A Brief Checker Autobiography of Anthony Bishop

My name is Anthony Bishop, and I was born in Hickory Valley, Tennessee. In and around this town of 179 people were at least 15 checker players. For almost fifty years these players held town and county tournaments and also engaged in intercounty matches with other counties in Tennessee and Mississippi. We won every contest.

In 1964, I met Hugh Burton from Jackson, Tennessee. He was a grandmaster checker player who won the Tennessee Checker Tournament 38 times. He also won the Florida Open and was District Five champion numerous times. He finished third behind Tinsley and Lowder in the national tournament in Murfreesboro which was the largest checker tournament ever held. There were 160 entrants. Hugh also scored more wins than Helllman, Long, Fuller, Lowder, and other top players in the Third International Match held in Bournemoth, England in 1973.

Almost from our first meeting, Hugh and I became best friends. One of the highest honors of my life and also one of the most difficult things I have ever done was preach Hugh’s funeral three years ago. His wife Peggy is still alive and well.

When I started playing, the top five players in the country were Tinsley, Long, Hellman, Case, and Hunt. I met all five of these men even though Case and Hunt had already retired from the game.

I knew Tinsley better than I did the others. I met him when he returned to competitive play in 1970. He and I visited with each other on three occasions. We primarily discussed his relationship with other well- known players. Marion told me Maurice Chamblee confided to him that he and Marion were head and shoulders above all other players. Tinsley reminded him that Long and Hellman were still in the game. He told me I was the only checker player who never asked him to play a game or to show me any of his prepared lines.

The first time I saw Long was during his World Title 11-Man Ballot match with Ken Grover. As an interested spectator, I was standing in the playing room holding my infant son in my arms. My son’s attention span did not equal my own, and he let out a loud yell to indicate he was ready for a change of scenery. I distinctly remember the surprised look on Long and Grover's faces over this outburst even though this occurred almost forty-five years ago. As far as I know, I was the last checker player to visit Mr. Long when I went to see him a few weeks prior to his death.

I met Walter Hellman three times. The first time was at the 1972 Florida Open. One night, Ed Scheidt, Elbert Lowder and I went to Hellman's hotel room. Ed told Hellman he had a wonderful cook he wanted to show him. Hellman patiently watched as Scheidt played out the moves. When he finished, Walter complimented Ed on the cook and then proceeded to show how the position could be reached from an entirely different opening that was colors reversed.

I became acquainted with Basil Case in the spring of 1967. I traveled to his home near Bear Creek, Alabama several times. By that time, he had completely retired from checkers. I have never met a more humble or kind man than Basil Case. On one visit to Basil I showed him a position that was given as a book loss without any play. When I told him I could not find one, he informed me that everything published was not accurate.

I bought a book he had written, not on checkers, that had a photograph of him playing Hellman for the World's Championship in 1953. This is the only photo of this match I have ever seen!

I met Hunt twice and had one telephone conversation with him.

I will always treasure the wonderful memories I have of Tinsley, Long, Hellman, and Case. These four men were gracious to me and numerous other checker players. The contributions that Marion, Asa, Walter, and Basil made to the game of checkers were immense, their reputations are well-deserved, and they belong on anyone’s list of the greatest checker masters who ever lived.

It would be hard for me to pick the most interesting checker player I ever met. I might narrow it down to Newell W. Banks and Elbert Lowder. There are many people still active in the game who knew Elbert, and all who knew him would agree that he was a real character. He generated excitement, controversy, and a degree of suspense in every checker tournament he attended. I worked for a while for Lowder selling pianos at his Lowder's Piano House. My tenure as his employee was also filled with excitement, controversy, and suspense. With Elbert Lowder there was never a dull moment.

Newell William Banks was a most interesting checker player to know. For many years, he claimed the match championship of the United States. On two occasions, he claimed the world title. I first met him in Detroit, Michigan in 1967, and last saw him the same week I first met Asa Long. During the intervening years, I formed a close friendship with him that involved visits with him to his home in Detroit, telephone conversations, and scores of letters exchanged. I truly mourned his death.

I am still amazed at his skill at checkers. Karl Albrecht told me he had never seen anyone who could "see" checkers better than Banks. To give credence to his assessment, I would point out that Sam Gonostsky refused to play Banks at 11-Man Ballot, Asa Long did play and was soundly beaten, and Ken Grover, another crossboard artist, was able to defeat Newell only after Banks was an old man and legally blind. My best memories of Banks are the times I listened to him reminisce about his glory days in the game and my assisting him in a blindfold exhibition.

I knew a third member of the 1927 International Match. I visited with Harry Lieberman in his apartment in Washington D.C. He was a gracious host and had wonderful stories to tell a young man who loved checker history. I last saw him when he visited the Florida Open in 1972.

Some of my most prized checker possessions were once owned by members of the 2nd International Match. Each member of the American team was given a copy of the Match Book dedicated to them. I value Mike Lieber, Asa Long, and Tom O'Grady's personal copies of the book among my most prized possessions. I also have letters written by Sam Gonotsky and letters written by Robert Stewart to Newell Banks.

Lieber's book and one of Gonotsky's letters are especially interesting. Mike Lieber added his personal annotations to only one set of games. They were the games of Gonotsky. I can assume he did this in preparation for his famous 1928 match with Gonotsky.

Gonotsky's letter was much more personal. Owners of the 2nd International Match Book are aware that the publisher included a game that Sam lost to Bradford in an earlier tournament. "Silent Sam" certainly wasn't silent when he expressed his opinion on the inclusion of this game in the book.

Mr. Banks told me he had inherited the library of August J. Heffner. Prior to leaving on one of his tours, Banks placed Heffner's library and manuscript in a trunk and gave it to his brother for safekeeping. The brother's wife promptly assigned the contents to a fire. I can only assume this was the fate of Heffner's 2nd International Book, and since I never saw Banks' copy of the book, this might have been its fate as well. If anyone knows differently, I would appreciate finding out.

One of the things I am very proud of is my collection of checker libraries. I accumulated a large library of my own. In 1971, Arthurs Reisman sold his library to me, and in later years, I obtained the collections of Richard Fortman, Karl Albrecht, Hugh Burton and Dr. Robert L. Shuffett.

One of my favorite checker stories took place at the national tourney in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. My opponent (I think it was Paul Davis) and I along with Ron Bailey and his opponent, Les Balderson, were sitting at a very narrow table that forced us to place our legs interweaved with each other. During the game, Ron spoke in a very loud voice. "Les, what are you doing?" Les looked up from the game but was oblivious to what was going on. Ron in another loud voice said, "You were rubbing my leg." Since Les did not know what Ron was talking about, he returned to concentrating on the game. When Ron saw I was still staring at him, he told me in a more subdued voice, "It was feeling pretty good until I realized who was doing it."

I consider the publishing of my book The Encyclopedia of Checkers to be my greatest contribution to the game. My highest achievements across the board would probably be consecutive wins in the 5th District Tournament over Hugh Burton and Lloyd Taylor in 1977 and over Lloyd Taylor in 1978. I have also competed in three international matches with a plus score in two and an even score in the third.