The Checker Maven

The Last of the Masked Men

Our Masked Man problem series draws to a close with this month's article. We hope you've enjoyed it. Perhaps we can run another similar series sometime in the future.

If you can identify the problemist in the photo below, you're doing really well at this sort of thing.

Now, here's his problem. Our guest problemist gives the terms as White to Play and Win. What do you think?

White to Play and Win
Can It Be Done?
White is a man up and by rights ought to win, but can you do it? Can it in fact be done at all?

Check your solution by clicking on Read More. Intended to be of "medium" difficulty, this one packs a surprise. Even if you solve it easily, though, by all means read the commentary which accompanies the solution.


First, let's give the problem solution as given by the problemist:

16-11 20-16 11-8 16-11 8-4 10-14 29-25 14-18 12-8 11-7 8-3 7-11 30-26 21-30 3-8 30-23 8-22 White Wins.

A nice combination at the end, but there's more to the story. Checker Maven reader Bob Murr wrote to us as follows:

"The Harvey Hopkins problem is actually a draw. At the 4th move play 10-7 instead of 16-11 and White can't win.

WCC immediately says 'Database Draw' when the position is set up, and I double checked the play using Checkerboard (King's Row?) and Nemesis.

10-7, 29-25 A, 16-19, 25-22, 19-23, 22-17, 23-18, 17-13, 18-14, 8-4, 7-3, 4-8, 3-7, 13-17, 14-18 etc. Drawn.

A 8-4, 16-19, 29-25, 19-23, 25-22, 7-3, 22-26, 23-18, 4-8, 3-7, 26-31, 18-23 etc. Drawn."

The problem is flawed! White cannot win! The problem could have been stated as 'White to Play, Red to Draw' and it would have been very nice indeed.

But, given the identity of the author, we're not all that surprised at how things turned out.

The problemist is none other than Harvey L. Hopkins, a turn of the century checkerist, problemist, author, and inadvertent comedian.

Mr. Hopkins is the author of the 1916 booklet entitled Home Checker Companion, which we've reviewed earlier in our book review section (follow the link in the right hand column). The subtitle of the booklet is Our Boys at Home and the premise is that checkers will keep Our Boys safely at Home, and away from the evil amusements of the world, such as baseball games; said amusements, apparently, being likely to lead Our Boys down the primrose path into a life of crime and jail.

Mr. Hopkins, among other things, suggests that young ladies test their young gentlemen with games of checkers to determine their suitability for matrimony.

If, by the way, you didn't solve this problem, Mr. Hopkins has some stern words for you: "Solutions are not given to do the solving, but to give the play to those unable to solve. Do not charge inability to solve to errors in settings."

So there. And by the way, Mr. Hopkins, you didn't solve it either! Have you been sneaking out to baseball games on the side instead of studying your checker game?

Our thanks to Mr. Murr, one of the finest checker gentlemen we've had the pleasure to know, for sending us his analysis.

06/18/05 - Category: Problems - Printer friendly version
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