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.
31-27 (30-26 only draws) 5x14 30-26! 22x31 6-9 31x24 9x27 12-16 27-23 16-20 23-19 White Wins.