The Checker Maven

It's Not Just About Winning: A Checker Maven Editorial

Controversy rages today, as it did nearly 80 years ago, over the selection of the US team in the upcoming 100th Anniversary US-Great Britain match, to be held in Las Vegas in September. One look at the postings on the Checker Solutions BBS tells the story... and that story has many angles and viewpoints.

In brief, the controversy is over the exclusion of venerable grandmaster Leo Levitt from the US team. As near as we can determine from the BBS postings, Mr. Levitt was originally asked to play, but a vote by a team selection group determined that Mr. Levitt should sit out in favor of a possibly younger, more recently active player.

This type of discussion is nothing new. Let's turn back to a publication we've quoted before, The Morris-Systems Checkerist for September-October 1926. At that time in checker history, the US team was being chosen for the 2nd International Match between the US and Great Britain.

The lead story in the Checkerist was titled "International Team Will Select 11th and 12th Men at Once" and bore the telling subtitle "Matches Called Off Due to Lack of Harmony Amongst Players." An article titled "An Old Timer Comments" by John H. Finn of the Lynn Item stated:

"Yes, the hand of time bears heavily upon all of us and none can escape its fierce grip. The American players are growing old, too, and sooner or later all of the great ones will be too old to get a grip on the game and hold that grip for many moves ... it cannot be said that an old man is one who would be preferred for team play. This applies generally to all who have reached that stage in life when they prefer rest rather than excitement...."

With all due respect, Mr. Finn, we think you were somewhere out in left field with your comments, and as the saying goes, you confused "retired" with "tired." And you tragically underestimated the immeasurable value of the older generation.

The Checker Maven editorial staff cannot support Mr. Finn's 1926 position vis-a-vis the 2nd International Match and likewise cannot support the 2005 decision to omit Mr. Levitt from the US team being assembled for the 100th Anniversary Match.

We base this position not on our knowledge of checkers, which our readers know is limited at best, nor on our familiarity with the players and their abilities, which is likewise circumscribed. Nor do we intend our position to be a criticism of the American Checker Federation or the team selection officials, who we believe to be acting according to what they see as their mandate. They are in an unfortunate no-win situation and will face criticism regardless of their final decision.

We base our position instead on what we learned from our father, of blessed memory, who taught us checkers many decades ago.

We learned that there are things more important than winning. While we learned to play to win, we learned to lose with sportsmanship and grace. We learned that checkers is all about honor, respect, perseverance, humility, hard work, ethics, and ultimately, wisdom. Over time, we've come to see these attributes in the checker community at large and it's cemented our relationship to the Game of Kings.

In the light of these precious principles, which make checkers much more than just a game, and all about much more than just winning, we ask if the exclusion of Mr. Levitt from the US team upholds and serves these principles; and we fear that it in fact does not. We ask whether disappointing an aging grandmaster who has contributed immeasurably to our game, and likely has much more still to offer, is in our best interests. (Mr. Levitt's record of 32 wins with only 1 loss and 45 draws in previous International matches speaks for itself.)

Grandmaster Leo Levitt
Click on photo for biography
Likewise, we admire and applaud the offer of a young and highly skilled player, Clayton Nash, to stand aside to make room for Mr. Levitt. In making this offer, Mr. Nash models behavior and attributes that are a worthy example for us all, and acts in the true spirit of our game.

We do not know how this will all turn out in the end. But we will close with this question: if, in pursuing the goal of victory, we sacrifice our principles, what do we really win?

06/11/05 - Category: General - Printer friendly version
You can email the Webmaster with comments on this article.