Checkers has been solved. This headline has appeared in many news articles in the past few days, as Dr. Johnathan Schaeffer announced on July 19, 2007, that his team at University of Alberta has completed their quest to develop a rigid proof that checkers is, with perfect play on both sides, a drawn game.
This proof is a monumental achievement in computer science and took years of work to develop. The proof is non-trivial, both in complexity and quality; Dr. Schaeffer's team not only proved that checkers is a draw, they've shown how to do it. Given that you have a very powerful computer, an enormous database, and some sophisticated computer code, you can draw all your games from now on.
What's our reaction to this? As computer literates ourselves, we're most impressed with Dr. Schaeffer's work. As checker players and fans, we can only say, "Let's play checkers." In fact, this week your editor himself was quoted in Nature Magazine, when asked about the impact of this new proof on the checker playing public, as saying, "People will keep right on playing checkers."
And, of course, they will.
We note that, while checkers is now known definitively to be a draw, this coming week's U.S. National Tournament hasn't been canceled, and we in fact predict with great confidence that the tournament will produce some really fine games of checkers. Too, we have no plans to discontinue publishing The Checker Maven as we still think there are plenty of checker topics worthy of column space.
While the computer has had a profound influence on our game, mostly (but not entirely) for the good, checkers is in the end a game for people. Real, live people from all walks of life play checkers, and they won't stop now. From country picnic tables all the way to Las Vegas tournament halls, checkers will go on.
A draw? Yes, in theory, the game is a proven draw. In practice, it's still a great deal of fun and a tremendous intellectual challenge, and that's not going to change.
Editor's note: The photo at the top of this article is a file photo and is not of Dr. Schaeffer and his laboratory.