The Checker Maven

Marvin's New Year's Eve


Priscilla Snelson, Chief Operating Officer for the international conglomerate Rust Belt Holdings in Detroit, was putting on an exclusive New Year's Eve party at her upscale condo in the swanky suburb where she resided.

Priscilla Snelson

The party was what you would expect from someone of her business standing. Only top executives and wealthy friends were invited. The food was catered from a company run by a three-star Michelin chef. The music came from Priscilla's ten thousand dollar custom audio system.

Marvin J. Mavin

Of course, Marvin J. Mavin, Priscilla's long-time boyfriend--- although she referred to him as her "beau"--- was there. Not exactly by invitation; high end parties weren't his thing. More by fiat. Priscilla had told him that he was to be there or else, and that was the end of the discussion.

Everyone was circulating around the huge living room and kitchen, drinks in hand, making small chitchat.

Marvin was bored out of his mind. As Captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers, one of the top teams in the National Checker League, his interests definitely didn't run to the price of scrap tin in Kurdistan or the molybdenum futures market.

No, Marvin liked a good beer or two. Or more. And this party was definitely one of those "more" occasions.


So, at some point into the evening, Marvin was on perhaps his fifth beer--- he had lost track of the exact count--- and he was starting to feel pretty loose and relaxed.

At that moment Priscilla, who until now had been far too busy with her guests to pay much attention to Marvin, came over to where he was standing, a young girl in tow.

Harriet Liang

"Marv," she said, "I'd like you to meet ..." Priscilla stopped in mid-sentence when she saw that Marvin was in a somewhat zozzled state.

"Oh, dear," she said, "maybe another time."

"Oh, no, no, Auntie Prissy!" the little girl piped up. "I want to meet Captain Marvin! He's my hero! Some day I'm going to grow up to be a checker star just like him!"

"Another time, dear," Priscilla said, but Marvin interjected, "Yeah, Prissy! She wants to meet her hero! Ain'tcha gonna let her?"

Priscilla scowled, but she knew she was trapped. "Very well, then," she said, "Marvin, this is Harriet Liang. She plays for her grade school checker team over in Dearborn, and she's very good."

Marvin leaned down to shake hands. "Nice to meet ya," he said, his voice a bit slurred.

"Auntie Prissy, why is Captain Marvin talking so funny?" Harriet asked.

"Oh, it's just because ... well, never mind that," Priscilla said. "Now, why don't you show Uncle Marvin your problem."

Harriet beamed, "Oh wow, yes!" She pulled a sheet of paper from the pocket of her dress. "Here, Captain Marvin. It's a checker problem, and my Uncle Brian said to try it out on you!"


Black to Play, White to Win


Marvin looked at the diagram and then looked puzzled. "Hey, what's a little kid like you doing at an adult party ..."

"Her Uncle Brian, from St. Louis, is working on a major deal with us, and he asked me if I would introduce his niece to you."

"I see," Marvin said. "The old you scratch my back I scratch yours routine, hey?" He reached for Priscilla's arm but she stepped back away.

"Okay, okay." Marvin turned to Harriet. "Well, let's see now, this should be easy, you just ... hmm, no, I guess you don't. Suppose you ... nope, doesn't work either."

"Captain Marvin, I solved in four minutes and my coach told me I was very smart!" Harriet said.

Marvin now regretted having those last couple of beers. If only he could think straight! Then Priscilla, as if she had read his mind, said, "I hope you learn something from this. Come on, Harriet, let's get you a soda and a snack. I think Captain Marvin is going to need a while."

It's pretty clear that drinking too much didn't lead to a good outcome; after all, it never does. Can you keep a clear head and solve the checker problem that Marvin, in his "zozzled" state, couldn't handle? Little Harriet won praise for her rapid solution. How well can you do?

Try it out and then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.null

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12/28/19 - Printer friendly version
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Happy Holidays 2019


The holiday season is in full swing and we extend greetings and best wishes to all of our readers. No matter which holiday you celebrate, may you find happiness and blessing.

We thought we'd present a little longer study this week. Perhaps you'll have some extra spare time over the holidays (or perhaps not!), but in any case it's a good one. The problem situation is based on a game contested in Markham, Ontario, on April 15, 1889. The players were checkerists Fleming and Wright, and the game and variations appeared in a relatively short-lived periodical called The Chicago Evening Lamp.

1. 11-15 23-19
2. 8-11 22-17
3. 9-14 25-22
4. 11-16 24-20
5. 16x23 27x11
6. 7x16 20x11
7. 3-7 28-24
8. 7x16 24-20
9. 16-19 29-25
10. 4-8 22-18
11. 14x23 17-14
12. 10x17 21x14

Perfectly played thus far, and we've reached the end of the KingsRow opening book for the game as actually played.

13. 8-11 31-27
14. 19-24 27x18
15. 12-16 32-28

This seemingly natural move actually loses. 25-22 would have been correct to draw.

16. 24-27 28-24
17. 27-31 25-22
18. 31-27 24-19
19. 16x23 26x19

Here the Lamp called the game a draw and showed a drawing line. But it's actually a Black win.

Black to Play and Win


Can you do better than the Lamp did, over 130 years ago? Shed some light on this interesting position, and then click on Read More to illuminate the solution and notes.null

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12/21/19 - Printer friendly version
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Four In A Row


Four-In-A-Row, sometimes called "Connect Four" is a strategy board game that is actually quite good. Shown above is a large outdoor game set that you can buy for your backyard for only ... um ... $300.00 plus shipping.

At The Checker Maven, though, our game is checkers, and nothing will cost you $300.00 (or anything at all, as our content is completely free). However, our theme for this column is indeed "Four In A Row."

In today's Checker School entry, we're trying something a little different. When you click on the link below, you'll be presented with not one, not two, nor even three, but four elementary checker problems. Your job? Solve them as quickly as possible, and our Javascript clock will "help" you keep track of your time. Can you solve four in a row?

A top player won't require more than a minute or two, which includes time to read the problem terms and look at the diagrams. Those of us with lesser skills will require more time, of course, and perhaps quite a bit more.

But no matter; do the best you can. Are you ready?

Click to display problems

When you're done, click the "back" button on your browser and then Read More to check your solutions, all in a row.null

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12/14/19 - Printer friendly version
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15th Anniversary


With this column, the Checker Maven completes 15 years of uninterrupted on-time publication with no missed Saturdays and no missed deadlines. Each weekend we've put something to do with checkers before our readers, who continue to number in the thousands. From what we can tell, you've by and large been pleased with our efforts.

It all started from a discussion with Brian Hinkle, and things went on from there.

Originally we were going to publish for 10 years. We extended that to 15. But we won't stop here. Although we can't give a timeline--- health and age have crept up on us and your editor has serious eyesight issues--- we'll go on as long as physically possible. We know one day we'll have to quit, but we hope that it won't be very soon.

One of the unique things we've done is to tell checker stories, and it's likely we've written more checker fiction than everyone else in the history of the game put together. So for our 15th anniversary, we have a story and a problem. The problem is by Brian (one of his best ever), and the story is set at The Beacon Cafe. It all somehow seems fitting.


It was the first Saturday in December, a sunny, crisp and cold day. Sal was all smiles as he walked from his home on 7th Street over to the Beacon Cafe.

Certainly, he was bundled up against the cold. His wife Sylvia wouldn't have let him go out without his wool cap, gloves, and scarf, not to mention his heavy winter coat. "It'll get cold after dark," she warned, and she was right. At this time of year it got dark around four-thirty in Bismarck's northerly latitude, and he knew he'd be at the Cafe until its five o'clock closing time.

On Saturdays the Coffee and Cake Checker Club met regularly, but the holidays were approaching and after today there was only one more meeting until the New Year, so the boys would want to make the most of it. But there was more. Today Sal was bringing something extra special to the session.

Sal enjoyed the walk but just the same he was glad to get into the warm interior of the Cafe. He said hello to Deana, the proprietor, and made his way to the big booth at the back. A couple of the boys were already there: Dan, Mike, and Louie were sitting in front of steaming cups of coffee.

"Hey Sal," they all said, "you're late!"


Sal looked up at the clock on the wall. It was three minutes after one. "Just a little," he said, "but you have a point. You're going to need a lot of time today."

The boys--- none of them younger than fifty--- exchanged glances. But just then three more members arrived: Delmer, Larry, and Wayne. It was just about a full house.

When everyone had settled, Sal immediately commandeered one of the checkerboards. "Have I ever got something today," he said. "It's from my pal Brian who said he composed it based on an idea he got from Ed."

Everyone groaned. Brian and Ed composed tough checker problems, but this promised to be really tough.

"Yep," Sal said, "it's a hard one. But it's one of the best ever. You boys will really enjoy it. And I'll enjoy my coffee and cake. You might as well buy it for me right away because you'll never ever get this one."

For years, the idea had been that someone would pose a problem and win or lose coffee and cake depending on whether the others could solve it.

"What've you got today, Deana?" Sal called, looking over to Deana's counter.


"Chocolate chip zucchini bars," Deana replied. "Really good."

Everyone smiled. Who in North Dakota didn't love zucchini bars?

Sal laid out the problem. Then he grabbed two more boards and repeated the position on each of them. "I'll give you an hour," he said, "and you're going to need a lot of coffee."

White to Play and Win


The boys looked surprised. Usually they only got ten minutes or so to solve a problem. An hour? And Sal was over at the counter buying coffee for everyone? Something was going on, that's for sure.

After about ten minutes, Dan, Mike, and Louie said they thought they had it. But then they changed their minds. "Nope, doesn't work," Dan said, and the others nodded their heads.

An hour passed, then two, then three. Finally Sal interrupted. "It's after four o'clock," he said. "Time to buy me a couple of zucchini bars before it gets too late!"

But there was no reply, just the sound of moves being discussed and pieces being shifted on the checkerboards.


Finally, it was four forty-five. It was dark outside and Deana was saying she was closing in fifteen minutes and couldn't stay late because her boyfriend was picking her up on the dot of five.

"Okay, Sal, show us," Mike said. "We'll buy you a bar to take home."

"Two bars," Sal said. "One for Sylvia."

He paused and after a moment said, "No bars, no solution."

"Aw, c'mon Sal!" Wayne said.

"Bars," Sal repeated.

"Unfair!" Larry said. "This one was too hard and you knew it!"

It was now five to five.

"Everyone OUT!" Deana said, very impatiently.

Now, Deana was not one to trifle with. When she said 'out' then out you went.

"Tell you what," Sal said. "I'll give you until next week to solve it. But if you don't get it, you buy double, okay?"

The boys, not wanting to annoy Deana further, were putting on their coats. "Sure Sal, whatever you say," Mike said, and the others nodded agreement.


"My boyfriend's here," Deana said, shooing everyone toward the door. She turned out the lights and pointedly held the door open.

With the setting of the sun, a wind had sprung up and it was now very, very cold. And Sal had to walk all the way home without a chocolate chip zucchini bar.

"Never mind," he said to himself, "I'll collect double next week."

The boys at the Beacon Cafe might have to wait to see the solution, but you don't. However, we suggest that you spend some time on this problem. It's rather difficult, but highly intriguing. Of course you can click on Read More to see the solution whenever you wish, but do really take the time to explore the problem first.null

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12/07/19 - Printer friendly version
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