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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April Fool Recap


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.

White to Play

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.20050904-symbol.gif

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Office Renovations


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!


02/08/16 - Printer friendly version
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JR Smith Visits Hawai`i Nei

Your editor and J.R. Smith
with Princess Ka`iulani

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."

J.R. continues:

"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.

1. 11-15 23-19
2. 8-11 22-17
3. 4-8 25-22
4. 9-14

9-13 or 15-18 give equality. The text move sends Black down a hard road.

4. ... 17-13
5. 14-18

14-17, as we noted, would have been better. We now have the problem position.

White to Play and Win


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.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/30/16 - Printer friendly version
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11th Anniversary


This week marks the eleventh anniversary of non-stop, no-fail weekly publication of The Checker Maven. Many thanks to all our loyal readers. We hope you'll find enough here of interest that you'll want to stay with us in the weeks and years to come.20050904-symbol.gif

12/05/15 - Printer friendly version
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In Memoriam Jan Mortimer


In honor of the memory of New Zealand checkerist Jan Mortimer, who passed away last week, The Checker Maven will not publish a problem or story this week.

Though we only met Jan on the telephone and by email, we knew her to be a wonderful person who contributed much and who will be forever missed. Requiescat in pace et in amore.20050904-symbol.gif

08/01/15 - Printer friendly version
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Elegant New Problems in the Offing


We're talking about checker problems, of course, as Bill Salot continues his series of checker problem composition contests, with the next round starting today, November 28, 2014. Be sure to visit this link to view the problems, try them out, and vote on the one you think is best.20050904-symbol.gif

11/28/14 - Printer friendly version
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Capers on the Kelso - Part 1


Capers are the berry of the bush known as Capparis Spinosa; they're used extensively in Mediterranean cuisine, though they can be found elsewhere in the world, including Australia and various Pacific islands.

Of course, the word capers is used in several other ways, and it's the meaning that refers to antics which gives rise to our title.

Today we start a multi-part article taken from the Capers on the Kelso entry in Willie Ryan's famed Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard. Mr. Ryan will show us quite a number of interesting situations that occur in this classic opening. Without further ado, here's Willie.

"I have always been of the opinion that the only effective way to teach scientific checkers is to take games actually played by expert performers, and to annotate them, step by step, explaining the strategic and objective points of the play. As a sample lesson in detailed dissection of scientific play, I am presenting a game I contested with Andrew J. Banks, of Washington, D. C., when I put on a simultaneous exhibition in the Capital City a few years ago.

Andrew J. Banks---WhiteWm. F. Ryan---Black

22-18 9-14 26-23 3-12 30-7
15-22 29-25 14-17---M 28-24 2-11
25-18 6-10---C 23-14 7-11 27-24;
11-15---A,1 24-20---D 17-21---O 24-19---P drawn.
18-11 1-6---E 32-28 6-10
8-15 28-24 10-17 19-16
21-17---B 8-11---J 19-16 12-19
4-8 23-19---K,2 12-19 25-22

Editor's Note: Variations 1 and 2 will be presented in future columns.

A---For play on the alternative defense by 6-10, see Variation 1.

B---The favorite reply to 11-15, although 29-25 and 24-19 are also acceptable moves.

C---In a Southern State Championship Tourney, Florida Champion Earl Ingram tried 7-10 here against Basil Case, and almost won. After 7-10, the game continued 24-20, 2-7, 25-21 (to dodge the dyke by 15-19 if 27-24 or 28-24 is played), 8-11, 28-24, and reached the position discussed in Note E.

D---Much stronger than 23-19, 8-11, 27-23,15-18,19-15,18-27, 15-8, 12-16, 32-23, 8-12, 24-20, 10-15, 20-11, 7-16, 23-19, 15-24, 28-19, 16-23, 26-19, at which point 2-7 creates an easy draw; but I have won often against 5-9, 13-6, 1-10, then 25-22, 2-7, 31-27, 7-11, 30-25*, 11-15, 27-24, 14-18, 24-20; white wins.

E---If the play goes 2-6, then proceed with: 25-21, 8-11, and we arrive at the position (discussed in Note C) reached in the game between Ingram and Case, although in that game the position developed from a different order of moves. After 2-6, 25-21, 8-11, the Ingram-Case game proceeded: 28-24, 14-17, 21-14, 10-17, 32-28---F, 6-10, 23-19,1-6, 27-23, 5-9, 19-16---G, 12-19, 23-16, 9-14, 26-23, 17-22---H, 23-19, 15-18, 16-12,11-15, 20-16,14-17, 24-20, 15-24, 28-19, 17-21, 30-26, 21-25, 26-17, 25-30, 19-15, 10-19, 16-11,7-16, 20-11, 18-23, 17-14, ending in a draw.

F---Something new. Here is how James P. Reed played the white pieces against Wm. Beattie, many years ago: 23-19, 15-18, 32-28,
17-22, 26-17, 11-15, 19-10, 7-21, 31-26, 5-9, 20-16, 12-19, 24-15, 9-14, 15-11, 14-17, 26-23, 18-22, 23-19, 22-25, 27-23, 25-29, 23-18, 3-7, 11-2, 1-5, to a draw.

G---Apparently all that white has left. If 26-22 is used, then 17-26, 31-22, 9-14, 23-18, 14-23, 22-17, 12-16, 19-12, 23-27,
30-25, 27-31, 25-21, will leave black with a promising ending.

H---When the Ingram-Case game first came to my attention I went over it very carefully (so I thought), announcing that Mr. Ingram could have won here by this play: 15-18, 24-19---I, 18-27, 31-24, 17-22, 16-12, 11-15, 19-16, 22-26, 30-23, 15-19, etc. Wm. F. Ryan.

I---But Mr. Case popped up and saved his reputation by demonstrating the following remarkable draw (See diagram.)

White to Play and Draw


J---A very weak move. Remember, this was an exhibition game! The time to impose hardships on yourself and the time to improve your game is when it won't count against you. In other words, when you play for fun, any line of play will do for a test. When you play an important match, that is the time to play your best. Many players will never reach the top because they make no effort to broaden their concept of formations and structures. Their knowledge is restricted to the conventional processes of book play. To be a real headliner, you must cultivate an appetite to defend as well as to attack any critical position with equal zeal. Of course, the double trade by 15-19 at J gives black an easy game, but I was inviting originality by 8-11, and got it!

K---The situation at this point has been faced by all the checker greats of the past. Mr. Banks' 23-19 appears to be an innovation, but it was probably shunned by the early masters because of its mediocrity. Variation 2 shows some fine play on 32-28 here, which no student of the game can afford to disregard.

L---At the time this game was played, I had the idea 14-18 would lose for black if it was met with 25-21. Hence I moved 15-18. On later examination, I discovered that it would lead to a draw with the following play: 14-18, 25-21, 5-9, 26-23, 18-22, 21-17, 22-25*, 30-21, 9-14, 32-28, 14-18, 23-14, 11-16, 20-11, 7-32. Wm. F. Ryan. A progressive student always spends more time reviewing the games he has played, in search of improvements or errors, than in playing new games.

M---In a formation of this kind it is usually fatal for black to "pack" the structure by 11-15, particularly when there is no piece on square 5. The "slip" theme by 14-17, as employed here, is generally applicable for a draw when there are no opposing pieces on squares 26 and 29. Reverting to M again, the fill-in via 11-15 will produce a draw in this case: 11-15, 20-16---N, 14-17*, 23-14, 6-9, 13-6, 2-18, 24-20, 15-24, 16-11, 7-16, 20-11, 17-22, 27-20, 22-29, 11-7, 10-14, 7-2, 5-9, 2-6, 9-13, etc.

N---If 30-26 is used, proceed with: 14-17, 23-14, 6-9, etc.; if 32-28 is played, black will win with: 14-17, 23-14, 17-22!, 25-11, 7-32, 14-7, 2-11; if 31-26 is moved, the draw is established with: 6-9, 13-6, 2-9, 32-28, 14-17, 23-14, 9-18, 25-22*, 18-25, 30-14, 10-17, 19-10, 7-14, 20-16. Wm. F. Ryan.

O---This was my first and only bad move. I should have played 6-9, 13-6, 2-18, 31-26, 11-15*, 25-22*, making the draw shown in Note N."

Note P and subsequent commentary will presented in the next column in this series---Ed.

Can you solve the problem diagrammed above, at Note I? Don't beat around the bush; it's an interesting caper, so do your berry best and then click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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England was kingless (and queenless, for that matter) for a few brief periods in a history of otherwise unbroken monarchy. One of those times was during the rule of Oliver Cromwell, who took the title of Protector.

Bill Salot has given a new meaning to "kingless" in his latest checker problem composition contest, in which all problems are to consist of single men only; no kings are allowed. We doubt that Mr. Salot has ambitions to be another Cromwell; his fame as a promoter of modern-day problem composition is already assured.

You won't want to miss the entries in this contest; you can see them here. Be sure to try them out and vote for your favorite.20050904-symbol.gif

08/15/14 - Printer friendly version
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The Incredible On-Line Checkers Library


Anyone who has tried to buy checker books in recent years has discovered very quickly that these are hard to come by, and often quite expensive when they can be found. There are very few checker books in print, and the used book market offers less and less as time goes by.

The Checker Maven has provided some newly typeset editions of classic works, but these take a lot of time to produce, and to date only a limited number have been completed.

Enter Jake Kacher's on-line checkers library, his personal effort to make checker literature readily and freely available to devotees of the game.

Jake is originally from Kiev and currently lives in California. He's held a long string of titles in various varieties of checkers, and still teaches pool checkers to an international set of students. But right now, his library, at

is his major ongoing project.


The checker library started out with what Jake called his "Russian project" and specialized in the literature of shashki, or Russian checkers. But it soon expanded into other varieties of checkers, and now contains extensive collections not only on Russian checkers, but on pool checkers, 10x10 checkers and "straight" checkers, as well as the Brazilian, Canadian, and Italian variants.

As word spread, players from around the world started submitting scans of checker literature of all types. The library now is vast. At latest count there were 250 Russian checker books, 170 straight checkers books, over 100 books on the 10x10 game, thousands of magazines of all kinds, 10,000 animated Russian checker games, several thousand straight checkers championship games and positions, various other articles and literature, and links to sites containing even more material. The library numbers four to five thousand items in books and magazines alone.

Putting an item in the library isn't a simple matter of uploading a scan; there's an intensive quality control process which requires cleaning and sizing each individual page. Some pages require a hundred or more modifications to remove graphic artifacts, increase legibility, and compress the size so that loading times will be reasonable.

Everything in the library is available free of charge, and users don't need to worry about advertising pop-ups and similar annoyances of Internet life. The concept is that the library is a place where readers and researchers can access material without the need to download (although that's available), and with referential integrity: a reference to a certain page of a certain book will produce a consistent result.

The "straight checkers" section of the library contains some extraordinary treasures, including a number of rare books such as Payne's seminal 1756 publication.

The collection continues to build, and the next stage will be the creation of a searchable database, allowing users to locate items by author, title, or year.

The library welcomes assistance from checker enthusiasts who can contribute high-quality scans of material not already in the collection.

Again, the library can be found at, and Jake can be contacted either through his site guestbook or on Facebook at


The only downside? Once you get on the site, you're going to be there for hours and hours, browsing through the most extensive and fascinating collection of checkers literature anywhere in cyberspace.

Of course, we wanted this week's checker problem to come from the material in the library; making a choice wasn't easy with so much to choose from, but we decided on this one.

Black to Play and Win


Can you find the correct line of play? It's not terribly difficult but there is one interesting twist. See if you can book the win, and then click on Read More to leaf through the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/26/14 - Printer friendly version
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Problem Composition Contest 14 Completed


Bill Salot's outstanding series of checker problem composing contests continues to thrive, attracting talented problem setters from around the world. Contest 14 has just concluded, and the winner is from the Netherlands. Check it all out by clicking on the Compositions link in the left-hand column.20050904-symbol.gif

01/02/14 - Printer friendly version
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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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