In our last Checker School column, our friend Farmer Sneed got a checkerboard thrashing from Ned's father, Mr. Hatley, who said he owes his skills to knowledge of checker problems. Better that than the kind of thrashing you might get from the person above, who we'll merely call a "traditional" educator.
Today's column features a theme which the good farmer would do well to learn. It's really pretty simple and will be familiar to any skilled player. (Checker School features problems and themes with didactic value, often resulting in relatively less difficult solutions. "Didactic" may be a new word for Farmer Sneed, adding to the value of this lesson.)
We won't smash your knuckles with a ruler if you don't get this one, and in fact we're sure you'll find the win. When you're ready, smash your mouse (not your ruler) on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Marvin J. Mavin, star professional checkerist and Captain of the World Championship Detroit Doublejumpers, was on top of things this year.
He dutifully reported to training camp in August, which was once again at a lakeside resort in Northern Michigan near the town of Au Train. But this year he made sure he was in good shape, both physically and mentally.
The previous summer, Coach Ronaldson had been tough on Marvin, making him run extra miles along the lake and watching him closely to be sure he didn't break any of the team's strict training rules. Marvin wasn't about to go through that again, so he trained over the summer break, going jogging with his girlfriend Priscilla, playing tennis with his friend Brian, and keeping sharp with tough matches against the top-flight King of Checkers computer program.
During the first week of camp, Coach Ronaldson noticed the difference. Marvin's usual irreverent attitude was even missing. The Coach was pleased and didn't feel the need to single out Marvin for special 'attention.' But privately the Coach wondered if the 'new' Marvin was a temporary thing.
Toward the end of the second week of camp, Coach found out.
It was in the evening after a hard day of training and the customary team dinner, a time when the players had precious leisure time. Coach was in the resort's lounge, studying from the latest book by Dr. Reginald Pastor, when Marvin came up to him.
"Coach? Can I ask you something?"
Coach Ronaldson looked up. "Yes, what is it, Marvin?"
"Well, Coach, maybe you noticed that this year for me is a lot different than last year."
"Yes, it would be hard not to notice. Frankly, I'm a little surprised but quite pleased with your preparedness, and especially with your positive attitude."
Marvin grinned. "Gee, thanks, Coach, I was hoping you'd say that, so I was wondering, if like, maybe, you know as a sort of reward, well ..."
Coach frowned. He had an idea what might be coming, and he didn't like it. "Get to the point, Marvin."
"Okay, you know, Sunday being our day off and stuff, like maybe we could go into town for a couple of beers?"
Coach sat up straight, his frown deepening. "Tell you what, Marvin. Solve this problem in five minutes or less." Coach indicated a problem in the book he was holding.
"Uh, sure coach ..." Marvin scratched his head, looked puzzled, and then grinned. "Black to play and win, right? You're kiddin' me. Easy. Black is two pieces ahead ..."
"Yes, Black to play and win. Now show me, if you think it's so simple."
Marvin, now a little uneasy at the Coach's sharp tone, thought for a couple of minutes. "Oh wait ... heh heh, well Coach, maybe it ain't all that easy ... "
A few more minutes passed. "Aha!" Marvin exclaimed, and then began to show Coach the solution.
If your Coach challenged you with a problem like this, could you solve it in five minutes? Well, we won't hold you to any particular time limit; take as long as you like and then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of today's story.[Read More]
In North America, August is typically the hottest or at least one of the hottest months, but it's pretty much the last month of the summer vacation season. In some European countries, August means "les vacances" and cities such as Paris are depleted of residents (at least in non-Covid years).
Is it just too hot to play checkers in August? Maybe, maybe not. When it's really hot out, spending some time indoors in air conditioned surroundings may be a nice option. But at any rate, today we have a speed problem that will only occupy you briefly, allowing you to get back to your summer activities without delay. We rate it as "very easy" and present it in accord with our goal of having something for everyone. For the novice, this is a nice exercise. For the expert, see if you can spot the fastest solution in under three seconds.
Solve it at top speed, without overheating, and then click your mouse on Read More to see the cool solution.[Read More]
It was July, 1955, and the summer heat had invaded Bismarck, North Dakota. Known for its cold and prolonged winters, those who didn't live there never realized that summer on the prairie, though very short, could be intensely hot, with the mercury rising above 100 degrees on some days.
Sal Westerman, the informal leader of Bismarck's Coffee and Cake Checker Club, found himself missing the club's weekly meetings at the Beacon Cafe. The club took a summer break between Decoration Day and Labor Day. The cafe itself closed for about six weeks as the proprietor, Deana, enjoyed summer with her parents on the family farm near Gackle, in eastern North Dakota.
Sylvia, Sal's wife, had talked Sal into renting a small cabin near Lake Sakakawea. It was a bit cooler up there, with breezes off the lake, and a simple lifestyle with few intrusions. Sal had to admit he enjoyed the long, lazy summer afternoons, and although he wished he could be at the Beacon, he had a stack of checker magazines to keep him busy.
One Tuesday, after doing a little fishing in the morning when it was cooler, Sal and Sylvia were relaxing in wicker chairs on the shaded veranda of their cabin. Sal had a copy of Checker Digest on his lap and Sylvia was doing some knitting. It was a peaceful scene.
"Anything good in your magazine?" Sylvia asked.
Sal figured she was just making conversation, as he replied, "Yes, they've got this three-by-three problem from Brian in St. Louis, that's really kind of fun. I think I've almost got it."
To Sal's surprise, Sylvia said, "Oh? Let me see!"
Sal, puzzled, handed his wife the magazine, saying, "It's this one here in the middle of the page."
Sylvia frowned a bit. Something like four or five minutes passed, with Sal looking on in bewilderment.
"Oh, here's how you do it," Sylvia said, a big smile on her face. "It's not that hard, you know!"
Did Sylvia actually solve one of Brian's problems? Can you solve it? Take four or five minutes, or as long as you wish, and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story.[Read More]
Last month we presented the first of two English checker problems by champion Alex Moiseyev, who holds the title of Grandmaster not just in checkers, but in checker problem composition for the 10x10 International game.
Let's have a look at the second and last problem in our series, one that is indeed worthy of a titled player.
This problem is definitely at the master level. But don't let that discourage you; there is a lot to learn from trying to work through it. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and notes.[Read More]
Not being television fans, your editors were until now unfamiliar with Sneed's Feed and Seed in the television program The Simpsons.
In this month's Checker School column, we meet a different Farmer Sneed, another character named Ned, and Ned's father, Mr. Hatley. Taken from the curious and fascinating Checker Board Strategy, by Andrew J. Banks, the good farmer is taught a thing or two about book learning. The Banks' character Farmer Sneed predates Sneed's Feed & Seed by about half a century.
FARMER SNEED LEARNS A THING OR TWO
Under the sweet scented apple blossoms, Nedís face twitched nervously as he eyed Farmer Sneedís beehives. He could hear the wind pushing through the apple blos- soms, the bleating of lambs, and the cackling of chickens. The old farmer liked to take Ned near the bees. Pucker- ing his weather beaten face, he chuckled, "Letís move this hive a little." However, Sneed quickly jerked back his thick muscular hand when a bee stung it. He muttered a little sheepishly, "Oh, thatís nothing--- itís good for my rheumatism. Come on, letís play checkers on the porch; I like to trim you book players."
"Why Uncle Sneed," protested Ned, "the students of book play win all the national championships; take Asa Long, for example."
"Never heard of him," snorted Sneed, "I could probably lick him too. I believe what old Ben Franklin said, 'Care- lessness does more harm than want of knowledge'."
By this time Mr. Hatley had arrived; he met them at the well. "Sneed, you have the best water that I have tasted anywhere," Hatley. said politely, after quenching his thirst and taking a deep breath of the fresh country air.
"None better," Sneed agreed, as he rubbed the hand that the bee had stung. He was not anxious to play Nedís father, but he did so; and Sneed lost five games in a row. Later Ned inquired, "Father, how can you beat Farmer Sneed so easily?"
"I know hundreds of problems," was the reply. "I use those ideas against Sneed."
Here's one of the problems that Mr. Hatley put to use. It's attributed to H. Lieberman.
Do you know hundreds of problems, like Mr. Hatley? You'll only need to know one to solve this position. Don't get stung; solve it and then click on Read More to see the surprisingly simple solution.[Read More]
This column will appear on July 4, 2020, and as always we delight in celebrating America's birthday. We make no apologies for being devoted American patriots.
America (and the world) have had a very tough time this year. But the American way is not to throw our hands up in the air and say, "Oh poor us! We did a terrible job handling the crisis! We'll never recover!"--- although shamefully there are some who are doing just that. We believe the American way is to do what Americans have always done: face up to the crisis, work our way through it, and carry on. We will recover, just as we always have. It may take some time and there may be substantial pain along the way, but we'll do it. We're Americans and that's what Americans do.
We always like to celebrate the Fourth with a problem from Tom Wiswell, a man who was both a great patriot and a great checkerist, and we'll do the same today. It's a deceptive three by three which Mr. Wiswell called Tempo.
Solve this problem at any tempo you wish, and at the right time, click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
In our previous episode, Detroit Doublejumpers captain Marvin J. Mavin drew in the deciding game of the World Series of Checkers, forcing a sudden death playoff on the following day.
Sudden death playoffs were conducted solely between the team captains. That meant that Marvin would be playing a series of five minute games against Los Angeles Leapers captain Hyun-Mi Park. The first player to win a game would bring home the championship.
To put it mildly, the pressure was on, and Hyun-Mi was known to be a deadly opponent at speed checkers. Marvin, on the other hand, was stronger in games with longer time limits. Las Vegas book was a whopping 5 to 1 in favor of Hyun-Mi.
Marvin knew full well that he was the underdog. It was a situation that called for a beer, but there was no chance of that, and anyhow Marvin knew he had to keep a clear head. So in his warm-up prior to the game, he tried chewing gum. When that didn't help, he gargled mouthwash for a full 90 seconds. His coach told him to spit it out and run in place for a while, but that only made Marvin's legs hurt.
Marvin then asked for a cheeseburger and fries, but the coach refused, instead having a plate of carrot sticks sent in from the stadium's kitchens.
Marvin barely had time to scowl before the players were called on the field for the playing of the National Anthem.
After the Anthem and the ceremonial playing of the first move by the Governor of Michigan, Hyun-Mi and Marvin met at the center of the field for handshakes and photographs. Hyun-Mi was, as always, stern and composed, while Marvin did his awkward best, all the while trying not to tremble with what he would never admit was fear.
Then the preliminaries were over and the whistle blew, indicating the start of the game. Just before pressing the clock button, Hyun-Mi looked into Marvin's eyes with her patented steely gaze and sent shivers down Marvin's spine.
The first five games ended in draws. Hyun-Mi had the advantage in most of them, but Marvin managed to hold out, though the effort was exhausting. Hyun-Mi, on the contrary, remained cool and composed, content to just wear Marvin down.
There was a fifteen minute break, and Marvin retreated to the Doublejumper dugout for a few cups of sports drink and a toweling down of his face, neck, and arms.
"She's getting the better of you," Marvin's coach remarked pointedly.
As if I didn't know, Marvin thought, but knew better than to say it out loud. Under the rules, the coach could bring in a pinch checkerist at any time, and Marvin didn't want to suffer the humiliation.
Seemingly reading Marvin's mind, the coach said, "Maybe I should bring in Pete Butterworth to pinch play for you. What do you think?"
"I can do it coach, I really can," Marvin said. "Just give me a chance."
"Okay, one more set of five, after that Butterworth comes in. And don't even think about losing."
The whistle blew and Marvin and Hyun-Mi resumed their match.
Three draws ensued, then a fourth. As the fifth game began, Marvin knew it was his last chance.
Hyun-Mi, for her part, never thought Marvin would last this long. She was the best speed checkerist anywhere, and she should have won during the first two or three games of the first round. Was her confidence shaken, if ever so slightly? No matter. She would never show it. If there was one thing she had learned in North Korea, other than checkers, it was how to hide her emotions.
The players moved rapidly, and after a few minutes the following position was reached.
Marvin felt he actually had a chance, if he could just work it out quickly enough. There was only a minute left on his clock. He would have to make his move while still keeping enough time in reserve to finish out the game. Fifteen seconds at best to find the right move.
Sweat was pouring off him. He was fidgeting in his seat as he always did when things got tough. The seconds ticked by ...
And then he made his move.
What do you think of this position? Marvin has five men vs. four kings, is that the better side to have?
The position is not especially difficult but under intense pressure anything can happen. Give thanks that you're not facing Hyun-Mi, and can take your time to find the solution in the comfort of your own non-North Korean surroundings. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of the story.[Read More]
We recently presented an interview with a great modern champion, Alex Moiseyev, in which we talked about his life and playing career. But we didn't cover a lesser-known fact about Alex: that he is also a problem composer. In fact, he holds the title of Grandmaster in the composition of 10x10 problems for International Checkers.
Indeed, most of his compositions have been for the International and Russian games, but he has composed a few for English checkers. This month we'll show you one of them, and next month we'll challenge you with an even tougher position.
Alex's first problem is at an advanced level though not at grandmaster levels.
You should be able to solve this one if you give it sufficient thought and time. No need to be a Grandmaster! See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution and notes.[Read More]
Solution and notes are by problem composer Ed Atkinson.
30-25---A 23-19---1 25-21 18-23---B 14-10 7-14 9-6 1-10 5-9 14-18 31-26 23-30 9-14 10-17 21-16 White Wins with the move.
A---31-26 23-19 26-22 18-25 30-21 is a piece down draw.
B---18-22---C 14-10 7-14 9-6 1-10 5-9 22-25 9-18 25-30 18-15 White Wins.
C---19-23 31-27---D 23-32 9-6 1-17 21-23 32-28 23-19 7-10 5-9 28-32 19-23 32-28 23-18 10-14 18-22 White Wins.
D---31-26 23-30 9-6 also wins.
1---Black could also just play something like 7-11, losing in a routine man-down situation---Ed.
Ed adds, "The solution is short, but, I think, is well concealed. There is quite a bit to look at. This problem, under the name Transposition, won one of Bill Salot's contests some years ago. When it appeared, ACF Master Joe Moore called it a 'masterpiece.' Since then I've composed several other problems on the same theme. Brian Hinkle also used the idea. I had been calling it a freeze, but I think Brian calls it a hesitation stroke. I like his name better. The inspiration was a problem by J. C. Greensword."
Ed concludes, "Let's hope that you don't need many (more) CV (problems)." And as much as we've enjoyed presenting this series, we have to agree.
We hope you too have gotten some entertainment from these special Wednesday columns. Stay safe and well, checker fans, wherever you are.
Editor's Note: Our columns are usually written well in advance, so we don't know what the status of the recovery will be when this edition is published. We are of course hoping for the best.