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Today The Checker Maven has a special feature highlighting the work of Pakistan's tireless checkers and draughts promoter, Iqbal Salarzai. Most active on-line players know about Mr. Salarzai through the English Draughts group on Facebook, where he organizes weekly tournaments which run on the PlayOk site. These tournaments are recognized and sanctioned by the World Checkers Draughts Federation, who have named Mr. Salarzai their first Draughts Ambassador.
Mr. Salarzai graciously answered a series of interview questions in which he describes his interest in checkers, his promotional efforts, the checkers scene in Pakistan, and his vision and hopes for the future.
Checker Maven Interview with Iqbal Salarzai
Q. Tell us a little about yourself.
I am Iqbal Ahmed Salarzai, Founder and President of the Pakistan Checkers Draughts Association (PCDA). I am the world's first WCDF Draughts Ambassador.
I promote both 64 and 100 square draughts. I am the Honorary Principal of the First Experimental Primary (Draughts) School in China.
I am Pakistan's first international draughts player and the world's top online checkers and draughts tournament organizer.
So far I have organized many draughts tournaments and draughts training programs in different cities and villages of Pakistan in which a large number of children have participated. Apart from this I have to date conducted seven National Draughts Championships in which men, women and children participated in large numbers. I have also run a checkers training program in which children in primary schools in China were trained in checkers.
Q. Tell us about your interest in Anglo-American style checkers.
The game of draughts originated in the Indian subcontinent during British rule. Our elders used to play this game very fondly. During my childhood, checkers was a very popular indoor game played with passion by children, men and women alike. I also have loved the game of checkers since childhood.
Q. Tell us something about your many on-line tournaments. What led you to begin them? How successful have they been? Where do you see them going in the future?
In 2020, people were confined to their homes due to Covid-19 all over the world and offline tournaments were being canceled. That's when I felt the need to organize online tournaments.
Also, I think it's very important to organize online players and organize tournaments for online players because there are many players around the world who don't have the money to play tournaments. They cannot travel to other countries to play and many face difficulties in getting visas. Today, in our online tournaments, big players and new players from Africa, Asia, America and Europe play together without spending money and without traveling. Our Salarzai international online tournaments include the world's most famous players, such as Alexander Moiseyev, Sergio Scarpetta, Richard Beckwith, William Docherty, Donald Oliphant, Kent Layne, Filip Kareta, Alona Maksymova and other great players. Given the immense popularity of online tournaments, WCDF has established an online section in its event calendar and thus FMJD has a separate online section.
I organized the world's first Dr. Richard Beckwith Online Checkers World Cup 2021 to popularize online draughts and similarly organized the second Richard Beckwith Online Checkers World Cup in 2022. I have conducted more than 160 online checkers draughts tournaments so far. I believe that if online draughts are seriously worked on continuously, it will increase the number of players around the world and checkers will flourish all over the world. When online draughts players join offline tournaments, they will make offline tournaments stronger and more interesting, thus we will get new players.
WCDF awarded me the title of Draughts Ambassador in 2022 in view of my tireless work for checkers all over the world for which I am grateful to WCDF. I will always work for the development and promotion of checkers and draughts worldwide with the support and encouragement of WCDF, ADC and FMJD. I have done all this despite financial difficulties. If I have the financial resources, I believe with my enthusiasm and sincerity that I can make checkers more popular and developed worldwide in a very short period of time. There is still a lot to do in checkers.
Q. There is an active checkers scene in your country, Pakistan. Can you tell us about that?
Yes, checkers was a very popular game in our country until the 1980s, then gradually it declined, especially among children and women. The game of checkers almost became extinct. Seeing this I decided to re-popularize and organize this sport especially among children and women. Today again, due to our training programs and tournaments, the game of checkers is being played with renewed enthusiasm across the country and gaining popularity among the new generations.
Q. Tell us about Pakistan's top players. Do they have world championship ambitions?
Yes, there are very high quality checkers players in Pakistan who can not only play in, but also win any international tournament. The names of some of these players are Azhar Javed, Aqeel Ahmad, Muhammad Rafiq Baloch, Imam Bakhsh Khaskheli, Muhammad Shafiq and Salahuddin. Apart from this, there are many such players in Pakistan. But all these players belong to the middle class and have not been able to participate in any international tournament yet due to lack of financial resources. Some players plan to go to the GAYP WQT in Turkey in 2023 and are trying to get resources so they can participate in this tournament.
Q. Does your country sponsor national and international tournaments?
We have not received any financial support from the Government of Pakistan so far. All the national tournaments held in Pakistan have been made possible by my personal expenses and the support of checkers loving friends.
Q. Anything you'd like to add?
When I was young, I loved the game of draughts. I wanted to make a name for my country as a player but I saw that there was a dire need to organize the game in Pakistan according to international standards. Therefore, instead of playing, I worked to gather the players of the entire country in one place, and gave his players a strong platform in the form of thePakistan Checkers Draughts Association. I participated in the Thailand Open Draughts Tournament and Asian Draughts Tournament and saw international quality tournaments organized and learned from there to organize high quality tournaments in Pakistan. I am very grateful to Andrew Tjon A Ong (Thailand Open tournament organizer) and the President of the Asian Draughts Confederation, Baterdene Chimeddorj, for their cooperation in this regard.
In my journey to success, WCDF President Dr. Richard Beckwith has given a lot of support and sincerity. If Dr. Richard Beckwith had not been with me, I would not have been able to promote Checkers. Apart from this, Alexander Moiseyev and many Pakistani and foreign friends have always encouraged me, for which I am grateful to all of them. I wish to establish a Draughts Academy in Pakistan to train men, women and children. I am working tirelessly to establish the academy. I will definitely succeed in my intentions one day.
On my behalf and on behalf of Pakistan Checkers, I am extremely grateful to Bob Newell, (Editor-in-Chief, Checker Maven Webzine) for interviewing me for the world's greatest checkers website. For Pakistan Checkers this is an honor. It will be very helpful in promoting checkers in Pakistan and the world.
We asked Mr. Salarzai for his favorite checker problem and he chose the following. We've seen it before but it is worth repeating. It's by L.J. Vair, who in his day as a resident of Denver was known as the "Kolorado Kowboy."
And, in order to have something new, here's another by L.J. Vair which we believe we've not previously printed in our columns.
We hope you enjoyed today's special spotlight on checkers in Pakistan and the work of Mr. Salarzai. Solutions to the problems above can be seen as always by clicking on Read More.[Read More]
The Checker Maven and Bob Newell websites have just undergone major internal updates to ensure the long-term viability of our sites.
There will undoubtedly be some glitches and problems. Please let us know if you come across anything that doesn't work or look right.
Thank you for your patience and understanding.
The American Checker Federation (ACF) is having its most important election in decades, as its long-time president, Alan Millhone, has decided to retire from the post. Mr. Millhone has been a major figure in the Anglo-American version of the game, both in America and abroad, but now a successor will be elected.
The candidates are Kim Willis and Victor Habgood. The Checker Maven sent both candidates interview questions, and they are presented here in the order received.
If you are an ACF member, be sure to vote. If you're not a member, consider joining to promote organized checkers in the United States and beyond.
Tell us something about yourself.
41 years old, grew up in Oklahoma. Now I live in Brazil, IN. Started playing checkers competitively at 15 and began tournaments at 16. I am a retired Naval Officer that served over 7 deployments and was promoted 8 times in my career. I have two kids (14 and 12). I love church and being a part of a community that is making a difference in people's lives every day.
Tell us about your interest in checkers.
I love playing competitively online and in tournaments. I have been working on artificial intelligence approaches to the game for about 6 years now. I haven't had anything huge come from it yet, but I have some really cool ideas.
What qualifies you to be ACF President?
Leadership from the military and from being a business owner. I also am one of those that has been somewhat pushed to the side, as many
other members feel.
What's your vision for the future of the ACF?
I think it is bright! There are still lots of people within the ACF that are motivated to make a difference. These efforts are just lacking in direction and coordination. I think we need to master the online world. Everything from marketing, videos, website, tournaments, and more. We have to build a solid foundation of people who are going to move the needle. We need to organize them and then take that to make concrete action plans. Also, we need to be transparent to our members and potential members about what we are doing and why. We want to attract as many as possible.
Anything you wish to add?
I don't have anything personal against Alan or Kim. I think Alan did the best he could and that wasn't always easy. I would rather focus on the future and making checkers fun again! Imagine jumping online over a weekend and playing in digital tournaments with real money (fairly regulated) with hundreds of players from all over. Those types of things are really possible and will happen if I am lucky enough to be elected. I feel that I represent a large variety of people and represent our best chance at taking the ACF to the highest levels possible. I pray for everyone that this game brings peace and joy that it was meant to to all of you!
Mr. Habgood, thank you for your responses.
Tell us something about yourself.
I am from the small town of Barnett Missouri. I was born in 1957 and was a very shy child.
Tell us about your interest in checkers.
I remember when I was still little we would go and visit my papa and granny. Being the first born I was always running around with my papa. I was always going with papa no matter wherever he went. He would take me with him and the one place he would take me was the local barber shop. I never knew why, because papa never needed a haircut, as he was almost bald. But he would go anyway.
One day as we were going to the barbershop i asked him why he went there and he said because he liked the conversations and the checker games. I just giggled. I would sit on his lap and watch while I had a soda pop or a sucker. I would watch him win game after game. i really hated when we had to go home. But I knew I would get to come back during the summer and stay for a week or two.
One time I got to stay two weeks with papa and be his sidekick. As he did for years, he would feed the animals, get all his chores done and then say, come on Kimmy let's go. We'd jump in the old truck and off we would go to the barbershop, and there would be these farmers sitting in the barbershop waiting to play checkers.
It happened one day a little boy came in the barbershop with his papa, saw the old farmers playing checkers, and wanted to play a game. So papa said to me, okay Kimmy, you want to play? I said yes and then I got to play this little boy. But my papa said you's better win or you're walking home! I lost. My papa then said, you better get walking. I cried and went out the door to start walking home. But papa wasn't really going to make me walk. He told me to get in the truck and we headed home.
Papa then asked me if I liked playing. I said yes, but I hated losing. I wanted to win. That was the first lesson papa taught me. If you lose you need to get back up and try again, for the game of checkers has many lessons to teach, so never give up.
That was a time I will never forget. It has been a part of my life. When my papa passed away, checkers became just a memory.
I grew up, got married, had children and raised them, and life went by without checkers until in the late 80s. This was the time of the internet and computers, and I started going online. I discovered Vinco Online Games and I re-entered the world of checkers. I would go into the checker room everyday and watch players play. I later became a system operator or monitor.
I met a lot of checker players and found many went to checker tournaments. Then I met Ron Suki King and he would ask me to play. Of course he just stomped me. Then he said he would teach me.
I was hooked. I remember him teaching me simple things. But then he said I should go to the Nationals in Niagra Falls. So I went. I never won a game, and I found I was the only woman there. Many told me to go home as this was a man's game and I had no place there.
That's when I made my mind up to learn more about the game, as it had re-opened my childhood memories. I have since attended many tournaments.
What qualifies you to be ACF President?
I am running for this position because I believe we all have a mission and mine is to be an advocate for this game, and to be there for every person, no matter what age, no matter where you're from or the color of your skin.
What's your vision for the future of the ACF?
When i came into the ACF there were many members, but now our numbers are declining, and we need to get busy. We must talk, invite others, and help those who are teaching. I want to be take the lead, to be the voice, to be there if needed, to give information, as I do now as Players' Representative. And it's not just for master players. It's for every player, all over the world. We need to connect and join together to keep the game of checkers alive.
We also need more referees for tournaments. We need to have regular Zoom meetings with District Managers. We need open communication channels to help to get more members. For those who are teaching our game we help them to expand, increase, and spread their knowledge.
We must work on youth participation. We have a few that are teaching the youth, but I want us to get together and work on the problem of getting kids into the game.
Anything you wish to add?
I want everyone to know that I will do all I can, and that I will always be there for each and every one of you.
Today The Checker Maven celebrates 18 years of weekly publication with never a missed deadline. We had planned to stop after 10 years, then 15, and now we'll go as long as we can, hoping to at least reach 20. We're getting older (and can feel it!) but so far, so good.
Of course none of this would ever happened without you, the reader, and we thank you for your loyal support over these many years. We'll do our best to continue to bring you what we (perhaps not so humbly) think ranks among the world's finest checker entertainment.
We anticipate The Checker Maven website being down or inoperable during the period of December 26 to December 30, 2022, as we convert the site from HTTP to HTTPS.
The conversion is long overdue. Some web browsers are starting to block access to HTTP sites for security reasons, and this practice will likely become universal before long.
Please be patient and accept our apologies for any inconvenience. We'll post more about this as we get close to the planned dates.
A Guest Column by Dr. Richard Beckwith
Joe Schwartz has been on the checker scene for decades. In addition to always having plenty of stories to tell, Joe interacted with many of the checker greats of the past. For example, Joe's father even once arranged a checker lesson for Joe from the great Willie Ryan, who was from Bronx, NY at the time. Mr. Ryan explained to a young Joe why certain moves were made in various openings. Willie Ryan had come down for a day to put on an exhibition at the YMCA. Joe has a picture of this day (with him in it) hanging in his home. Men typically wore suits and neckties in those days.
In the 8th International Match Book, Joe mentioned one of his biggest thrills was winning his first tournament as a teenager in Poughkeepsie, NY, the city where Joe was born. There were about 30 players, and Joe was the youngest. Joe only played GAYP back in those days, as there wasn't any three-move restriction activity around him until later in life.
Tom Wiswell lived in Brooklyn. Wiswell came to an exhibition for chess and checkers, where Joe got a book from him. Joe last saw Wiswell at central Park. Tom Wiswell once commented to Joe that the checker position looks different if you get up from your chair and go look at the board from the other side. Joe also mentioned that New York City had a checkers academy on 42nd street where good players met to play for money.
A checker friend Bill Wallace was with Joe during a Florida break and took Joe to a park, some 50 years ago. This is where Joe encountered Richard Hallett again. (Mr. Hallett also lived in Poughkeepsie, NY and fed Joe's cat whenever Joe was away. Later in life, Richard lived in Joe's Florida residence high-rise building.) The three players drove together to the St. Petersburg tournament, where Joe first met Marion Tinsley. Joe asked Tinsley his opinion of what is the better defensive move in the Switcher: 30-25 or 17-14 (from the run-up of 11-15 21-17 9-13 25-21 8-11 and now white to play). Tinsley replied, "30-25 is the better move."
Joe Schwartz moved to Florida in 1991, living with Bill Wallace a few months before locating to Hallandale, Florida (still his place of residence today). Joe's tradition of housing visiting checker players for the night goes back to his New York days, where he hosted the likes of Norm Wexler, Ed Bruch and Harold Freyer. Over the years, Joe sponsored matches between Richard Hallett with both Derek Oldbury and with Elbert Lowder, putting up Lowder and Oldbury (in wheelchair) for the match duration. Joe recalls Derek Oldbury being a very intellectual man who liked classical music, but was not into watching television. His wife Joan was also in a wheelchair.
Harold Freyer once lost a game to Bill Levine at a tournament in Joe's home. In the second game, Freyer eagerly sought revenge and had Levine in a troublesome ending. Mr. Freyer suggested to his opponent that he resign the position in view of the caliber of his opponent. Bill Levine grabbed a pencil, pointed it at Harold, and said, "I have a right to play this game out." Harold snatched the pencil out of his hand. Tempers started to flare, and Joe had to come over to diffuse the situation. Harold shot back at Joe, "I've been thrown out of better houses than yours!"
Joe recalls two other incidents that led to checkers flying off the board. One was Al DuBois vs. Charles Walker. After some apparent ribbing, Mr. Dubois threw the checkers, one of which hit Mr. Walker's wife around the eye and required medical attention. The other was the last game of the National Tournament between Elbert Lowder and Ron King. Elbert appeared to have the tournament won with an apparent even ending on the last game of the tournament that most players would quickly call a draw. But Suki, needing a win, wanted to play the position out further. After some fast moving, Elbert allowed a trade that allowed his remaining pieces to get trapped with the move, which resulted in checkers flying across the table. A position on a nearby non-Master game was disturbed, and they weren't recording their moves to allow reconstruction of their position.
In additional to having several lunches with Marion Tinsley, Joe had dinner with Asa Long ("a very humble man") and even helped take Mr. Long to the hospital after his health issue that occurred shortly after the start of the 1988 U.S. National in Danville, Virginia.
One time Joe Schwartz was playing Elbert Lowder in a tournament on a Single Corner opening. Joe encountered some difficulty with his current game and remarked to Elbert, "I wish I had time to analyze this position." Mr. Lowder proceeded to grab the analog time clock and wound it back to give Joe an additional 30 minutes! Joe concluded the story with, "Lowder beat me anyway."
So, what was Joe's other greatest checker thrill? It occurred in one of Joe's favorite cities to visit --- Las Vegas. This personal achievement came at the 2005 USA-U.K. & Ireland International Match held in Las Vegas, where Joe had the best record of anyone present with 10 wins, no losses and 10 draws.
In addition, here's a problem position arising from one of Joe's games in the aforementioned 2005 match.
Game from 2005 USA vs. U.K & Ireland 8th International Match, Las Vegas
Black: Joe Schwartz
White: Garrett Owens
11-15 21-17 8-11 17-13 9-14 25-21 11-16 29-25 16-20 24-19 15x24 28x19 4-8 22-17 14-18 23x14 8-11 26-23 11-15 25-22 15x24 22-18---A,B 24-28 (see diagram below).
A---While this move does draw, 30-25 is the computer's choice.
B---32-28 loses. Try it out!
As always, you can click on Read More to check your solutions to these problems.
The Checker Maven extends its warmest thanks to Richard Beckwith for providing us with this fascinating article.
Today The Checker Maven has the pleasure of presenting an in-depth interview with a relatively young checker master, Ryan Pronk. Ryan is not only known for his playing prowess; he's created over 100 high-quality checker videos in his AZ Checkers series, which can be found on Ryan's YouTube channel. The videos present instructional material as well as analysis of games both historical and contemporary.
CM: At what age did you start playing checkers? What got you interested in the game?
RP: I started playing checkers seriously at the age of 14. Prior to that, I often played chess with my friends, who were involved in Scholastic tournaments. I was drawn to the competitive nature of it all, and that carried over easily to checkers. I found out about checkers thanks to a Hoyle Board Games CD-ROM gift a neighbor had given me.
I played all of the games on that disk, including Chess, Checkers, Othello, Backgammon, Mancala, etc. I found myself defeating the checkers computer opponent on expert level repeatedly, so I thought there might be something to this! In hindsight, I wasn't playing too terribly for an extreme novice, often developing 11-15, 7-11, 3-7 every game when handling the first side.
CM: Did you ever expect to become a top-tier player? How many hours of study do you suppose you've done?
RP: I always wanted to compete against and be on par with today's masters. It wasn't until finishing runner-up in the 2007 Tennessee Masters (arguably my best result), did I really feel confident that I can compete and that I belong in the same field as some of the best players in the country.
Being invited to play on the International Team is easily the highest honor I have achieved, and it showed that my peers hold my ability in high regard--- and that is something I will never forget! I would study for two to three hours every night throughout high school, and a little bit less through college, and unfortunately even less now. I still do enjoy studying when I can, specifically endgame positions or lines of opening play.
CM: Any tips for the aspiring newcomer to the game?
RP: Always have fun when playing the game! Winning is great, and losing is not so great. It may feel like a rollercoaster at times. But keep at it, and continue to enjoy the game. Even the best players in the world today lose from time to time! Trust your intuition as you'll know if and when it's time to look up how to win a 2 kings vs. 1 king ending, or avoid being triple jumped. From there, your interest in other facets of the game might grow! In the interim, just have fun!
CM: Do you have a favorite checker book?
RP: I really enjoy anything by Richard Pask and Richard Fortman--- both have been tremendous inspirations to me. Solid Checkers and Basic Checkers are still my go-to books, along with Kear's Encyclopedia.
I also enjoy world title match compilation books, and Willie Ryan's writings (his Modern Encyclopedia, specifically).
CM: What's your background and your interests aside from checkers? Where are you originally from?
RP: I grew up in Minnesota and went to college and started my career in Arizona --- so one weather extreme to the other! I've lived in Virginia for more than a decade now; it's certainly a happy medium weather-wise! I've always had an interest in journalism, and spent more than six years in the industry as a reporter, copy editor, and page designer. The AZ Checkers YouTube channel allows me to combine my interests and hobbies all into one, as there's a good amount of writing, editing/video editing, and checkers involved!
CM: What led you to start your AZ Checkers video series?
RP: It originally started back when I was in college, and it was a way for me to highlight some instructional games that might benefit other players. My first videos were incredibly raw with no audio commentary, and very, very fast--- so in hindsight, I'm not sure many would find them helpful! I later focused on common endgame situations and basic strategies/openings. George Gerhauser ("Checkercycle") and I would talk occasionally and promote each other's videos.
When I saw his channel grow in popularity and publish videos regularly, I was really happy to see it and I stopped producing. Flash forward to September 2019--- I noticed George had stopped publishing videos and there was a void in English checkers/draughts on YouTube. My checkers opening moves and best counter moves had nearly 500K views at the time, so I started producing videos diving deeper into openings, and the rest is history!
CM: About how many videos have you made? Do you have any favorites or ones you think are the best?
RP: I've made more than 125 videos dedicated to checkers, broken down into various categories such as Beginners, Openings, Tactics, etc. My tactical videos are far and away the most popular. Although they are not as popular, my favorite videos to create are famous games. I like providing historical context, and do my best to set the stage, so the viewers can understand the pressure and stakes. I like how the 1982 Masters Hallett-Tinsley, and 1955 Tinsley-Hellman videos turned out. I'd also like to give thanks to Mike Mitchell for creating the fun animation introduction in my videos.
CM: Do you intend to continue the series? What are your hopes for it? Do you have any sort of new or special content planned?
RP: My plan is to continue publishing videos geared toward helping beginners and anyone looking to improve in basic strategy and tactics. Alex Holmes and I have been collaborating from time to time, and I expect there may be some additional collaborations to come in the future, along with live stream events, including the 11-man ballot world championship match.
There is always something new to learn in checkers, and I feel the same way about the channel, which is why I am always interested in hearing feedback and criticism. So far, I've been fortunate in that the vast majority of the feedback I receive is very positive.
CM: What can be done to revive interest in checkers, especially among younger players?
RP: Something I've learned while making these videos is that checkers is far from extinct, and players of all ages truly enjoy playing the game and learning some things along the way. However, high level tournament checkers is a different story. Attending a tournament can be a fun and fulfilling experience, and I try to relay that in videos. While we are seeing a decline in the United States, there appears to be a revival in places such as Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania, which is amazing to see! Is it possible these videos will generate interest in checkers in other parts of the world, including the United States? Perhaps! For me, I just like giving back to the game that has given a lot to me, and continues to enrich my life.
CM: Anything you'd like to add?
RP: One of my all time favorite problems is Henderson's Shot, which you covered in a 2008 article. However, my favorite tactical theme is The Brooklyn, which can arise from many openings, as you pointed out in 2017. The tactic can also be found in my favorite unrestricted opening, the Waterloo. The run-up can be found in Lees' Guide, page 158, variation 1, with play credited to H.F. Shearer.
11-15 23-18 8-11 18-14 9x18 24-19 15x24 22x8 4-11 27x20 5-9 21-17 9-14 25-21 11-15 28-24 7-11 29-25 15-18 32-27 11-15 26-23 3-7 30-26 6-9; forms diagram.
A fascinating interview and a classic problem. Expert players will likely be familiar with this one and know the solution offhand; the rest of us will have a bit of a challenge and some good instruction and entertainment. See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Today marks the 17th anniversary for The Checker Maven. We celebrate 17 years of no-fail on-time weekly publication, something we once would have never thought possible. We reach thousands of checker fans and bring them a consistent message that checkers is challenging, fun, and as relevant today as it ever was.
Our success wouldn't have been possible without the support of our loyal readers, and we can't thank you enough. We once thought to stop publication after 10 years, and then 15, but your encouragement and support has led us to continue on. We can't say how long we'll continue as health and age are increasingly a factor, so let's just say that we look forward to providing more quality checker entertainment in the years to come.