| Baby Steps: A Beginner's Guide to Checker Study
By Lisle Cormier|
Source: Draughts Razoo, summer edition 2003.
I remember the first game I played against a master checker player. It was 1995 and the late Arkansas champion Bill Stewart was playing on Yahoo! under his now famous nickname 'wmclif'. Having won 50 per cent of my games against my grandmother, I decided to show wmclif what Lisle could do. Ten straight losses later, an awestruck, deer-inthe- headlights look was a fixture on my face.
I discovered that checkers contained depth, subtlety and precision of the highest order. My appetite was whetted. I wanted to understand checkers but didn't know how to proceed. Eight years of experimentation later, mastery of the game is as elusive as ever, but I've eliminated a few dead end study techniques. I hope others can learn from my struggles and avoid them.
The first important epiphany in every checker player's life is the discovery of checker literature. Nowadays, books are widely available on the Internet through bookfinder.com, abebooks.com and ebay.com. The new ACF site plans to sell thousands of books at usacheckers.com.
The vast number of checker titles available can be overwhelming for a student who is just learning the meaning of the terms opening, midgame, endgame and resign. When books are used improperly, they only serve to create confusion. My advice to the beginner is to purchase but three books - Lees' Guide by James Lees; Total Checkers by Richard Pask; Familiar Themes by Ben Boland, the latter being the most important. I'll explain why later. In my opinion these books alone, if studied properly, will transform a common woodpusher into an expert player. The following rules are important to ensure this result.
Rule 1 - Maximise study time utility
Rule 2 - Develop crossboard skills
Rule 3 - Write a manuscript
Decide which style of play you like best - GAYP/freestyle or 3-move. Most US tournaments are conducted in the 3-move style, but there is still plenty of use for GAYP. All world checker organisations hold their own GAYP tournaments on a regular basis. If you choose GAYP, consult Lees' Guide (the British Draughts Player is also good). For 3-move play Richard Pask's Total Checkers is considered to be the modern opening bible. The old opening bible, Richard Fortman's Basic Checkers, was written in the 1970s and is also good, but it is harder to read and contains more errors.
No checker book is guaranteed to be error free. Exhibit good judgement, using the tools learned from endgame study, when analysing a line of play. Don't take the author's word for it. You may find something better.
Divide your manuscript (MSS) into openings. Prepare play on the white and black side of an opening separately, and categorise the openings in your manuscript by the first few moves of the game. In 3-move play this is easy. Each opening is defined by the first three moves of the game. In GAYP this is not so obvious. To prepare the black side of your GAYP MSS, choose a move that you will play first in every game and consider each possible reply. For example, against 11-15 white has seven replies; 21-17, 22-17, 22-18, 23-18, 23-19, 24-19 and 24-20. Thus the black side of your MSS should be divided into seven sections, one for each white reply. Choose which move you will play against each of white's seven possible moves. This will subdivide the black side of your MSS into seven 3-move openings that are a subset of all possible 3-movers.
The white side of your GAYP MSS can be developed similarly. Against 11-15 you may like 23-19. Black can then safely play 8-11, 9-14, 7-11, 9-13 or 10-14. In this case the white side of your MSS would contain five 3-move openings under the 11-15 section. There are two benefits to subdividing your GAYP MSS into 3-movers. It allows you to use the MSS in 3-move play, and makes it easy to reference 3-move books to further develop your MSS. Systematic methods of study are essential for success. At the end of each variation, note who originated the play and where you found it. This will save a lot of headache later. Trust me.
This website was created by the ACF Website Team. Original site design by Clint Olsen.
Official ACF Logo design by John Acker and Lisle Cormier.
All checker board images courtesy of Vinco Online Games.