Labor Day is another of those holidays that we, as Americans, enjoy celebrating. It's a great opportunity to honor the contributions of the vast numbers of hard-working members of our society who form the backbone of our nation. From CEO to technology professional to trucker to gardener, and all the many and varied other occupations, each and every one of you is important and deserves respect and recognition.
But in these Covid-19 days, many have fallen on difficult times as jobs have disappeared, businesses have closed, and there is more than enough hardship and grief to go around. We can only wish for a recovery that is as speedy as possible given the seriousness of the situation. We look forward to a future Labor Day when we all have reason to celebrate in happiness and prosperity.
We once again turn to Tom Wiswell, an American who lived through difficult days, too: the dark days of World War II. Mr. Wiswell used checkers as a means of helping to keep up our spirits, and we can use a little of the same today. He called the following problem "Imagination" saying that he could not imagine a good player without imagination.
Mr. Wiswell says that "ordinary methods" won't do here, so indeed use your imagination to labor away, and when you're ready, click your mouse on the (non-imaginary) Read More button to see the solution.[Read More]
You may never have heard of him, but Theodore "Ted" Bullockus was one of those well-rounded fellows who was good at both checkers and chess. Mr. Bullockus was born on May 29, 1917; we don't have any further information about his life and career, although he apparently was born in the Bronx, where his Lithuanian parents lived. Mr. Bullockus passed away on October 11, 2008, in Sun City, California (now part of the Menofee retirement community).
We could only find one grainy photo of this gentleman, taken during a chess tournament some years back. But he must have been quite capable. We located this checker study of his, based on a Wood Mail Tourney game (players unknown). Here's the run-up.
26-22 would have drawn, but now Black has a win. Can you find it?
Match wits with Mr. Bullockus and see how you do. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
It was Saturday morning and as usual, Tommy Wagner was sitting on Uncle Ben's porch for his weekly checker lesson. Uncle Ben wasn't really Tommy's uncle, but everyone called him that. Tommy had much potential as a checker player, and the kindly old retired checker professional had been tutoring him for several years.
But Tommy surely didn't look happy this morning.
A month had passed since Tina had caught Tommy at the movies with Letitia. Although Tommy had apologized, Tina was continuing to give him the cold shoulder, barely even responding to his greetings when they passed in the hallways of their central Florida high school.
Tommy, knowing his chances of getting a date with Tina were about zero, had called Letitia a couple of times, not realizing that if Tina ever found out, he might as well forget about Tina for the rest of his life. But Letitia, although receptive to Tommy's calls and polite enough, had refused multiple requests to go out with him, and finally Tommy stopped calling.
Tommy was feeling pretty down about the whole situation and his checker playing suffered. He had risen to Team Captain of the Junior Varsity team, no small feat for a 9th grader, but lately his performance had been well below his usual standard.
Uncle Ben noticed Tommy's diminished focus, and said, "Still having girl trouble, are you Tommy?"
"Yes, Uncle Ben, I sure am. I did what you said and apologized but it didn't really make a lot of difference, I guess."
"Didn't it? Do you mean that your apology was wasted?"
"Well, kind of ... I mean ..."
"You thought they would just forgive you and everything would be as it was."
"Yes sir, I suppose I did."
"Well, Tommy, there are two reasons to apologize. One reason is for them, and the other is for you."
Tommy continued to look confused. "I'm not sure I understand, Uncle Ben."
"You apologize to them because you did something to offend or hurt them, and they deserve to hear that you recognize that you did something you shouldn't have, and regret having done it. But you apologize for yourself so that you can do better in the future, and that can only happen when you accept the fact that you had gone wrong."
"Sure, Uncle Ben, but ..."
"... but you have to recognize that actions have consequences. If Letitia and Tina remain angry with you, or perhaps have lost faith and trust in you, then you'll have to accept that."
"I know, you're right, but it's so ... miserable!"
Tommy turned his head away. He didn't want Uncle Ben to see the tear in the corner of his eye.
"It can be miserable. But on the other hand you can't let it take over your life. You did the right thing by apologizing, and if there's nothing more you can do, you have to move on and try not to let it affect things that are important to you. One day, perhaps, your apologies may be fully accepted, but until then, you must deal with things as they are."
"You mean ... oh ... I haven't been playing very well lately, have I?"
"Honestly ... no, and no doubt your coach has noticed."
"Yes. He's talked to me. He told me I need to pull out of it and get my head together, although he doesn't know anything about Letitia and Tina."
"Well then ... nothing like some good hard practice. Are you ready for a challenge? Accompanied by some fresh lemonade?"
Tommy managed a smile. "Yes sir, I'm ready."
"Okay, young man. You just take a look at the position on the checkerboard while I pour us some refreshment."
Tommy did as he was instructed. Very shortly thereafter, Uncle Ben handed him a tall frosty glass. Tommy took a sip and then refocused on the checkerboard.
"This is a hard one, Uncle Ben. I think ... aha! That's the idea!"
"Show me, Tommy." Uncle Ben smiled inwardly. He knew there was nothing like a good mental workout to chase away worries. And he knew that, given time, Tommy would have internalized a difficult life lesson, and have become a better person by it.
We can't say if you've been on-track or off-track lately, but we can say that a mental workout is good for all of us no matter what the situation. Can you solve this one? Focus! With or without lemonade, give it your best effort and then click on Read More to see the solution, notes, a sample game, and numerous additional examples of the theme.[Read More]
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]