Tribute to Elbert – World Legend Checker GrandMaster

1995        -        2006   

A Biography by Richard L. Fortman
(originally compiled in 1996 - updated by JR Smith)

Elbert Lane Lowder was born March 3, 1932 in Albemarle, North Carolina.  Elbert was the youngest son of six boys and seven girls born to Lawson Cornelius and Icie Jane Cody Lowder on 720 Oakwood Street.  He started playing checkers (Article) as a teenager and often watched and played at Efird's Café which was just two short blocks down to 637 Austin Street where the best local regulars congregated.  It wasn't too long until this tall lanky red-headed youngster was beating the Stanly County kingpin.  Curtis Efird was the best in Albemarle and one of the top 5 players in the state.  At age 17, he placed 5th in his first event in the 1949 Southern States Tournament at Spartanburg, SC.  He played his first NC State Tournament that same year in Asheville.  Elbert graduated from Albemarle HS in 1950.  Elbert won his first tournament in 1952 at age 20 at the North Carolina State Tourney held in Winston-Salem.  He joined the Army and served actively from 52 until 1954 as a teletype operator in the signal corps in Italy.  Elbert made the rank of corporal and was in the reserves for 6 more years, being honorably discharged in November of 1960.  While on active duty, he was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and a Good Conduct Medal.  He returned to Albemarle after active duty, and shortly afterwards Elbert attended Rockwood Piano Institute in Clearfield, Pennsylvania and become a professional piano technician. 

Elbert moved to Sanford, North Carolina in 1960 where he owned and operated "The Piano House" a piano dealership and service business on 302 W. Raleigh Street.  Lowder sold, serviced, and moved all kind of pianos but his specialty was rebuilding the "Pianola" player piano.  He was recognized as one of the best in the business for his craftsmanship in restoration and his conversion techniques.  He converted the foot powered bellows mechanism to an electric pump system by modifying a vacuum cleaner motor.  In 1979 Lowder expanded his business to a partnership by bringing in his business and checker playing partner, Tim Laverty, who he incidentally met during a checker tournament in 1976.  The two operated the piano dealership until his death in December 14, 2006, thus leaving the business to Tim Laverty who continues to operate it. 

Lowder made his living in the piano business but his first love was always checkers.  It would appear Elbert developed a life-long love of this wonderful mind sport, he practically dedicated his life to checkers.  The record book confirms from his first NC State Title until his death, Elbert Lowder dominated North Carolina checkers for 54 years which included winning the state title 34 times.  He was a scholar of the game which transformed him into a GrandMaster. 

Lowder criss-cross the US every year traveling thousands of miles to play State, District, and the National Checker Tournaments.  He played 4 International Matches of which he was a member of the US Team and traveled twice to England to play in these matches.  He also played the World Champion Derek Oldbury in a 1979 World Champion Title Match sanctions by ACF & EDA in Dublin, Ireland. 

This was his passion.  Elbert was known worldwide in the checker fraternity for his brilliance and creative play.  It was his genius that saved several mail play openings from the untenable trash can.  The Twilight Zone and Black Widow Openings are good examples.  His fine analytical contribution to drawing the critical openings that rounded out the 156 deck is the results of his superb analysis.  Many of these openings were thought to be losses but his draw lines were proven years later.  There were no fast computer search engines, huge opening book data bases, or 10 piece endgame databases when he accomplished drawing these openings.  Elbert also gets the credit for instituting the Tournament Checkers "Lowder Rule" or 40 Count Rule which prohibits the delay of game.  It allows the Referee to mandate the draw after a 40 count of one minute per moves have been completed without the advantaged opponent showing progress.  In other words, the advantaged opponent must clearly show he knows how to win the position.  Elbert loved and dominated the 11-Man Ballot, which he was the undefeated World 11-Man Ballot Champion from 1987 until his death.

He distinguished himself as the author of unusually aggressive play, this "double dare" style set him apart from book players, or the publish play champions.  His original, aggressive, forceful, and explosive unpublished play captivated and impressed English World Checker Champion Derek Oldbury in 1976 to the degree that he recognized a need to preserve and perpetuate this "Go-As-You-Please"  style of checkers.  The English gentleman, overwhelmed with the style of Lowder and other Master players at the Sanford Nationals, bequeathed the ACF with funding to insure the continuance of this ACF National GAYP Tournament.  This wouldn't have happened if not for Elbert and others like him.  Elbert was always ready to support and promote tournaments.  He just loved checkers and exuded this energy by sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with others.  He was an active member and committed officer of NCCA.  He was a lifetime member of American Checker Federation (ACF) and North Carolina Checker Association (NCCA).

Elbert, a World-Class GrandMaster Checker Player, has accomplished nearly everything in the world of checkers.  Elbert Lowder is respected nationally and worldwide as one of the greatest checker players of all time. There is little doubt Elbert has played in more top level checker events than anyone else in modern times and probably all times as is testified below by his records in the major tournaments. The US National is the top checker tourney in the country, you win it and you're eligible to challenge the World Champion.  Elbert won the National GAYP in '77, '87, '93, and was the US GAYP Champion in 1989 as well as the 1992 US 3-Move National Champion.  Elbert played his 1st National in 1956 in Galveston, TX and played in every National thereafter until his death in 2006.  No one comes close to this phenomenal record of continuous Nationals. These records of lesser events are not complete and do not include many of the lesser events such as various State and District Tournaments, although his International Matches and WCM matches are listed.  Elbert, at his death was the 4th highest ACF rated player at 2521, under Moiseyev, King, and just under Hallet.  He was a little higher in 1989 at 2588; however, in 1977 Elbert was the 2nd highest rated player in the country, second only to World Champion Marion Tinsley of Florida. His current WCDF rating was 2404.  It can't be said any better that his obituary by Jonathan Owens.  Read a letter to Howard Gain from Dick Fortman, and also Fortman's "Swindle Win" article in MCA.

Capsule Record*