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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An Exhibition Match

National Checker League Headquarters
Photo Courtesy Mike Tewkesbury

Marvin J. Mavin was in Bellman, Ohio, the home of the National Checker League, for a special gala event to benefit the NCL Youth Fund. Various other top professionals would be playing simultaneous exhibitions, giving lessons and demonstrations, and analyzing games submitted by attendees. But the featured event, the real headliner, would be a single game match-up between Marvin and the President of the NCL, Elan Hallmion.

Marvin J. Mavin

President Hallmion was a former top-ranked professional player; some thought he was every bit as good as Marvin. But there was more to the story.

Elan Hallmion

The truth is, despite Marvin's popularity, President Hallmion was no great fan of Marvin. He didn't like Marvin's antics, especially his beer drinking; he thought it set a rather bad example for young players and fans who idolized Marvin. The scheduled contest between Marvin and Elan was being touted by the press as a "grudge match," although President Hallmion, always the gentleman, said that it was just a charity benefit in which he was most happy to participate. Any grudges, he added, were Marvin's alone.

Marvin, for his part, wasn't quite as gentlemanly. When asked about the match by the press, he said, "Oh, yeah, that dude Hallmion don't like me so much. But hey, whatever, he ain't got my reputation. I'll like, you know, take him on, sure, why not?"

The time for the match soon rolled around. Marvin had arrived in Bellman the previous evening and had spent the day (at least half of it, as he apparently slept until noon) signing autographs and meeting with the hundreds of NCL fans who had come to town for the exhibition.

President Hallmion made sure Marvin was taken to dinner by a couple of NCL officials, who whisked Marvin off to a restaurant that didn't serve beer. The NCL leader wasn't going to risk a possibly embarrassing situation later on when Marvin appeared for his match.


Indeed, at game time, Marvin was on the wagon. He had complained a little at dinner but when it became obvious that it wouldn't do any good, he stopped. He did try to slip away from his escort at one point, but the NCL officials were quite alert and Marvin didn't succeed.

The crowd cheered equally for both Marvin and President Hallmion. While Marvin was a darling of the fans, President Hallmion was highly respected for his integrity and his very competent management of the affairs of the NCL.

After shaking hands--- was Marvin a little reluctant?--- the contestants sat down to play. Marvin had drawn the Black pieces and President Hallion the White. The game started out as follows.

1. 10-15 22-17
2. 15-19

Marvin had what some thought to be the harder end of this 3-move ballot, but he seemed quite unperturbed, although he was doing his normal fidgeting.

2 ... 24-15
3. 11-18 23-14
4. 9-18

After the double exchange, White has a small advantage; and President Hallmion knew it. In fact, he appeared to be smiling ever so slightly.

4. ... 17-13

26-23 might have been stronger. Marvin glanced up at his opponent, evidently surprised by this move.

5. 5-9 21-17
6. 8-11 28-24
7. 4-8

11-15 or 9-14 would have been better. Had Marvin's concentration lapsed? In professional checkers, that often proves fatal.

7. ... 17-14

White seizes the advantage....

8. 1-5 24-20

... only to give it back again. 24-19 would have held the lead. Marvin actually looked relieved at this turn of events. "Well there, Shorty," Marvin said, most disrespectfully, "ya thought ya had something, didn't ya! But now ya ain't got nothing."

9. 11-15 26-23
10. 8-11 25-21
11. 12-16 32-28
12. 3-8 27-24
13. 18-27 31-26
14. 9-18 24-19
15. 16-23 26-3

Seeing this clever shot, the crowd oohed and aahed and then broke out into applause for President Hallmion. Meanwhile Marvin was frowning and scratching his head perplexedly.

16. 8-12 3-8
17. 11-15 8-11
18. 27-31 30-25

President Hallmion sat back in his chair, and being the gentleman that he was, merely smiled. Marvin was in a tough spot and was going to have to think hard if he was to save the draw. "What's with this?" Marvin said. "You can't win, Shorty, you just can't!" The crowd, hearing this, let out a collective grumble. They all loved Marvin, but they also expected President Hallmion to be treated with proper respect.

Can you find the draw in this critical position? Can Marvin? Try to solve it, and then click on Read More for the solution and the rest of the story.

Black to Play and Draw



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02/22/14 - Printer friendly version
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A Checker Wedding


It was Byron and Yvette's wedding day; they had waited the requisite year after their engagement and were anxious to finally be married. And so, on a beautiful summer day, they took their vows in a beautiful new church in downtown Denver.

A large tent had been set up on the lawn across from the church. The wedding reception would take place there. Many guests were in attendance from both families, some of them having traveled substantial distances.

One of the guests who had made such a long journey was Yvette's Uncle Harvey.

Now, as you will know if you've read our story about Yvette and Byron's engagement, Uncle Harvey was, well--- a little rigid in his ways. He was an expert checker player the author of a little instructional booklet called "Our Boys at Home." The booklet recommended checkers as the pastime of choice for young men (certainly not young ladies, who ought to be knitting or cooking), steering them away from all sorts of evil things, like going to baseball games or being out after dark.

Uncle Harvey, you may recall, felt that young women could determine if young men were suitable to "embark upon the sea of matrimony" by testing their character via games of checkers. (Uncle Harvey didn't explain how the young ladies could do this if they were knitting or cooking instead of playing checkers.)

Yvette did test Byron with a checker problem, but it was a test of character, not of checker knowledge, and Byron passed easily.

This did not satisify Uncle Harvey, and he told Yvette as much in every letter he wrote to his seemingly errant niece.

"Marry him if you must," he had said upon greeting her last week when he arrived at the Denver train depot, "but if the boy can't even play checkers properly, he's probably doing all sorts of bad things."


In fact, Byron worked very hard at his father's buggy business, although it must be said that he did at times go out at night and was quite guilty of playing baseball on some weekends.

But Yvette and Byron's happiness couldn't be diminished by Uncle Harvey's dissatisfaction; after all, he /did/ condescend to attend the wedding, coming all the way from Chicago to do so.

Everything was fine until the newlyweds, making their rounds at the reception, came to Uncle Harvey's table, where he was sitting with his wife, Mrs. Hopkins, and some other Chicago-area relatives.

"Congratulations, you two," he said. "It may not be a union that I would bless myself, but nonetheless I wish you well, even if the odds are not in your favor."

"Why Uncle Harvey, whatever do you mean?" Yvette exclaimed.

"You know what I mean, niece," Uncle Harvey said. "The young man was not tested properly. In a true trial, he would undoubtedly have failed."

"Uncle Harvey, Yvette did offer me a trial by checkers, and I passed the trial," objected Byron. He was starting to fidget a little. Yvette squeezed his arm as a sort of warning: best not to dispute with her Uncle.

"You did no such thing!" Uncle Harvey said. "Please do not claim a victory that you did not earn. My niece explained to me the circumstances of the trial, and you most certainly did not solve the problem she set before you. And pray do not ascribe failure to solve..."

"... to an error in the setting." Byron concluded the sentence for him. "I /have/ read that booklet of yours, you know."

Yvette glared at Byron, but it was too late.

"Is that how you speak to your elders and betters?" cried Uncle Harvey. "You, who play at baseball and are not home some nights, dare to mock my work and make light of the sound principles expounded within it?"

Byron waited for him to comment about children today having no respect. He didn't have to wait long.

"No respect, none at all, the younger generation is morally bankrupt, and no wonder, what with baseball games being played at night under electric lights and other such societal corruption!"

Yvette's fingers were digging into Byron's ribs, warning him again to back off before an irremediable breach occurred. Byron realized that he had best heed her warning, and attempted to become conciliatory.

"Uncle Harvey, perhaps you could teach me a bit about checkers so that you may become convinced of my worth and sincerity in becoming a member of your family. I did not intend to malign your excellent booklet and apologize to you."

In uttering these words, Byron did his best in managing not to look ill.

Uncle Harvey glowered, but he stopped his tirade. "Harrumph," he said, "maybe there is hope for you after all." He paused for a moment. "Well, then, I propose we contest a game of checkers straight away so that I can at least get a preliminary sense of your depth of character."

"Right now, Uncle?" Yvette said. "But we must visit with our guests...."

"Won't take long, my dear," Uncle Harvey said. "Your young man will be quickly defeated, I am certain. Then you may return to your visiting. Ten minutes should suffice. Allow your Uncle this small satisfaction, and allow your new husband the chance to show what stuff he's made from."

Yvette noticed that Uncle Harvey had a little trouble saying "husband" in reference to Byron. Oh well, let him have his wish. It was her duty as a niece.

"All right, Uncle," she said. "I have no doubt you will quickly prevail."

To no one's surprise, Uncle Harvey just happened to have a checker set handy. He quickly set up the board and pieces on the table and bade Byron to sit opposite him.


Now, Byron and Yvette shared a little secret. Byron, in an attempt to improve his mind, had been faithfully attending the local checker club ever since his engagement to Yvette. For the past year, he had played and studied checkers with a level of dedication and commitment that surprised himself as much as anyone else. The players at the club had remarked at his enormous progress over the course of the year.

Yvette had wanted to tell Uncle Harvey about this, but Byron had begged her not to, saying that he wanted to be accepted on his own merits, and not just because he had a newly found interest in checkers.

This game with Uncle Harvey was definitely going to be interesting.

Uncle Harvey took the Blacks and made the first move.

1. 9-13

"There," he said, "I have deliberately chosen the weakest opening move in order to give you more opportunity."

1. ... 24-19
2. 6-9 28-24
3. 11-15 22-17
4. 13-22 25-11
5. 8-15 21-17
6. 9-14 17-13
7. 4-8 29-25
8. 8-11 25-21
9. 5-9

"Why Uncle," said Byron, "should you not have instead played 15-18? Is 5-9 not a bit unusual?"

Uncle Harvey gave Byron a "how would you know" look but said nothing.

9. ... 13-6
10. 2-9 26-22
11. 1-5

"Oh, Uncle," Byron said, "surely you did that on purpose to find out if I can win the game, for your move most definitely loses. Would not 9-13 have been the proper play?"

Uncle Harvey harrumphed, not once but twice. "What are you saying, boy? I have made a fine move. Fine move, I say."

By now the game had drawn quite a few bystanders and observers, several of them keen checker players in their own right. Several whispered side conversations were going on.


Byron's time at the checker club and with his checker books had not been for naught. He had a win on the board, and he knew it.

White to Play and Win


Byron seems pretty confident. Can you find the win that he sees here? When you've solved the problem, click on Read More for the solution and the conclusion to our story.20050904-symbol.gif

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This Way or That Way


Sometimes you have to choose, and the choice isn't always an easy one. This way or that way?

A checker choice that often occurs is "jump this way" or "jump that way" and sometimes the game hangs in the balance. Let's look at the following run-up.

10-14 24-19 11-16 28-24 7-10 22-17 9-13 25-22 5-9 30-25---A 16-20---B 32-28 2-7---C 19-15 10x19 17x10 7x14 (see diagram).

A---Very weak; 24-20 is better.

B---In the original annotations, this move was flagged as the probable losing move; in fact, it's potentially a winning move! However, it takes pretty deep computer analysis to show this.

C---This gives the advantage over to White, while 8-11 would have kept a strong Black lead.

White to Play, What Result?


White has a choice of jumps. Which is best--- if indeed one is better than the other--- and what result can be expected?

We are obligated to warn our readers that this one is as interesting as it is difficult, and the full solution will probably only be found by top players. But the rest of us can benefit from trying our hand at it. Such practical situations come up all the time.

Make your decision and then click on Read More for the solution and additional analysis.20050904-symbol.gif

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04/20/13 - Printer friendly version
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Marvin Opens the Season


It was the opening day of the summer season. Marvin J. Mavin, captain of the National Checker League's Detroit Doublejumpers, had lead his team to a second-place finish in the winter season, and was hoping to go all the way this time. The opener was taking place on the road, with the Doublejumpers facing the Pittsburgh Paisleys in the first game of a four-game series.

Marvin J. Mavin

Marvin learned a hard lesson during his exile to the minor leagues (see previous Checker Maven column), and had laid off the beer during the playing season. Unfortunately, his girlfriend Priscilla had been away on business in Turkmenistan during the inter-season break, and absent her watchful eye Marvin had backslid--- more than a little.

In short, Marvin wasn't quite in the best condition for today's match. And he had to face the Paisleys' top player, Karl "the Mauler" Mortenson. The two sat facing each other over the board in the center of the huge stadium, which was packed with fervent checker fans eager for the start of the new season. The National Anthem was played and the players took their seats. Marvin and Karl shook hands. Karl gave Marvin his signature "Pittsburgh Can Crusher" handshake, and it was all Marvin could do not to howl with pain. "Hey, man, that's the hand I move the pieces with," he said, "lay off a little." But Karl just grinned and said something about sissies and wusses.

But then, accompanied by a great cheer from the crowd, the match began.

Karl "the Mauler" Mortenson

Black: Karl Mortenson
White: Marvin J. Mavin

1. 9-14 22-18
2. 5-9 24-19
3. 11-15 18x11
4. 8x24 28x19
5. 4-8 25-22
6. 8-11 22-18
7. 11-16 29-25
8. 7-11 25-22
9. 10-15 19x10
10. 6x15 27-24
11. 16-20 23-19
12. 20x27

"Big bad dude doesn't know book play," Marvin muttered. Indeed, while the text move is fine, 14-23 is usual. "Yeah, well I know a few new tricks, wussie," Karl growled back.

12. ... 19x10
13. 14x23 26x19
14. 9-13 31x24
15. 2-7 30-26
16. 7x14 26-23
17. 3-7 24-20
18. 7-10 32-28

Marvin was sweating, and his head was pounding; he was regretting the excesses of the past week. If he lost today, Priscilla would instantly realize that he had gone off the wagon, and when she returned home she would show him no mercy.

19. 1-5 22-18
20. 5-9 28-24
21. 13-17

"Take that, you wimp," Karl said. "You're dead meat, little boy."

Marvin knew he was in tough straits. Every move on the board seemed to lose two men. He had to pull out a draw, not only to save the game, but to save his hide. Karl thought he was some kind of tough guy, but Marvin knew that you haven't seen tough until you've been on the wrong side of Priscilla.

White to Play and Draw


Can you find the draw here, or would you too face the equivalent of Priscilla's wrath? All we can say is that we think it might be best to solve the problem! Find the draw and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of our story.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/09/12 - Printer friendly version
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A Dishpan Move

We've heard various names given to a losing move in a checker match; these epithets range from the rather mild "unfortunate" to the somewhat stronger "poor" and on up from there to other things that we certainly won't print here.

In the following game, played in the early 1930s between very strong players, such a move was made. When the game was published, the losing choice was called a "dishpan" move, a term which we hadn't heard before. It's an amusing and appropriate choice of words. Let's have a look at the game in question.

9-13 24-20 5-9 22-18 10-15---A 25-22 6-10 27-24---B 10-14 22-17 13x22 26x10 7x14---C 30-26 15x22 26x10 2-7 10-6 1x10 29-25 10-15 23-19 9-13 19x10 7x14 24-19 3-7---D

A---10-14 is often played instead; there is little difference.

B---28-24 is just as good.

C---15-22 same.

D---It was textbook play up to this point. The original editor called this a "hasty dishpan move" noting that the player "must have eaten too much for dinner."


White to Play and Win


Will this one wash, or will this position "sink" you? Find the win for White, and while you're at it, correct Black's losing "dishpan" move. When you're done, clicking on Read More will bring you cleanly to the solution.

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Down On The Farm (Team)

Marvin J. Mavin found himself at Fifty-Third Stadium in Comstock Park, Michigan, playing fifth board for the West Michigan Wompers in a matchup with the Great Lakes Glommers, in the single A Midwest League.

Checker Fans at Fifty-Third Stadium, Comstock Park, Michigan

Yes, that's fifth board and Single A. Just how such a turn of events came about is a bit of a story.

Marvin J. Mavin

It all started when Marvin, the usual Captain and first board player for the Detroit Doublejumpers, an outstanding Major League team, was called into the team manager's office. The manager, tired of Marvin embarrassing the team with his beer-drinking antics, was in the mood of teaching Marvin a lesson. But Marvin had been foolish enough to have had a couple of beers at lunch and started calling his boss a few uncomplimentary names as the boss was attempting to lay down the law.

That's when the manager drew the line. No one, even a star player, had the right to be insubordinate and rude, much less engage in behavior that provided a bad example to the team's younger fans. The manager decided that Marvin should be sent down, not even to the AAA or AA level of Detroit's farm team system, but all the way to the Single A level, giving him time to contemplate the error of his ways. To further ensure that Marvin got the message, he was to play fifth board--- the lowest slot on the team.

Marvin, to say the least, was not very happy. That, his manager told him, was exactly the point. Furthermore, Marvin would remain with the farm team until he improved both his attitude and behavior, or lacking that, was fired altogether.

"You have no more than a month to shape up," the manager said, "or your career in professional checkers is over."

And so Marvin was sitting across the board from Chester Schlockovitz, fifth board player for the Glommers. Chester was a nice enough old guy. He had never risen higher than Single A checkers but somehow had hung on for 35 years or so in the lower rungs of the professional ranks. He wasn't a has-been so much as a never-been, but you had to admire his persistence.

Chester Schlockovitz

Marvin, to his chagrin, was being made to pass a breathalyzer test before each game to ensure that he had been staying away from the beer. The coach of the Wompers, Thaddeus Twizzler, was strict with the players and Marvin's superstar status didn't earn him any slack in Thaddeus's eyes. Marvin would follow the rules just like anyone else and that meant no drinking during the playing season, period. Thaddeus was adamant. "Drinking ain't never done no one no good, and they sure don't play checkers right if'n they do drink," he would often say.

Thaddeus Twizzler

So here Marvin was, facing Chester over the board. "Nice afternoon, city boy," Chester said, "reckon you can beat me at this here game?" It was clear that Chester, in his plain-speaking manner, meant this as a friendly sort of challenge.

Marvin didn't reply; the starting whistle had blown, and Chester, playing Black, fell silent and made his first move. The game played out as shown below.

1. 9-13 22-18
2. 12-16 24-20
3. 8-12 28-24
4. 4-8 18-14
5. 10x17 21x14
6. 16-19 24x15
7. 11x18 26-22
8. 7-11 22x15
9. 11x18 14-10
10. 6x15 23x14
11. 3-7 25-22
12. 1-6 22-17
13. 13x22 31-26
14. 22x31 32-28
15. 31x24 28x3

"Well, how d'ya like them apples!" Chester chuckled cheerfully. "You ain't a bad player for one a them there city fellas!"

16. 6-9 14-10
17. 9-14 29-25
18. 5-9 20-16
19. 12x19 3x12
20. 19-23 12-16
21. 23-27 16-19
22. 27-31?

Marvin, in a brief moment of feeling, looked over at Chester with a sad expression. Chester had played a fine game up to this point, but it was moves such as this that separated the Major Leaguers from the also-rans. Marvin now had a clear win, and he knew it.

BLACK (Chester)

WHITE (Marvin)
White to Play and Win.


Can you match wits with Marvin and find the win, or will you be sent down to the farm team too? Give it your best--- your professional checker career may depend on it--- and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story. While you're at it, correct Chester's losing move, too.

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Marvin Meets Mary

A huge crowd had gathered at Manhattan Square Garden to see the National Checker League match between the Detroit Doublejumpers and the New York Draughtsmen, two of the top teams in the league. The Doublejumpers would be lead as usual by their intrepid captain, Marvin J. Mavin.

Marvin J. Mavin

But what was not so usual is that the Draughtmen would be lead by an incredible young checker prodigy, who had recently burst upon the scene, turning pro at the age of 17 and moving at once to the top ranks: Marvin tonight would face checker sensation Mary Baloner.

Mary Baloner

Marvin was more than a little put out. "A teenage girl for crying out loud!" he muttered, but not very loudly; he had been warned by his management that comments about age or gender were completely out of place, as checkers was a democratic sport open to all based solely on ability. Still, Marvin really, really wanted to win tonight.

"She's not even old enough to drink beer!" he said, but again, not loudly enough to be heard.

And now, there she was, standing opposite him as the last strains of the National Anthem echoed through the arena.

"Hey, Mavstah!" she exclaimed as they took their seats and waited for the arena announcer to introduce the teams and players. "Whaddya think about playin' a itsy-bitsy little girl, huh? Yeah, I know whatcha think. But youse gonna get your---" But before she could describe what was going to happen to Marvin, the announcer introduced them, and then the referee signaled for the games to start.

Mary gave Marvin a wink and a grin and made her first move, and the teams settled down to their play.


After Marvin made this move, Mary looked quite surprised. She looked up at him and said, "Oh, a wise guy, is ya, Mavhstah? A normal playah woulda played 22-18 but you ain't normal, is ya?" And then she laughed and turned her attention back to the checkerboard.

But Marvin thought he knew what he was doing. Despite Mary's superstar status, he knew that she wouldn't have experience in many of the offbeat lines of play, and he thought to get an advantage by taking the game into less familiar territory.

7-23 31-27

"Heh, heh, heh, fancy-schmancy," Mary said. "But I seen it all comin'."


Mary looked up at Marvin once again. "I thought youse was gonna play 29-25, Mahvstah. Whaddya doin, tryin ta confuse me or sumthin? Well it ain't gonna work against Mary Baloner!"

Marvin didn't reply. Was he holding his breath a little, waiting to see how Mary would respond to this move?


Marvin breathed a sigh of relief and spoke for the first time during the game. "Well, little Missy, you may think you are some sort of checker rock star, but this game is mine."

Now it was Mary's turn to be silent, a look of consternation gathering on her face as Marvin made his next move.


White to Play and Win


Can you beat Mary at her own game, so to speak? Do you know what move she should have played to hold the draw? See if you're as good as Marvin; find the winning move, and fix Mary's unfortunate error while you're at it. Then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.

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02/26/11 - Printer friendly version
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The Cold War Revisited

Marvin J. Mavin, captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers in the National Checker League, was not happy.

It all started out when the company for which Marvin did promotional ads, Belcher's, got wind of his ongoing rivalry with Russian emigre Dmitri Tovarischky, a top player from the days of the former Soviet Union. Belcher's thought that a highly-publicized "grudge match" would aid sales and brand recognition. Billed as "The Return of the Cold War" (even though Marvin was only about 10 years old when the Cold War ended), the match was set for an early spring evening in the Milwaukee Checkerdrome; and Marvin had little choice but to follow the wishes of his sponsor, even though his distaste for Dmitri was all too obvious.


To make it worse, Marvin's girlfriend, Priscilla K. Snelson, was to be in attendance, and Marvin knew that under her watchful eye he would have not a chance in the world of having a pre-game beer. Marvin received a stern lecture, reminding him of a previous loss to Dmitri which Priscilla blamed squarely (and very likely correctly) on over-indulgence.


And so, here he was, sitting at the checkerboard in the center of the enormous, fan-packed Checkerdrome, facing Dmitri once again, and not having had any beer for almost 48 hours. Huge American and Soviet flags flew from the ceiling of the Drome, as Belcher's went all-out to set the mood of conflict and rivalry.

Dmitri, for one, had no problem with such a theme, even though he was an emigre. "American Checkers Boy will lose again to superior Russian skills," he crowed loudly. "Checkers Boy is no match for champion like Dmitri."

Marvin seethed inwardly but did not respond, only mumbling under his breath, "Yeah, you'll see what Checkers Boy can do, you old Commie..." But to make things even worse, Marvin had been given the tough end of a very difficult opening ballot. Even though Marvin received draw odds, meaning that if he could but draw the game the match was his, he knew he had a very hard evening in front of him.

At that moment the referee blew his whistle, starting the game clocks, and the match was underway.

12-16 23-19 16x23 27x18 11-16 26-23 16-20 32-27 8-11 30-26 4-8 18-14 9x18 23x14 10x17 21x14 11-15 22-17 8-11 25-21 6-9 26-23 9x18 23x14 11-16 29-25 2-6 17-13 16-19 31-26 6-9 13x6 1x17 21x14 7-10 14x7 3x10 25-21 10-14

Dmitri was gloating and not trying in the slightest to hide it. "Game is over for Checkers Boy," he said. "Checkers Boy has only bad move and loses to Dmitri. Of course, Dmitri is not surprised because Checkers Boy is just inferior American amateur."

Now, there are limits. Marvin expected Dmitri's taunts, but being called an amateur was a bit too much. As a top professional Marvin felt he was owed at least a certain amount of respect.

He was about to lash out angrily and call Dmitri all sorts of names, when Priscilla, sitting in the front row, caught Marvin's eye and simply wiggled her left index finger. That was all it took to silence Marvin, who knew what kind of chewing out he would get later if he failed to heed the warning. Instead, he went back to mumbling. If you listened carefully, you might have heard words such as "old goat," "blowhard," and "beer"; but Marvin realized that the game was at a critical point and knew that he had better come up with something right now, right away.

The position that was on the board is shown below.


White to Play and Draw


Can you give Dmitri his comeuppance and find a move that gives White a draw? Or is all lost and Black will be the winner? Keep your cool, forget about mumbling, and work out the position before clicking on Read More to see how things turned out.

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01/08/11 - Printer friendly version
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Atomic Marvin

Marvin J. Mavin
Captain, Detroit Doublejumpers

Marvin J. Mavin, checker star and captain of the major league checker team, the Detroit Doublejumpers, had been in Santa Fe, New Mexico, doing training work with the local semi-pro team, the Santa Fe Salsa. As an exciting conclusion to his visit to the Land of Enchantment, Marvin was invited to come up to Atomic City to take on its supercomputer, nicknamed "Road Rager," which ran a top-level checker program with the erudite name of "Plutonium Bomber Instantiation," or simply "PBI." It was rumored, however, that Marvin was at least as interested in trying out the local microbrews, especially "Atomic Ale," as he was in playing checkers.

On the Road to Atomic City, New Mexico

There was little time for diversions, however; Marvin finished up his training work in Santa Fe around noon on his last day there, and was due to begin his match with PBI just two hours later, at the "Nick the Geek" supercomputer center at the Atomic City Laboratory in Atomic City. Without further ado, Marvin drove up the mountain roads to his destination and was soon badged in at the supercomputer center. The auditorium was completely full as Marvin made his entrance to enthusiastic applause.

Everyone knew that this was something of an historical event. PBI was known to be one of the world's top computer programs (although there was some debate as to which one was really best). It would be playing against one of the top major league checker players. How would it all turn out? PBI's programmers were hoping for the best for their creation, but it seemed that the audience had much sympathy for Marvin.

Marvin sat in front of the Black pieces, ready to take on the silicon giant. "I hear that Atomic Ale is a real blast," Marvin said to one of the PBI programmers, chuckling at his cleverness. The programmer, seated on the White side with a computer console to his left, seemed to wince at Marvin's trite pun and muttered something under his breath to the effect that he thought Marvin was here to play checkers, not drink beer.

But just a moment later, the contest began.

Black: Marvin J. Mavin
White: Plutonium Bomber Instantiation

1. 9-13 21-17
2. 5-9 25-21
3. 11-15 23-18
4. 1-5 18x11
5. 8x15 30-25
6. 3-8 24-19
7. 15x24 28x19
8. 7-11 26-23
9. 9-14

Perhaps the best move here, but 11-16 or even 11-15 should also retain equality.

9. ... 22-18
10. 13x22 18x9
11. 6x13 25x18
12. 11-15 18x11
13. 8x24 27x20
14. 10-15 31-26
15. 4-8 20-16
16. 12x19 23x16
17. 8-11 16x7
18. 2x11 26-22
19. 11-16 21-17
20. 5-9 32-27

Marvin was looking pretty happy with himself. Up to this point the game had been very well played by both sides with no mistakes being made. He concentrated on the position for a while and then said, "Bomb Boy .... I think you've bombed out this time!" He made the following move.

21. 16-19

Marvin rocked back in his chair, folded his arms over his chest, and grinned. "What'll you do about that, Bomb Boy?" he asked. "You might be a real smart computer, but you ain't a match for Marvin J. Mavin! I think it's just about time to try out the local brew, because this game is sure over soon!"


White to Play, What Result?


Has Marvin indeed defeated one of the world's mightiest computers? Has he truly earned his beer today? Analyze the position and decide whether White should play on, or simply resign. When you have your answer, click on Read More for the high-yield solution.

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08/08/09 - Printer friendly version
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Fourth of July Picnic

Tommy always looked forward to going to the Fourth of July Picnic with his family. There would be hot dogs, hamburgers, watermelon, ice cream cones, and a host of summer treats. There was the three-legged race, the pie-eating contest, and more fun than could ever be imagined, topped off with an exciting display of fireworks. Tommy's home town in Florida really knew how to celebrate America's birthday.

But this year was even more special. Tommy was going to play in the adult section of the Fourth of July checker tournament! Normally, he would play in the elementary school section, but this year he had managed to get permission to go straight to the top and play with the grownups.

Now, Tommy had been studying checkers every Saturday morning with Uncle Ben (see our Uncle Ben's Porch series of columns). Uncle Ben wasn't really his uncle, but everyone called him that; and under his mentoring, Tommy had come a long way with his checker skills.

Uncle Ben was at the picnic, of course, but as a full-fledged professional wasn't allowed to enter the tournament. Tommy wanted to make him proud and was determined to play well. But playing against experienced adult checkerists was no easy assignment.

The tournament was "single life" elimination. If you lost your round, or if your game was a draw in two rounds, you were out of the competition.

The first round was about to begin. Tommy was paired with a very tough opponent, 47-year old insurance agent Bob Fernastus, one of the top adult amateurs in the area. Bob was captain of the county champion recreational checker team, the Mutual Farm Draughts Oxen.

Bob Fernastus

They met at their assigned board. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Fernastus," said Tommy politely as they shook hands. "Same here, young man," said Bob in return; was he perhaps being just a bit condescending to his much younger opponent? But just at that moment, the tournament director gave the call, "Start your clocks!" and the tournament was underway.

Tommy had White and the game unfolded as follows.

Black: Bob Fernastus
White: Tommy
1. 12-16 22-18
2. 8-12 25-22
3. 16-20 24-19
4. 4-8 22-17
5. 9-13 30-25
6. 13x22 26x17
7. 10-14 17x10
8. 7x14 18x9
9. 5x14 25-22
10. 6-10 22-18
11. 1-5 18x9
12. 5x14 29-25
13. 11-15 25-22
14. 15x24 28x19
15. 3-7 32-28
16. 2-6 (see diagram) 28-24
17. 8-11 22-18
18. 6-9 18-15
19. 11x18 21-17
20. 14x21 23x5
21. 7-11 27-23
22. 20x27 31x24
23. 21-25 5-1
24. 11-15 1-6

Draw Agreed.

"Wow," said Bob, you really had me going there! Great game, Tommy, but do you realize you missed a win at move 16?"

Tommy, pleased to get a draw against a highly skilled adult player, looked puzzled. "A win, Mr. Fernastus? Really?"

"Yes, Tommy, you could have won the game! Do you want me to show you?"

"Yes, sir, if you would ... I had no idea ...."

"Well, then Tommy," Bob continued, "Here it is."


White to Play and Win


Could you have found the win where Tommy didn't? We'll warn you, it's subtle and probably well beyond the skills of even a very talented grade schooler. Give it a try and click on Read More when you're ready to see the solution and complete game notes.

[Read More]
07/05/08 - Printer friendly version
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