### The Steel Stroke

One thing Willie Ryan could do as well as any checkerist who ever lived was to tell an entertaining story. Here, in our monthly installment from his classic Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard, Willie relates a couple of anecdotes about a checker position that dates back over 200 years but still astounds us today.

'Now we come to an old chestnut credited to James Steel, of Newcastle, England, identified as the Steel Stroke. When Joshua Sturges reached the diagrammed position below in his "Guide to Draughts" (1800), he overlooked the stroke, playing 17-21 to a draw instead! After the 1905 American-British International Checker Match, former World's Champion Robert Stewart, of Scotland, was persuaded by friends to play "Ajeeb," the automaton checker player, then on exhibit at the old Eden Musee in New York City.

When the position shown below was reached, Stewart moved 12-16 to start the shot. When the "figure" failed to respond, the attendant told Stewart he would have to move faster. Whereupon, Stewart informed the attendant it was Ajeeb's move. The attendant then pretended to wind up the figure, announcing that the game could not be finished because the main steel spring in the machine was out of order!

 11-15 21-14 28-24 23-19 15-18 11-16 8-11 19-15 26-23 22-17 4- 8 16-20 9-13 24-19 31-26---B. 17-14 13-17---A See the 10-17 diagram.
WHITE

BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:W32,30,29,27,26,25,24,23,19,15,14:B20,18,17,12,8,7,6,5,3,2,1.

A---White has a trap here, for if black moves 11-16, white will win with 26-22, 16-23, 15-10, 6-15, 25-21, 18-25, 27-4.

B---Right after Ajeeb made this move, he developed mechanical cramps. The proper play to draw is: 15-10, 6-15, 19-10, 17-22*, 25-21, 12-16*, 32-28, 16-19, 24-15, 22-25, 29-22, 18-25, 21-17, 7-11*, 30-21, 11-18, 23-19, 18-22*, 19-16, 2-7, 17-13, 22-25, 13-9, 25-30, 9-6, 5-9*, 14-5, 7-14, 27-24---1, 20-27, 31-24, 1-10, 5-1, 14-18*, 1-6, 10-14, 6-10, 18-22*, 10-26, 30-23, and black can draw with care---2. This fine play is by World Champion Walter Hellman.'

1---The King's Row computer program chooses 6-2 instead and finds what looks like an easier draw than Hellman's line with the calculated line of play being 6-2 30-25 27-23 25-22 23-19 14-18 16-12 8-11 19-15 11-16 28-24 20-27 31-24 16-19 24-20 19-24 20-16 18-23 16-11 23-26 15-10 26-31 2-6 and it's clearly a draw---Ed.

2---King's Row agrees that this position is a draw despite Black being a man down---Ed.

No need for you to have cramps or a broken spring over this one; unwind the tension by clicking on Read More to see the solution.

Solution

Continue: 18-22, 25-18, 12-16, 19-12, 7-10, 14-7, 3-28, 12-3, 2-7, 3-10, 6-31, and black wins. No wonder Ajeeb snapped a spring!

07/19/08 - Category: Books - Printer friendly version