the winter would bring in five or six, besides Sal. Summers were a little slower and they didn't even bother to meet in July and August.

They played, as you'd expect, for coffee and cake. The losers would buy for the winners (Deana never gave out freebies, not even to Sal himself). Sometimes a member would set up a checker problem and bet coffee and cake that the others couldn't solve it. That led at times to some lively debates about who really had the right answer.

Sal had a checker pen pal down in St. Louis, name of Brian, who would send him checker problems that he had composed himself. They were never easy but they were always clever. Some of the boys thought it wasn't completely fair of Sal to bet coffee and cake on a problem someone else had composed, but they usually went along with it because Brian's problems were always good entertainment.


"Got a new one from Brian," Sal announced one cold November Saturday, "and Deana's got German Chocolate Cake today. Anyone up for a try?"

There were a few groans, but the prospect of German Chocolate Cake and a new problem from Brian was really too much to resist. Most of the boys were there today: Wayne, Delmer, Louie, Dan, Larry and Mike were all on hand.

"Brian says his checker buddies Edgar and William love it, but I'm not telling you any more than that." Quickly, Sal laid out the position on one of the checkerboards on the table in the big booth where everyone was sitting.

White to Play and Win


Deana, back behind the counter, was all smiles. She knew she was going to be selling at least seven more pieces of cake and lots of coffee. And the boys were pretty good tippers, too. Pretty clever of her to set out the German Chocolate just when she figured Sal was about to spring a challenge. Deana was very good at reading people and there wasn't a guy worth the name this side of Montana who could resist her cake.


The boys thought about it for quite a while. Sal wouldn't let them move the pieces around--- said it was cheating--- and they were just about to give up when Wayne shouted, "Got it!"

Sal shook his head. He liked it a lot better when someone bought his coffee and cake rather than him buying for another fellow. "Show me," he said.


Deana's German Chocolate Cake indeed looks mighty good. Do you think you can win coffee and cake from Sal? You'll have to be pretty sharp to win it, but it's worth a try, and when you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution.null

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An Exercise in Technique


The great guitarist Andres Segovia once said, in effect, that technique either advances or retreats; it never stays the same. Of course, he was talking about the classical guitar, but the same applies to the game of checkers. We need to constantly strive to improve our technique and not allow it to slip back.

In today's Checker School entry, we divert briefly from our "gem" problems and present an exercise in endgame technique. It's a bit on the long side, but it's very instructive.

White to Play and Win


White has a win on the board; that's probably obvious to the experienced eye. But the win takes patience and the skilled application of technique. Can you find the winning path? It's well worth your time and effort; do give it a solid try before you click on Read More to see the details.null

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A diagramless crossword puzzle is exactly what the name implies--- you get the clues but no diagram. You've got to figure out the diagram on your own. Quite the challenge.

Diagramless checker problems exist, too. They're not nearly as insidious as a diagramless crossword; they are simply problems published without a diagram, just a listing of what pieces go on what squares.

Now, in today's column, we won't put you through the exercise of visualizing the board without benefit of a diagram. In doing so, we're really not keeping with the 'diagramless' theme, but we suspect that you, our valued reader, will prefer this slight breaking of the rules.

This one is credited to John Tonks who was from West Lorne, Ontario, back in the day.

White to Play and Draw


Now, 'diagramless' is not 'clueless' so don't be clueless yourself; the problem isn't terribly hard, although it does have a clever twist. And we'll clue you in: clicking on Read More will show you the solution.null

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05/11/19 - Printer friendly version
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Not Quite So Fast


Hey, slow down a bit! What's the rush?

At times things just take a little longer. The driver of the car above is likely headed for trouble.

In the game of checkers, not everything can be done quite so quickly all the time, so this month we have a speed problem that, while not so hard, might take a bit longer, and we've dispensed with the Javascript clock. Take as much time as you need--- although we suspect it won't be too very much. Maybe.

White to Play and Win


The procedure is straightforward, you just have to think it through a little. Mind the speed limits, solve the problem, and then hasten--- cautiously--- to click on Read More to see the solution.null

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Published in 1885


Quite a bit happened in the year 1885. Grover Cleveland became President of the United States. The French were at war in Indo-China. Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Mikado premiered. And last but certainly not least, a patent was granted to an African-American woman, Sarah E. Goode, for, of all things, a cabinet bed.

While much less noteworthy on a global scale, the following checker problem also first appeared in 1885. It's an interesting and practical study in winning checker technique.

White to Play and Win


This is of course 2019, not 1885. Grover Cleveland is long gone, the French left Indo-China decades ago, the The Mikado has become a treasured part of operatic history, and modern variants of the cabinet bed can be found everywhere. But can you solve this relatively timeless checker problem? We think it's as fresh now as it was some 134 years ago. Put it to bed, and then click your modern mouse on Read More to see the solution.null

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04/27/19 - Printer friendly version
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Men Against A King


The painting above depicts the future King of England, Richard the Lionheart, surrounded by Saracens and engaged in fierce battle. It was around the year 1187 and the time of the Third Crusade. Will the men win against the King? Certainly not, as Richard would survive to become King about two years later.

Looking through the lenses of our modern era, the Crusades certainly were controversial and perhaps even mentioning them is less than politically correct (something about which we don't generally spend a lot of time worrying). But there shouldn't be any such controversy over our game of checkers, and so today we'll consider a different setting of "men against a King."

Although we haven't presented an episode in some little while, for years we've been publishing columns based on Willie Ryan's classic Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard. We're nearly at the end with only a couple of columns left to go.

Today's entry derives from Willie's A Trap With A Tale, and he of course calls it Men Against A King. Here's the run-up. It's from a game Willie played as Black against the great Sam Gonotsky, who had White. It's a really fine game and a pleasure to play over.

1. 11-16 24-19
2. 8-11 22-18
3. 16-20 25-22
4. 9-13 29-25
5. 11-15 18x11
6. 7x16 28-24
7. 10-14

Certainly doesn't lose, but 5-9 and other moves likely make for an easier draw.

7. ... 22-18
8. 6-10 18x9
9. 5x14 25-22
10. 1-5 19-15
11. 10x28 22-17
12. 13x22 26x10
13. 16-19 23x16
14. 12x19 21-17

Gonotsky played this clever move (21-17), instead of 27-24 to regain the piece, going a man down but gaining a strong position.

15. 19-24 17-13
16. 4-8 10-6
17. 2x9 13x6

Black is a man up but Willie notes "it looked as if my goose were cooked, with General Gonotsky having what appeared to be an impenetrable king row."

Here's the position:

Black to Play, What Result?


Is Willie's goose cooked, or can Black save the game? This is another one that is anything but easy, but it's well worth your time and effort (although you're not going to cook Gonotsky's goose). Let it simmer for a while and then light up Read More with your mouse to see the solution.null

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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.

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