Tulsa World www.tulsaworld.com  

By JOHN KLEIN News Columnist

Posted July 30, 2016 at 12:01 am | Updated: 1:34 am, Sat Jul 30, 2016.   Click News Link

VIDEO: Checkers champion Joe McDaniel  Click Video Link

“Top of his game: Checkers champ wants to play” -
John Klein: Joe McDaniel will pay you to beat him at checkers, but you'd better be good... Checkers mates wanted.

You’ll often find Joe McDaniel somewhere around Tulsa with a checkers board, an empty seat and a sign.

The sign offers a $25 gift card if you can beat him.

No gimmicks. No tricks. No cost.

“I just like to play,” McDaniel said. “It is a way to get people to sit down and play.”

There’s something many of his friends don’t know about McDaniel, a well-known member of Tulsa’s running community who is active in many civic organizations.

He’s one of the top checkers players in the nation.

“It has been my passion for 73 years,” McDaniel said. “I started playing with my dad in 1943. He was a pretty good player.

“But there’s an awful lot to learn.”

McDaniel and his wife, state Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, are the promoters and sponsors of the National Three-Move Tournament, which concludes a four-day run Saturday in Branson, Missouri.

More than 50 players entered for a chance at a total prize purse of $18,200. The tournament attracted some of the best checkers players in the world including competitors from Italy, Barbados and South Africa.

A game of Three-Move checkers starts with one player drawing from a 13-card deck; the first three moves of a game are dictated by the card (156 possibilities).

There’s also the 11-Man Ballot game where the draw of a card will dictate more than 2,500 opening moves for a game.

Then there’s a go-as-you-please (GAYP) division, the standard start to a game of checkers.

Tournaments are held all over the world, including two national tournaments in the United States.

This week’s tournament included 12 two-game rounds. Players get two points for a win and one point for a draw. The person with the most points at the end of the tourney wins.

Although considered somewhat similar to those who are unskilled in the games, checkers and chess are vastly different.

“I’m always getting asked which is a better game,” McDaniel said. “That’s like asking me if baseball or football is a better game. Well, I like them both. It is an old argument.

“Personally, I think checkers is a better game. Chess is a more complicated game.”

Players are categorized in seven levels — beginner, amateur, near-expert, expert, near-master, master, grand master. There have been just seven grand master checkers players in history, and none is still living.

The tournaments are conducted under the umbrella of the American Checker Federation.

McDaniel has been playing and winning for much of his life, but not always.

He remembers being stationed at Fort Sill in the 1950s, and he went into Lawton to find a game of checkers.

“I thought I was a pretty good player,” McDaniel said. “I was playing a lot of games against other guys on base.

“So I went into Lawton looking for a game. I found a guy in a bar willing to play for $1 per game. I lost six straight games. I found out I wasn’t that good of a player.

“I don’t like to lose.”

So, in the 1960s, he bought a book called “Lee’s Guide,” an instructional book on the game of checkers and many of the most common moves, mistakes and ideas.

Over the years, he’s added other checkers books.

“On the surface, checkers appears to be a pretty simple game,” McDaniel said. “But you could play it and study it your entire life and not master it.

“When you get into tournament play, you can really run into some very good players.”

McDaniel just likes to play. He’s always looking for anyone willing to sit down and try checkers.

That’s why he offers the prize to anyone who can beat him.

He can often be found at Tulsa Promenade mall, Blue Rose Cafe or during Mayfest with his sign and a checkers board.

He figures he’s played about 1,100 games with people who are willing to challenge him since he started taking his sign around town. He’s lost four times.

“I have some $25 gift certificates in my car, and I’ve had them a long time,” McDaniel said. “Of the four I’ve lost, two were just stupid blunders on my part. And two I just lost.

“A lot of people think they are good players or they think their husband or dad or kids are good players. But, to be honest, there really aren’t that many good players.”

However, of the good players, many come from the South, especially Tennessee and North Carolina.

“I think there is this perception of two old guys playing checkers with a board on top of a cracker barrel in the general store,” McDaniel said. “To be honest, that probably was not that far from the truth in a lot of areas of the South. As a result, there are a lot of very good players from the South.

“There are probably about five really good players in this state. I like to think I’m one of them, and there are a couple of guys from Shawnee, a father and son. But there are a lot of people that think they know someone good.”

McDaniel is always on the lookout for good players. He loves the challenge.

“It is all about what do you see and what do you know,” he said. “Good checkers players come from all walks of life.

“You know I love running, and it is similar to checkers. They are both something you can do your entire life. One is good for the body. The other is good for the mind.”

John Klein 918-581-8368


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