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  A view from ACF Player's Representative Richard Beckwith : 2012-10-14

Behind the 11-man Ballot World Title Match

The first 11-man Ballot Match was contested in 1917, with Newell Banks defeating Alfred Jordan 5-2 with 11 draws. The history of this opening style of play has been sporadic since. Jim Loy’s “The 11-Man Ballot Checker Matches” ($10) covers the history and games up through the 2008 Moiseyev-Laverty match. (Alex won a second match from Laverty in 2012, again by score of 5-0 with 7 draws, that is not in Loy’s book). Thanks to the efforts of J.R. Smith and the North Carolina players, this style of play has regained interest, partly in remembrance of Elbert Lowder. I earned the right to challenge Alex by winning the 11-Man Ballot National Tournament in Feb. 2012 in Greensboro, NC.

The opening format is as follows. Red removes one checker from squares 5-12 (there are 8 cards to pick from), then white removes one checker from squares 21-28. The opponent picks the card for piece removal. Then the players draw two more cards to select the first move for each color of the 7 standard possibilities (like 2-move restriction). So, 4 cards are drawn in all. Also, if opening says "9-14" but piece on 9 was removed, then you bring up the piece from behind moving in same direction, so 5-9 would be played. Players can agree to reject an opening thought to be unsound (esp. if it loses a piece), but most openings don't have this. J.R. Smith has some 11-man ballot decks, or you can make your own, and some programs have an option to select an 11-man ballot opening. There are 8 cards in a standard 11-man ballot deck. Seven cards have four items of information covering the red checker to be removed, the white checker to be removed, red’s first move, and white’s first move. An eighth card has the red and white checker to be removed with no first move, so you would have to draw again if you pulled this card when seeking a move. During the match, a running joke involved how Alex continually (by chance) picked this 8th card over and over until it reached the point that Steve decided it was quicker to pull it from the deck to pick the opening two moves. In my match with Alex, two of the seven openings required a piece be moved from behind due to the front-row piece being balloted off. There was one rejected opening (Remove 9 & 27, play 11-15 24-19). Most openings don't transpose into pp, so about the only match preparation you can do is to study endgames, problems, and mid-game landings.

I met Alex, John Acker and Steve Holliday in front of Cleveland Public Library at 9:45 am on Saturday, Oct. 6. The library has hours of 10-6, but Kelly Ross Brown of the Special Collections Department allowed us to get checked in early so that we could promptly start. She had the “Treasure Room” (adjacent to John G. White Chess and Checkers Collection area) set up for us, as she did last year for one day of the Moiseyev-Borghetti match. She even surprised us with bottled water and a box of donuts. Contracts were signed, and the math commenced, with Alex having the red pieces the first game. Alex won this library session with a win (Game 2) and two draws. Due to library closing time, the fourth Saturday game was moved to Rodeway Inn in Medina, which was used for remainder of the match.

Steve Holliday, as referee, sat to my right the entire match. John Acker provided a digital clock, which was positioned to my left. We played 24 moves per hour on a new “WCDF” checkerboard (board with new WCDF logo, as was used in recent Lille, France event). Special 2-play scoresheets were prepared. American table flags were also present. John Acker sat to my left and provided an internet feed by placing a small camera atop his laptop to get a higher view of the board. I don’t think the number of viewers ever approached the level seen for the Moiseyev-Borghetti or King-Scarpetta matches, but this was not unexpected. Steve kept himself amused throughout the match by browsing the “11-man Ballot Checkers Matches” book before buying a copy at the end of the match. Alan Millhone arrived Sunday afternoon and stayed overnight through Game 12. Alan subbed as referee for Game 8 so that Steve could get a head start on going home to nearby Bay Village, OH for the evening.

Going into Tuesday, Alex held a 4-0 lead with four games to play. I drew a weak opening with the red side, but managed to draw it. Alex only needed a drawn game to clinch the match. The remaining three games were not played, as Alex now had a decisive margin of victory. Steve presented Alex a winner’s plaque and the winner’s share of the prize fund of $800. A checkerboard used for the match was signed by the players, Steve, and John to be later presented to Joe LoConti, whose Evergreen-UNI firm donated $1000 to the match. I will be working on a match book of games with some annotations.

Overall I was not disappointed with my play, and outcome was not unexpected, given Alex’s world champion skills. I thought I might actually do much worse, given the way the recent Lille and Ohio tournaments went. But even with new WCDF presidency situation, I was seeing things crossboard very well for me. The first three losses all featured a complicated mid-game where I had various ways to consider, but the selected way collapsed several moves later. I was still pleased to score 9 draws, including some on difficult openings crossboard. We had a higher percentage of draws than the majority of past 11-man ballot matches. In contrast, Alex and I played 4 games of 11-man ballot in our 2005 Ohio match, and I only managed 2 draws out of 4 games. However, it would have been nice to score at least one win (esp. being so close on G. 12), but, “Oh well,” it was still an honor to play.

Soon after close of match, Alex wrote on ACF forum (with minor editing for readability):
“This match was a good one, most ‘scientific’ checkers event I ever played. Richard played it well and I can confirm - his performance here was much better than in OH several weeks ago. All my wins were exceptional. There were no ‘stupid’ mistakes and only one real blunder in G10. Richard had me in a loss in G12 but didn't handle properly man-up bridge. On my end, I am satisfied with score and quality of games. Except G12, I hope I didn't make any serious strategic mistake or miscalculations. My play was fresh and I had advantage and dominated in most match games. It wasn't my accomplishment only. Saying ‘scientific’ means that the whole text of game and every move from both sides is reasonable and scientific. Richard fought very tough and didn't give me any easy life. Each of my wins (except G10) was result of many 'right moves' in order and with correct strategic plan. Several times I had advantage which was not enough for win, and Richard used all his chances and positional sources to survive. Many thanks to Joe LoConti who sponsored this event and Steve Holliday who graciously performed duties of Referee and is certainly 'A' class World Referee! John Acker posted text of all games on Facebook, and you can observe them here. John again did a terrific job for broadcasting. Let’s hope next time it will generate a bigger audience."

Read more articles from your ACF Players Representative in the Rep's Corner Archive.

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