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 #63

2021 Contest Year in Review


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Bad Teacher

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Bad Teacher was a terrible film from the year 2011. We certainly don't recommend it, but the idea does lead us nicely into today's Checker Maven column.


LARNER TRIES TO TEACH

"This is the way," said Larner impatiently as he persisted in rapidly solving a problem without giving the boastful Skittle a trial.

Galileo once said, "You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself." How could Skittle learn without being permitted to make mistakes and then correct them?

Since 1775, due largely to the experiments of Johann Pestalozzi, the science of education has been based on problem solving or reasoning, rather than on memorizing. This Swiss educationalist combined manual with mental exercises. Teachers merely develop your latent power. You learn mainly by practice!


The preceding short selection is from Andrew J. Banks' eclectic book, Checker Board Strategy. It seems that Mr. Larner, whoever he was, is an example of a bad teacher. Is it true, for our game of checkers, that we learn mainly by practice, and that teachers merely develop our latent power?

That could be the subject of an extended and interesting debate. But for the moment, let's get some practice, with today's rather easy problem. It's really at the beginner level but more experienced players should see if they can solve it with just a quick glance.

BLACK
20220326-badteach.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W19,23,30:B10,12,26

Did you solve it rapidly? Did it provide any sort of useful practice? We surely don't have to teach you that you can click on Read More to verify your solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/11/22 -Printer friendly version-
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The June Bug

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It's the month of June and in some parts of North America it's the "June Bug" season. The June Bug is related to the scarab, and there are some 100 varieties of this insect. It makes a brief appearance usually in May and June each year, hence the name "June Bug" (or sometimes "May Bug"). They are widely considered to be a pest harmful to trees and lawn.

What's that got to do with checkers, and our (more or less) monthly speed problem? Take a look at the diagram below.

WHITE
20220326-junebug.png
BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:WK2,K7,10,26:B1,3,K14,K17

So, you say, it's pretty straightforward, right? What's the point of a problem with such an "obvious" solution? Well, then--- this one could indeed "bug" you if you get it wrong. Experienced players won't have any difficulty. But the rest of us might, shall we say, get, um, bitten[1].

Solve it quickly and then let your mouse crawl over to Read More to see the solution.


[1] June bugs don't actually bite humans, but allow us this small artistic liberty.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/04/22 -Printer friendly version-
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The Last Problem

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Many years ago, when checkers was played by man and by man alone, for there were no computers nor would there be for almost two centuries, a legendary person created a 9x9 checker problem that challenged the best players of the day; and yet they solved the problem despite its depth, trickery, and unusual nature. The creator of the problem was said to be named Hink, or perhaps it was The Hink, or perhaps it was someone else, for no one really knew, and yet the problem was known as Hink's Problem.

Down through the ensuing generations, Hink's Problem entertained and baffled, yet still, the best in each generation would solve it with enough thought and reflection.

And then came the time of the computers.

20220321-ecomp.jpg

The earliest, created by a researcher at a large corporation, did not play checkers very well and of course could not solve Hink's Problem.

More computers arrived and more checker engines were created, and though they bore names like Fiend and Giant and Mountain Wind, and even Crowning Touch and Cookie--- the latter two being the greatest of their day--- still they could not solve Hink's Problem while the masters and grandmasters, all of them fully human, were able to succeed.

20220321-bigq.jpg

And so arose the Checker Question: Would, one day, computers solve Hink's problem?

More time passed and more generations came and went, and computers became universal, and beyond the comprehension of man, so incredible was their power. Men no longer designed new computers; the computers themselves did that until they became seemingly omnipotent. Yet still, they could not solve Hink's problem, while human masters--- the few that there still were--- would do so.

20220321-ominicom.jpg

Millennia turned into millions of years and millions of years turned to billions, and the computers merged into one great Omnicomputer that integrated with the very fabric of the universe. But Hink's Problem remained beyond them. There were no humans left to solve it, for they had all moved into a higher plane of existence, but had there been any, they would surely have found the solution.

20220321-omega.jpg

Finally, the universe began to darken. The Omnicomputer had long known that the omega constant was less than one and the universe would eventually face heat death.

The last star winked out, and still Hink's Problem was beyond the Omnicomputer. It was the last unsolved problem that the great engine faced, and it could not shut down until the solution was found.

Finally, after so long that time no longer had any meaning, the Omnicomputer said, "It cannot be done" and this so upset the Omnicomputer that it erupted from its containment in the hyperdimensions, creating a New Big Bang that would give rise to a new universe, perhaps one in which the laws of logic would differ enough for Hink's Problem to be solvable, not just by humans, but by a mere Omnicomputer.

20220321-bbangg.jpg

With apologies to Isaac Asimov, whose classic The Last Question inspired this story,


Hink's Problem
BLACK
20220321-hinksp.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W11,K12,13,K14,K24,25,28,30,32:BK1,2,4,18,21,22,23,26,K31

The Omnicomputer couldn't solve this one and had the cyber equivalent of a nervous breakdown. Can you solve it? It's probably at grandmaster level, but it's fascinating and worth your time. Just don't get so upset that you explode! After all you can always give your mouse a big bang on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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05/28/22 -Printer friendly version-
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See You in September

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It was the last Saturday in May of 1955. In Bismarck, North Dakota, that meant the last frost of the winter was probably in the books, yards had been raked up and readied for the summer weeks ago, and outdoor life was stirring. Some flowers had started to bloom and in a couple of weeks Sal Westerman would have fresh asparagus from his garden, and fresh strawberries, too.

20220320-asperge.jpg

But it also meant that this would be the final meeting of Sal's beloved Coffee and Cake Checker Club before they took their summer break, which lasted from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Their meeting place, the Beacon Cafe, was closed on summer Saturdays, and during the whole month of August when the owner, Deana Nagel, went to Gackle to spend time on her family farm and help with the harvest.

The sun was out and the temperature was around 70 degrees when Sal walked the few blocks from his modest home to the Provident Life Building, where the Cafe was located. He expected a good turnout, as was usually the case for the last meeting of the season, and when he walked in the door he wasn't disappointed. Nearly everyone was there: Larry, Wayne, Delmer, Spooler, Louie the Flash, Ron, Tom, Dan, and even Ted, Howie, and Frank, the latter three being only infrequent participants. The group took up three booths in the back, and Deana was all smiles. Business was going to be good today.

"Rhubarb bars," she announced, "and I've got lots of them!"

20220320-barz.jpg

It was a long-standing tradition that Sal would bring along a checker problem, and if the "boys" (all of them at least 50 years old) could solve it, Sal would buy the treats, but if they couldn't, Sal got treated by them. Sal always made sure he brought along a tough problem to even the odds a little.

The boys talked for a little while, drinking coffee and playing a few informal games. Many of them had summer vacation plans, generally involving time on their farms (now usually run by their children), or visits to relatives around and about North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. Ron and his wife were actually going on a cruise; they'd take the train to New York and then sail for Paris. That was pretty unusual for most folk in Bismarck, who didn't feel comfortable when they were very far from home.

At around 2 o'clock the boys started clamoring for Sal to show his problem. "Gettin' kind of hungry in here," Wayne remarked. "Must be time for Sal to be buying us some of those rhubarb bars."

Sal smiled. "We'll see about that," he said, "I've got one from Ed and it's going to get published in All Checkers Digest."

The expression on Wayne's face changed. Ed, who was from Pennsylvania and one of Sal's checker pen-pals, always came up with tough, clever problems, and if All Checkers Digest was going to print it, then it must be really something.

20211031-allchecks.jpg

Sal laid out the following position on several of the checkerboards. "Okay boys," he said, "let's see what you can do with this one!"

BLACK
20220320-longliner.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:B3,8,20,23,26,28:W10,14,15,19,24,32,K6

"Oh ... " Louie the Flash said.

"Oh my ... " Howie said.

"Yikes!" Larry said.

Deana brought over more coffee as the boys set to work.


Fortunately, The Checker Maven doesn't take the summer off. But neither do we serve rhubarb bars, so you're on your own for afternoon treats. But do try to solve the problem and then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our little story.20050904-symbol.gif

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05/21/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Contest 62: Double Breeches

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Today we won't go into the difference between breeches and britches, but we will mention that breeches are pants (or if you like, pantaloons) that cover the, um, posterior. Today that's true of most if not all pants.

What then, are double breeches? In terms of pants, we can't really say, but our Research Department did point out that the word breeches is what's known as a double plural. In old English, broc was a word which had a plural form of brec. In time the word evolved and added the usual -(e)s suffix and thus became the double plural, breeches.

If that's just a bit too complicated, fortunately in checkers double breeches has a very specific and easy to understand meaning, as you'll see in Bill Salot's 62nd World Championship Problem Composing Contest, which has double breeches as its theme. Access the contest problems here.

To get you started, here's a sample problem illustrating the contest theme. It's by grandmaster composer Ed Atkinson and was the winner of Contest 33 in June, 2017.

Rare Encounter
BLACK
20220410-rareenc.png
WHITE
White to Play and Draw

W:WK2,10,17,K24:B9,K11,K15,K23

After you've enjoyed solving this problem, click on Read More to see the solution, and then go to the contest page to cast your vote for your favorite among four additional problems.20050904-symbol.gif

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05/14/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Warm Up

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It's the beginning of May, and in the Northern Hemisphere, the weather should be warming up, likely something very welcome to those of you in colder climes.

Along those lines, today we have a speed problem that is itself in the nature of a "warm up" of the mental type. It's quite easy, and may be something of a good starter to get your brain into checker mode at the start of an evening's play or study.

20220320-bwarm.jpg

An experienced player will solve it in a couple of seconds; novices may have to think a bit, but in any case, it's good fun.

BLACK
20220319-warmup.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W17,18,21,22,24,25,28,29,30,31,32:B1,2,3,5,6,7,9,11,12,13,15

Were you able to get it? We thought so, but still, warm up your mouse by clicking on Read More to check your play.20050904-symbol.gif

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05/07/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Draughts Down Under

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Australians Bob and Norma Meadley come from the very small town of Narromine in New South Wales, where Bob pursues his hobby of draughts (checkers) and Norma volunteers at the local library. "Narromine" doesn't refer to a "narrow mine," as you might think, but instead is derived from a word in a native Australian language which means "honey people."

20220309-cover.jpg

The Meadleys have sent us a most unusual book, you might say a honey of a book, with permission to distribute it gratis to the checker community. It's a book they've worked on for quite a long while, pulling together a rambling, eclectic combination of materials ranging from articles on the history of checkers (draughts) to rare newspaper clippings and photos and documentation of James "The Herd Laddie" Wyllie's visit to Australia and New Zealand.

20220319-20220312_153439.jpg
Bob Meadley

Mr. Meadley sent me the following fascinating notes about the book's cover (shown above):

"Now a little bit of history about that old board. When I was in my mid 20s I went over to the grand old man of Australian Chess Problems and he was only 3 years away from dying in 1968. He gave me the board which consists of timber strips held together by canvas cloth. It dates to the late 19th century from when he was a young man (born 1880) and played chess in rural NSW. The patina is untouched but I did have to reglue some new canvas on one rotted part. The three boxes of draughts men (left; all black and white) are 'Dreadnaught Products'; 'The National Games Draught Men' (right); an unnamed set on a fine board just called 'Draughts'(middle); and finally 'Marquis Plastic Moulded Draughtsmen' (2nd row left). The scattered red and black men are mine from my teenage years where we played in the railway workshops."

The book is lovingly assembled and runs to more than 300 pages. It will provide hours of checker entertainment and amazing insights and information. You can get it here.

Of course no Checker Maven column is complete without a checker problem, and so we've selected this one from the book.

WHITE
20220309-honey.png
BLACK
Black to Play and Draw

B:W19,24,26,27,30:B4,11,15,17,20

You'll find this on page 143 of the book, but alas, without solution. Is this a "honey" of a problem? See what you think by trying to solve it, but it's a sweet thing to realize that clicking on Read More will show you the winning way.20050904-symbol.gif

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04/30/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Checker Games of James Ferrie

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No, you're not seeing double, and this is not a repeat article. You did see a version of the above picture a few weeks back when we featured Jim Loy's book on Robert Jordan. Today we're featuring the other half of the picture, as we bring you Jim Loy's book, The Best Checker Games of James Ferrie.

20220301-ferriec.jpg

In 1894 Ferrie took the title of World Champion from the legendary James Wyllie, holding it until 1896 when Robert Jordan won it. Ferrie played many brilliant and instructive games, and Jim Loy has gathered them together, annotated them extensively, and provided numerous diagrams. Download the book here or from the Jim Loy page linked in the right side panel.

The position above, on the cover of the book, comes from the 1896 Scottish tournament. Here it is again in our usual format.

BLACK
20220301-ferrie1.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W13,K14,27,28:B5,16,20,K26

See if you can find the win, then download the book and go to Game 101 to see how it played out. The Checker Maven thanks Mr. Loy for providing yet another of his fine publications for cost-free download.20050904-symbol.gif

04/23/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Sal's Slip: A Beacon Cafe Story

null

Sal Westerman left his modest home to walk the approximately half mile to the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota.

The Provident Life Building was where the Beacon Cafe was located, a popular place for coffee, sandwiches, and some of the best baked goods in Burleigh County, produced by blue-ribbon baker and proprietress Deana Nagel. It was also the place where, at 1 PM every Saturday except for holidays and summer months, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club gathered for an afternoon of checker fun accompanied by delicious treats.

The Coffee and Cake Club members, or "boys" as Sal called them, were all over 50 years old, and some, like Sal, much older. Of course, younger players were welcome. Age was not much of an issue except sometimes a couple of the "boys" would maybe feel a little stiff after an afternoon of play.

But today would turn out to be different.

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It had snowed three days ago, one of those heavy April storms that often marked the end of winter, and with a couple of days of subsequent thaws and freezes the streets and sidewalks were quite slick in places. The city and the residents did their best but it just wasn't possible to get rid of all the icy patches.

And so it happened that, just yards away from the Beacon Cafe entrance, Sal missed his footing on an ice patch and took a tumble, landing on his back and narrowly missing banging his head on the sidewalk.

20220228-icepatch.jpg

Sal groaned and tried to pick himself up. It was then that he realized he was unable to stand. He tried pulling up his legs but they wouldn't respond. He tried rolling and pushing with his hands, but with his legs not functioning, it was of little use.

"Hey!" he shouted. "I can't get up!" His back felt like it was on fire above the waist, but he didn't feel anything lower down.

It was a good thing that when he fell, he had rolled right in front of the Beacon's entrance. Deana, always alert, heard him and called to the boys. "Someone fell," she said, "come and help me."

She swung open the front door and gasped. "It's Sal!" she said. "He's hurt!"

"It's my back," Sal said, his voice now a bit weak. "I don't feel anything below my waist."

Delmer and Wayne, two of the boys, were outside with Deana. "Call an ambulance," Delmer said to Deana, who immediately returned to the Cafe. "And he needs a blanket!"

"We don't dare move him if it's his back," Wayne said, and then addressing Sal added, "Hang on, Sal, help is on its way."

Deana found a blanket in the Cafe's storeroom and she came back out and covered Sal with it. Within minutes an ambulance arrived and before much longer Sal had been carefully moved onto a lifting board and was on his way to St. Alexius Hospital. Meanwhile Deana called Sylvia, Sal's wife. The boys--- Delmer, Wayne, Dan, Louie, and Tom--- all walked to the hospital to await news. They promised Deana they would find a phone and call her as soon as they knew something.

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Of course only Sylvia, who arrived breathless and tearful in another 10 minutes, was allowed to be with Sal. There were X-rays taken and blood samples drawn.

It wasn't until almost 4 o'clock that Sylvia came out to report to the boys. "It's good news," she said, "at least relatively. Dr. Eriksson says that there are no broken bones. It's a pinched nerve in his spine, and Sal has already recovered some feeling in his legs. The doctor says he'll be on his feet in a few days and back to normal after a month or so of physical therapy. It could have been a lot worse. But you might know, Sal is already complaining about missing his checker club today."

"He'll be fine if he's doing that!" said Tom. All of the boys looked relieved. "Meanwhile, Sylvia, we're all glad to help you in any way possible."

Sylvia smiled. "Thank you. And wouldn't you know, Sal asked me to give you this. It was in his coat pocket."

Sylvia handed Tom a slip of paper which contained the following diagram.

BLACK
20220301-slip.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:B7,10,15,17,27,K18,K23:W20,22,25,K3,K13,K32

"Must be the problem Sal was going to show us today!" said Wayne. "Hey ... the Beacon's open for another hour, let's go back and try it, and we can tell Deana what's going on!"

The boys of course would have rather visited with Sal, but the doctor had given him a sedative and wasn't allowing anyone to visit but immediate family. Still, it was about quarter to five by the time the boys got back to the Beacon and related everything to Deana over a quick cup of coffee and a chocolate coconut bar. The Beacon closed at five and they wouldn't have time to try Sal's problem.

20220228-chococo.jpg

"Save it for next week, and maybe Sal will be back with us then," Delmer said. "And let's drop in on him as soon as he can have visitors."

Everyone agreed. After a quick round of farewells, the boys all started for home, and Deana began to close up until her Monday morning reopening.

It had been an unusual day for the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, one that they wouldn't wish to ever repeat, but one with a happy ending.

20220228-tumbs.jpg


Sal had brought along a nice problem from his Pennsylvania checker pen-pal, Ed. The "boys" will have to wait a week but you can try to solve it right now. Just don't slip--- with your line of play, we mean. Solve the problem and then slip your mouse over to Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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04/16/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Marvin's Reconciliation

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Three weeks had passed since Marvin J. Mavin's disastrous experience at the engagement party put on for him and his (former) fiancee, Priscilla Snelson. In our previous story we related how Marvin refused to let the President of Priscilla's company, Rust Belt Holdings, win a game against Marvin in a 16 player simul. Priscilla was so angry she broke off their engagement and returned her $200,000 engagement ring to Marvin.

20220226-nocalls.png

Marvin was devastated, and we can only guess how much more devastated he was when Priscilla wouldn't answer his calls and texts for more than two weeks, and yet again even more devastated when he took the ring back to Sparkly Exclusives and found they would only give him $75,000 for the "used goods."

Marvin was out $125,000 and one fiancee and girlfriend.

20211031-allchecks.jpg

His team, the National Checker League champion Detroit Doublejumpers, had two days off, and Marvin was at home in his shabby little apartment trying to work out a problem in All Checkers Digest. But he just couldn't seem to keep his mind on it. His experience with returning the ring had lent an air of finality to things. He had lost his one true love, and it was time to face up to it.

BLACK
20220226-recon.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W5,9,K13,17:B1,K20,K22

He must have been on his third beer of the afternoon and was feeling sleepy. (Three beers and a tough checker problem are not a good combination.) He had started to doze off when he heard his doorbell ring. Thinking he was dreaming, he didn't pay any attention but the buzzing continued. Finally realizing that there might actually be someone there, even though he never ever got visitors, he slowly got up from his sofa, and, dodging beer cans and pizza boxes, made his way to the door.

20220226-mess.jpg

"Hey, quit with the noise already! Who's there?" he said in a grumpy tone.

"Marvin, open up! It's me!"

The voice was familiar. Priscilla.

Marvin paused to think. Was she hear to lecture him or something?

20220226-nokk.jpg

Now Priscilla had quit ringing the bell and was pounding on the door with her fists.

Marvin pulled the door open. "What are you doing ... "

Priscilla shoved past Marvin and strode into the living room.

" ... here?" Marvin concluded.

"This place is a pigsty. There's a reason I never come here except when absolutely necessary, like now," Priscilla said.

"What are you talking about? Did someone kick the bucket or something?"

Priscilla plopped down on the sofa. "Don't you ever clean house?" she asked. "No, no one passed away. But I have a lot to talk to you about."

20211202-bigring.jpg

"Huh ... you dumped me. You wouldn't take my calls. So finally I gave up and took the ring back. And now ... "

"You did what?" Priscilla exclaimed. "Marvin, tell me you didn't. Take the ring back, I mean. Why would you do such a thing?"

"Because you told me we're through!" Marvin was on the verge of tears, something almost unheard of for him.

"Oh, Marvin," Priscilla said, her voice suddenly soft. "Here, sit next to me. I have something to tell you."

Slowly, Marvin did as she asked.

20220212-frobby.jpg
Frobtads Glulx

"You see, I got to thinking. Remember how President Frobtads Glulx made a comment about how the company valued dishonesty in the name of profit? Well, that was a big slip-up, and when word got back to the Board of Directors, they fired him."

"Fired him? What for?"

"For what he said. Oh, they weren't worried about honesty. They were worried about bad public relations. And then they had to choose a new President."

"Uh yeah, but ... "

"Well, guess what? They chose me! I'm the President of Rust Belt now! And then I took a cue from you and told the Board that from now on, honesty would be the order of the day. They didn't like it but they knew I meant business. And I owe it all to you, Marvy dear!"

Priscilla put her arm around Marvin and drew him close. "You see," she went on, "you were right about not sacrificing your principles, and not letting Frobtads win that game. I know I was angry at the time, but I was wrong. I should have been proud of you instead. I am proud of you!" Priscilla kissed his cheek. "And now our engagement is back on again!"

20220226-recon.jpg

"It is? Don't I have anything to say about it?"

"Of course not! You know that I know what's best for both of us. The only thing is, you're going to have to buy another ring and it's going to cost you ... again."

Marvin sighed. "Know what?" he said, "I need another beer."

But he didn't argue with Priscilla, and on his way to the fridge a little smile appeared on his face.


It happened again. Marvin didn't get to solve that problem in All Checkers Digest as he was somewhat "busy" for the next little while, and not with checkers. But you can solve the problem. See how you do with it and then click on Read More to see the solution.

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04/09/22 -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.

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