Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Study in Checkers

As a point of vacation preparation, the smarter half of the parental authority here came up the idea of packing a "boredom relief kit" for keeping me and the kids occupied during vacation downtime. I thought of a bunch of games to bring along, and am currently in the process of getting them all to fit.

When I asked my son if there were any games I was missing, he responded "Checkers."

In picking him up from school, I had seen him in action a few times. Sliding bright red pieces across a battered black and red board in the kid safari area. And I had been meaning to pick up a copy "at some point" to continue his gaming education.

But now, suddenly, I found now was the time.

Target had a nice set for $5, but it was in tan/wood shades. Strong objections were raised at the colors, and the motion was made to have the proper red/black colors traditionally popular here in America.

Down at the GW lounge, there was a 80's era Pressman set of red and blacks for $1. Per their ways, the GW staff had sealed the box tightly with packing tape leaving no way for me to gauge if the box contained the correct number of pieces.

Finally I went to Wall-Mart. They had a large selection of board games but what really caught my eye was a brand new red/black checker/chess combo set for sale in a TIN. The price? $6.50. The most expensive set, yet!

A bargain at twice the price! (Unrelated "Price is Right" clip, more info on the clip)

The pieces were the right color. They were packed in a indestructible tin which should hold the contents securely until the end of time. The size was much more travel-friendly. And I was guaranteed all the parts would be there (unless something goes horribly wrong!).

Variations of Checkers have been played for thousands of years. The size of the board, the number of pieces and finally their movements were ironed out back in the 16th century. 

Since 1535, proper Checkers are played that if a jump can be made, it MUST be made. I notice the folks the boy hangs around with don't always adhere to this, but I think if I am a stickler it will probably make him a better player.

Until today, I didn't know the most famous Checkers player was Marion Tinsley. Tinsley is known to have only lost 7 matches of Checkers in his entire career, 2 of them were to the fiendish computer program built from the ground up to beat checkers, Jonathan Schaeffer's Chinook. In 2007, Chinook was sufficiently advanced that it would play to a draw against a perfect player, and is effectively unbeatable.

Luckily, I have never had to face such heroic odds. My skills are not particularly impressive and could use a little dusting up on basic strategy.

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