January 20, 2008 - Burlington The Times
News - "Locals jump at chance to revive checkers"
Locals jump at chance to revive checkers
January 20, 2008 - 9:01PM
SEDALIA — Checkers seemed to fall by the wayside along with country stores and
“You don’t see many of those stores anymore,” said Mike Ross, a northern
Alamance County man.
Ross started playing checkers in high school. He kept playing, but about 10
years ago, he started playing seriously.
Now he and a group of men get together to play checkers every Thursday at the
McDonald’s in the Stoney Creek Village shopping center.
It’s not a country store, but it is at a good middle point between Burlington
and Greensboro, so all the players can get to it easily. The group started
getting together at the Kernodle Senior Center in Burlington about 10 years
Face-to-face, or cross-board games, as J.R. Smith calls them, are less common
than they used to be, but checkers is getting to be more common on the
Internet. Smith, Ross and their friend Teal Stanley have all played people
from across the country and around the world online.
“There are a lot of good players in Barbados,” Stanley said.
There is a disadvantage to playing online. Sometimes players will turn on a
checkers program to play for them, and those are hard to beat. These cheaters
are known as “progs.”
“I don’t know why they do it,” Smith said.
These guys actually met online. Ross invited the local players he met on the
Internet to play at the Kernodle Senior Center in Burlington. They met there
for seven or eight years and then, since many of them live in Greensboro and
Guilford County, they decided to split the difference and meet at the
McDonald’s in Stoney Creek.
It’s usually eight to 10 men getting together to play on Thursdays. They
gather at 5 p.m. and stay “until they throw us out,” Smith said.
So far, McDonald’s doesn’t seem to mind, as long as the players eat something.
Smith says if they get many more players, they’ll have to find a new place to
play. It doesn’t seem like he would mind. Smith keeps up nccheckers.org and
since going into semi-retirement a few years ago, he has become kind of a
“It’s a fascinating game,” Smith said.
There are some strategic basics. Stanley said he likes to take control of the
middle of the board. Going to the left corner on the other side of the board
is another basic. There are two squares there so it’s easier to get a king,
which is a big advantage since you can come up on your opponent’s rear.
Smith used to play chess, but he has found he can make more mistakes playing
chess than checkers. Since some chess pieces can go in either direction, if
players catch mistakes early, they can do some damage control.
Checkers go in one direction, at least until they reach the other side of the
board, called the opponent’s king line. So each move cuts the possible
outcomes dramatically, and having one fewer checker than a good opponent is
pretty much the end of the game.
“You can’t make a mistake in checkers,” Smith said. “That’s what I think
intrigues most checker players, you have to be very exact.”
And some of these guys are very exact.
“You have to remove all the checkers from the board in your mind; you have to
visualize” Stanley said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Several of them play in tournaments and Ross plays in the major class while
Stanley sometimes plays in the master class. The classes start with minor and
go on to major and master. There are also grandmasters like chess.
One of them was Marion Tinsley, a mathematician from Florida who won world
championship in 19 different years.
North Carolina had its own grand master. Elbert Lowder, a native of Albemarle,
was a world champion through much of the 1990s and dominated North Carolina
checkers for more than 30 years. He died in 2006.
Lowder played 11-man and three-move-restriction checkers. This means the
players use eight cards with different options for openings. Smith says this
somehow translates into 2,500 different openings. By using the cards players
start a game off in a way they would not have thought of, often with one of
them on the defensive.
“The first three moves decides the kind of game you’re going to play,” Stanley
When it’s over they turn the board around and play the other side of the same
This keeps players from playing the same game every time, which makes a big
difference for guys like Stanley and Ross who have been playing each other for
nearly 10 years. It also cuts down the number of draw games, so checkers
doesn’t turn into tic-tac-toe.
There are still a lot of draws. Stanley and Ross will play eight draws out of
10 games some nights.
The boards the club uses are also unfamiliar to those who haven’t played
checkers since they were kids. Tournament boards are green and white because
it’s easier on the eyes.
“A black checker on a black square is hard to see,” Ross said.
And that’s tough when you spend hours studying the board.