The Checker Maven

The World's Most Widely Read Checkers and Draughts Publication
Bob Newell, Editor-in-Chief


Published each Saturday morning in Honolulu, Hawai`i


Contests in Progress:

Composing Championship #62

2021 Contest Year in Review


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There's More Than One Way To Do It

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There's a sort of a sport played by computer nerds called Vim Golf. Now, bear with us for a moment.

Vim is a famous and venerable text editor used mostly on Unix systems but on many other systems as well. It is unique and has its faithful adherents. It's fast and is famous for being able to accomplish tasks with a minimum of keystrokes. Enter Vim golf.

In Vim golf, players solve an often challenging editing problem, using nothing more than a stock version of the Vim editor. There's more than one way to do it, but the challenge is to solve the problem--- put the ball in the hole, if you will--- with a minimum number of (key)strokes. Just like golf, only very techie. It's a lot of fun--- if that's your sort of thing.

In checkers, too, there is often more than one way to play a position. So we introduce draughts golf with a problem sent along by regular contributors Lloyd and Josh Gordon of Toronto. The position below has several ways for Black to win, but there is a best way.

WHITE
null
BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:WK2,17,20,25:B10,12,15,18,K23

Black is a piece up and absent any mitigating factors should of course win. But can you win quickly? Can you find the shortest win? Can you find all of them? Maybe you can't get a hole in one, but can you make par? Take a "shot" and then club Read More to see the solution.null

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03/05/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Richard Jordan: A Jim Loy Book

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Jordan-Ferrie Match

Today we're pleased to present another of Jim Loy's books, this one in his developing series on the greatest checker players of past years. Jim's subject in this book is the great Edinburgh player Richard Jordan (not to be confused with another great, Alfred Jordan).

Richard Jordan only lived to age 39, his life cut short by a tragic accident. But in that time he played great checkers, including once having defeated the legendary James Wyllie.

The following position is from the cover of Mr. Loy's book. It's from the 1897 World Championship Match played by Mr. Jordan against R. Stewart, yet another luminary from the legendary age of checkers.

BLACK (R. Stewart)
20220122-rjordan.png
WHITE (R. Jordan)
White to Play and Win

W:W10,13,14,15,19,23,25,27,31,32:B1,3,5,6,8,12,16,18,20

Match wits with Richard Jordan and find the win. When you're satisfied with your solution, do one of two things. Either download the book here to see how the game actually went, or click on Read More to see a computer solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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02/26/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Freezing Rain: A Beacon Cafe Story

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It was the Saturday after Valentine's Day, 1955, and the weather was wet in Bismarck, North Dakota. Snow mixed with rain was falling, and it was certain that after dark the roads and sidewalks would freeze over, making for dangerous driving and walking conditions.

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But Saturday was the day the Coffee and Cake Checker Club met at the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building, and Sal Westerman, the club's informal leader, wasn't about to miss his afternoon of checkers.

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Sylvia Westerman

Oh, his wife, Sylvia, urged him to stay home so he wouldn't have to return on slippery sidewalks. Sal, after all, was over 70 now, and if he took a tumble it wouldn't be a good thing. But Sal was determined. He put on his winter jacket, rubber overshoes and some warm gloves and set out at about 12:45 PM. The club met at one o'clock and he didn't want to be late.

The skies were gray and Sal pulled up his hood to ward off the chilling rain. But he didn't live far from the Beacon and he was there in about fifteen minutes, his trip taking just a little longer than usual.

Some of the "boys" (all of whom were over fifty) were already there. Sam, Wayne, Dan, Delmer and Tom were seated in the big booth in the back. They waved to Sal as he came back to join them. Deana, the proprietress and an award winning baker, gave Sal a friendly greeting, too.

Then Louie (also known as "Louie the Flash") and Kevin (also known as "Spooler") came in. It was quite a gathering and it made Sal smile and forget the weather.

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"Cherry muffins today," Deana said. "I got a shipment of really nice canned cherries and you're going to love these."

"We sure will," Sal said, "especially when the boys are buying."

That elicted groans and laughter from the boys. "Sure, Sal, whatever you say," Spooler said. The long-standing tradition was that Sal would set up a checker problem. If the boys could solve it, Sal bought, while if they couldn't, the boys bought.

"We'll see who laughs last," Sal replied. "I have a nice one from Ed."

Ed was Sal's checker pen pal in Pennsylvania, and his problems always were clever and always a challenge.

"Have a look at this," Sal said, and set up the following position on one of the checkerboards. "I'll give you an hour, and I think I'd better get you all some more coffee." Deana, never missing an opportunity, was already at the booth with a fresh pot ready to pour.

BLACK
20220122-foob.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK7,K12,K16,K25:B6,K15,K19,K23

The boys focused on the problem. From time to time Sal took a look outside. By about two-thirty, when the hour Sal had alloted was up, the roads were indeed freezing over.

"Can't get it," Delmer said. "We tried, but ... "

Deana arrived at just that moment with a tray of cherry muffins. "Who's buying?" she asked with a smile. Delmer slowly raised his hand. "My turn," he said sheepishly. "Now, Sal, how about you show us how to do this one?"


Will you have better luck than "the boys"? Or will you be the one to buy the muffins? At least you won't have to go home on frozen roads (well, we hope not). Give this a try and then cherry-pick the solution by clicking on Read More.20050904-symbol.gif

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02/19/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Arizona Checkers: Ryan Pronk

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Ryan Pronk

Today The Checker Maven has the pleasure of presenting an in-depth interview with a relatively young checker master, Ryan Pronk. Ryan is not only known for his playing prowess; he's created over 100 high-quality checker videos in his AZ Checkers series, which can be found on Ryan's YouTube channel. The videos present instructional material as well as analysis of games both historical and contemporary.

CM: At what age did you start playing checkers? What got you interested in the game?

RP: I started playing checkers seriously at the age of 14. Prior to that, I often played chess with my friends, who were involved in Scholastic tournaments. I was drawn to the competitive nature of it all, and that carried over easily to checkers. I found out about checkers thanks to a Hoyle Board Games CD-ROM gift a neighbor had given me.

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I played all of the games on that disk, including Chess, Checkers, Othello, Backgammon, Mancala, etc. I found myself defeating the checkers computer opponent on expert level repeatedly, so I thought there might be something to this! In hindsight, I wasn't playing too terribly for an extreme novice, often developing 11-15, 7-11, 3-7 every game when handling the first side.

CM: Did you ever expect to become a top-tier player? How many hours of study do you suppose you've done?

RP: I always wanted to compete against and be on par with today's masters. It wasn't until finishing runner-up in the 2007 Tennessee Masters (arguably my best result), did I really feel confident that I can compete and that I belong in the same field as some of the best players in the country.

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Being invited to play on the International Team is easily the highest honor I have achieved, and it showed that my peers hold my ability in high regard--- and that is something I will never forget! I would study for two to three hours every night throughout high school, and a little bit less through college, and unfortunately even less now. I still do enjoy studying when I can, specifically endgame positions or lines of opening play.

CM: Any tips for the aspiring newcomer to the game?

RP: Always have fun when playing the game! Winning is great, and losing is not so great. It may feel like a rollercoaster at times. But keep at it, and continue to enjoy the game. Even the best players in the world today lose from time to time! Trust your intuition as you'll know if and when it's time to look up how to win a 2 kings vs. 1 king ending, or avoid being triple jumped. From there, your interest in other facets of the game might grow! In the interim, just have fun!

CM: Do you have a favorite checker book?

RP: I really enjoy anything by Richard Pask and Richard Fortman--- both have been tremendous inspirations to me. Solid Checkers and Basic Checkers are still my go-to books, along with Kear's Encyclopedia.

20211215-kears.jpg

I also enjoy world title match compilation books, and Willie Ryan's writings (his Modern Encyclopedia, specifically).

CM: What's your background and your interests aside from checkers? Where are you originally from?

RP: I grew up in Minnesota and went to college and started my career in Arizona --- so one weather extreme to the other! I've lived in Virginia for more than a decade now; it's certainly a happy medium weather-wise! I've always had an interest in journalism, and spent more than six years in the industry as a reporter, copy editor, and page designer. The AZ Checkers YouTube channel allows me to combine my interests and hobbies all into one, as there's a good amount of writing, editing/video editing, and checkers involved!

CM: What led you to start your AZ Checkers video series?

RP: It originally started back when I was in college, and it was a way for me to highlight some instructional games that might benefit other players. My first videos were incredibly raw with no audio commentary, and very, very fast--- so in hindsight, I'm not sure many would find them helpful! I later focused on common endgame situations and basic strategies/openings. George Gerhauser ("Checkercycle") and I would talk occasionally and promote each other's videos.

20211216-ccycle3.jpg
George "Checkercycle" Gerhauser

When I saw his channel grow in popularity and publish videos regularly, I was really happy to see it and I stopped producing. Flash forward to September 2019--- I noticed George had stopped publishing videos and there was a void in English checkers/draughts on YouTube. My checkers opening moves and best counter moves had nearly 500K views at the time, so I started producing videos diving deeper into openings, and the rest is history!

CM: About how many videos have you made? Do you have any favorites or ones you think are the best?

RP: I've made more than 125 videos dedicated to checkers, broken down into various categories such as Beginners, Openings, Tactics, etc. My tactical videos are far and away the most popular. Although they are not as popular, my favorite videos to create are famous games. I like providing historical context, and do my best to set the stage, so the viewers can understand the pressure and stakes. I like how the 1982 Masters Hallett-Tinsley, and 1955 Tinsley-Hellman videos turned out. I'd also like to give thanks to Mike Mitchell for creating the fun animation introduction in my videos.

CM: Do you intend to continue the series? What are your hopes for it? Do you have any sort of new or special content planned?

RP: My plan is to continue publishing videos geared toward helping beginners and anyone looking to improve in basic strategy and tactics. Alex Holmes and I have been collaborating from time to time, and I expect there may be some additional collaborations to come in the future, along with live stream events, including the 11-man ballot world championship match.

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Alex Holmes

There is always something new to learn in checkers, and I feel the same way about the channel, which is why I am always interested in hearing feedback and criticism. So far, I've been fortunate in that the vast majority of the feedback I receive is very positive.

CM: What can be done to revive interest in checkers, especially among younger players?

RP: Something I've learned while making these videos is that checkers is far from extinct, and players of all ages truly enjoy playing the game and learning some things along the way. However, high level tournament checkers is a different story. Attending a tournament can be a fun and fulfilling experience, and I try to relay that in videos. While we are seeing a decline in the United States, there appears to be a revival in places such as Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania, which is amazing to see! Is it possible these videos will generate interest in checkers in other parts of the world, including the United States? Perhaps! For me, I just like giving back to the game that has given a lot to me, and continues to enrich my life.

CM: Anything you'd like to add?

RP: One of my all time favorite problems is Henderson's Shot, which you covered in a 2008 article. However, my favorite tactical theme is The Brooklyn, which can arise from many openings, as you pointed out in 2017. The tactic can also be found in my favorite unrestricted opening, the Waterloo. The run-up can be found in Lees' Guide, page 158, variation 1, with play credited to H.F. Shearer.

11-15 23-18 8-11 18-14 9x18 24-19 15x24 22x8 4-11 27x20 5-9 21-17 9-14 25-21 11-15 28-24 7-11 29-25 15-18 32-27 11-15 26-23 3-7 30-26 6-9; forms diagram.

BLACK
20211215-ryanpronk.png
WHITE
White to Play and Draw

W:W17,20,21,23,24,25,26,27,31:B1,2,7,9,10,12,14,15,18


A fascinating interview and a classic problem. Expert players will likely be familiar with this one and know the solution offhand; the rest of us will have a bit of a challenge and some good instruction and entertainment. See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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02/12/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Cute and Acute

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Can something be both cute and acute, as in "sharp" or an "acute angle"? We think so, and we're about to show you an example.

This month's speed problem is another easy one, but it's also definitely cute. And acute. You'll see what we mean when you solve it. Beginners might have to think a bit but experienced players should solve it quickly.

WHITE
20220205-newone.png
BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:WK7,20,23,24,26,28:B1,12,13,15,19,25,K30

When you've come up with your solution, a cute (or should that be acute) quick of the mouse on Read More will allow you to check your solution.null

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Baby It's Cold Outside

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It was the end of January in Bismarck, North Dakota, the coldest time of the year in a place known for its intemperately cold weather.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and at about quarter to one the temperature was still 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, and that would be the highest the mercury reached that day. And to top it all off, the wind was blowing at 20 miles per hour. Of course the sun was out, but that wasn't of much help.

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Sal Westerman was undaunted. At one o'clock his Coffee and Cake Checker Club would meet as it did every week at the Beacon Cafe, normally a ten minute walk from Sal's home.

Sal was bundling up under the direction of his wife, Sylvia, who had even gone so far as to suggest that Sal stay home. But there was very little that could keep Sal from his beloved club, and cold weather didn't deter him.

So, as warmly dressed as a person could possibly be, Sal made his way to the club. The wind was biting and the cold wicked, and it took him longer than usual. It was nearly ten after one when Sal entered the Cafe, but as he passed through the door, he didn't feel the blast of heat that one usually felt when going from 20 below zero outside to 70 above zero inside.

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Then he noticed that there were only four other people in the cafe, all of them still dressed in their winter clothes, gloves, wool caps, and all. Club members Wayne, Dan, and Louie the Flash were sitting in the usual booth at the back, while Deana, the proprietess, was behind her counter, similarly bundled up. She had an electric heater rigged up and blowing on the only shelf that had anything on it, a tray of coconut chocolate chip bars. There was a big coffee urn plugged in, and that was it.

20211211-heet.jpg

"What's going on?" Sal asked.

"The gas heat for the building went out during the night," Deana said. "I have a couple of electric heaters running but it's still only 28 degrees in here. The gas company men were working on it but they said it'll be Monday until they can get the heat going again. They need a part from Minneapolis or something," Deana said.

"How come you don't close up?" Sal asked.

"Aw, I know how much you boys like your checkers," Deana replied. "Lucky I had a tray of bars I could go home and get. But I'm going to close early. It's just too darn cold in here."

"Yeah, it's cold even for checkers," Dan said. All of the boys (who were over 50) had big mugs of coffee in front of them. There was just a single checker board set up.

Sal got himself some coffee and went over to the booth. "Tell you what," he said. "I did bring along a problem from Ed. How about you boys try that while I go ahead and buy some bars. After that, we'll go home. What do you say?"

Everyone, including Deana, nodded agreement.

Sal laid out a position on the checker board. "Okay, here you go," he said. "Maybe make it quick as you can!"

But the boys knew a problem from Ed was seldom a quick solve.

BLACK
20211211-tfort.png
WHITE
White to Play and Draw

W:B2,12,19,20,22:W28,31,32,K1

"Bars on me today," Deana said. "They're a day old."

20211211-ccbars.jpg

In between sips of hot coffee the boys were working away at Ed's problem.


Hopefully, wherever you are, you're somewhere warm, and if you're in a cold climate, we hope the heating is working as it should. One thing for sure is that you'll warm up to Ed Atkinson's fine problem. See how you do and then give your mouse a heated click on Read More to see the solution.
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01/29/22 -Printer friendly version-
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The Game of My Life

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In the columns of The Checker Maven we've presented a fair amount of checker fiction from the past (not that there's a copious amount to choose from). We've also presented a great deal of our own checker fiction, and will continue to do so.

But it's a real pleasure to be able to present contemporary checker fiction from another author. Grandmaster problem composer Ed Atkinson sent us a little story of his own, and we're delighted to present it here. Of course, it's accompanied by one of Ed's fine compositions. Ed took his inspiration from the famous story A Midnight Encounter.

The Game of My Life by Edgar Atkinson

It was late in the evening when I set up the checker board to go over a game played by one of the great masters of yesteryear. Then there came a knock on the door. Upon answering the knock, a tall stranger, wearing a black cowl and holding a large scythe, stood before me. I knew in a moment that it must be the Grim Reaper.

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"Why are you here?" I asked. "I am in good health and I have done no wrong."

"It is time for you to come with me," the Grim Reaper replied.

I had to think quickly. "Here," I said. "Sit down and we'll play a game of checkers. If I win, you can be on your way without me."

"Checkers?" the Reaper replied. "I have never been beaten. When I win the game, we will be off together."

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With a sigh of relief I sat down to play, knowing full well that I had more to gain than my adversary had to lose. This was to be the game of my life.

The game took an unusual turn. At a critical point the Grim Reaper, playing Black of course, attacked one of my pieces from behind, a move that would win the piece and apparently win the game as well.

"Now you will lose a piece and with it the game," the Reaper said. "Then we will be on our way together."

This was a pretty fix indeed. I gave the situation all the attention that I could muster. Suddenly I saw my way through. Not only would I escape, but also would pay back my tall adversary in kind.

This was the position on the board.

BLACK
20211205-goml.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W13,15,21,25,27,K1:B2,6,8,10,K19,K31

With trembling hand I reached out to make the first move of the combination that I had envisioned.


Ed Atkinson's problems are seldom easy, but always clever and entertaining. How would you do facing off against the Grim Reaper? Fortunately, you don't have to do so to solve Ed's problem. See if you can sow the right moves and reap the victory. There's no need to be grim as you can easily click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/22/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Zugzwang! Problem Contest 60

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Zugzwang. Compulsion to move, made up of the German roots Zug, move (among other meanings) and zwang, compulsion or force. A situation in which a player has to move even though it will mean losing or incurring a major disadvantage. It's a term commonly associated with the game of chess, but it applies to checkers as well.

The 60th entry in Bill Salot's amazing ongoing series of checker problem composition contests features the theme of Zugszwang with four stellar problems illustrating this principle. Solve them, enjoy them, and by all means vote for the one you think should be the winner.

As always, the action takes place on our current contest page.

To get you started, here's an example. It's by Jim Loy and was the winning problem in Contest 34, August 2017, which featured the same theme as today's contest.

BLACK
20211205-tectonic.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK10,14,18,21,27,32:B5,9,12,20,23,28

After you've tried this one, click on Read More to see the solution and then hurry over to the current contest page for more Zugzwang enjoyment.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/15/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Marvin's Agreement

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Marvin J. Mavin

In our last story, Marvin J. Mavin, the superstar captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers, a top team in Major League Checkers, was in a tight spot. His long-time girlfriend, the wealthy business executive Priscilla K. Snelson, had given Marvin a holiday ultimatum: Go to Las Vegas and get married, or else. She sent Marvin home and said he had one week to decide.

Now, Marvin did not want to get married. But he didn't want to risk losing Priscilla, either. They had been together for ten years and he truly loved her.

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It wasn't for her money or any other ulterior motive. Marvin had a multi-million dollar contract with the Doublejumpers. He just chose to live simply, driving his old Volkswagen and living in a studio apartment in a less favorable section of Detroit. He didn't care about Priscilla's upscale lifestyle. It was just that he had never met anyone quite like her and she was the only one in the world for him.

Could he risk all of that?

He was in his little apartment, trying to focus on a problem in All Checkers Digest by Ed Atkinson, but his mind was elsewhere.

BLACK
20220108-fixup.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK5,K8,K10,15,K18:BK11,25,K26,27

He needed more time. The week Priscilla had given him would be up tonight. Should he call Priscilla and beg for another week? She probably would say "no" and then where would he be?

20211202-mapa.jpg
Marvin's Parents

He had talked things over with his Mom, but of course she had long wanted him to marry, so that didn't help much. His Dad was no help either. He had just said, "Whatever makes you happy." Of course, Marvin didn't know what that was.

Maybe she'd be okay with just an engagement? And put off setting a wedding date? Sure, he could say that for a person in her position, a Las Vegas elopement wouldn't look very good. Yes, that was it!

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He should call his friend Marty. Marty lived in Switzerland and was on the Swiss National Checker Team.

Marvin got out his cell phone, looked up Marty's number and called. After several rings, a sleepy voice answered, "Ja?"

"Marty, it's Marvin!" Marvin said cheerfully.

There was a pause and then a groan. "Marvin, it's 3 AM over here."

"Oh, uh, yeah, sorry, well ... "

"What is it, Marvin, that is so important that you had to call me at this hour?"

Marvin explained the situation and his proposed solution.

"You'd be pitching a piece with no compensation," Marty said. "Now, I have an early practice tomorrow, so good bye, Marvin."

The line disconnected.

"I gotta clear my head," Marvin said, and then went to his fridge and got out a beer. He took it back to his chair and began looking at Ed Atkinson's problem again.

After half an hour and another beer, Marvin said out aloud, "Ah, it ain't no use. I gotta call Priscilla and get this over with."

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Once again, Marvin picked up his phone and called a familiar number.


Hopefully, you won't be distracted and unable to focus as you try to solve Ed's problem. We definitely do not recommend beer, let alone two bottles of it. See how you do, make your decision on the right moves (something that Marvin needed to do albeit in a different context), and then dial Read More to see the solution and the rest of today's story.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/08/22 -Printer friendly version-
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New Year's Day 2022

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This column is being published on New Year's Day, 2022, and The Checker Maven wishes that the New Year will bring everyone health, happiness, and everything that you might wish for.

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We don't know if or how you might have celebrated on New Year's Eve, but we know that it can often be a time of ... er ... a bit of overindulgence. If you did ... er ... overindulge a little, perhaps today you aren't ready to take on a grandmaster level checker problem. So instead, we'll take it easy on you and present a very nice, but not too difficult problem sent along by regular contributors Josh and Lloyd Gordon of Toronto.

WHITE
null
BLACK
Black to Play and Draw

B:WK1,14,15,K20,30,32:B4,21,23,24,K31

This one may take a short moment of thought but shouldn't tax you too much, and might help you to clear your head if that's necessary for you today. Give it a try and then click on Read More to check the solution.null

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01/01/22 -Printer friendly version-
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The Checker Maven is produced at editorial offices in Honolulu, Hawai`i, as a completely non-commercial public service from which no profit is obtained or sought. Original material is Copyright 2004-2022 Avi Gobbler Publishing. Other material is the property of the respective owners. Information presented on this site is offered as-is, at no cost, and bears no express or implied warranty as to accuracy or usability. You agree that you use such information entirely at your own risk. No liabilities of any kind under any legal theory whatsoever are accepted. The Checker Maven is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Bob Newell, Sr.

MAVEN, n.:

An expert or connoisseur, often self-proclaimed.


Articles


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Rediscovering Checkers

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Marvin's World

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