The Checker Maven

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


Published every Saturday morning in Honolulu, Hawai`i


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Novice Lesson

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Yes, there is such a place. It's a small town in Texas, population not much over 100. How many of those residents, do you suppose, are checker players?

We can't really say, but we can say that in honor of the release of the print edition of Checkers for the Novice, today we're presenting something vital, yet which actually won't be very easy for novices. Experts, of course, should have no problem --- right?

3 kings vs. 2 kings seems like it ought to be an easy win, yet it in fact baffles many a player, even some players with a fair amount of experience with our game. Let's look at an example, in two different ways.

BLACK
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WHITE
Either to Play, White to Win

W:WK22,K23,K24:BK31,K32.

First, try this with White to play. How does White win it? If you're a top-level player, you'll see how to do it in just a few seconds --- right?

How about if Black plays first? Can you win with White? It's a little harder, but again an expert should solve it fairly quickly --- right?

We're teasing a little. Even most experts have to stop and think. 3 vs. 2 endings aren't easy, but they come up all the time and knowing how to win them is essential. Take as much time as you like and then click on Read More to see the solutions.null

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06/16/18 - Printer friendly version
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Checkers for the Novice Now Available

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Richard Pask's Checkers for the Novice, the print edition of Logical Checkers Volume 1, is now available from CreateSpace and Amazon[1], and is also available from Amazon UK and Amazon Europe. The 170 page book has been priced very modestly at US $7.49 (exclusive of shipping).

You can download a free PDF version by clicking on the link.

Checkers for the Novice includes substantial corrections and improvements and is the definitive modern guide for newcomers who wish to play checkers well.null

[1] Amazon lists the book with "Richard Pask, Author" and "Bob Newell, Author." This is incorrect. Richard Pask is the sole author. Bob Newell is the editor and publisher.

06/11/18 - Printer friendly version
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Marvin Visits Grackle, ND

We're pleased to welcome back Marvin J. Mavin after a long absence from our weekly columns. Today, Marvin gets quite a surprise on a visit to a small Prairie town.


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The best duck hunting in the world. That's what they told him. Never mind that he wasn't a duck hunter.

They called it 'outreach'--- a way of building a better future for the game of checkers. Sure, it was the national sport, but the National Checker League was not an organization that rests on its laurels; continual development, a constant search for new talent, and a great approach to public relations were as ingrained as Black moving first.


Marvin J. Mavin
Captain, Detroit Doublejumpers

Marvin J. Mavin, Captain of the World Series of Checkers winning Detroit Doublejumpers, was on an off-season publicity tour of the North Central states. The Grackle Duck Hunters, of Grackle, North Dakota, population 300 or so, had invited Marvin to visit, and against all odds, the National Checker League had scheduled an overnight visit by their superstar player.

The Duck Hunters were amateurs; they played in the East Central Dakota Counties League, and it was purely club-level play. But they loved their checkers and they would often drive to Minneapolis to see a major league match.

The NCL had chartered a small plane to fly Marvin from Fargo's Hector Field to the little municipal airfield just outside Grackle. The plane was a Piper Aztec, which the pilot referred to as the "luxury model."

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Marvin was met at the airfield by an SUV driven by the Captain of the Duck Hunters, Steve Stonkus, accompanied by his son, Al Stonkus, and one of the other players, Wayne Bulow, who was introduced simply as "Flash" because of his fast over-the-board play.

After introductions, Marvin mentioned, "I've got a room at the Fowl Lodge. I booked it on-line. Seemed like a nice sort of place."

"The Fowl Lodge, seriously?" Steve asked. There were a few glances exchanged and a stifled laugh. "Well ... I suppose. We'll take you there, then, so you can, uh, rest up. The exhibition starts tomorrow morning at ten sharp. We didn't plan anything for tonight because we knew you'd be beat and anyhow it's kinda late."

It was eight in the evening on a Thursday in July, meaning that in this latitude, there were still a couple of hours of daylight left.

"Someplace we can go for a beer, maybe?" Marvin asked.

"It's Thursday," Al said, without explaining further.

"Yeah ... " Marvin replied.

"Right," Wayne chimed in. "Let's get on to the Fowl Lodge, then, if that's really where you're staying."

Marvin put his one travel bag in the rear of the SUV and took a seat in the back. It was only a fifteen minute drive, during which little was said.

The SUV pulled off the road in front of a camper trailer.

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"There she is," Steve said. "The Fowl Lodge. The door is always unlocked. We'll pick you up at seven-thirty tomorrow morning. So we have plenty of time for breakfast."

Marvin said, "Nine-thirty will be fine. The website said they have food in the fridge for guests to fix meals."

"If that's what you want," Steve replied. "Good night, then."

Marvin got his bag and the SUV pulled away, without waiting to see if in fact the door was unlocked. Marvin couldn't see much of the trailer in the dark, but it looked kind of, well, old. And not a little run down.

"Fowl Lodge?" he said aloud.

The door was indeed unlocked, or more like hanging on its hinges, wide open. Marvin made out a hand-lettered sign taped to the door. "Fowl Lodge," he read. "Sure enough."

He stepped inside and felt around for a light switch. Dim incandescent lights came on, and for a moment Marvin wished he had stayed in the dark. Marvin supposed he ought to be grateful that the electricity was turned on.

The trailer looked like it hadn't been cleaned or tidied up in quite some while. There was caked mud on the floor, the bedding was in disarray, and he thought he heard mice scurry off into darker corners. He tried to close the front door but it fell off its hinges and banged on the ground. There was an interior screen door that he was able to close, not knowing if it would keep critters out or just keep the ones in that were already there.

He checked the fridge in the little kitchenette. When he opened the door a strong odor came out. There was some moldy cheddar cheese and gray looking sausages. He closed the fridge quickly. "No beer," he sighed.

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A check of the cupboards yielded a couple of cans of chicken noodle soup, and Marvin managed to find a pot and can opener. He heated one up on the hot plate. "Dinner of champions!" he exclaimed. There was nothing to drink but water, and Marvin found that if he let the cold water run long enough, the rust would clear out.

He tried the hot water tap, and as he anticipated, it ran cold.

"No shower," he mumbled. "And as for sleeping ..." There was just the one bed so little choice, but he certainly wasn't going to change into his PJs.

His sleep was interrupted several times by the sound of little scurrying feet, and once he thought he felt something crawl across his face.

He managed to eat a second can of soup for breakfast. He thought about washing the pot but decided to just leave it with the rest of the dirty dishes in the sink.

The sun was up and the skies were blue and completely clear. It was a beautiful Friday morning on the prairie, but somehow Marvin fell short of appreciating it. At precisely nine-thirty, the SUV, now occupied only by Steve, pulled up.

Marvin ambled over to the passenger side and got in.

"Mornin', Marv!" Steve said with something of a sly look. "Sleep well? Did the Fowl Lodge meet your expectations?"

"Uh, well ..."

"Glad to hear it!" Steve paused, staring at the trailer. "Hey, what did you do to the door? The owners aren't going to be very happy."

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Marvin didn't try to explain.

Again, the drive was silent, but it was only five or ten minutes. "The exhibition is at the Co-op," Steve said. "They got a big room on the second floor where our team practices and plays home matches."

"How did you do this year?" Marvin asked.

"Pretty good, pretty good," Steve said. "We finished second in our league. That team from New Leopard is pretty tough and we lost to them in the playoffs."

"Do they have a Fowl Lodge, too?"

"A what?"

"Never mind," Marvin said.

The Co-op turned out to be a sprawling, two story building, with gas pumps, truck and auto repair bays, farm supplies, and a lot else. There was quite a bit of traffic in and out, mostly pick-up trucks which arrived empty and went out laden with grain, fencing, building materials, and other necessities of rural life.

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Marvin went up the old wooden stairs inside the building, following Steve. He entered the upper hall to see everything already set up: tables, boards and pieces in a large square. "We set up 32 boards," Steve said, "and we sold out on the first day of signups. A lot of our folks want a chance to play Marvin J. Mavin!"

But Marvin had noticed a table with coffee and donuts, and his first priority was to fill a cup and a plate.

Players were filing in, some dressed in overalls, a few with cowboy hats, a few others in corduroy shirts. It was just before ten o'clock. Marvin hastily finished his coffee as he was waved to the front of the room to be introduced by Steve.

"This here's Marvin J. Mavin!" he said. "But I reckon you all know that. Marvin stayed at the Fowl Lodge last night."

There were some laughs from the assembled players, but Steve went on, "Now he's ready to play and maybe even share a couple stories from the big leagues."

"Hi everyone," Marvin said. "Quite some place, that Fowl Lodge. Never stayed anywhere quite like it."

There were more laughs.

"Good luck to all!" he said, with a wave, and then went over to the first board to start the exhibition.

The players were actually pretty good, a few of them very good, and although Marvin wrapped up most of the games in relatively short order, a couple of them went on for a while.

In fact, it was nearly two o'clock before Marvin won his 31st game, leaving him one short of a perfect sweep. Fortunately, sandwiches had been brought in at lunchtime, and the players and Marvin ate as they played.

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The last game, played by Al Stonkus, was tough, and Marvin was wondering if he could pull out a win. In fact, Al might himself have some winning chances. It was Al's move.

"You guys aren't supposed to be this good," Marvin muttered.

Al looked offended. "What's that supposed to mean?" he said.

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Al Stonkus

"I mean, I should beat all of you."

Marvin had been getting more and more annoyed with how long it was taking to win his games. These were just country boys! What was the problem?

"Oh, I see. You figure us farm boys aren't up to big city standards, that it?"

Steve, who was standing by watching the game, said, "Easy, Al." But Al was not to be stopped.

"You're too good for us, we know that," Al said. "Sorry we don't meet your big league standards. Well, here, see what you do with this." Al made his move, banging the piece forcefully on the board.

Marvin did a double-take. This was really a problem. What was he to do?

WHITE
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BLACK
Black to Play and Draw

B:W32,21,K18,17:B28,K26,20,1.

Marvin thought for quite a while and clearly Al was growing impatient. But at long last Marvin saw the way. It would get him a draw, no more than that, but he'd be saved the ignominy of losing to this ...

... to this good player. Marvin had to admit it, and his whole demeanor changed as he made his move.


Black is in a tough spot. The man on 28 is in the dog hole. The man on 20 can't get beyond 24. The king on 26 is cut off from the man on 1. What is Black to do?

Marvin J. Mavin came up with a possible drawing move. Can you? Are you up to the challenge presented by Al Stonkus of Grackle, North Dakota? As Marvin realized, perhaps a bit too late, talent can be and is found even in unassuming small towns.

Can you "duck" the loss or will you "fowl" out? When you're finished, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.null

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06/09/18 - Printer friendly version
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Strokes in June

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In order to avoid reuse of the "golf stroke" pun, we've gone with a tennis stroke instead. The point is that winter in North America seemed especially tough this year (or at least so we hear[1]), and we'd bet that many of you are happy to be able to get out and make a few strokes on the tennis court or golf course.

But, as a checker fan, surely you'll come back in at the end of the day, and, perhaps after dinner, want to take on a checker stroke, one of those mind-bending fantasy problems that may not be practical but certainly provide great visualization practice. With that in mind, here's one that we would not call easy.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W24,22,20,19,18,17,14,13,9:BK28,27,26,K25,K21,8,7,1.

Take a swing at this rather entertaining position, then swing your mouse over to Read More to see the solution.null

[1] This year we did not have snow in Honolulu(!) although the temperature did get as cold as 62F/17C.

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06/02/18 - Printer friendly version
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The Engineer

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Although your editor's degrees are in engineering, he's definitely not the kind of engineer shown above. Those engineers certainly earn a very nice living, and we suspect that quite a number of them play checkers while on the road.

Today's little problem was published decades ago by someone who simply called himself "The Engineer." We have no further information on who he might have been. Did he design bridges? Refine oil? Drive a train? Perhaps someone out there on the internet might know, but for now it remains an intriguing mystery.

His checker problem, though, won't stay a mystery for long.

WHITE
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BLACK
Black to Play, What Result?

B:WK31,28,27,19:B20,18,12,K10.

Despite the sometimes unfair (and annoying!) "what result" terms, the problem is fairly easy if you take an engineering approach and do a little organized analysis. No slide rules required, just some orderly checker thinking. Do your calculations and then click on Read More to see the solution.null

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05/26/18 - Printer friendly version
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Privacy Act Notice

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New privacy regulations soon go into effect in the EU and, given that we have a worldwide readership, we're publishing this privacy notice.

Your privacy is important to us. Information that we don't have can't be disclosed or stolen. To this end, and to respect your rights, The Checker Maven collects no personal information about you.

Please note that our host provider, GoDaddy, does log data about IP addresses and pages accessed, and we have no control over their actions. (Your own internet service provider almost certainly does the same thing.) However, The Checker Maven itself makes no use of this data except in the form of aggregated statistics. The Checker Maven does not and will not disclose any such data to anyone else, except in the case of valid legal obligation, or to prevent harm to person or property.

The Checker Maven makes no use of tracking devices (such as tracking cookies).

But do browse safely. Unfortunately not everyone respects your right to privacy the way we do.null

05/23/18 - Printer friendly version
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Three Move Opening, Part 6

Three Move Opening: A Checker Romance

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Part Six: Third Move

Reggie stumbled wearily out of the Security Office. He had been there for several hours and it was nearly time for draughts practice. The big match with Lyme Regis was to take place on the next day.

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But all he could think about was Laird and Lady Refused. That was even worse, if such a thing could be imagined, than the humilation he suffered in front of his class--- in front of Katie--- at the hands of first Dr. Rowan and then the security officers.

Then he thought about the embarrassment Katie had been subject to, and he wanted to die. Literally. His life was over, there was nothing left. He had started with what he thought was a great idea and turned it into the most horrible experience of his life. Perhaps of Katie's life as well.

But his feet had taken him, seemingly unbidden, to the practice room.

Fine. He would go through practice, play the match at Lyme Regis tomorrow, and die afterwards. He supposed dying could be put off for a couple of days. After all, it was a really important match.

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Coach Talovich noticed that Reggie was playing today's practice games in a rather aggressive manner, not in terms of draughts play, but physically. Never before had he seen Reggie slam the pieces down on the board when making a move. The coach watched over Reggie's shoulder for a few moments and decided against saying anything. Other team members were beginning to notice, too.

When practice was over, Jack, who had also observed Reggie's highly atypical behavior, caught Reggie at the door and put a hand on his shoulder.

"Do we need to talk, old chum?" Jack said.

Reggie shook his head and pulled away.

"Didn't your little stunt go well?" Jack asked, having no idea as to what had actually happened.

Reggie ran off into the parking lot without answering. Jack watched him for a moment, then shrugged his shoulders and gave up.

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Katie

Katie had gone right back to the flat she shared with Barbara. There was no way she could have faced an afternoon of classes.

Barbara, who had no classes on Monday afternoon, was home when Katie arrived.

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Barbara

"My goodness, what are you doing home?" Barbara asked when Katie entered. "Was there an earthquake that swallowed up the school? Seems like that's what it would take to get you to miss classes."

Barbara was sitting on the living room settee, eating a buttered roll, a huge anatomy text in her lap. She was in the nursing program and was busy nearly all the time.

Katie turned toward Barbara, let her backpack fall to the floor, and at long last lost control. "I hate that boy!" she said, tears falling in streams. "I hate him, hate him, hate him!"

"Whoa, whoa, easy now," Barbara said. She pushed aside her textbook and stood, walking over to Katie and embracing her in a warm hug. "Something's seriously wrong, isn't it?"

It took a little while for Katie to stop crying. Barbara led her over to the settee and got her seated, then sitting down alongside her.

"So who do you hate so badly? Is it that boy Reggie?"

Katie nodded her head and looked as if she were about to resume crying.

"What happened now?" Barbara asked.

It took a little while, but Katie told Barbara the story.

"Unbelievable," Barbara said at first. But she was smiling.

"It isn't funny!" Katie said angrily.

"No, it isn't funny, and I'm not laughing."

"Then why are you grinning like that?" Katie said, clearly upset. Wasn't Barbara supposed to be her best friend?

"It's called a smile," Barbara said. "Look, I know you're very angry and you have every right to be. But not with Reggie."

"After what he did? After what he put me through, I'm not supposed to be angry with him? Are you crazy? I hate him! I don't ever want to be in the same room with him again!"

"Slow down now. Think a little. Who should you really be angry with?"

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Katie gave Barbara a withering look.

"Not with me! Don't be silly! But look at what happened, what really happened. Reggie went way, way out of his comfort zone to try to make an impression on you, in a way that was clearly meant to please you."

"Being humilated in front of everyone doesn't exactly please me!" Katie snapped.

"No, of course not. But did Reggie humilate you?"

"What do you mean ... oh." Katie's expression changed and her voice dropped. "You mean ..."

"Yes. Reggie went to a lot of trouble to stage an elaborate scene. Dressing up in a Knight's costume so he could appeal to you with words from Chaucer. Picking out the appropriate draughts moves to correspond to his theme. He probably even thought Dr. Rowat would be pleased and amused."

Katie was silent for a few moments. "It's him," she said. "And I thought he was so interesting, so intellectual."

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Dr. Peter Forbes Rowan

She furrowed her brows. "It's Dr. Rowan that I should be angry with, isn't it? He's always picked on Reggie. He's never liked him. And given the chance, he did everything he could to embarrass him in front of everyone."

"And you were collateral damage," Barbara said. "He may not have intended that, but the fact is that all of this grief would have been avoided if Dr. Rowan had shown some sense--- some decency."

All of a sudden Katie started to laugh.

"What?" Barbara said. "Now you think it's funny?"

"No, no, not at all. But poor Reggie, getting hauled off by Security officers! What a sight!"

"I'm sure he wasn't amused."

"No, I suppose not." Katie stopped and thought once again. "But ... still, I think he ought to apologize."

"Oh, yes, he should. No doubt about it. And maybe you should reach out to him, too."

"What do you mean?"

"He's been hurt at least as much as you have. And he's certainly thinking that he's lost you forever."

"Well, hasn't he?"

"Only you can answer that question, Katie."

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The next day, the draughts club took one of the school's buses over to Lyme Regis. Reggie was in quite a state of mind. He had resorted to an over-the-counter sleeping remedy the previous evening, and he was still a bit groggy. He had been drinking coffee all day long, which meant constant trips to the restroom. Fortunately there was no English class on a Tuesday, and he did manage to get to the rest of his classes.

For someone who felt like he wanted to die, he thought he had done pretty well. He was quite proud of himself. In fact, he was even starting to rethink the idea that he would rather be dead. It did seem pretty drastic.

But try as hard as he could, there was no way to get Katie's stinging refusal out of his mind. Two refusals, actually, but he had blown his second chance with that ridiculous stunt. He should have known better, but it had just seemed like such a good idea at the time.

Never mind. Concentrate on the match. Put off the idea of wanting to be dead at least until he won his match. He was going to win and nothing was going to stop him.

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It wasn't long until the bus arrived and not much longer until it was time to start the match. Reggie reached out and shook hands with his opponent, Sydney Miles, the captain of the Lyme Regis club. "Ow," said Sydney, pulling his hand back, "you don't have to break my fingers."

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Sidney Miles

Reggie grinned, enjoying the look of fear on Sydney's face. Reggie was focusing all of his anger and all of his pain on the upcoming match. Someone was going to pay, and it would be his opponent.

The match began, with Reggie playing White. It must have been fate. The opening moves formed "Laird and Lady." That only served to increase Reggie's focus.


1. 11-15 23-19
2. 8-11 22-17
3. 9-13 17-14
4. 10x17 21x14
5. 15-18 19-15
6. 4-8 24-19
7. 11-16
BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W32,31,30,29,28,27,26,25,19,15,14:B18,16,13,12,8,7,6,5,3,2,1.

Reggie smiled inwardly. Sydney had blundered; he should have played 6-10 or 7-10, but now Reggie had a win. He made his move, and a few more moves later, the game was over. Reggie offered to shake hands again. "I don't think so," Sydney said. "My fingers still ache from the first time."

Reggie gave a little bow and walked over to the team seats to await the completion of the other games in the match. He accepted congratulations from the coach, but then needed to make another trip to the restroom. "Excuse me a moment," he whispered to the coach.

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On the way back from the restroom, Reggie, for some reason, decided to check his cellphone. It wasn't something he was in the habit of doing. He had turned it off last night when he got home, not wanting to be disturbed. Of course, it wasn't like he got a lot of phone calls or text messages.

He waited a few moments while the phone powered up.

For the second time that evening, fate struck.

A half dozen messages flashed onto his screen.

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Katie had called him not less than three times, and then left three text messages.

"Trying to reach you."

"Still trying."

"Reggie, I want us to talk. Please call me back."

Reggie, stunned, quickly gave up the idea of being better off dead.

To be continued ...


Can you find the White win in the diagram above? It's a well-known position, but nonetheless elegant and pleasing despite its being published many times throughout checker history. See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution.null

[Read More]
05/19/18 - Printer friendly version
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We're Dunne

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In our long-running Checker School series, we've featured Ben Boland's Famous Positions in the Game of Checkers. We're almost to the end of that book and this will be the last study from that source. Later, we'll move on to other positions and books of a suitably didactic nature.

It's fitting, then, to be "Dunne" with a position attributed to old-time checker great Frank Dunne.

F. DUNNE
BLACK
null
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W32,31,30,28,27,26,24,23,22,21,17:B20,16,14,12,10,8,7,6,3,2,1.

This isn't especially easy, and in Mr. Boland's notes, he points that out but is most unusually judgmental of a player who didn't find the win. In defense of the fellow that lost, this is an 11x11 position and it's easy to stray from the path.

Fortunately, The Checker Maven will never judge; we only encourage, and in this case, we urge you to find the solution. Don't stop until you're Dunne, and then click on Read More for the usual sample games and analysis.null

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05/12/18 - Printer friendly version
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A Bit of a Break

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Sometimes, it all gets to be a little too much, and we need a break. We're not sure what the poor fellow in the picture above is working on; could he perhaps be doing a manual transcription of the 10-piece endgame database?

Today we have a speed problem, provided by regular contributors Lloyd and Josh Gordon, that will give you a break in checker terms: it's definitely on the easy side. While some may disagree, we believe that easy problems have a clear purpose: to improve both sight-solving skills and speed of analysis.

WHITE
null
BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:W32,30,19,K15,K6:BK26,24,23,21,12,7.

See how quickly you can solve this one, and then break over to Read More to verify your solution.null

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05/05/18 - Printer friendly version
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A 'Maid of the Mill' Surprise

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Above, a group of Morris Dancers are performing Maid of the Mill at a festival in Newcastle. Maid of the Mill spans many genres: dance, art, literature ... and draughts.

In our ongoing serialized story, Three Move Opening: A Checker Romance, our protagonist made an unfortunately timed reference to the Maid of the Mill opening. Today, we'd like to offer something quite substantial in the play of that opening.

The following is based on the 15th game of the 2014 World Championship Go As You Please match between Sergio Scarpetta (Black) and Ron King (White). The game, as played, ended in a draw, but there was an interesting winning possibility for Black.


1. 11-15 22-17
2. 8-11 17-13
3. 15-18

Forms Maid of the Mill.


3. ... 23x14
4. 9x18 21-17
5. 10-15 25-21

24-20 is definitely better, but it isn't clear that this move loses.


6. 4-8 26-23
7. 18-22 24-19
8. 15x24 28x19
9. 11-16

Back into the KingsRow opening book with a pull for Black, but not clearly a win.


9. ... 27-24
10. 8-11 24-20
11. 7-10 32-28
12. 3-7 28-24
13. 11-15 20x11
14. 7x16 24-20

23-18 also draws.


15. 15x24 20x11
16. 12-16 11-8

Loses; 23-18 should draw.

WHITE
null
BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:W31,30,29,23,21,17,13,8:B24,22,16,10,6,5,2,1.

Mr. Scarpetta didn't find the win. Can you? We realize that's a lot to ask, and in fact it's a very difficult problem, but the solution is as surprising as it's good, and we think that any effort you put into this problem will be amply repaid. So do try it, and then click on Read More to see the answer.null

[Read More]
04/28/18 - Printer friendly version
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