The Checker Maven

The World's Most Widely Read Checkers and Draughts Publication
Bob Newell, Editor-in-Chief

Published each Saturday morning in Honolulu, Hawai`i

Contests in Progress:

Composing Championship #75

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Above we see an old-fashioned chimney sweep. There is a lot of lore surrounding "sweeps" including their often worn uniform of top hat and tails; we'll leave it to you to find out more if you're so inclined. But today, in Bill Salot's 75th Problem Composing Contest, we'll look at sweeps of the checker variety: Big problems with big action wherein pieces are swept off the board. This one will be a real challenger and we urge you to check out the contest page and vote for the one you like best.

As an introduction and to whet your interest, here's a problem called The Magnificent Seven, an 8x9 composition by the late Roy Little. It tied for second in Contest 38 in April 2018.

White to Play and Win


See what you can do with Mr. Little's teaser, and then click on Read More to see the solution before moving on to the contest page.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/13/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Get It Right the First Time


We've always liked those World War Two inspirational posters which urged American citizens to do their all and give their best in support of the war effort. The poster above warns of the dangers of aiding the enemy through carelessness and emphasizing the need to get things right the first time.

That surely applies to our game of checkers, where carelessness can indeed cede the day to our opponent, and we may have one and only one opportunity to "get it right" and find a win or a draw.

In the following situation, Black has one and only one move to draw. He has to get it right the first time as there won't be a second chance.

Black to Play and Draw


The position is more of a practical exercise than a contest-grade problem, but we think it's worthy of study. Will you get it right on your first try, or will it take a couple of tries? Unlike in an over the board contest, you can try as many times as you wish, and when you're ready, one try at clicking your mouse on Read More will bring you to the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/08/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Seeing Stars


"Seeing stars" can have several meanings. If you're out in the country, far from city lights, on a clear evening "seeing stars" means taking in a magnificent heavenly display of millions of stars, covering the sky in brilliant beauty. On the other hand, if you accidentally bump your head on a hard, fixed object, you'll be "seeing stars" in a much different and decidely less pleasant way.


In today's problem, shown below, you'll be "seeing stars" --- star moves, that is. Recall that a "star" move is one that is essential to either win or hold the draw. It's the one and only correct move, and it's annotated with an asterisk, or star. The terms of the problem are "Black to play and draw" but actually star moves--- a number of them--- appear on both sides as Black and White both navigate through a finely balanced position.

Black to Play and Draw


We wouldn't call this an exciting or elegant problem but it certainly is practical and didactic. Be a star and solve it, then click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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Contest 74: 16 Pieces


The 16 piece Barbie tea set above might make a nice gift for a young daughter or granddaughter, or perhaps even for an avid collector of such things. There are also 16 piece china sets, 16 pieces per side in the game of chess, and 16 balls in a game of pool. Most caterpillars have 16 legs, and there are 16 personality types on the Myers-Briggs classification. (You might look that one up and see where checker players might fit in.) Last but not least, there is the "sweet sixteen" birthday tradition, and we should also point out that base 16 (hexadecimal) numbers are very commonly utilized in the world of computers.

In the latest of Mr. Bill Salot's ongoing series of checker problem composition contests, we see a different use of 16; Mr. Salot presents us with three problems, each of which contains a total of 16 pieces. These are massive stroke problems and will require great visualization skill to solve without moving pieces on a board. The problems can all be found on the contest page". Be sure to vote for your favorite!

As an introduction to this contest's theme, Mr. Salot sent along this 16 piece beauty from the late and much missed grandmaster composer Ed Atkinson. It's called Tossed Salad.

White to Play and Win


Take as long as you wish. Give it at least 16 good attempts before clicking on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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World Healing Day


This column will first appear on April 27, 2024, which in 2024 is World Healing Day, a successor to World Tai Chi and Qigong Day. Of course April 27, 2024 has many other celebrations, such as National Devil Dog Day, National Prime Rib Day, Babe Ruth Day, and even National Gummi Bear Day, to name just some. But we like World Healing Day.

Why? Because we like to think checkers can play its own role in world healing. We've seen it in the work of luminaries such as Iqbal Ahmed Salarzai, who conducts international tournaments via the internet; the friendly rivalries between the US and England and now the US and Italy; the presence of international players in major tournaments; and many more examples that show how checkers can pull people together in spirited competition that leads to long lasting friendships among all nationalities, races, and creeds. Great stuff and something the world can use more of.

For World Healing Day we'll present a checker problem of unknown origin that isn't difficult at all, but will perhaps provide a few moments of entertainment and relaxation. Just the right thing to take your mind off whatever's bothering you and promote a bit of your own self-healing on World Healing Day.

White to Play and Win


Solve the problem as best you can, and then click--- ever so gently--- on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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The Long Pitch


Who doesn't love sitting through a long sales pitch or marketing meeting? Honestly we can't think of anyone who would be particularly thrilled by the idea. We certainly aren't and we're glad the The Checker Maven staff doesn't have to deal with anything like that.

Of course, we've just given you a giant hint to the solution of today's Checker School problem! Have a look.

Black to Play and Win


This one isn't so difficult to begin with, and with that big giveaway in the title, you shouldn't take "long" to solve it, or at least that's the idea we're pitching. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the snappy solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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Birthday Special


This past week your editor celebrated his 75th birthday. It was a milestone event but also a reminder that The Checker Maven, like anything in this world, can't go on forever.

But for now, onward we go, and today we have a problem sent to us a while back by Bill Salot. We chose it for today because it was first published in Elam's Checker Board in March 1949, the month and year of your editor's birth. It most appropriately appeared in the Poetry of Checkers column. Mr. Salot noted that it stumped Matt Long, but Ben Boland solved it quickly and later called it Bill's Bridge. The composer, of course, was Young Bill Salot.

White to Play and Win


Join the celebrations and solve this intriguing problem. The solution can of course be seen by clicking on Read More.20050904-symbol.gif

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03/23/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Contest 73: High Level Strategies


In big business, strategy at a high level is all-important. Should we buy out that other company? We think we can get it for just a few billion dollars. Should we do a stock split? It would make our shares more affordable to those poor unfortunates who earn less than $2 million a year. What should be done about lagging sales in our international markets? Are there perhaps a few politicians we forgot to pay off? The list goes on and on.

There are high level strategies in our game of checkers, too, although that's something we perhaps don't think a lot about until we reach a somewhat advanced level of play. Tactics come first, then basic strategy, but how do the masters and grandmasters think?

Bill Salot, in his 73rd of his incredible ongoing problem composition contests, has put together some excellent examples of this concept. They can of course be found on the contest page. You are invited to try out the problems and then vote for your favorite.

To get us all started, Bill has provided a sample problem composed by Jim Loy. It's excellent. Jim calls it Elegant and that's just what it is. High level strategies, when well formulated, definitely have a touch of elegance about them.

Elegant by Jim Loy
White to Play and Win


So here's what your strategy should be. Try this one, click on Read More to see the solution, and then go on to the contest page for three more great problems.20050904-symbol.gif

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03/16/24 -Printer friendly version-
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March Craziness: A Beacon Cafe Story


It was March, 1955, and in Bismarck, North Dakota, everyone was waiting for the worst of winter to come to an end. March alternated between snow and cold and some balmier weather.

This Saturday was a day with a foreshadowing of spring in the air. The sun was out and the temperature had reached a pleasant 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Sal Westerman had an enjoyable walk just before 1 PM from his home to the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building, where his beloved Coffee and Cake Checker Club was due to have its weekly meeting.


Sal expected a good turnout, as today's activities would be a little different. It was March and this was the week of the big intercollegiate national checker tournament, often referred to as "March Craziness." The nation's attention was focused on this biggest of all college checker tournaments, and the Club was going to listen on the radio to the final, championship match between the University of North Dakota (UND) and the University of Michigan. This year UND had an especially strong team and had managed to snag a rare invite to the tournament. They had been a low seed but, defying all predictions, they had fought their way through to the finale. Of course the odds today were still heavily against them winning the championship, as the Michigan powerhouse was a formidable opponent.

Sal came through the door of the Cafe a few minutes after one and saw that there was already a large group gathered: Dan, Mike, Wayne, Louie the Flash, Tom, Ron, Larry, Delmer, and even Barry and Old Frank, two seldom seen members, were on hand. With Sal, that made eleven, a sort of record attendance which took up both of the large booths in the back. One of the "boys" (all of whom were over 50) had brought along a small radio and had plugged it in to an electrical outlet.

"Come on, Sal!" Ron said. "The match is just getting started!"


"And I've got some nice blueberry bars today!" Deana, the proprietress, announced from her post behind her counter. Deana's baked goods simply had no equal anywhere in the region.

"I guess everyone's buying their own today," Sal observed. Generally Sal would present a checker problem and if the boys could solve it, Sal would buy, otherwise the boys would pick up the tab.

The match indeed had gotten underway. The radio announcer, Van Skulky, was giving the play by play with commentary and analysis from a couple of retired professional players. Van would announce the move on each of the five boards as they were made and would urge listeners at home to follow along on their own checkerboards. Every so often, Van would recap the positions of the pieces.

The boys drank coffee and enjoyed several orders of blueberry bars. Sales were up and Deana was smiling.


The games on the lower boards came to a conclusion ahead of the others. North Dakota won on board five but Michigan won on boards three and four. A little later, board two turned out to be a draw. The score was now 2 1/2 for Michigan and 1 1/2 for North Dakota.

The game on board one was still ongoing. North Dakota needed a win to draw the match, but then they would get the win on tiebreaks, as the rule was that the team with a win on the highest board would prevail in case of a tie score. However Michigan needed only a draw to carry the day.

Russell Gietzman

The top North Dakota player, rated as a Master, was Russell Gietzman. But Michigan's top player, Sy Stinge, was a Grandmaster and she was heavily favored to win.

Sy Stinge

However the game had reached this position, with White (Gietzman, North Dakota) to play.

White to Play and Win


The radio announcer was beside himself with excitement. "This is incredible," he said. "North Dakota has winning chances. Somehow Gietzman has gotten Stinge into a difficult position. What do you think of that, Don?" he said, referring to commentator Don Dinsman.

"It's amazing, Van," Dinsman said. "Here we have a Grandmaster who should have defeated her opponent handily, in a position where she might not even be able to get a draw. But the position isn't easy, and I'm not sure Gietzman will find his way through to a win. If a win is there, it's probably a thin or tricky one. I don't yet see it myself, I just feel it must be there."

"Well, yes, White looks strong all right," said Van, "but Gietzman is using a lot of time and he'll need to choose a move real soon now. "


Sal quickly set up the pieces on one of the boards on the big booth's table according to the announcer's layout. The boys studied it carefully.

White to Play and Win


"Gee Sal, this looks tough," Dan said. "You know Russ personally, do you think he'll find something?"

"Russ is hoping to get picked in the pro draft," Sal said, "and if he wins this one, he'll be a shoo-in. But can he do it? He's good. I think he has a shot at it."


Suddenly the radio announcer spoke out in an excited voice. "Gietzman is making his move! It's ... "

Match wits with the best intercollegiate players of our fictional 1955 season. Do you think Sy will get the draw for her team and snag the national title? Or will Russ carry the day and bring the championship to North Dakota for the first time ever?

See how you might have done, by solving the problem and then clicking on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our little story.20050904-symbol.gif

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03/09/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Harder Than You Think


Riding a sheep is a lot harder than you think, as this young fellow at a rodeo is finding out.

Even in day to day life, some things do turn out to be harder than you think. Any one of us can think of numerous examples.

Now, in our game of checkers, certain positions are surprisingly hard, much harder than they look and much harder than you think.

Although this column appears on the first Saturday of the month, our traditional "speed problem" day, today's problem isn't quite a speed problem. It's really all about finding the right first move and then the follow-up will be fairly clear for most players, even if it's a number of moves in length. So see how fast you can find the winning move. It may perhaps surprise you and depending on your skill level you may find it harder than you think.

White to Play and Win


If you don't see the solution right away, try harder. When you're ready, though, you won't have to try very hard to click your mouse on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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03/02/24 -Printer friendly version-
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The Checker Maven is produced at editorial offices in Honolulu, Hawai`i, as a completely non-commercial public service from which no profit is obtained or sought. Original material is Copyright 2004-2024 Avi Gobbler Publishing. Other material is the property of the respective owners. Information presented on this site is offered as-is, at no cost, and bears no express or implied warranty as to accuracy or usability. You agree that you use such information entirely at your own risk. No liabilities of any kind under any legal theory whatsoever are accepted. The Checker Maven is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Bob Newell, Sr.

MAVEN, n.:

An expert or connoisseur, often self-proclaimed.


Numbered Board and Notation

Book Reviews

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A Mind Sport for the Common Man

Learning Checkers

The Unknown Derek Oldbury

Rediscovering Checkers

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Marvin's World


Richard Pask Publications

Reisman: Checkers Made Easy

Clapham Commons Draughts Book

Grover/Wiswell: Let's Play Checkers

Bob Murray's School Presentation

Jim Loy Publications

PDN collections

Oldbury: MoveOver

Reinfeld: How to Win

Ginsberg: Principles of Strategy