June 17, 2006 - Cleveland - The Plain Dealer - "National Checker tournament - National Youth Checker Tournament

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Competition that could make you jumpy

Saturday, June 17, 2006


National Checker Tournament - National Youth Checker Tournament

What: Youth tournament is today and Sunday. Registration is at 8 a.m. today. Main competition is Monday through Saturday, June 24. Registration is 8:30 a.m. Monday.

Where: Traveler's Choice Hotel, Interstate 71 and Ohio 18, Medina.

Cost to watch: Free.

Just checkers?

Not Grand Theft Auto Checkers or Super Xtreme Total Maximum Impact Velocity Checkers? Just . . . checkers?

Yes, checkers, but don't expect to see potbellied stoves and black-and-red boards when some of the world's finest players compete in Medina for the next week.

Checkers is serious. The game has a ruling body (the American Checker Federation), prize money, face-offs against computer programs and even its own scandal.

The former president of the World Checker Draught Federation resigned in disgrace last year after being indicted on money-laundering charges. He also closed the International Checker Hall of Fame, which he'd built in a wing of his mansion in Petal, Miss.

The game goes on, however.

About 55 players from around the country are expected to compete in the National Checker Tournament and the National Youth Checker Tournament at the Traveler's Choice Hotel in Medina. It's the biggest checkers tournament in the United States, said Richard Beckwith, a master player from Willoughby.

"A lot of people think of checkers as a kid's game or old men in a park, but we're taking it to a different level," Beckwith said. "Checker playing at the master level is probably more complex than chess."

Like chess, checkers is all about strategy and plotting many moves ahead, but checkers is less forgiving, Beckwith said. A chess player can make a mistake and still win; in tournament-level checkers, a false move is almost always fatal. That's why it can take as long as six hours to play a four-game match.

Checkers is older than chess. References to the game have been found in Egyptian inscriptions dating back to 1600 B.C., while chess did not come along until about A.D. 600.

For all its longevity, checkers is still regarded as less cerebral than chess, or a game anyone can play.

In keeping that common touch, this week's tournaments are open to anyone with a membership in the ACF and $25. Amateurs, however, ought to think twice. Two world champions are expected to attend and the recreational player is likely to be dispatched in a flurry of lightning jumps. (It is possible, through the use of the 350-year-old Canalejas Cannonball, to win a match in five moves.)

That doesn't mean nonplayers can't watch and learn.

Recreational players can follow the strategy as they watch the experts, Beckwith said. One thing spectators will notice is that the squares on competition boards are green and tan; red and black having been deemed too hard to stare at for the hours some matches take. The pieces usually are plastic, though wood, stone and metal versions are made.

If spectators are lucky, they'll see players employ the Goose Walk, Wyllie's Switcher Winder, the Boomerang or the Duffer's Delight - the names of various complicated jumps.