The Checker Maven

Uncle Ben's Porch: A Sad Day

Tommy didn't want to go to Uncle Ben's that Saturday for his regular weekly checker lesson, even though the Florida State Scholastic Championships were coming up in just a week, and Tommy was supposed to lead his highly-rated middle school team in the Miami competition.

Tommy's grandfather had passed away only last night, and Tommy was heartbroken, not just for his own sake but for his grieving Mom, who had just lost her father.

Gramps had lived a long and happy life, and Tommy knew that at age 90, the last day would eventually come. But that didn't make things any easier when it finally happened, and Tommy, at age fourteen, had never experienced the loss of a loved one at first hand. But his Mom insisted that he go to Uncle Ben's. "There's little you can do here except watch me cry," she said, "and you've got your tournament coming up. I know you want to be here for me, but your life needs to go on. So shoo!"

Mom managed to smile, even if it was a little forced. Tommy loved her all the more for it, and so he put his notebook in his backpack and walked the half dozen blocks to Uncle Ben's house.

Ben wasn't really Tommy's uncle, of course, but he didn't want to be called "Mr." and "Uncle Ben" seemed like just the right thing. Uncle Ben was a retired professional checker player, who had since written a number of highly-regarded checker textbooks. He took on just a handful of young students, never charging a dime for his tutoring, which he did as a community service.

Tommy had studied with Uncle Ben for several years. Nearly every Saturday morning, they'd sit on Uncle Ben's porch and drink Uncle Ben's fine homemade lemonade while Uncle Ben taught him a new theme or tactic. It had all paid off; Tommy had become a rising young star, perhaps even destined for the big leagues himself one day.

Uncle Ben, of course, had heard about Tommy's grandfather, and as soon as Tommy arrived, he offered his condolences. Tommy sat down at the waiting checkerboard, but it was all too much for him, and he couldn't fight back tears any longer.


White to Play and Win


Uncle Ben just sat quietly. Eventually Tommy cried himself out. He took a few deep breaths and gave Uncle Ben an embarrassed look.

"It's okay, Tommy. You have to express your grief. You can't just hold it in forever. Sometimes it's braver to cry than to try to act strong."

"I don't know how I can go to the championships, Uncle Ben," Tommy said. "It just doesn't seem right. Grandpa's funeral is going to be right in the middle of the competition."

It was true. The opening round was on Wednesday and the funeral was scheduled for Thursday morning. "How can I let Mom go to the funeral by herself?" Tommy asked. "I've just got to be there."

Uncle Ben took his time before answering. In a quiet voice, he said, "What does your mother say?"

"My mother says I've got to decide for myself, but she thinks I have an obligation to my team. The thing is, I think I have an obligation to my mom."

"Indeed, you do, Tommy, although that obligation may not be quite what you think. But you're leaving out the most important question of all."

Tommy look puzzled. "I don't understand, Uncle Ben. What other question is there?"

"The question you need to ask, Tommy, is, what would your grandfather have wanted you to do?"

Tommy smiled. "Gramps and I talked about it a lot," he said. "Gramps was really proud of me and wanted my team to take the championship this year. He thought we had a really good shot at it." Tommy's smile quickly vanished and he felt near tears again. "But he won't see it now ... it just doesn't seem to matter any more."

"Oh, it does matter, Tommy. It matters quite a bit. But you really didn't answer the question. What would your grandfather want you to do?"

"Well ... he was always telling me things like 'life is for the living' and saying I would only be young once and not to miss out on anything. I never really understood all of it, I guess."

"Do you understand a little more of it now?"

Tommy thought for a moment. "You mean now that he's gone? Actually, Uncle Ben, I think he was trying to tell me something."

"And what might that be?"

"That he was old and he wouldn't be around forever, and that life would go on?"

"Very good. And now, can you answer my question?"

"He'd want me to go, wouldn't he? He'd want me to go and play my best and bring home the trophy."

Uncle Ben sat back in his chair and didn't say anything.

"But what about my Mom?" Tommy asked. "Shouldn't I be with her?"

"The hardest time for your Mom, Tommy, will be when the funeral is over and everyone has gone home. You'll be there with her then, when she really needs you the most." Uncle Ben paused. "Now, I can't tell you what to do. You have to decide for yourself, and we'll all respect your decision. That's all I'm going to say, so are you ready for some lemonade now?"

Tommy sat up straight and nodded. "Yes, please, I'd like that, Uncle Ben. Thank you. And I think we'd better get down to my lesson. I've got a championship to win, you know!"

Uncle Ben smiled and reached for the icy pitcher of fresh lemonade.


Editor's Note: Clicking on Read More will take you to the problem solution, a sample game, many more examples of the problem's theme, as well as additional commentary.20050904-symbol.gif


In today's story, we've taken on a difficult question, and you might or might not agree with our answer to that question. But we believe in celebrating life and honoring departed loved ones through the things we do. The Checker Maven itself is our way of honoring the memory of Mr. Bob Newell, Sr. We'd like to hear your opinion; email

For the solution to the problem in the story, see No. 8 below. A sample game and many additional positions follow. See if you can solve them without looking at the solutions.

Game: 11-15 23-18 8-11 27-23 4-8 23-19 10-14 19x10 14x23 26x19 7x14 30-26 6-10 19-15 10x19 24x15 11x18 22x15 1-6 28-24 12-16 24-20 16-19 20-16 2-7 16-12 14-18 31-27 7-10 32-28 9-13 26-22 5-9 27-24 18-23 24-20 23-26 20-16 19-23 16-11 10x19 11x4 26-30 4-8 23-27 8-11 27-31 11-15 19-23 22-17 13x22 25x18 9-13 18-14 31-26 14-9---A 6-10 15x6 13-17 21x14 30-25 29x22 26x1 28-24 Forms No. 17.

A---29-25 draws. C. Hefter.

Black to Play and Win


1. Author Unknown, No. 112 Lyman's, 643 G. P. Bk.: B-3, 19, King 1; W-9, 12, 28; B. W. 19-23, 28-24, as No. 17. But instead of 19-23, 1-5 wins too by 1 holding 2. No. 224 Horsfall's P. Bk. at 2nd move, colors rev. W. Walkinshaw, No. 56, D. W. Vol. 1, 1892 Single Cor. ending.

White to Play and Draw


2. E. Deans, No. 268. D. P. 3rd Ed. B-5, 6, 9. K-14. W-13, 21, 26. K-2. W. D. 21-17, 14-21, 26-23, 21-17, 23-19, 17-14, 19-16A, 14-10, 16-12, 10-15, 12-8, 15-11, 8-3.

A---19-15, 6-10, 15-6, 14-10, 6-1, 10-15, 13-6, 15-11. B. W.

This Pos. arose from Martins and McKerrow match 1859, for game and history see Draughts World, May, 1894, page 412, by J. Little, also see D. Review, Vol. 1, 1925, pg. 229. A fine compilation of games by B. Oldman.


Black to Play and Win


3. Brownlee, No. 111 The Drs. Brd. 1870. B-3, 5, 12. K-18. W-10, 13, 20. K-1. B. W. 18-14, 10-6, 12-16, 20-11, 3-7, 11-2, 14-9.


White to Play and Win


4. H. Spayth, No. 4 Phelan-Kellys’ A. C. P. 1875. 43-21. K-7, 29. W-K- 1, 22, 26. W. W. 1-6, 21-25, 6-10, 7-14, 2-17, 14-21, 26-30.


Black to Play and Win


5. W. Borland, No. 225 L. P. Bk. B-13. K-7, 22. W-9, 21. K-6. B. W. 7-2, 6-10, 13-17, 21-14, 22-17, 9-5, 2-6.


White to Play and Win

6. J. Wyllie, No. 416 L. P. Bk. B-4, 12, 24. K-23. W-11, 20, 31. K-7. W. W. 20-16, 12-19, 11-8, 4-11, 7-16, 24-28, 31-27. The same Pos. with B. to play, W. W. can be found as No. 184 D. R. Vol. 1, H. O. Robinson, published 1901.


White to Play and Win


7. J. T. Murray, N. Y. C. M. P. 3, 1882. B-10, 24. K-32. W-18, 31. K-4. W. W. 4-8, 32-27, 8-11, 27-23, 18-15, 10-19, 11-16.


White to Play and Win


8. L. Bradley, No. 81 Stearns Port. Vol. 1. B-14. K-16, 29. W-31. K-6, 13. W. W. 6-10, 14.18, 10-15, 18-22, 13-17, 22-25. 15-19, 16-23, 31-26, 23-30, 17-21. Also by T. Downie, No. 21 S. D. Q Vol. 1. (No. 38 Falkirk Mail) No. 104 H. P Bk.


White to Play and Win


9. G. F. Ayres, No. 43 Terry’s Ckrist., 1887, Vol. 1. B-1, 13, 23, 28. K-25. W-9, 21, 22, 32. K-10. W. W. 10-7, 5-18, 32-27, 23-32, 9-6.


White to Play and Win


10. J. H. Collins, No. 14 Problemists’ Guide. B-15, 28, King 29; W-31, 32. King 1; W. W. 1-6. 15-18. 31-26, 29-25, 6-10, 25-30, 10-14, 30-23. 32-27.


White to Play and Win


11. J. E. Brickman, No. 906 G. P. Bk.: B-10, 24, King 27; W-23, 31, King 12; W. W. 23-18, 27-23, 18-15, 10-19, 12-16, 24-28, 31-27. As No. 7 and 12.



White to Play and Win

12. W. Beattie, No. 14 B. D. Clipper: B-10, 24, King 32. W-18, 31, King 4. W. W. 4-8, 32.27, 8.12, 27-23. Also G. H. Slocum, No. 306 Banks’ Checkerist.


Black to Play, White Wins


13. J. .T. Gordan, Gem 599 D. W. Vol. 28. B-19, 21, 24. W-26, 31, K-18. B. Plays. 21-25, 18-15, 25-30 (25-29 Drs.) 15-11, 30-23, 11-16. W. W.


White to Play and Win


14. J. D’Orio, see Bristol game 3rd A. Trny Bk. Pg. 146. B-12. 18, 21, 28. K-29. W-26, 30, 32. K-2. W. W. 26-22, 8-25, 2-7, 12-16, 7-11, 16-19, 32-27, 28-32A, 11-16, 32-23, 30-26. A-19-23 is no better.


White to Play and Win


15. W. Kilgour, No. 28 It’s Your Move. B-6, 13, 18, 24. W-7 21, 26, 31, W. W. 7-2, 6-9, 2-6, 24-28, 21-17, 13-22, 6-13, 22-25, 13-17, 25-30, 17-14, 30-23, 31-27. No. 82 Govan Press, No. 118 A. C. M. Jan. 1926.


White to Play and Win


16. H. King. No. 21 Pioneer Sys. B-5, 21, 24. W-16, 30, King 32, W. W. 16-11, 5-9, 11-7. As Nos. 1 and 17.


Black to Play and Win


17. Chas. Hefter, from Bowen's Cross Bk. 1878. 23-27, 24-19, 27-31, 19-15---1, 3-7, 12-8, 31-27, 9-5, 27-23, 8-3, 23-19, 3-10, 1-6. B. W. Scottish Draughts Quarterly, Vol. 1, Game 24, Prob. 25. Also A. C. R.

For Mr. Boland's thematic solution, see No. 17 below.

1---The KingsRow computer engine found an alternative, non-thematic win by 19-16 31-27 16-11 27-23 11-8 23-18 8-4 18-14 9-5 14-18 4-8 18-15 8-4 15-11. White Wins.



White to Play and Win


W. Payne, No. 2 His Introd. to Game 1756. B-18. K-29, 30. W. K.-17, 27. W. W. 17-22, 18-25, 27-23.


White to Play and Win


No. 3 Ibid. B-20. K--31, 32. W-28. K-18, 19. W. W. 19-24. 20-27, 18-22.


White to Play and Win


No. 4 Ibid. B-9, 11, 21. K-29. W-18, 24, 26, 30. W. W. 18-14, 9.18, 26-22, 18-25, 24-19.


White to Play and Win


J. Sturges, No. 8 His Crit. St. 1808. B-19. K-28. W-32. K-26. W. W. 32-27, 28-32, 27-24, 19-28, 26-23.

The block is not confined to end-games only. It probably has the largest range, from 1 man up to 12 a side.

Editor's note: Uncle Ben's Porch is an ambitious project and the amount of detail present makes it error-prone. Please help out by sending comments and corrections to Thank you!

The stories in Uncle Ben's Porch are fiction. The series pays homage to the great checker writer Ben Boland, but is in no way biographical.

05/30/15 - Category: Books - Printer friendly version
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