The Checker Maven

4th of July Special


When this column appears we'll be just a few days short of the 4th of July, America's birthday, and a holiday that The Checker Maven celebrates every year; for as we always say, we are unabashed patriots, proud to honor our nation on Independence Day.

And--- as we do every year--- we turn to player, problemist and patriot Tom Wiswell, with another of his studies. He calls this one Harmony.

White to Play and Draw


Mr. Wiswell suggests that the pieces should work together to sing a harmonious tune. We agree; can you play the correct melody, without any flat notes? Try to solve it, then let your mouse sing (a patriotic tune) on Read More to see the solution and notes.null

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06/30/18 - Printer friendly version
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Three Move Opening, Part 7

Three Move Opening: A Checker Romance


Part Seven: Finale

It was already after 11 PM, and Reggie wondered if it was too late at night to call Katie. He had figured her to be the early to bed type and it didn't seem like it would be a very good idea to disturb her if she were already asleep.

But then again, she had left him multiple messages and texts. Wouldn't it be better to call tonight rather than wait until morning?

Reggie's decision was made for him. Just then, he heard his coach calling his name. The match must be over, and Reggie, as captain, had to deal with closing ceremonies and accept the winning team's trophy.


Weymouth had won a decisive victory over home club Lyme Regis, but both teams seemed in a good mood. There were sportsmanlike handshakes all around, a few brief comments by the winning and losing coaches, and then it was off to the bus for the ride home.

No way Reggie could make a phone call on the bus, at least not one that demanded privacy. He didn't want to think about the kind of long-lasting ribbing he'd get if the other players listened in.

The bus didn't get back to Weymouth until well after midnight. Reggie was able to get a ride back to his room with one of the other players. By the time he unlocked his door, it was one in the morning. No way he could call now.

But there was no way to sleep, either. Reggie, exhausted, didn't even bother to change his clothing. He just lay down on his bed with the lights out and his mind racing, playing over dozens of prospective conversations with Katie. Then, at about five o'clock, an idea came to him. Why hadn't he thought of it before? He quickly turned on his computer and went to work.


By about eight, he had found what he knew had to be there. Exhausted, he fell into an uneasy slumber in front of his open laptop.

Fortunately, he hadn't closed the window blinds, and bright sunlight coming directly through the window woke him at about ten. He had already missed his first class, and would have to hurry to get to his Chaucer class! Again, he was frustrated; Katie would already be at school with her phone set to silent.

Reggie didn't bother to change his clothes or even wash his face. He just grabbed his backpack, threw his books in it, and ran out to the bus stop. He might just make it if a bus came by soon enough.

Luck was with him. He only waited a few minutes before a bus arrived at his stop. Was this a good omen?

He fidgeted in his seat all the way to the college, attracting a disapproving stare from an older woman laden with shopping bags. But Reggie didn't care. There was only one person he wanted to please today.


Maybe it was lack of sleep. Maybe it was all the emotional ups and downs Reggie had been through. Or maybe it was something else, some undefined thing within Reggie that caused the next set of events to happen. Afterwards, Reggie would wonder about it himself, never quite finding the answer.

He was barely in time for class. Everyone was already seated as he came into the classroom, just as the minute hand on the clock touched the top of the hour. Katie, focused on the front of the room, didn't notice.

"No knight's costume today, Mr. Pastor?" said Dr. Rowan, staring at Reggie. "Frankly, I am surprised you returned to my class, even if only barely on time. And you do look a bit disheveled."

Dr. Peter Forbes Rowan

Dr. Rowan turned his gaze to the front row of seats. "Miss Walton, what do you think of Mr. Pastor's appearance today? Would you have preferred him in his knight's garb again, ready to defend you with his trusty sword?"

Katie, surprised, started to turn red. But it was Reggie's reaction that surprised her and everyone else in the room.

Reggie came to his feet, a look of determination in his eyes.

Reggie Pastor

"That's enough, Dr. Rowan!"

Dr. Rowan, taken aback, stopped in mid-sentence.

"You have no right to treat students the way you do! You will apologize to Miss Walton at once for the way you humilated her during our last class!"

Dr. Rowan finally was able to speak. "You're telling me to apologize? You, a mere student, are judging a professor?"

"I may be a mere student, but either you apologize or you answer to me!" Reggie balled his fists and took a couple of steps forward.

"Mr. ... Mr. Pastor ... are you threatening me?" Dr. Rowan's voice was uneven, and he had started to tremble, even if only slightly.

Reggie stepped back and relaxed his hands. Then he smiled. "Threaten you, Dr. Rowan? Why, I would never do such a thing. I'm merely instructing you in what it would be in your best interests to do."

Reggie paused for a moment, looking around the room. The students all seemed to be awaiting his next words.

"You see, I did some checking this morning. I found that there have been a long series of complaints against you for abusive behaviour in the classroom. I don't think another such complaint would help your bid for tenure."

Dr. Rowan was now trembling even more noticeably.

"What do you think, Dr. Rowan? I'm sure we'd all like to know."

Katie had had just a blank expression on her face, but now it had turned into a bit of a smile. She turned to Dr. Rowan and said, "Yes, Professor, I'd like to hear what you have to say as well."

Katie Walton

"Um ... well ... uh ... " Dr. Rowan began, "Yes, that is ... I mean ... Miss Walton, I apologize for ... uh ... you know, embarrassing you last time ... and ... um ... it won't happen again."

"It certainly won't," Reggie said, taking his seat and opening his book.

# # #

Class was over and Katie and Reggie decided to walk the half mile to Weymouth Beach so they could sit and talk privately, away from the campus hubbub.


"I'm sorry for what I put you through," Reggie said. "I only meant well but I just seemed to mess things up."

Katie uncrossed her legs and leaned toward Reggie. A cool breeze from the sea washed over them. "And I over-reacted," she said. "Can I blame it on genetics? A bit of a temper runs in my family. But I'm sorry too."

They sat in silence for a few moments. Then Katie said, "I can't believe how brave you were in front of Dr. Rowan! How did you ever have the courage to stand up to him? And to defend me, no less!"

"I don't know," Reggie said, and it was the truth. "Maybe ... I just couldn't let him make you cry again. He had no right."

"You know, there's probably some trouble ahead," Katie said. "At the least, he'll give you poor marks in the class. Maybe me too."

"I don't think so." Reggie hesitated. "Of course, it's hard to be certain, but you ought to see his record. He even faced a board of inquiry once. I don't think he's going to push this. And I think we're both going to get top marks. It will be his way of buying our silence."

"And I had thought so much of him. He seemed so intelligent."

"I'm sure he is. But that's no guarantee of being a good person."

"It's chilly." Katie moved closer to Reggie and took his arm. "So, you've tried Maid of the Mill and Laird and Lady, without much luck, but you've surely earned yourself another try. What will it be?"

Reggie, both surprised and delighted by the sensation of Katie sitting close enough so that their hips touched, thought for a moment.

Then, he took a sheet of paper from his backpack, wrote something on it, folded it and handed it to Katie.

Katie turned the paper over in her hands a couple of times, looked up at Reggie, and finally unfolded it.

"Why ... 11-15! That's not a complete opening ... oh!"

She looked into his eyes and smiled. "11-15. Old Faithful."

Reggie nodded, and oddly enough, he wasn't even all that surprised when she leaned closer and kissed him.


Although for once Reggie has something on his mind besides draughts, here's the run-up to an interesting situation.

11-15---A 23-18 9-14---B 18x11 8x15 22-17 4-8 26-23 7-11 23-19 5-9 30-26 9-13---C

White to Play and Win


A---Old Faithful, of course.

B---Into a variant of the Cross (not that Katie is cross any longer).

C---15-18 or 3-7 would be correct. This move loses.

This isn't a particularly hard problem. We wonder if Reggie could solve it while he's --- let's say, otherwise occupied? Possibly. It all depends what he's concentrating on most.

But how about you? Distraction free, do you have faith in being able to find the winning play, or will it cross you up? When you've given it a good try, cross your mouse over to Read More, which will always faithfully lead you to the solution.null

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06/23/18 - Printer friendly version
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Novice Lesson


Yes, there is such a place. It's a small town in Texas, population not much over 100. How many of those residents, do you suppose, are checker players?

We can't really say, but we can say that in honor of the release of the print edition of Checkers for the Novice, today we're presenting something vital, yet which actually won't be very easy for novices. Experts, of course, should have no problem --- right?

3 kings vs. 2 kings seems like it ought to be an easy win, yet it in fact baffles many a player, even some players with a fair amount of experience with our game. Let's look at an example, in two different ways.

Either to Play, White to Win


First, try this with White to play. How does White win it? If you're a top-level player, you'll see how to do it in just a few seconds --- right?

How about if Black plays first? Can you win with White? It's a little harder, but again an expert should solve it fairly quickly --- right?

We're teasing a little. Even most experts have to stop and think. 3 vs. 2 endings aren't easy, but they come up all the time and knowing how to win them is essential. Take as much time as you like and then click on Read More to see the solutions.null

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06/16/18 - Printer friendly version
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Checkers for the Novice Now Available


Richard Pask's Checkers for the Novice, the print edition of Logical Checkers Volume 1, is now available from CreateSpace and Amazon[1], and is also available from Amazon UK and Amazon Europe. The 170 page book has been priced very modestly at US $7.49 (exclusive of shipping).

You can download a free PDF version by clicking on the link.

Checkers for the Novice includes substantial corrections and improvements and is the definitive modern guide for newcomers who wish to play checkers well.null

[1] Amazon lists the book with "Richard Pask, Author" and "Bob Newell, Author." This is incorrect. Richard Pask is the sole author. Bob Newell is the editor and publisher.

06/11/18 - Printer friendly version
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Marvin Visits Grackle, ND

We're pleased to welcome back Marvin J. Mavin after a long absence from our weekly columns. Today, Marvin gets quite a surprise on a visit to a small Prairie town.


The best duck hunting in the world. That's what they told him. Never mind that he wasn't a duck hunter.

They called it 'outreach'--- a way of building a better future for the game of checkers. Sure, it was the national sport, but the National Checker League was not an organization that rests on its laurels; continual development, a constant search for new talent, and a great approach to public relations were as ingrained as Black moving first.

Marvin J. Mavin
Captain, Detroit Doublejumpers

Marvin J. Mavin, Captain of the World Series of Checkers winning Detroit Doublejumpers, was on an off-season publicity tour of the North Central states. The Grackle Duck Hunters, of Grackle, North Dakota, population 300 or so, had invited Marvin to visit, and against all odds, the National Checker League had scheduled an overnight visit by their superstar player.

The Duck Hunters were amateurs; they played in the East Central Dakota Counties League, and it was purely club-level play. But they loved their checkers and they would often drive to Minneapolis to see a major league match.

The NCL had chartered a small plane to fly Marvin from Fargo's Hector Field to the little municipal airfield just outside Grackle. The plane was a Piper Aztec, which the pilot referred to as the "luxury model."


Marvin was met at the airfield by an SUV driven by the Captain of the Duck Hunters, Steve Stonkus, accompanied by his son, Al Stonkus, and one of the other players, Wayne Bulow, who was introduced simply as "Flash" because of his fast over-the-board play.

After introductions, Marvin mentioned, "I've got a room at the Fowl Lodge. I booked it on-line. Seemed like a nice sort of place."

"The Fowl Lodge, seriously?" Steve asked. There were a few glances exchanged and a stifled laugh. "Well ... I suppose. We'll take you there, then, so you can, uh, rest up. The exhibition starts tomorrow morning at ten sharp. We didn't plan anything for tonight because we knew you'd be beat and anyhow it's kinda late."

It was eight in the evening on a Thursday in July, meaning that in this latitude, there were still a couple of hours of daylight left.

"Someplace we can go for a beer, maybe?" Marvin asked.

"It's Thursday," Al said, without explaining further.

"Yeah ... " Marvin replied.

"Right," Wayne chimed in. "Let's get on to the Fowl Lodge, then, if that's really where you're staying."

Marvin put his one travel bag in the rear of the SUV and took a seat in the back. It was only a fifteen minute drive, during which little was said.

The SUV pulled off the road in front of a camper trailer.


"There she is," Steve said. "The Fowl Lodge. The door is always unlocked. We'll pick you up at seven-thirty tomorrow morning. So we have plenty of time for breakfast."

Marvin said, "Nine-thirty will be fine. The website said they have food in the fridge for guests to fix meals."

"If that's what you want," Steve replied. "Good night, then."

Marvin got his bag and the SUV pulled away, without waiting to see if in fact the door was unlocked. Marvin couldn't see much of the trailer in the dark, but it looked kind of, well, old. And not a little run down.

"Fowl Lodge?" he said aloud.

The door was indeed unlocked, or more like hanging on its hinges, wide open. Marvin made out a hand-lettered sign taped to the door. "Fowl Lodge," he read. "Sure enough."

He stepped inside and felt around for a light switch. Dim incandescent lights came on, and for a moment Marvin wished he had stayed in the dark. Marvin supposed he ought to be grateful that the electricity was turned on.

The trailer looked like it hadn't been cleaned or tidied up in quite some while. There was caked mud on the floor, the bedding was in disarray, and he thought he heard mice scurry off into darker corners. He tried to close the front door but it fell off its hinges and banged on the ground. There was an interior screen door that he was able to close, not knowing if it would keep critters out or just keep the ones in that were already there.

He checked the fridge in the little kitchenette. When he opened the door a strong odor came out. There was some moldy cheddar cheese and gray looking sausages. He closed the fridge quickly. "No beer," he sighed.


A check of the cupboards yielded a couple of cans of chicken noodle soup, and Marvin managed to find a pot and can opener. He heated one up on the hot plate. "Dinner of champions!" he exclaimed. There was nothing to drink but water, and Marvin found that if he let the cold water run long enough, the rust would clear out.

He tried the hot water tap, and as he anticipated, it ran cold.

"No shower," he mumbled. "And as for sleeping ..." There was just the one bed so little choice, but he certainly wasn't going to change into his PJs.

His sleep was interrupted several times by the sound of little scurrying feet, and once he thought he felt something crawl across his face.

He managed to eat a second can of soup for breakfast. He thought about washing the pot but decided to just leave it with the rest of the dirty dishes in the sink.

The sun was up and the skies were blue and completely clear. It was a beautiful Friday morning on the prairie, but somehow Marvin fell short of appreciating it. At precisely nine-thirty, the SUV, now occupied only by Steve, pulled up.

Marvin ambled over to the passenger side and got in.

"Mornin', Marv!" Steve said with something of a sly look. "Sleep well? Did the Fowl Lodge meet your expectations?"

"Uh, well ..."

"Glad to hear it!" Steve paused, staring at the trailer. "Hey, what did you do to the door? The owners aren't going to be very happy."


Marvin didn't try to explain.

Again, the drive was silent, but it was only five or ten minutes. "The exhibition is at the Co-op," Steve said. "They got a big room on the second floor where our team practices and plays home matches."

"How did you do this year?" Marvin asked.

"Pretty good, pretty good," Steve said. "We finished second in our league. That team from New Leopard is pretty tough and we lost to them in the playoffs."

"Do they have a Fowl Lodge, too?"

"A what?"

"Never mind," Marvin said.

The Co-op turned out to be a sprawling, two story building, with gas pumps, truck and auto repair bays, farm supplies, and a lot else. There was quite a bit of traffic in and out, mostly pick-up trucks which arrived empty and went out laden with grain, fencing, building materials, and other necessities of rural life.


Marvin went up the old wooden stairs inside the building, following Steve. He entered the upper hall to see everything already set up: tables, boards and pieces in a large square. "We set up 32 boards," Steve said, "and we sold out on the first day of signups. A lot of our folks want a chance to play Marvin J. Mavin!"

But Marvin had noticed a table with coffee and donuts, and his first priority was to fill a cup and a plate.

Players were filing in, some dressed in overalls, a few with cowboy hats, a few others in corduroy shirts. It was just before ten o'clock. Marvin hastily finished his coffee as he was waved to the front of the room to be introduced by Steve.

"This here's Marvin J. Mavin!" he said. "But I reckon you all know that. Marvin stayed at the Fowl Lodge last night."

There were some laughs from the assembled players, but Steve went on, "Now he's ready to play and maybe even share a couple stories from the big leagues."

"Hi everyone," Marvin said. "Quite some place, that Fowl Lodge. Never stayed anywhere quite like it."

There were more laughs.

"Good luck to all!" he said, with a wave, and then went over to the first board to start the exhibition.

The players were actually pretty good, a few of them very good, and although Marvin wrapped up most of the games in relatively short order, a couple of them went on for a while.

In fact, it was nearly two o'clock before Marvin won his 31st game, leaving him one short of a perfect sweep. Fortunately, sandwiches had been brought in at lunchtime, and the players and Marvin ate as they played.


The last game, played by Al Stonkus, was tough, and Marvin was wondering if he could pull out a win. In fact, Al might himself have some winning chances. It was Al's move.

"You guys aren't supposed to be this good," Marvin muttered.

Al looked offended. "What's that supposed to mean?" he said.

Al Stonkus

"I mean, I should beat all of you."

Marvin had been getting more and more annoyed with how long it was taking to win his games. These were just country boys! What was the problem?

"Oh, I see. You figure us farm boys aren't up to big city standards, that it?"

Steve, who was standing by watching the game, said, "Easy, Al." But Al was not to be stopped.

"You're too good for us, we know that," Al said. "Sorry we don't meet your big league standards. Well, here, see what you do with this." Al made his move, banging the piece forcefully on the board.

Marvin did a double-take. This was really a problem. What was he to do?

Black to Play and Draw


Marvin thought for quite a while and clearly Al was growing impatient. But at long last Marvin saw the way. It would get him a draw, no more than that, but he'd be saved the ignominy of losing to this ...

... to this good player. Marvin had to admit it, and his whole demeanor changed as he made his move.

Black is in a tough spot. The man on 28 is in the dog hole. The man on 20 can't get beyond 24. The king on 26 is cut off from the man on 1. What is Black to do?

Marvin J. Mavin came up with a possible drawing move. Can you? Are you up to the challenge presented by Al Stonkus of Grackle, North Dakota? As Marvin realized, perhaps a bit too late, talent can be and is found even in unassuming small towns.

Can you "duck" the loss or will you "fowl" out? When you're finished, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.null

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06/09/18 - Printer friendly version
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Strokes in June


In order to avoid reuse of the "golf stroke" pun, we've gone with a tennis stroke instead. The point is that winter in North America seemed especially tough this year (or at least so we hear[1]), and we'd bet that many of you are happy to be able to get out and make a few strokes on the tennis court or golf course.

But, as a checker fan, surely you'll come back in at the end of the day, and, perhaps after dinner, want to take on a checker stroke, one of those mind-bending fantasy problems that may not be practical but certainly provide great visualization practice. With that in mind, here's one that we would not call easy.

White to Play and Win


Take a swing at this rather entertaining position, then swing your mouse over to Read More to see the solution.null

[1] This year we did not have snow in Honolulu(!) although the temperature did get as cold as 62F/17C.

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06/02/18 - Printer friendly version
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