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A Guest Column by Kookaburra
I live in Adelaide which is the capital city of the state of South Australia and I play checkers / draughts. South Australia is quite remote as it is in the middle of Australia, and within a short distance of Adelaide is total wilderness: The Outback.
Here we have extremely hot summers with stretches over 40 degrees Celsius and winters that are mild by world standards--- no snow but a little frost. The wildlife is wonderful and unique.
I started playing chess about four years ago after a health problem and also tried a stack of other games: Backgammon, Scrabble, Four in a Row, etc., and also Checkers. Thanks to a nice and skilled checker player I met online, I became a devotee of the game.
The reality of being a checker enthusiast today is that many of us are isolated. I play checkers (or draughts) in a country where checker players are as thin as kookaburraís teeth. This however should not stop any of us from enjoying this great and beautiful game. The fact you are reading this from far away from where I live is evidence that the tyranny of distance can be overcome.
Indeed, there arenít many serious checker players here in Australia at all. I have made contact with a couple and hope to play them crossboard at some point. For the most part, I play online, and have met some amazing people that way. Checkers is unique in that it offers a friendly, accepting fraternity who have embraced my presence as a new player.
It is difficult being isolated but checker players are not so common any longer, even in more populated parts of the world, and so all of us are becoming more isolated. My goal is to be the best I can at this beautiful game and not worry about other people or the isolation but to focus on the game and my skills in it. Then it doesnít matter.
One of my role models in checkers is the late Jan Mortimer, from New Zealand, who overcame the isolation of living in this part of the world to be a world class Checker player. I donít think enough women play this game and wish more did although I think checkers needs more players; more women, more men and definitely more beginners as it is tough when you first start and it takes a big leap to go from a recreational player who knows very little to a serious player who studies the game. And I am grateful to those who have and are currently helping me leap across this great divide.
I am hoping to promote the game whenever and wherever I can and help others learn about this beautiful underrated game even from this isolated area of Australia. I play online under the name Kookaburra.
Here is my advice for any modern checker player who may not have anyone around close by to play against.
Obviously the internet is extremely useful. Play turn based and speed games both to gain as much variety and experience of playing. Turn based sites are great for the social aspects of meeting and chatting to other players from around the world. Checker players are friendly and ask them about checkers and they chat and advise and online Iíve met some amazing players Also play speed games as thatís the way proper games are played. Start to end. Makes you think about strategy and think on your feet.
Start a checker book collection. There are great books out there. Start with beginner books and work your way up. There is enough out there to last a lifetime.
Research checker history. Some of the books I have now are from the 19th Century. The oldest is 1886. Reading them gives a fascinating incite into how the World was back then.
Join a checker association. The newsletters are great and it is worth it to hear news and make contacts from around the world and get to know who are the current and past checker champions.
Use social networking tools. Make a connection with other players.
If you want to play crossboard and canít find any checker players, join a club for another game with a similar board and use it to practice playing face to face.
Here is an exerpt from an old checker book dated 1911: Draughts Praxis or Modern Match Games, by Frank Dunne.
Check the last rule proposed to players over 100 years ago:
LOSE WITH GOOD TEMPER, AND WIN WITH SILENCE AND MODESTY
Amazing advice, I think!
And now I'd like to share my favourite problem. I like the fact Dr Marion Tinsley almost got stung with it, making for a connection to checker history.
Can you solve Kookaburra's favorite (or should we say favourite) problem, one that gave pause to Marion Tinsley? It's not as hard as you might suspect. Don't be left out (back); give it your best and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Checker history is about to be made starting April 20, 2018, when an all-star team of American players travels to Rome, Italy to face top Italian players. While US vs. Great Britain matches have taken place numerous times over the last century, with the US largely dominating, this US-Italy match-up is a first, and the Italians are very strong indeed.
The US team faces significant costs, and you can help by following this link to the American Checker Federation on-line store, and donating whatever you wish.
Of course, The Checker Maven is US-based, so we're behind our US team, but we wish the best of luck to all in what we're sure will be a spectacular event.
Some of our board diagrams, notably those published between 2005 and 2011, have started to display incorrectly on the Chrome browser as of Chrome version 64. There are no problems with Chrome version 63 or earlier, and we don't yet know why only some diagrams are affected.
There's little we can do about this, and we can only hope that Google fixes their browser as soon as possible.
If you run into this issue, we suggest using a different browser (such as Firefox). Please accept our apologies for this inconvenience, which is outside our control.
Update as of March 8, 2018: We reported the problem to Google and it's fixed in Chrome 65.
The Checker Maven site was down for more than nine hours yesterday (Saturday, January 21, 2018), in what was probably the longest outage in our more than thirteen years of publication. Of course, it would have to take place on a Saturday, which is our weekly publication day, and when offices are closed and tech support staff are few and far between.
After 70 minutes on the phone with hosting provider GoDaddy, we were told that the server had gone down (we knew that) and it could take as long as three days to move us to a new server. Fortunately, that got done in about six more hours, and then we were up again.
Well, not quite. The new shared hosting server had some configuration differences, and we were here in the office well into Saturday evening getting things squared away. Doing this kind of work "au pied levť" isn't anyone's idea of fun, but we have to do what we have to do.
Fortunately, all is well once again, and our headache is receding. Our apologies for the inconvenience and our thanks for staying with us.
When we launched The Checker Maven years back, web hosting costs were a lot lower. But with the passage of time, costs have risen and now our web hosting alone runs well above $200 a year, and we haven't even begun to tally other costs, nor do we wish to.
The Checker Maven is free, and free from outside advertising, and always will be. We will never charge for our content and we will never accept advertising from anyone. Period.
However, we will advertise our books, as print versions do generate a small profit. And we are considering a change in our policy on accepting donations. Right now we won't accept them even if offered, but at some point we might.
Thank you for being a reader of The Checker Maven and for your understanding.
Checker Cruncher is a new website under development by Brooks Thomas, and it's the first online checker tactics trainer to make an appearance.
While there's still some work to do, the site is eminently usable right now, and we found it rather impressive. We've made many repeat visits. A subscription model is contemplated for the future, but at the moment the site is completely free.
We asked Mr. Thomas to answer a few questions for us, and he graciously took the time to provide detailed responses.
1. So what's Checker Cruncher (CC) and what can we expect to find there?
Checker Cruncher is a web application designed to help people improve all aspects of their game and have fun doing it. The heart of the site is a large number of automatically generated tactics puzzles. Both players and puzzles get Elo ratings so beginners will be given easier problems while experts will be given more severe challenges. Other learning tools are also available such as a searchable database of expert games and an opening explorer to look at win rates and best moves. The puzzles are better for tactics and end games while the database is more for openings and strategy. Lastly, there is a forum for giving feedback and asking questions. More is coming as it's built.
All the puzzles come from real games where one player had the opportunity to win. Maybe that player found it and maybe they didn't but the engine claims the opportunity was there. Your task is to exploit said opportunity to the fullest. Some puzzles are as simple as promoting a king or choosing the better capture. Others are 20+ moves deep with zero margin for error. Each is a bite sized piece of practice for both the speed and accuracy of your calculation which is critical to avoid blunders and pounce on your opponent's mistakes. After each attempt you can check out the game the puzzle came from or look to the computer analysis for the answer. As of September, 2016, the puzzles are selected randomly because the ratings have not yet stabilized. As the player and puzzle count grows and the puzzles get sorted by difficulty I'll implement the smarter problem selection.
2. What gave you the idea for CC?
I got the idea for Checker Cruncher from a friend at the coworking space where I work. I was playing a game of checkers over lunch and lamenting the lack of a checkers version of ChessTempo when he asked, "Why don't you build it?" At the time I was making a mobile app about billiards that I didn't have much faith in. Over the next few days it become obvious to me that Checker Cruncher was going to be both more fun to build and more likely to succeed. I knew I was on to something when I started getting distracted from building the site by practicing checkers on the site. Since then I've had more ideas then time to implement them.
3. How long have you been working on it?
4. How do you see the site developing in the future?
I've got a huge list of features I want to add, I don't think I'll ever run out of ideas. I'd like to see a smarter problem generator, a larger game database, puzzle comments, tags, and share buttons, leaders boards, achievements, end game tutorials, live play, etc. I'm only one person so none of these are coming soon but if the site gets traction and enough users to pay for the hosting costs I'll keep adding features. Who knows where it might go?
In the near term I'm working on improving the site experience on mobile devices. It's not quite ready for phones but it's close. The smarter problem generator is also a big priority. I'd like the next batch of puzzles to be more consistent with where they start and end. It should also create fewer puzzles that have many winning moves. In the mean time, if you bump into a puzzle you don't like point it out on the forums. I can disable it and add it in my test cases.
5. Tell us a little about yourself (age, background, education, interest in checkers, location, profession, whatever you wish).
I'm 31 years old, living in Philadelphia. I got my degree in Computer Science at the University of Rochester in NY and have been a professional programmer since. Most of my experience is in windows desktop applications. Outside of work I've always had an interest in games and game theory. A little before I started Checker Cruncher I started playing chess more seriously and I'm now a 1700 rated player which I'm quite proud of. When I get the chance I also enjoy hiking and mountain climbing with my lovely wife Amanda.
I had no idea checkers was even an interesting game until reading about Chinook in One Jump Ahead. That was probably five years ago. I downloaded Martin Fierz's CheckerBoard and of course the engine Cake stomped on me so badly I didn't understand why. But I loved the simplicity of the rules vs the monstrous difficulty of the play. So I bought some pieces and started playing with whoever was willing. Now I play primarily with my friends and against my phone. I've thought about playing online but haven't really broken into it yet.
6. Do you think CC will become a major resource for checker training? Is that your long-term goal or hope?
Yes I hope so. I know it already works great for beginners. A few friends and I have been testing it and we've improved dramatically. Even very strong chess players have to practice tactics regularly, I think checkers must be similar. If it gets a healthy user base and good feedback I think Checker Cruncher could be a tremendous tool.
7. What do you see as the future of English checkers? Is it bright or not so bright? Do you think checkers might some day see a revival?
Lots of work needs to be done of course but I think the future of checkers is very promising. One of the major reasons I play chess and checkers instead of Counter Strike and League of Legends is accessibility. Checkers has been around for centuries, it's one of only a handful of games you can play with both your grandparents and your grand kids. It's not going anywhere. Moreover I think more people are playing checkers now than ever before. The checkers phone apps have millions of downloads. People may be playing casually, primarily against their phones, or even without forced capture. But they play and if more serious players and organizations can reach and educate them I see no reason why checkers can't be a large and thriving community.
8. Any advice for the aspiring checkerist and/or user of your site?
For the aspiring checkerist:
Play! Play with whoever is interested, kids, parents, coworkers. Checkers is the perfect game over a lunch break. But do warn your opponents about forced capture; at least where I am very few people know about that rule.
If you're playing against your phone or another computer turn the difficulty up to where you win or draw a little more than half the time. You should win often enough that you don't get frustrated but lose often enough to learn to be careful. As you improve, turn the difficulty up again.
For the tactics problems:
Like when you're playing over the board don't try to guess the answer. Take your time, spend five minutes thinking and try to see the whole solution before you make the first move.
9. Anything else you wish to say or add?
Please participate in the forums, feedback of all kinds is deeply appreciated! This is especially true for intermediate and advanced players, I'm working from my chess experience about what works, but checkers is a different game. For instance I'd love help building a list of favorite puzzles. My favorite so far is number 127.
This is definitely an entertaining problem, and it isn't all that hard if you find the correct first move. Give it a try, and then either go to the Checker Cruncher website to see this problem and thousands more, or click on Read More to verify your solution.[Read More]
The Checker Maven originally appeared each Saturday at 2:02 AM MST (GMT-7). When our offices relocated from Santa Fe, NM, to Honolulu, HI, our publication time changed to 2:02 AM HST (GMT-10).
Now, many of our readers are on the east coast of the United States and look for the latest column early in the morning. With our present publication time, the week's offering isn't available until 8:02 AM EDT. That's later than we might like, and so effective at once we'll be moving to a publication time of 00:02 AM HST, or two hours earlier than the current publication time.
We hope this time change makes access to The Checker Maven a little more convenient for our readers.
This column will appear on April 2, 2016. Yesterday was April 1, or "April Fool's Day," the traditional date for all sorts of stunts and jokes.
On April 1, 1943, the above Norman Rockwell drawing appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post.
Mr. Rockwell did a certain amount of checker art, but in this particular instance, he deliberately riddled the drawing with errors, 43 of them by his count. (How many of them can you find? A larger version of the drawing can be found here.)
Today's problem is more in the nature of a "thought" problem. We know it's possible to construct positions that can't arise on the checkerboard. Here's one taken from "Impossible Settings" in Ben Boland's book, Famous Positions in the Game of Checkers.
There are only four pieces in this position, but we'd like to challenge you to find the minimal position that can't possibly arise in play that follows the rules. Can you find an impossible setting with fewer than four pieces?
The picture at the top of this article may give you a clue as to the answer. Click on Read More when you're done fooling with this and wish to see the answer.[Read More]
The Checker Maven is in the midst of office renovations, and it's a stressful, difficult, and expensive time. We'll be shutting down our computers tonight (Monday, February 8, 2016) around 8 PM HST, and they'll be off for a couple of weeks. Never fear, The Checker Maven website will stay online and Saturday columns will appear on schedule. It's just that we might be a little slow in responding to email, as for the most part we'll be working out of the Hamilton Library on the University of Hawai`i Mānoa campus.
We'll be back as soon as we can!