October 3, 2005 - Marion Daily Republican - "Norris City man captures title at 71st Illinois 101 County Checker Tournament.  An article featuring the Illinois State Open Checker Tournament.

Norris City man captures title at 71st Illinois 101 County Checker Tournament

Richard Baker of Goreville demonstrates a winning opening move. (TOM KANE PHOTO)

By Tom Kane, Marion Daily Republican

MARION -- Thinking six or seven moves ahead is the key to success in competitive checkers according to checker player Richard Buker of Goreville. Apparently, Gene Ellison, of Norris City, was thinking eight moves ahead.

Ellison won the 71st Illinois 101 County Checker Tournament held at the Illinois Centre Mall this past weekend. Tournament play began Saturday at 10 a.m. and ended Sunday afternoon.

The tournament was started in 1923, and the 101 county moniker came from the fact that the tournament excluded Cook County entrants because there were so many said Ellison. There are 102 counties in Illinois.

"This is the smallest tournament we have had in a long time," said Ellison. "Not many younger players want to learn how to play the game. This is a game that can be played from beginner to expert, from the youngest to the oldest," he said. There were 22 entrants in the tournament.

But not all young people are ignoring the game. Second place winner Cody Short of Marion is only 17 and was the state champion two years ago.

"People say that most players are old," said Buker. "I think its because when we were young, we didn't have television and computers. I remember when I was 17 years old and working, we played before, during and after dinner."

John Grisley of Marion recalled his early playing days.

"When I was a kid, I played all these old guys, and they beat me bad," Grisley said, "but I was determined to get better and beat them. And I did, but then I started feeling bad about beating all these old guys.

"But I never beat Tony Gurskie from Johnston City. He won the state title in 1949."

Grisley said that checkers is not an easy game.

"I tell you these guys are tough, and I have played checkers all my life," he said. "People say that we have the best most interesting tournament in the United States."

Grisley has won the state title in 2000 and 2001.

"A lot of people think checkers is a kid's game. But it can be played at any level. People play checkers all over the world," he said.

Players for the national tournaments come from the US, Canada, England, Australia and Barbados said Grisley.

Grisley is pushing for a national tournament in Marion, but says it won't be easy."

"We need a sponsor and $10,000 in prize money for a national tournament here in the mall," said Grisley.

Players for the weekend tournament came from Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee.

But to compete for the Illinois title the entrant had to live in Illinois.

"We are fortunate to have these tournaments in Southern Illinois," said Grisley. "People used to have to drive hundreds of miles to play. They used to always be in Chicago or Northern Illinois."