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Win at Checkers
By Millard Hopper
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1956 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
A REVIEW OF THE GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF THE GAME
Just to give you an idea of how one of my students becomes transformed from a "hit-and-miss" checker player into a competent devotee of the game, consider the following conversation as though you were listening in on a discussion between the student and myself.
Mr. Hopper, is there any rule as to who moves first in the game?
Yes, there is a definite rule that the Black checkers always have the first move in a game. On the following game, the players change colors so that the first move alternates with each game.
I know in a general way that checkers is a game played on squares by opposing groups of twelve checkers, but let's assume that I know nothing other than that. I want you to tell me precisely what the object of the game is.
The object of checkers is to capture or block all of your opponent's men, in which case you win the game.
How may this be accomplished?
This may be accomplished in several ways. First, by breaking through your opponent's ranks, securing the first King and using it to capture and destroy your opponent's single checkers. Secondly, by gaining a superior number of pieces by getting your opponent in a shot or trap, and thirdly, by so maneuvering your men that your opponent's men are either blocked, or his pieces pinned so that he is unable to move.
What is the numbered checkerboard? and what part does it play in becoming a checker expert?
The Numbered Checkerboard might be termed the Reference Chart of Checker science. It is only by this system of numbering the playing squares of the board that the various moves can be pointed out and recorded. The numbers merely indicate the different squares on the playing field and makes it possible to designate the position of the checkers.
By the aid of the Numbered Board, the student, or player can keep a complete record of all the moves of a game, thus enabling him to play the game over later and locate his mistakes.
The diagrams herewith show the Numbered Checkerboard with the checkers set up for play. The board is numbered from one to thirty-two in consecutive order, and the Black checkers always occupy the low numbered squares from 1 to 12, at the start of the game. The White pieces as shown occupy squares from 21 to 32.
What is meant by the "double corner," and "single corner" on the board?
The "Double Corner" means the corner of the board where there are two playing squares instead of one. Black's Double Corner is composed of squares 1 and 5. White's Double Corner is squares 32 and 28.
The Single Corner is the corner with the single playing squares and is always at your left as you face the board. White's Single Corner is square 29, and Black's Single Corner is square 4.
Generally speaking, which is the weakest part of your opponent's forces?
Generally speaking, the weakest part of your opponent's forces is on his Double Corner side of the board. This is on the left hand side of the board as you advance. Usually the first King is secured on this side of the board, White getting his King on square 1, and Black securing his King on square 32.
Is it good policy to exchange pieces as rapidly as possible in order to reduce the number of men? This is the popular impression. Is there any truth in it?
To exchange men simply to cut down the number of pieces generally leads to a weak or lost game. An exchange of men should only be made when it accomplishes some definite purpose: either to remove your opponent's men which are blocking your advance, or where it gives you a commanding position that will enable you to run a checker through for a King.
On the other hand, my thought is that if the double corner is the weakest side of the board, why shouldn't I exchange in that direction to decimate or kill off all the checkers on that side of the board; thus leaving an open path to my opponent's King row?
It is a good policy to exchange in that direction, but first your men must be moved into position in the center of the board to prepare for these exchanges.
How can I tell when it is the proper time to make an exchange?
When you are certain the rest of your position is safe from immediate attack, and when you see a definite advantage to be gained.
Is there any zone or squares which possess more strategic importance than others?
Yes, the central squares of the board are known as Key Squares. These squares are the ones numbered 14, 15, 18, and 19.
To occupy these squares gives you a general advantage of position. However, in occupying these squares you must have supporting checkers, and these must be in a position to be brought forward without acting as a detriment to your backfield defense.
When I am once in possession of this strategic area, what use can I make of it to break into my opponent's king row?
Once in possession of these squares you have an opportunity to impede your opponent's advancing men, likewise these central squares can be used as a spearhead to attack and advance your own men.
In other words—when 1 am once in possession of these squares, or bases, is it then to my advantage to trade "blow for blow"?
Yes, it is to your advantage to trade blow for blow; however, these blows should be so timed that they will land at a time when they will cause the most damage.
Is there any general rule you can give me for the estimation of my opponent's position and weaknesses?
By looking for holes or weak spots in your opponent's ranks you can tell just when and where to attack. A broken up position with straggling men should be attacked with full force. The following diagrams show two instances where this rule applies.
In Diagram 3, Black's ranks are weakest on your right side of the board, the vacant squares on 3, 8, and 11 forming a big hole or gap. White's best play is to smash at this weak point, and he plays 24-19; an exchange that further disrupts Black's game.
In Diagram 4, Black's weak point is the hole on square 7, and White occupying the center of the board can attack that point by moving 18 to 15. Make the exchange of men, and note how Black's forces are divided. It is difficult to rebuild a new and sound defense after having your ranks broken in this manner. Whenever you can split your opponent's forces with an exchange in this manner it is a technical advantage.
How can I avoid these holes and weak spots in my own ranks?
By consolidating your pieces as you move forward. Each man should be moved towards the center of the board in a wedge-shaped formation. As a checker is moved forward it should be backed up by another checker from your secondary line of men. This will keep your checkers in a compact mass and avoid holes or weak spots in your defense.
The following diagram shows a solid wedge-shaped advance by the Black checkers. Black has moved from 11 to 15, then from 8 to 11, and finally from 4 to 8. Each checker has backed up the one ahead and Black has made a complete advance down the center of the board keeping his men in a solid, compact formation.
With the White checkers, the same Single Corner advance can be obtained by moving 2218, 25-22, and 29-25.
These Single Corner advances are the strongest opening attacks in checkers.
Suppose my opponent moves his men forward in this solid single corner attack, what is the best defense against it?
The strongest defense against it is an exchange of men, which breaks up the spearhead of his advance and slows up his attack—for instance, after Black led off with 11-15, White could reply 22-18, immediately breaking up his control of the center of the board. After the exchanges, when Black reforms his men you do likewise, backing up your forward men and watching carefully to see which side of his board is least protected. (This Opening is gone into fully in a later chapter.)
Say, this is fascinating! By the way, how old is the game of checkers?
Older than you would suppose; in fact, checkers is the oldest game in the world and dates back over 4000 years. According to inscriptions in the temples of Thebes, the Egyptian kings took time out from building the Pyramids to mop up their courtiers at Checkers.
In Homer's Odyssey, reference is made to games being played in the palace of Ulysses in Ithaca; also Plato makes frequent mention of the games in his writings.
Down through the years the game has held its perennial appeal, being played by great and humble folk alike. The earliest book on the game was published by Antonio Torquemada, a Spanish author at Valencia, Spain, in the year 1547.
Were there many famous people of the past who were fond of checkers?
Yes, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln were noted for their love of checkers. Edgar Allan Poe and the famous lexicographer Samuel Johnson considered the game superior to all educational pastimes.
Who were some of the later day devotees of the game?
Andrew Carnegie once stated that he owed his start in life to a game of checkers. As a youngster, his father had taken him to a friend of his to get him his first job. The gentleman in question happened to be a checker enthusiast and invited young Andrew to sit down to a game. The lad so distinguished himself by his playing ability that he got the job then and there.
Teddy Roosevelt was said to play a very good game of checkers, and I know that Thomas Edison, Harry Houdini, and Will Rogers did, for I played all of them during the years I played professionally at Luna Park, Coney Island.
Also the famous baseball pitcher, Christy Mathewson, was an even greater checker player, and was a regular visitor to the checker clubs in all the large cities. When I was just starting to learn the game I met "Matty" at the old New York Checker Club on East 42nd St., N. Y. C. His generous coaching in the tricks and traps of the game gave me my first start towards championship honors, but now we are getting a bit off our regular answers. Perhaps you might give me the next question that comes to your mind.
Assuming I have learned the rules and general principles and that I am alert to the weaknesses of my opponent, how may I escape traps which he will set for me, and in return, lay some for him?
After learning the general principles of the game, the next important step is to familiarize yourself with the various skirmish tactics. This involves learning the various traps and deceptive shots. By learning how to lay these shots and traps, you will also learn how to recognize them when they are set for you.
So I may understand exactly what a trick shot or trap is, suppose you explain to me the simplest trick shot which you know.
In order to get a clear picture of this, let's remove all the other checkers from the board.
Now, let us place checkers on the squares shown in the following diagram.
Now, how would you apply a shot like this in a game, and suppose my opponent catches me in a trap of this kind, do I have to jump or can I allow my opponent to pick up my man instead?
If you are caught in a shot of this kind, you have to jump. The only choice is where you catch your opponent in the shot, and if he fails to jump, you can either pick up his checker (called "Huffing") or you can compel him to jump. (See Law No. 13.)
The following illustration shows how the "Two-for-One" shot just detailed can be used in a game.
In the Diagram just shown the identical "Two-for-One" shot shown on Diagram 6 is depicted as it appears in a game surrounded by other pieces.
Are there many such trick shots available?
Yes, there are any number of trick shots and traps that come up during a game. These shots will be shown in detail in the next chapter.
I've often heard it said that if you retain your entire king row your opponent cannot break through. Is this true?
Decidedly not! To try and retain your entire King Row means that you are trying to fight your battle with only eight checkers, your front line four men and your secondary four men. If your opponent brings out two men from his King Row, he has an attacking force of ten men against your eight, and will soon overcome your smaller force.
Only two men should be retained in the King Row; a man on square i, and a man on square 3 for Blacks. With Whites, a checker on 32 and one on 30 gives the regular King Row protection.
How can your opponent break through this two-man King Row defense?
The only way that your opponent can enter the King Row through this defense is by forming what is known as a "Bridge Position."
To form a Bridge position, a man must first be posted on either square 10 or square 12, which forms a bridge for a checker on square 11 to move into the King Row.
If you had your Bridge position with the Whites, Black would have to occupy either square 21 or 23, to form his bridge to enable another of his men on 24 to run through into the King Row, see Diagram 8A, which shows both players with a bridge position on opposite sides of the board.
I understand a checker player must look several moves ahead in a game. Is this necessary, and how long does it take to acquire this ability?
Expert checker players do look a number of moves ahead in a game. This ability will be acquired by the student after he masters the principles of the game. After you have learned to locate your proper move you will find that you can also discover the probable reply of your opponent. In looking ahead in this manner you can see and avoid dangerous shots and traps.
I wonder if you could show me an illustration of this system of looking ahead.
In the following set-up shown on Diagram 9, White apparently has an opportunity of squeezing Black's man on square 14 by moving from 22 to 17; however, the old slogan "look before you leap" applies very forcibly here.
The novice might hurriedly push in 22 to 17 in this setting, without seeing the consequences. A look ahead will show you that if White makes the 22 to 17 move, Black simply slides his checker from 2 to 6, and after White jumps 17 to 10, Black jumps three White checkers with his piece on square 6. White's correct play was down the center of the board, namely 18 to 15. After White makes this move, Black is forced to support his checker on square 14 by playing 1 to 5. Now if White squeezes 22-17 Black can exchange 14 to 18.
Is it true that if I lose one man or even two men, that the tide of battle has turned too greatly against me, and that further fight is useless?
No. One checker behind, or even two is not always a hopeless situation. The best policy is to play your hardest right until the end of the game. It is always possible that your adversary may become careless and commit some oversight. Even the foremost players have been known to do this on certain occasions.
Suppose I am reduced to one King, which I have located in the double corner and my opponent has a King in the other double corner; is it a draw? When else is it a draw?
One King against one King, when both can reach a double corner for safety is a Drawn game. There are many forms of Drawn games, some occurring even with one King against two. The diagram below shows an ending of this kind. Black has two Kings to White's one, yet is unable to win.
White's star play is to come after Black rather than retreat. White moves 13-17, and gains a draw position. Black can only play 25-21 or 25-30. In either case White moves 17 to 22, and as long as he keeps control of squares 26 and 22 or 17 and 22, Black is unable to release his two Kings and must agree to a draw.
Another similar setting of this idea is: Black King on 21, Black Single man on 13. White King on square 26. White to Move and Draw. Here again White forces a stalemate by moving 26-22. Black's only move is 21-17, and White plays 22-18 and blocks the escape of the Black King. Black cannot move his single man because his King is blocking it, and has only one move left for his King, which is to move back from 17-21. White must hold the grip to draw and returns to square 22, and as long as White keeps his hold on squares 22, and 18, the game must be relinquished as a Draw. The student must bear in mind that this position can also come up in the same way on the opposite side of the board.
Suppose I had one King in the double corner and my opponent had two. Have I lost the game, or can I hope to continue to a draw—in other words, Mr. Hopper, when is the game a draw?
Two Kings can win against one in the Double Corner, still it is good sportsmanship to play the game out to the finish, likewise as I have mentioned there is always a small chance that your opponent might make some oversight and allow you to draw. The following shows an instance of this kind.
White has his one King in the Double Corner on square 32, while Black has Kings on 19 and 22. White instead of resigning the game moves his King out to square 27. Now Black carelessly plays 22 to 26, and White gets what is known in checker circles as the "Breeches." He moves in between the two Black kings by going from 27-23, and gains one of Black's Kings on the next move. Study this simple maneuver over for it crops up often among beginners. The following diagram shows another setting of the same idea.
Excerpted from Win at Checkers by Millard Hopper. Copyright © 1956 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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