Dover with news from the Dover-Sherborn Press
Dover was home to the 2008 New England Checkers Championship last Saturday with more than a dozen people competing. Playing the classic game in tournament play means following a set of strict rules designed to challenge and encourage strategic play.
Many of those attended had traveled from New York or New Jersey to have the chance to play with some of their talented peers at the home of Richard and Catherine White. Since it was an open tournament, anyone was able to participate, but only New England players were able to win a title.
Turns out the overall winner was Jimmy O’Grady of Yonkers. The 53-year-old Grady has been playing for about 15 years and says the game “keeps the mind alert.” The oldest player there that day, 88-year-old Gordon Sharp couldn’t agree more. Other players joked he must have really wanted to play checkers … he was in a wheelchair and had gotten up quite a steep driveway with the help of his daughter.
O’Grady said his checkers history comes in two sections. As a young boy, he learned the game in Scotland playing with an ill boyhood friend who lived next door: “Checkers took his mind off his sickness.” He moved to the United States in 1937 and played checkers with a Russian barber. Quick-witted, he chuckled, “He wasn’t busy. There was no work at the time!” After getting discharged from the Navy, he didn’t rediscover the game until three years ago when he started playing online.
While online games hone his skills, O’Grady said, “Once you start winning, they walk away.” He along with everyone else prefers playing face-to-face.
White’s wife, Catherine, agreed, “There is nothing that substitutes sitting across the table.”
Her husband, a three-time New England champion and five-time Massachusetts champion, plays every year at Dover’s Old Home Day while she co-chairs the event.
“One year, 22 kids played with him, including a boy who had a broken arm,” she said.
Catherine White said checkers is wonderful for the children who are not interested in or cannot play sports due to physical limitations, such as her nephew with cerebral palsy: “All you need is a board and a flat surface.”
The couple met at Dickinson College playing competitive chess. However, they became more interested in the game of checkers. In fact, Richard wrote “How to Lose at Checkers” in 1994. The book describes lessons from the masters and what the top-notch players did wrong. The Whites have a whole collection of books on the game’s history and strategy. Richard brings up the quote from Marion Tinsley, considered to be the greatest checkers player who ever lived, “Playing chess is like looking out over a limitless ocean; playing checkers is like looking into a bottomless well.”
Players enjoyed socializing with each other during breaks at the full-day event, but were silent when facing each other across the board. The first round began at 10 a.m. and the event continued into the early evening. The format was round-robin with no entry fee or prize money. According to the Whites, “The first-place finisher gets bragging rights and their name on the championship plaque.”
Mike Magnelli’s name is listed on the traveling plaque many times. He again is this year’s co-New England champion with Steve Kelly. “Checkers is a great hobby. It takes you away from the day-to-day world. Playing face-to-face is much more congenial” than playing online against a computer,” said Magnelli.
Richard chimed in, “It’s pretty clear that we are all real people here!”
One of the younger players, 39-year-old Alex Weaver, came up from New Jersey to strengthen his skills. Wearing Red Sox gear, he noted he was brought up “with flying kings. I needed to learn this particular style and lost a lot of games when I first started.” A friend of O’Grady’s, Bill Hozak, admitted he was a novice and was there playing for fun “and making the same mistakes over again.” He did learn a trick was to keep pieces in a triangle as a defense so that your competitor “was not able to double jump.”
The tournament was dedicated to renowned checkers player Freeman T. Frank, a high school history teacher in Melrose, who died in October 2007.
Checkers or draughts, as it is called in Great Britain, has a long history. It is believed that the earliest form of checkers was a similar game discovered in an archeological dig in the Middle East dating around 3000 B.C. Around for centuries, it has been enjoyed by billions.
According to the New York Times, in July 2007, Jonathan Schaeffer, a computer scientist at the University of Alberta in Canada, “announced that after running a computer program almost nonstop for 18 years, he had calculated the result of every possible endgame that could be played, all 39 trillion of them. He also revealed a sober fact about the game: checkers is a draw. As with tic-tac-toe, if both players never make a mistake, every match will end in a deadlock.”
This seems unlikely to happen in an imperfect world playing against fallible human beings. If last weekend is any indication, checkers will continue to be a popular social activity for generations to come for children and adults of all ages.And the winners are…
Overall winner - Jimmy O’Grady of New York
Co-New England champions - Mike Magnelli and Steve KellyMassachusetts champion - Steve Kelly
Rhode Island champion - Mike MagnelliAl Darrow - Connecticut champion
Tue Jun 17, 2008, 05:56 PM EDT
The 2008 New England checkers championship will be held on June 21 in Dover this year at the home of Richard and Catherine White, 8 Pine St.
Registration begins at 9 a.m., first round to begin at 10. This is a one-day tournament.
There is no entry fee or prize money. The first-place finisher gets bragging rights and their name on the championship plaque.
The format will be round-robin unless there are too many entrants to complete all rounds in one day, in which case the Swiss System will be used for pairings.
We anticipate the entry of the current New England champion, Michael Magnelli, and several previous winners as well.
Anyone is welcome to enter or observe. Rules of Standard American checkers apply. See http://usacheckers.com/rulesofcheckers.php. Clocks will not be used, but entrants should complete their games in 30 minutes to allow the next round to begin promptly