The Daily Herald - Columbia, TN - Sunday, August 10, 2008 

On the move: Draughts champ sharpens his skill

Leonard Hickman plays himself in a game checkers at his home Friday. Hickman is one of the top minor players in the American Checkers Federation. He said he dedicates most of his games to his late wife Frances. Staff photo by Chris Graham

Leonard Hickman studied his opponent; time was not on his side. He had to make a decision now or lose the game. His mind raced to find every possible move he could make — finally, it came to him.

“King me,” he said with a sly smile.

For 20 years, Hickman has played against some of the best players the game of checkers can offer. Now the Campbell’s Station man finds solace in the game he learned while an employee at Joe Electric.

“A guy told me a long time ago, a boy that plays checkers does not bother the law,” 74-year-old Hickman said.

Hickman, whose wife Frances died last year, plays in upward of five tournaments a year at the major and minor level. He said most of the games he wins are dedicated to his wife who used to travel with him to out-of-state tournaments after she retired.

Now he practices by playing himself following tournament-sanctioned scripts. He said other people practice every day by playing over the Internet.

“It’s very easy to learn, but how to master it is a different problem,” he said. “A lot of people think you have to be old to play, but there a lot of good young people.”

The game of checkers is more sophisticated than chess and requires a lot of thinking, said Hickman, who is a member of the American Checkers Federation. Tournament games are dictated by numbered movements that are issued before the match begins.

“Otherwise the games would be over in two minutes,” he said.

Each move is timed to keep the games under two-and-a-half hours. One player may end up playing up to 60 games in a tournament, Hickman said.

In 2007, he won the minor division of the Tennessee State Checkers Tournament held in Lebanon. He also won the Mule Day Checkers Tournament in 2007, adding to the numerous trophies that line his mantle. He admitted the game is more about being competitive and is considering moving up into the major division.

“You don’t care if the person across from you is the president of the United States,” he said. “You’re going to try and beat him.”

Story created Aug 10, 2008 - 16:34:57 EDT.