Contests in Progress:
Today we have yet another fascinating checker book to offer to our readers, thanks to a gentleman from Michigan who only wishes to be credited as "A Checker Friend."
The book is the A. C. Hews classic, The Composition of Stroke Problems, extracted from Hews' 1917 classic Stroke Problems. This new edition is fully illustrated with 81 diagrams added by our Checker Friend. There's also a file with PDN notation for each position. It's a treasure trove for fans of the genre.
We know that stroke problems are not for everyone. But this little book gives us great insights into how stroke problem composers go about their business, and if you're a budding stroke problem composer, we're sure you'll find this book a useful stepping stone in your pursuit of this unusual and often spectacular art.
Just for fun, here's one of the positions from the book.
Mr Hews' idea of "easy" may not agree with yours--- or ours! But see if you can solve it without touching the pieces; it's great visualization practice. Then download the book here and look up the solution.
On a Saturday in March, 1955, Sal Westerman was getting ready to go to the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building, for the weekly meeting of his beloved Coffee and Cake Checkers Club. It was about 12:45 PM and the gathering started at 1 o'clock.
A glance out the window told him that it was an especially windy day. His wife, Sylvia, sitting on a chesterfield in the living room, remarked, "They said on the radio that the wind is gusting up to 50 miles an hour and might even pick up some more."
Now, Sylvia wasn't sitting alone on the chesterfield. Next to her was her sister, Phoebe, who lived about 90 miles away in Dickinson, North Dakota, and was visiting for the weekend.
Phoebe was, well ... okay, she was Sylvia's sister, after all. But let's just say the Sal preferred it when Sylvia went to Dickinson to visit Phoebe rather than when Phoebe came to Bismarck to visit Sylvia.
"I wouldn't let him go," said Phoebe to Sylvia, ignoring the fact the Sal was in the room. "You know your husband. He's clumsy and old and likely to get blown over and get hurt, and then you'd be stuck taking care of him, and what kind of fun would that be?"
Sal, who had just put on his winter coat and was donning a scarf, looked over at Phoebe but didn't say anything. Phoebe glared back and went on, "I just don't see why you let him spend so much time on that foolish game of his. Don't you have things for him to do around the house? If nothing else, he could clean the basement. The walls need washing down there, and I'm sure there are plenty of other productive things for him to do. Checkers, indeed!" She sniffed as she said this and shook her head for good measure.
Sal had finished dressing for the weather and, deciding discretion was the best option, simply said, "I'm leaving now, I'll see you all just after five this afternoon."
"Just a minute, you!" Phoebe said in a loud, shrill tone. "Didn't you hear a word ... "
Sal didn't hear the rest as the door closed behind him and he started down the street. Or tried to. The wind really was howling and walking wasn't easy.
Luckily it was only a few blocks to the Provident Life Building. But still it took Sal a while and he was five minutes late on arrival.
Five of the "boys" (all of them over 50) were in the big booth at the back. "Look what the wind blew in," exclaimed Delmer. "Literally!" added Dan. Wayne, Louie the Flash, and Tom all laughed as Sal made his way to their location. He plopped down next to Dan and took a deep breath before saying, "I'm going to get even with you boys for that! I've got a new problem from Brian and it's really something!"
The boys groaned in unison. Brian, in St. Louis, was one of Sal's checker pen-pals and he was a top composer with his problems regularly published in All Checkers Digest. His compositions were always clever and never easy.
Deana, the proprietress of the Beacon, a top-notch baker and a great marketeer, called over, "I've got pecan brownies today!"
Now, the tradition was that if the boys couldn't solve Sal's problem, they would buy the treats, but if they could win it, Sal would buy. That meant Sal would buy for all of them, while they only had to buy for him and themselves, but it kind of evened out because Sal got to choose the problem, and he seldom chose a simple one.
Sal laid out the checkers as shown below.
"Go ahead, boys!" he said. "Thirty minutes should be enough!"
"Aw, Sal, give us an hour," said Louie. "Please?"
"Okay, sixty minutes and not a second more!"
Deana arrived to refill everyone's coffee mug but the boys had already started in on the problem
We don't know if it's windy at your place, nor do we know if you have a windy sister-in-law, but give our problem a try and see if you would have won a pecan brownie. You'll have to serve up your own coffee, though. When you're ready click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of our story.[Read More]
The latest entry in Bill Salot's long-running series of top-notch problem composing competitions is titled Virile Variations and features devious problems with "fake" solutions that conceal the real solution. The idea is that the solver will be misled into thinking the fake solution, which is both appealing and almost but not quite correct, is the real one.
A generous selection of six settings make up the contest entries, which you can quickly access by going to contests.checkermaven.com.
As an introduction, here's a sample problem from 1892, attributed to joint authors G. H. Slocum and C. Hefter.
Give this one a try, click on Read More to see the solution (and the fake solution), and then go on over the contest page for six more challenging problems ... and be sure to vote for your favorite![Read More]
In our previous two stories, we told about Priscilla's ultimatum to Marvin, who did indeed go with Priscilla to Sparkly Exclusives to buy her an engagement ring that ran to just under $200,000 after adding in sales tax. Marvin had tried to negotiate but Priscilla told him that was gauche and made him pay full asking price, to the great delight of the tuxedo-clad salesman.
While the wedding date wouldn't be set for some little while, as Priscilla wanted to plan a very lavish affair with hundreds and hundreds of guests, Priscilla's C-suite colleagues, delighted that she had finally become engaged, wanted to throw an engagement party in her honor. They booked it for a Friday evening at Excelsior Estates, a swank country club in the Detroit suburbs where the very wealthy met to play golf on a choice of three pro-caliber 18-hole golf courses, squash in the squash racquets complex, tennis on the four outdoor and six indoor courts, or checkers in the koa-paneled Draughts Room.
It was the kind of affair Marvin would gladly have skipped, but Priscilla said they were going and that was the end of the discussion. Or rather, there wasn't even a discussion in the first place. Furthermore, Marvin would attend in black tie formal wear.
It was only while they were in Priscilla's limo, on the way to the venue, that Priscilla dropped the real bomb.
Marvin was fidgeting with his bow tie, trying to create a little space in the tight collar of his white ruffled shirt, when Priscilla said, "You know, dear, that Excelsior has a draughts room."
Marvin's face brightened a little. "Drafts room? You mean, like, they have German beer on tap and stuff?"
Priscilla gently but firmly slapped Marvin's hand away from his collar. "Draughts as in checkers, Marvin. You know, the game you play so well?"
Marvin started to say something but Priscilla continued, "Some of my colleagues at Rust Belt play in the Executive Egotist League, you know, and they are quite good."
"Oh yeah, really? I don't know about that. Good, huh?"
"Yes, and you'll have your chance to find out just how good they really are."
Marvin suddenly looked wary. "Whaddya mean?"
"You'll be giving a simultaneous exhibition tonight as part of the festivities. You'll play 16 top executives from Rust Belt."
"Oh no I'm not ... I ain't gonna be some kinda show monkey ... "
"Yes you are, and not only that, there is one of them whom you have to let win." Priscilla reached into her purse and pulled out a small slip of paper. "Here, memorize this name. It's the executive you must let win. You can go ahead and win the other fifteen games, but the man on the list is very important and we have to stroke his ego a little."
Now, Marvin was an unusual character, but if he took anything seriously, it was winning. After a quick glance at the paper he said, "Frobtads von Glulx, President, Rust Belt Holdings. Uh, Prissy honey, I ain't gonna do that. If you wanna make me play, I'll do that for you even if I don't like it much. But lose on purpose? Not gonna happen."
"Marvin, I know you and I know how you feel about your checkers. But this will really help me a lot, okay? And it's all just for fun. Frobtads will figure out you let him win, but he'll still have something to boast about. Got it?"
When Marvin didn't reply, Priscilla simply said, "Good."
Marvin and Priscilla were greeted at the ornate clubhouse entrance with much fanfare, and inside a string quartet was playing. The hors d'oeuvres were of the best quality and very plentiful. French champagne was on offer but when Marvin asked one of the servers for a can of beer, he was treated to a snooty look and told, "Monsieur, in this club we drink French champagnes and grand cru wines and only the best single malt Scotches. But if you'd like some Vichy sparkling water ... "
There were the inevitable toasts and wishes for the couple's future happiness. Marvin, who had no patience for slowly sipping expensive imported French beverages, drank uncharacteristically little, although he did find the Shrimp Dijon and Lobster Alsace hors d'oeuvres to his taste.
Then it was time for the simul. Everyone adjourned to the Draughts room, where still more champagne was served. Marvin was introduced to the players, who ranged from Alexander Antagony, Senior Vice President of Hostile Acquisitions, to Zumba Zelarkey, Vice President of Recreational Restructuring, and of course President Frobtads Glulx.
The games began. Marvin found that the players weren't all that bad for amateurs. While he easily and quickly won twelve games, three more took a little longer and wouldn't you know it, the last game was with none other than Frobtads Glulx, and it was quite tight.
The following unusual position arose, with Marvin to play.
It was interesting indeed. Marvin saw pretty quickly that there was a move that would definitely give him a win. However, he saw others that would put Frobtads in a winning position, and given that the Rust Belt President was quite a decent player, he would probably find the right play.
It was a dilemma. Should Marvin do as Prisilla asked, and let Frobtads have a win? Or should he do as he always did, which was always to seize victory when it was within his grasp? That was how he became a top professional player: By never compromising and never settling for less than the best he could do.
"Frobby, old boy," Marvin said, "you've played really well."
Frobtads smiled, even though no one ever but ever dared to call him "Frobby." He said, "Yes, I do think I have, and I'm about to hand you your only loss in this simul."
Marvin straightened up in his chair. "Now wait a minute there Frobster ... "
"President Frobtads," came the reply, "and there's no need for you to be a poor sport just because you're going to lose a game."
Marvin had had enough. "Lose? To you? Yeah, you're good but you ain't good enough to beat ole Marvin J. Mavin."
And Marvin made his move.
Can you find the winning play? Do you dare find the winning play? Luckily, no one's telling you to throw the game, so go ahead and work out the winning moves, after which you can click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of our story.[Read More]
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.
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.[Read More]
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.
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.[Read More]
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.[Read More]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.[Read More]
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.
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.[Read More]
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.
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.
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.
"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.
"Bars on me today," Deana said. "They're a day old."
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.