Admiral Grey

Admiral Grey

In today's column we introduce Admiral Grey, a fictional character who sailed for England in the later half of the 19th century. You can read more of the Admiral's adventures in our ongoing story at He's a character we created many years ago, but we didn't know until now about his interest in checkers, or draughts as he would call it.

Not everyone knew everything about Admiral Grey, he who sails the seven seas, he who has fought and likely will fight many a battle for Crown and Country, he who, despite being the nephew of famed Admiral Earl Grey, has made his career on his own, rising from orphaned youth to command rank in the Royal Navy by dint of grit, determination, and hard work.


Everyone knew those things, of course. Those who entered his cabin, the ones closest in rank aboard ship, would know something more. In his cabin one could not help but see the lifelike drawing of his fiancee, Julianna, though that would not tell the tale of their difficult romance, overshadowed by the enmity of Julianna's father. One would see the trappings and tools of office, of course; the British flag, the logbook and sextant, the map table and looking glass.


There were the books, many in number and diverse, from the Greek and Latin classics to the tomes on medicine and science, and of course astronomy and navigation; there were even novels and books of verse for the Admiral was fond of Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, Tennyson, and many more.

But there is one thing that they might not see.

It wasn't the small collection of teapots and the larger collection of teas, for the Admiral loved his tea and had teas to suit most moods and situations. Nor was it his curio cabinet, filled with souvenirs and mementos from all corners of the world.

No, it was something else.

While sea voyages may possess a certain mystique, there was plenty of hard and mundane work for everyone, including the Admiral. In-between the relatively brief moments of peril and excitement, such as during a great storm or in the throes of battle, much of sailing consisted of long days and endless nights in an unbroken expanse of sea. At times, if it was never altogether boring, it was certainly routine, and when darkness had fallen and dinner was over, the Admiral would retire to his inner cabin alone.


There, after completing his log-book entries for the day, he would read his books. He would brew a cup of herbal tea, something of chamomile and mint and valerian, blended from a secret formula at Mr. Maxey's shop back in England, and he would enjoy its relaxing effects. But there was one more thing, perhaps one which he enjoyed more than all the others.

From his bookcase he would take out a slim volume of draughts problems, for draughts had somehow always fascinated him, and solving problems--- in his head, for he did not wish to set up a board--- was, to him, great entertainment, a fine compliment to his tea, and a measured bit of leisure activity before his customary five or six hours of sleep.


This night was no different. The Admiral was sailing on a special mission between England and Hawai`i, and after a perilous rounding of Cape Horn, weeks of quiet sailing ensued. There were plenty of nights when the draughts book journeyed the few steps between the Admiral's bookcase and the Admiral's easy chair.

With a cup of his "Good Evening" tea by his side, the Admiral was studying the following position.

White to Play and Win


The Admiral was finding it difficult, and the tea and the rolling motion of the ship were lulling him, making concentration difficult. He'd have a few more sips of tea and then sleep; perhaps the solution would come to him overnight, as it so often did for so many difficult problems, and not just of the draughts variety.

Suddenly, he sat up and, now fully awake, exclaimed, "How devilishly clever!" He smiled and drained the last of his tea from his cup. "Marvelous!" he said. "Indeed, a great way to end the day."

With (or without) the tea of your choice, can you equal Admiral Grey and solve the problem? Perhaps late at night when you're sleepy may not be the best time, but only you know when you work best. Give it a try and then sail your mouse over to Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif


Today's problem is credited to Lawrence Armstrong of McKeesport, Pennsylvania. It was published on December 26, 1885 in the Draughts Players' Weekly Magazine. That's a bit after Admiral Grey's voyage to Hawai`i, but we hope you'll grant us a little artistic license.

The problem is quite interesting. White's first move should be 15-10, not 6-9. Black can respond in two different ways.

White to Play and Win


If Black makes an in-between move:

15-10 13-17 6-9 30-26 9x18 26x19 21x14 White Wins.

If Black goes after the White man right away:

15-10 30-26 6-9 26x19 9x18 20-24 18-23 19x26 28x12 White Wins.

But look what happens if White is impatient:

6-9 13-17 9x18 30-26 21x14 26x17 Black Wins!

Perhaps our good Admiral was focusing on 6-9 at first. We'll never know as he didn't mention it in his logbook!

Addendum: Lloyd Gordon sent along some supplementary play. Using KingsRow, he found that an early pitch by Black makes the White win much more difficult, if no less inevitable.

1. ... 15-10
2. 14-17 21-14
3. 30-26 23-18
4. 26-22 14-9
5. 22-15 6-1
6. 15-6 1-10
7. 16-19 9-6
8. 19-23 6-2
9. 23-27 2-7
10. 27-32 7-11
11. 32-27 11-16
12. 27-23 10-14
13. 23-26 16-19
14. 20-24 14-18
15. 24-27 18-23

We think the 14-17 pitch is "computerish" and not likely to be played by humans, but it certainly makes for interesting play. Thanks, Lloyd!

10/15/22 - Category: Fiction -Printer friendly version-
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