Sunday, July 29, 2012 - The Jackson Sun
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Gannett Company "Checker
tourney pays tribute to a master; 2012 competition named for Jackson's Hugh
Burton" Newspaper Link
10:22 PM, Jul 29, 2012
Written by Ned B. Hunter
It was only one move, but it cost Hugh Burton a chance at the world title.
Burton felt the move was wrong as soon as he slid his checker across the board during the semifinal round of the 1978 American Checker Federation’s National 3-move Tournament in Murfreesboro. An hour later, the move proved fatal. Burton lost the match. He placed third in the tournament, losing his chance for checker’s highest honor.
Thirty-four years later, Burton remembered the loss as the “most frustrating” of his 50-year checker-playing career, partly because he almost never lost. Burton is a 39-time Tennessee state checker champion. He has won more than double the number of state checker championships than his closest competitor.
This week, between 50 and 75 checker players will pay tribute to Burton by playing in the 2012 American Checker Federation’s Hugh Burton 3-move National Checker Tournament in Lebanon. The winner will play Alex Moiseyev next year for the World Championship title, unless Moiseyev wins. The tournament runs today through Saturday and is dedicated to the player whom competitors called their “toughest opponent.”
“Of the many opponents I have played, Mr. Burton was one of not so many,” said Moiseyev, who is a five-time, world three-move checker champion. “His skills are tremendous. Playing against him was always very tough games.”
There are 156 ways to start a game of checkers, Burton said. He knew most, if not all, of them when he was playing. The lower two shelves of the wall-length bookcase in his home hold nothing but books on the strategy of checkers, also known as Draughts. Some of the books are out of print, a reflection of how long Burton has played and studied the game.
A Gates native, Burton was 8 years old when he began playing checkers against his brother. When he was 13, his family moved to the Forked Deer community near Brownsville, where Burton began to study the intricacies of the game. At night he would play against farmers and others in front of the Haywood County Courthouse.
Burton was 24 when he moved to Jackson. When he wasn’t coon hunting, he was playing and studying checkers at the Old Country Store. In 1956, at the age of 31, Burton traveled to Galveston, Texas, to play in his first national tournament. He tied for ninth and 10th place.
Moiseyev said Burton’s skill at sliding checkers is nearly unequaled. The two men have opposed each other at least 30 times, and Moiseyev won only four or five of the games. A few others ended in a draw.
Moiseyev said Burton was an innovator of the game, adding new tactics and moves whenever possible.
“(In America) we don’t have official titles,” Moiseyev said. “But from my own classification, I would name him as a grandmaster.”
Burton and his wife, Peggy, married in 1950. The couple had two children — a son and daughter. They also adopted his brother’s son. Today, however, only their daughter is alive.
The couple started the first Terminix franchise in Jackson in 1959. Burton said playing checkers made him a better businessman because of the need to think three and four moves ahead of his opponents.
Burton’s checker career also provided his family with the opportunity to travel and make lifelong friends, Peggy Burton said.
“The children would always ask when he was going to play checkers next,” she said, “because they knew it meant a vacation and a trip somewhere.”
Burton will be 88 on Nov. 18. Peggy is eight years his junior. Burton still swims 21 laps a day, five days a week in the Olympic-size pool at the YMCA. The exercise provides him little relief from the game that still dominates his life.
“All I do is think about moves when I am swimming,” he said, laughing.
While chess and checkers are played on the same board, checkers is a much less-forgiving game, Burton said. He said a wrong move in checkers can cost a player a tournament.
Perhaps he was remembering his 1978 Murfreesboro loss when he made the remark. Burton lost to Elbert Lauder and placed third in that tournament. Still, he called that same competition in which 168 players participated — the largest in the tournament’s history — his best performance ever. Before the Murfreesboro loss, he had played in at least five other tournaments where Burton was never beaten.
“That one loss was my only loss of the tournament,” he said.
Burton’s checker-playing career came to a close at the 2006 American Checker Federation’s National Championship tournament in Nashville. Burton withdrew from the tournament after losing two games to a player who had never beaten him before.
While the loss did not eliminate him from the competition, it made him realize it was time to fold his green and white checker board for the final time. It is the only time Burton withdrew from a tournament.
“I could tell my thinking was not as great as it used to be,” Burton said. “I knew I was not seeing the moves like I should see them.”
Peggy said that was all nonsense.
“He’s as sharp as ever,” she said.
Articles | May 11, 2006 Jackson Sun | Hugh Burton checker biography