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 #73


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The Long Pitch

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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.

WHITE
20240214-longp.png
BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:W10,K16,21,28,30:B13,K18,19,K23,26

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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04/06/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Birthday Special

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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.

BLACK
20240218-75th.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK1,K3,K10,K14,K15,K16:BK4,K6,K7,K13,K23,K25

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

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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
BLACK
20240119-elegant.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W16,17,K24,K29:B7,12,K23

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

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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.

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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!"

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"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.

20240204-mich.jpg

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.

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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.

20240204-sy.jpg
Sy Stinge

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

BLACK
20240204-ndsu.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK3,7,11,14,16,18,22,28,30:B2,4,5,9,10,12,19,20,21,27

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. "

20240204-clock.jpg

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.

BLACK
20240204-ndsu.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK3,7,11,14,16,18,22,28,30:B2,4,5,9,10,12,19,20,21,27

"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."

20240204-radioguy.jpg

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

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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.

BLACK
20240115-harder.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W19,K22,23,24,27,30,32:B8,12,13,16,20,21,K31

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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One of Those Things

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In our game of checkers, one of those things has, at least for us, brought to mind a couple of items, one of which is a problem with the terms shown below, Black to Play, White to Win, our latest entry in our ongoing Checker School series.

How are we supposed to know how Black is going to play when we're trying to win with White? Add to that, the diagram is shown on the Black side as our convention is to orient the board to the side which is on move.

However, there is a saving grace in that it's a very nice little problem, attributed to a noted Colorado problemist of bygone days, L. J. Vair. Yes, it's one of those, but it's worth the relatively minor annoyance.

WHITE
20240115-schoon.png
BLACK
Black to Play, White to Win

B:WK10,13,K17,K23,32:B5,12,K22,K29,K31

Don't yourself be one of those; solve the problem and then click on Read More to see the solution and notes.20050904-symbol.gif

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02/24/24 -Printer friendly version-
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You Can't Win 'Em All

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You can't win 'em all? No, you can't.

We've all heard the checker maxim "Keep the draw in sight." But we've also heard it said, "You have to take the chances to make the chances."

When we're a piece up, we expect to win. That's another bit of checker wisdom, and it's true--- except sometimes when it isn't. That practical maxim, "You can't win 'em all" might apply, as it does in the position below.

BLACK
20231230-winem.png
WHITE
White to Play and Draw

W:WK2,K6,11,29,30:B3,12,K13,14,15,K19

Black is a piece up but White can draw the game with the right play. It's really pretty easy and well within the reach of nearly all players. See how fast you solve it. Call it a personal win if you find the draw. After solving the problem a winning move would be to click on Read More to verify your solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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02/03/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Beginner's Jinx

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Pictured in the drawing above is a character named Jinx from The League of Legends, a multiplayer online battle game. No, we didn't know anything about the game or the character either, and with no disrespect intended towards players of the game, that might be just as well. On the fan site we are told this. "A manic and impulsive criminal ... Jinx lives to wreak havoc without care for the consequences."

We hope that there are few if any checker players who are manic and impulsive criminals, much less living to wreak havoc in any manner except across the checkerboard. And indeed today we're going to look at the more commonly known kind of jinx, something that brings bad luck. The following position, from Andrew Banks' quirky book Checker Board Strategy, is referred to by said Mr. Banks as "The Beginner's Jinx" and goes back to William Payne. It's this month's entry in our long running Checker School series.

BLACK
20231229-classic.png
WHITE
White to Play, Black to Win

W:WK9,K27:BK10,K15,K19

Of course this classic 3x2 ending will present no difficulties for the experienced player, and is covered in many texts. Indeed you may wonder why we even bother to feature it. But we've presented such positions in the past because this ending can be baffling for newer players. The Checker Maven strives to provide a little something for everyone.

So don't jinx yourself. Novices and beginners, see how you do. Experienced players should solve it in seconds. Either way it's good practice, and clicking on Read More won't bring you bad luck but instead will show you one way to win it.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/27/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Young Bill Salot at the Beacon Cafe: Contest #72

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Editor's note: The following story serves as an introduction to Bill Salot's Problem Composing Championship, #72 in the series, which can be found on the contest page.


Winter had closed in on Bismarck, North Dakota. It was January, 1955 (it's always 1955 in these stories), and on a very cold and windy Saturday afternoon, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club had gathered for its weekly meeting.

At just after 1 PM, the usual starting time, several of the regulars were on-hand, occupying the big booth in the back of the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building, the club's long-time regular venue. Wayne and Dan were there, along with Delmer, Louie the Flash, and Mike. Ron and Larry, who were less frequent attendees, had also come out, as Sal Westerman, the club's unofficial leader, had promised something special for this week.

In fact, Sal had just come through the front door of the cafe, along with a companion whom everyone instantly recogized from his frequently appearing photo in All Checkers Digest.

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Young Bill Salot

The guest was none other than Young Bill Salot, who was only in his twenties but was already known to be a prolific problem composer, and the sponsor of the problem composing contests which ran every other month in the aforementioned All Checkers Digest.

The contests had been ongoing for quite some time. Young Bill would name a theme and solicit compositions from the best problemists in America, Canada, and beyond. Readers of the magazine would mail in their votes for their favorite problem, and the winning composer would receive a fabulous $100 prize.

Young Bill was on a nationwide lecture tour, discussing the art of problem composition at checker clubs throughout the land, and Sal had asked him to visit Bismarck--- in January, no less, even though Young Bill hailed from much warmer Virginia. Young Bill readily agreed to stop in and present a challenging problem and then give an informal talk about problem composition, even while expressing reservations about Bismarck's winter weather.

Everyone stood to greet Young Bill, who managed to shake hands with all of the "boys" (who were easily twice Young Bill's age), despite Young Bill's shivering and being red-faced from the zero degree outside temperature, not to mention the 20 mile-per-hour wind.

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Deana Nagel

Deana, the proprietress of the cafe, came over from behind her counter to also offer Young Bill a cordial greeting. "Welcome to Bismarck," she said, "hope you like our weather!" She gave out a hearty laugh. "Sal tells me you're a fan of hot chocolate, would you like a cup to warm you up?"

Young Bill readily assented, and soon he was seated among the boys in one of the big booths.

After some preliminary chatter about Young Bill's lecture tour, and his highly regarded problem contests, Young Bill took the floor.

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"The contest that was just published in All Checkers Digest, has a very special theme. It's called "Deferred Quadruples" and the name speaks for itself. Problems with this theme take a lot of skill to compose, and it's the kind of thing that doesn't come up very often over the board. But solving problems of this type are a great way to improve and train your tactical vision. A little later on, we'll get into some of the nitty-gritty detail, but for now I want you boys to try out a sample problem that isn't part of the contest but nicely illustrates the contest theme."

Young Bill set up the following position on a couple of the checkerboards which were on the booth's tables.

BLACK
20231119-tilta.png
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK20,22,23,25,28,30:B6,7,10,21,K26

"Now, I hear from Sal that you have a tradition about who buys the treats. If you solve the problem, Sal buys for everyone, but if you don't get it, you buy for Sal and his wife--- and for me, too, I hope!"

20231119-cbar.jpg

Everyone chuckled, and Deana, who never missed a trick, announced "I've got chocolate chip bars today!"

Young Bill smiled. "That's quite the incentive, so go to it, boys, and while you do, I'll warm up some more with another cup or two of Deana's great hot chocolate."

Deana hurried over and refilled everyone's coffee mugs and brought Young Bill his hot chocolate while the boys dug into the new checker problem.

20231119-mugs.jpg

Sipping his hot chocolate, Young Bill said quietly to Sal, "You think they'll get it?"

"They're quite good," Sal replied, "and telling them the theme was a huge hint. So I think I'll be buying today."

It was Young Bill's turn to chuckle. "All the same to me," he said. "I'm looking forward to those chocolate chip bars no matter who buys. From what you've told me, I've got a real treat in store."

"How long will you give them to solve it?" Sal asked.

"We'll keep it to about 45 minutes so I have enough time to give my talk," Young Bill replied. "I sure want to get back to the Patterson Hotel before it gets much colder."

"My wife Sylvia and I will host you for dinner at the Patterson's restaurant," Sal said. "A shame you have to leave tomorrow morning. Where do you go from here?"

20231119-billin.jpg

"Bozeman, Montana," Young Bill said. "I'll be speaking at the Montana State Checker Federation, and I'll get to meet up with that six-year old prodigy, Little Jimmy Loy, who already is making a name for himself. But it's probably just as cold there as it is here. Next time remind me to tour the northern states in the summer!"


You won't have to look for a January 1955 copy of All Checkers Digest to become a solver and a voter in the modern Bill Salot's 72nd contest in his ongoing series; all you need to do is click here to go to the contest page. Try out the three excellent problems found there and be sure to vote for your favorite. Unlike in our story, there are no prizes, but there is certainly plenty of great checker entertainment.

However, first try your luck against the boys and Young Bill with the sample problem above. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our little story.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/13/24 -Printer friendly version-
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A Lot of Work

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It's often said, and with good reason, that the road to success is paved with hard work. We've experienced this ourselves and we're sure many of our readers have as well. But the task above is seemingly impossible. It does pay to work smart as well as to work hard.

Now, although we're going to start off the New Year by working you quite hard, the task we're setting is achievable and we hope will prove to be worth your time and trouble.

Have a look at the following position.

WHITE
20231110-workhard.png
BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:W15,19,21,23,25,30,31,32:B2,3,5,10,12,13,16,24

Certainly, Black has a small but visible advantage here; the question is, can you turn it into a win? You'll have to put some mental exertion into this one, but there is a way.

Work it out and then work your mouse over to Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/06/24 -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.

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