Dover with news from the Dover-Sherborn Press

Checkers champ crowned: Dover couple hosts New England tournament  (Link)
By Neil Johnson/Correspondent
Tue Jun 16, 2009, 05:44 PM EDT

Dover -

Not everyone may have realized the stakes of the tournament going on in the house of residents Richard and Catherine White, but tension simmered in the air, as, with every moment, championships were won and lost. By the afternoon, after a full day’s play, the town could finally be put at ease: Joe Margolin defeated Al Darrow to become New England’s new checkers champion.

Margolin, a Westwood resident, and Darrow, who had traveled from Connecticut, were participants in the New England Checkers Championship, an officially sanctioned tournament of the American Checker Federation. Eight players, hailing from Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut, participated.

Richard White is the ACF’s District 1 (New England) director, and he and his wife, Catherine, began holding the tournament at their Pine Street house two years ago (Catherine, though a checkers player, considers herself more the tournament’s “patroness”). Richard has been playing in checkers tournaments since the late 1970s, and, when the tournament’s previous host out in Melrose decided to stop holding the tournament at his house, the Whites offered their own home.  

The tournament is open to all comers, including non-New Englanders, though if a non-New Englander wins the tournament, then the highest-placing New England resident claims the figurative belt. The proceedings are round-robin style, so that the players play a given number of games, and whoever has the best overall record at the end of the tournament wins. Clocks are not used, but there is an understanding that moves are not to be dragged out (at some levels, such as national tournaments, participants may use clocks). 

There was great disparity in age amongst the players at the house, and some of the large gaps may be explained by the importance of the Internet in competitive board games. While most children grow up with checkers, playing during rainy days or summer nights (Holden Caulfield, one might remember, spent an entire summer watching Jane Gallagher’s kings languish in the back row), many people lose the game somewhere along the way before they learn any sort of serious strategy. With the Internet, many strong players are constantly sitting at the other end of a virtual board, awaiting a challenger; many people rediscover a love for the game after a significant hiatus. Richard White even said that the Internet “may be the salvation of the game.”

John Michalowski, the first Maine resident to enter the tournament in nearly 10 years (thus claiming, upon arrival, the Maine championship), played checkers with his grandfather as a boy, and rediscovered the game on the Internet only a few years ago. This was his first organized tournament.

“I found the tournament online, and I decided to travel down to play some games in person,” said Michalowski. “It’s fun to get together. Everything’s been very enjoyable.”

Though many people return to the game with the Internet, it has nothing like the huge following of its 8 x 8 rival, chess. In fact, the most publicity checkers has recently seen came in 2007, when Jonathan Schaeffer, a Canadian researcher in artificial intelligence, announced that he and a team had solved the game. The general public may have simply been satisfied with the analogy that a “solved” game, like, notably, Tic Tac Toe, will always be played to a draw, but checkers’ complexity means that the announcement does not invalidate further strategy; a precocious child may figure out the solution to Tic Tac Toe by the time he enters grade school, but checkers, Richard White noted, generally takes longer even than chess to develop masters, who themselves could still potentially lose. In live games, White said, the “human element” will often lead to players making wrong moves in even the subtlest of ways, so that they may not realize their mistakes for another 10 to 15 moves.

“The game was shown to be a draw, but it is not by any means trivial to get to that point,” said White.

Good play of checkers requires constant play, careful study, and exceptional powers of foresight and retention. And some of New England’s finest showed off their skill this weekend, with a few sandwich breaks for good measure. As resting participants arranged their next games and talked about current events in the living room and players made their diagonal moves a room away, Catherine White said the pair had been happy to take over the hosting duties two years ago.

“We’ve got the room for the tournament, and we’re located in between Connecticut and Maine,” she said. And the game itself, Catherine said, is “a nice intellectual challenge, difficult and enjoyable,” the same reasons so many people take up the game in the first place, even here in a tournament setting.

June 24, 2008 - Wicked Local Dover-"Championship draws checkers fans to Dover"  |  Articles