June 21, 2006 Article - Yahoo's AFP Worldwide - "Checkers champions see game as art, science and sport"

 AFP Worldwide News

Checkers champions see game as art, science and sport

by Chuck Bowen Wed Jun 21, 10:31 AM ET

MEDINA, United States (AFP) - There are no giant screens streaming instant replays. There are no banners or face paint. There are no television cameras. And there certainly are no screaming fans.

Reigning three-move checkers world champion Alex "The Mad Russian" Moiseyev (R) concentrates on his next move against Elbert Lowder during the National Checkers Tournament in Medina, Ohio. More than 40 players from 17 states and two foreign countries vied for their part of a 6,000 USD purse and a chance to claim the title of US Checkers Champion. (AFP/Chuck Bowen)

A week-long national checkers tournament started Monday in this small town about 30 miles southwest of Cleveland, Ohio.

Packed into a dimly lit conference room at a hotel sandwiched between a fast food restaurant and a gas station, more than 40 players from 17 states and two foreign countries vied for their part of a 6,000 dollar purse and a chance to claim the title of US Checkers Champion.

The game is a combination of art, science and sport. Each component is important and cannot be skipped," said reigning three-move checkers world champion Alex "The Mad Russian" Moiseyev.

The tournament was organized by the game's governing body in the United States, the American Checkers Federation.

This year's tournament is in the three-move style: The first three moves in each game are dictated by a randomly drawn card. This evens the playing field during the course of the tournament's 32 games, giving each player a fair chance at opening moves.

Moiseyev, a Russian-born computer programmer, says he plays in at least eight tournaments every year, traveling anywhere in a 12-hour drive of his home near Columbus, Ohio to compete.

The tournament's 41 competitors came to Medina - population 25,000 - from Barbados, Canada and across the United States. One player even spent 17 hours on a bus from Montreal.

Sitting two to a table, the players stare intently at a green-and-white square board as clocks tick off their time. Much like chess, they say they think at least ten moves ahead.

Edward Hirt, a social psychologist at Indiana University, says competitive behavior - whether on a football field or in an air-conditioned hotel conference room - is still something people commit themselves to passionately.

"If it is something that really engages you and your competitive nature and need for challenge, I could see people traveling cross country to do any activity," he told AFP. "There are a lot of ways that people can challenge themselves and have to perform under pressure against competition that engage the same emotions and feelings as the traditional sports."

Barbados native Ron King, the self-proclaimed Muhammad Ali of checkers, is the world's reigning freestyle checkers champion - the style most Americans probably learned growing up. He walks and talks like his pugilistic equivalent, playing on his surname to talk trash to his competitors.

"I'm a king. I was born a king. I've got to dress like a king," he says, referencing his traditional long shirt and cap, both tie-dyed in bright purples and blues. "Naturally, I came to play checkers."

Nicknamed King Suki by his fans, the 50-year-old makes his living playing, marketing and teaching checkers in Barbados. He says he started playing the game when he was six, and eventually was making thousands of dollars playing the game for money.

The world of checkers can be viewed in the same vein as the rising popularity of televised competitions such as spelling bees, dominoes and poker, Hirt said.  "I don't think they are all that different," he said. "Are science geeks who can build a better robot no less worthy of our admiration than someone who can score 50 points a game on a basketball court?"

"This article originates from Chuck Bowen, a local reporter, talked to many of the players early in the week. Kudos to his paper, The Gazette, for placing and article about the tournament in the Medina paper on Monday, June 19th. The article included front-page pictures of Trey & Erin Stanley, Alex Holmes, and Solomon Reece from the youth tournament. A pre-tournament article appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on June 17.  Joe Schwartz also told me that the tournament was mentioned on the home page of Yahoo’s AFP Worldwide internet site during the week." - RCB