The Auditorium at Detroit's Public School 1115 was packed with kids of all shapes and sizes. They were all here to listen to their hero, Marvin J. Mavin, the Captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers and a star professional checker player in the National Checker League. Marvin was making one of his many school visits to promote the sport of checkers among our youth. And at P.S. 1115, he had come to the right place, as this school fielded several very strong teams in the Central Detroit Grade School Checker Federation.
"Hi there boys and girls!" he intoned in his deep baritone voice. Or maybe it wasn't all that deep. "Today we're going to talk about a really special checker opening line."
A few expressions of "yeah, right" seemed to float up from the back of the auditorium. But Marvin continued without a pause.
"I'm sure your coach has taught all of you to play 11-15 as your first move with Red, because it's a strong play toward the center and is considered to be Red's best starting move."
A chorus of "tell us something we don't know, Marvin" seemed to emanate from the left side of the main aisle.
"Now, as White, a reply often made to this is 22-18.."
"Yeah Marvin, the Single Corner, OK?" was called out by a student near the front.
"Very good, yes, Single Corner, I was sure you knew that!" Marvin replied. "But how many of you know the best continuations from this point?"
"Whaddya think, we're stoopit?" was heard from another student off to the left. But Marvin simply continued with his talk.
"If Red plays 11-15 - hey, that's your school name!" Marvin said, grinning, as the audience groaned some more, "and then after 22-18 the captures follow with 15-22, 25-18..."
"Duh, Marvin, they trade checkers, like we didn't know that!" piped up a boy somewhere in the middle of the auditorium.
Marvin swallowed, paused, and went on. "So now if Red plays 12-16, and White goes 29-25, then if Red tries 10-14...."
"Aww what kinda move is dat! Da coach 'ud trow me offa da team iffn I did sumthin' like dat!" interrupted another student in a strident voice.
Was Marvin actually turning just a tiny bit red? He cleared his throat lightly and carried on nonetheless. "Yes, I know 9-13 is popular here, but there's a special line in this opening that isn't seen very often. It's called "The Fun Shot" and I wonder if any of you have ever heard of it?"
The audience had become suddenly silent. Evidently Marvin had taken them into new territory.
"I didn't think so!" Marvin said triumphantly, and was that a slight smirk on his face? He quickly changed his expression to a neutral one. "The Fun Shot was given that name by Farmacio Fotocopia, a former player with the St. Louis Switchers, who analyzed it ..."
The audience was stirring again; they were quite young, after all. "That old guy!" one of them called, "he musta played fifty years ago!"
Marvin set his jaw tightly. "Well, then, who can show me the Fun Shot? Can you?" he said, pointing to the last interruptor.
The fifth grader squirmed in his seat and didn't reply.
"OK then, pay attention," Marvin continued, and went over to the huge demo board at the center of the stage. "Now, here's how it goes."
Marvin moved the large wooden pieces rapidly from peg to peg on the demo board, playing out these moves:
1. 11-15 22-18 2. 15x22 25x18 3. 12-16 29-25 4. 10-14 24-19
When he was done, the board showed the following position:
"Here's where Red can take what amounts to a four-for-four shot," said Marvin, and made the following moves:
5. 7-10 19x12 6. 3-7 12x3 7. 14-17 21x14 8. 10x17 3x10 9. 6x29
Now the board looked like this:
Slowly the audience began to react. There were the sounds of seats shifting and feat scuffling. Finally, one student stood up, raised his arm and said, "Geez Marvin nobody'd ever play that one! Wassamattawhitcha anyhoo, showin' us dumb stuff like that! You been drinkin' too much a that beer a yours!"
This time, Marvin definitely turned red. "Well," he said. "Well, well, well."
Another kid piped up, "Hey that's a deep one Marvin, ha ha ha!"
Marvin paused at length, and finally seemed to become a bit more composed. He continued, "This is in fact thought to be a win for White, which is why this shot is seldom seen." Marvin grinned. Was that an evil grin on Marvin's face? "Perhaps, young man," he said in an even tone, "you would like to take the Whites, while I play the Reds, and you can show me just how smart you really are by demonstrating the win."
There were hoots from the crowd, followed by cheers and applause, and cries of, "C'mon Billie, take 'em on! Show 'em yer stuff!" Then amidst nearly thunderous noise and commotion, the heckler stood up, ruffled his hair, tugged on his shirt and jeans, and started toward the front of the auditorium.
"Go Billie! Go Billie! Go Billie go!" the crowd chanted, over and over, louder and louder, until Billie arrived at the demonstration board on the stage. He grinned a little, looked back at the audience, then turned to the board and played......
Well, dear reader, just what did Billie play? Was the sassy fourth grader able to win this position against a top pro such as Marvin J. Mavin? Can you win this position?
To be continued.....
A Switcher Autopsy
Featuring new defenses from KingsRow and Chinook!
Notes by Richard L. Fortman, February 24, 2005.
Editorial assistance and additional computer analysis by Brian Hinkle using KingsRow.
1. 11-15 21-17 A
2. 9-13 B 25-21 C
3. 8-11 D 17-14 E
4. 10x17 21x14
5. 6-10 F 22-17 G
6. 13x22 26x17
7. 15-18 H 24-20 I
8. 2-6 J 29-25 K
9. 18-22 L 25x18
10. 10-15 28-24 M
11. 15x22 32-28 N
12. 6-10 O 23-18 P
13. 22-25 30x21
14. 10-15 27-23
15. 15x22 14-10
16. 7x14 17x10
17. 22-25 23-19
18. 11-15 20-16
19. 25-29 16-11
20. 29-25 11-7
21. 25-22 7-2
22. 5-9 Q 10-6 ? R
23. 1x10 2-7
24. 9-14 7-11
25. 14-18 31-27 S
26. 4-8 T 11x4
Tinsley defeated Lowder, Game 4, 1975 Florida Open.
A - History tells us that James Wyllie used this weak reply in many of his GAYP exhibitions in order to "switch" or defer his opponents from their favorite Old 14th or Single Corner lines.
B - Applying the cramp which forms the opening. Other replies in 9-14 or 8-11 are seen in the 3-move openings.
C - To fill in the hole, to prepare for the exchange- other ways in 24-20 (Scott's Snake) or 23-18 are inferior, although Asa Long once tried the latter in the 1927 2nd international match vs. Harry Moulding, the English 'weak link.' Asa once told me, "I had won the first game with black and since this was close to the finish, with our team far ahead, I decided to go for the win with the weak side, much to the dissatisfaction of team captain Gus Heffner. Upon reflections it was a mistake, as I had to struggle to draw. (Black might have scored with Rubin's "Whipper-Snapper" gambit. --RLF)
D - Standard, as 5-9 instead is more often seen from the 9-13, 21-17, 5-9 opening.
E - Of the three major defenses, this was the original, as favored in the Willie Era - both Heffner and Bradford favored the 24-19 exchange, as witnessed in the 2nd I.M. whereas the third, the Andrew Jackson 30-25 remained in obscurity until adopted by Rubin in the 1929 7th American tournament (Cedar Point) or the 4-8 Switcher played in the 2nd I.M. The trunk reply was the overwhelming favorite; adopted 37 times followed with 24-19 5 times: then 23-18 and 24-20 - with 30-25 a notable absentee! - the last named was a lifetime favorite with Marion Tinsley. He told me he once asked his close friend Walter Hellman why he had stayed with the less restrictive 17-14x and Walter replied, "Well, Marion, they can only play one move at a time against it, and I know them all!"
F - Following up with the bind originated at note B; 4-8 instead allows a 'doctor' idea with 29-25, 6-10 and 23-19 etc. shown to draw.
G - Necessary. White cannot delay with 29-25, 10-17 and 25-21 as 4-8* 21-14 then 15-18x* etc. to a p.p. black win.
H - Marion Tinsley had long favored the 4-8 and 1-6 attack throughout his long career but when faced with a 'do or die' decision, playing Elbert Lowder in the final 4th game of the final round in the 1975 Florida Open ty. he "switched' to the text. In discussing this game on a later visit to Springfield, Ill., he said, "As you know, I had to win this game, as a draw would win this tournament for Lowder on honor points so I decided this "surprise" element might confuse him; however, as play progressed, I began to think it might have been a mistake as he kept on making the necessary moves - as it turned out. Only a little 'swindle' saved me."
I - Checker theory recommends advancing toward the center and avoid side moves such as this, but there are exceptions to every "rule" that have been proposed - here 24-19? 4-8 29-25 11-15 28-24 8-11 17-13 10-17 23-14 then either 15-18 or 17-22 rupture the white formation - and if 29-25 instead, black has Wyllie's 18-22 pitch to penalize the defense by his long time opponent Robert Martins. However, KingsRow prefers 7. ...23-19
J - Holding the bridge, instead of the other formidable attack in 1-6, followed with 3-8, leading into the classic win by 18 year old Asa Long over his more experienced opponent, English champion Alfred Jordon in the semi-finals of the 1922 5th Amer. Ty. at Boston, Asa then going on to win his first American tournament by defeating Jordon again in the final round. While visiting me in 1985, Asa commented, "Perhaps, my most satisfactory win, as I had little respect for Jordon as a sportsman, forcing me to play out endings as if I was a beginner."
K - Here the early 28-24 loses after 6-9*, as shown in Master Play (see Marion Tinsley's remarks in note H). However, there is a new sound defense confirmed to draw by Chinook with 17-13x! No analysis was sent in from Jonathan Schaeffer so KingsRow provided this line: 8. ...17-13 9. 10x17 23x14
L - Black is now confined to this one powerful reply.
M - Also, 27-24, 15-22 and the key 32-27 is the same, as played in an obscure game, J. Steele vs. Harry Pillsbury - the last named was rated as the strongest 'mixed' player of the 'sister games' - chess and checkers, along with Newell Banks.
N - A valuable "waiting" move, again avoiding the 24-19 advance shown to lose. As Tinsley once observed, " Knowledge is power!"
O - The position reached by Tinsley vs. Lowder, mentioned in note H. I was not present, but Howard Owen wrote me later that the majority of players had completed their round but stayed over to watch the finish - he said, " The tension was high, and you you could almost hear a pin drop! Was the world champion on the verge of losing his first tournament since Paxton in 1950?"
P - The first small chink in white's armor, giving the champion a faint ray of hope - here, Wyllie's 24-19 (avoided earlier) is now best, as played vs. Robert Martins - in a later letter, Tinsley told me he had been over this 23-18 in his early career, when stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Center in Chicago (1946) and studying at the Rex Wood Library in Gary, Ind. He said he had found a little 'kink' (as he put it) that varied from the Master Play variation, and later tried vs. his playing partner Roy Hunt. - Instead of either 24-19 or 23-18, Ed Gilbert's KingsRow checker software came up with a new defense in 23-19! that has remained hidden for the past century and a half! ... 12. ... 23-19
Q - The play from note P is virtually forced - the text is the Tinsley 'kink' (or cook) as mentioned in note P which varies from the Master Play 22-18, which also requires care to draw after 31-27* (not 21-17, 18-22 to a black win) then 4-8 and the 10-6 exchange to draw.
R - With the clock running, the position is murky. It is obvious that white must pitch to escape the bridge, and on the surface it might appear that either way would draw - but not so! This loses, whereas, 10-7* escapes after 3-10, as played by Hunt, although he didn't send their conclusion. I looked at 2-7* (as 2-6 lets in 4-8, 6-13 and 8-11) 9-14, 7-11, 22-18, 11-7, 18-23, 24-20 etc. to draw.
S - The king move with 11-7 allows18-23, 7-14 22-18 19-10 and 18-9 strands the piece, black wins.
T - A neat conclusion to a hard fought game.
The Flora Temple attack has been an interesting line of the Single Corner opening for many decades, and much has been published about it. I was doing some research, trying to understand a man-down draw arising in the Flora Temple, and came across a real thriller of a game in an old checker manual. It took place many, many years ago as part of a match between the London Wanderers and the Manchester Central Draughts Club. Here's the game (in PDN notation):
[Event "London v. Manchester"]
[Date "Long Ago"]
1. 11-15 22-18 2. 15x22 25x18
3. 12-16 29-25 4. 9-13 24-19
5. 16-20 28-24 6. 8-11 19-16
7. 4-8 16-12 8. 11-16 18-14
9. 10x17 21x14 10. 6-10 25-21
11. 10x17 21x14 12. 13-17 23-18
13. 2-6 26-23 14. 6-9 24-19
15. 17-21 19-15 16. 1-6 31-26
17. 7-10 14x7 18. 3x19 12x3
19. 19-24 3-8 20. 24x31 8-12
21. 31x15 12x1 22. 9-13 1-6
23. 5-9 23-18 24. 20-24 6-10
25. 13-17 10-15 26. 17-22 15-19 0-1
A nice win for White.
You can play through an animated version by clicking here.
Now, here's the question: where did Black go wrong? There's a very definite spot in the game where the losing move is played. Can you find it, and can you come up with the correct move to draw?
Click on Read More when you think you have the answer and compare your solution with KingsRow.
In game 5, Willie Ryan made what was reported to be a colossal blunder, perhaps the worst of his career, and in the end it cost him the championship in this closely contested match (it ended 4 wins each with 42 draws, but Willie was the challenger and so failed to gain the crown).
In corresponding with skilled analyst Brian Hinkle, we challenged him with the position at which Ryan blundered. Brian of course figured out the correct move in only about five minutes, but then looked further. He did some detailed computer analysis which appears to show that Ryan's "blunder" actually could have garnered a draw, but he made a real slip some half-dozen moves later, costing him the game!
Could this have all gone undetected for 55 years? Have a look at the web page that we've put together, with computer analysis, diagrams, and the complete game and notes from the book: