KindredSpirit’s Kaleidoscope: A Common Link to Chess & Checkers (Draughts)

Historical evidence exists in the oft times verbal or written words of devotees for their favorite game known both as checkers and draughts with pride when comparing their board game with that of chess. In due respect to my own thoughts, the famous draughts player Marion Tinsley once said of both games, that chess was like the light of day with strategy and tactics displayed by various units having different measurements for the player to consider who was on the move as well as the opponent who likewise could anticipate a continuation with some degree of a move’s importance. This was not so with draughts where each piece has one square to play to or is forced to make a capture or more on a single turn. The difference is that for the draughts player, each move is like looking down a deep dark well.

Grandpa taught me to play; he was very good. He even originated a practice problem game that he taught me and I still enjoy an occasional attempt to solve where the trick is to capture all the men but one. Leaving two or three is relatively easy but it requires a keen eye to set up the pattern that allows all but the one man to remain. I have done it a number of times but then–don’t ask me how I accomplished it!

Both games are wonderful teasers in strategy and tactics and have those nasty software programs that tend to test the ordinary mind, often in vain. Still, the fun of playing with friends or family gives me the most joy especially when finding or stumbling on a cute twist enabling a pretty win or save for a draw.

Who are the players who jointly have excelled at both games? Less famous for my reading audience is Newell W. Banks who was born in Detroit, Michigan on October 10th 1887. He was acquainted at age 5 with checkers and by age 7 had emerged as a child prodigywhere he gave a 20 board simultaneous exhibition, winning 17 and drawing 3.  His long career in draughts achieved his fame in that sphere. At age 60 he set an endurance record by playing 6-games blindfold simultaneously daily for 45 days achieving 1131 games won with 54 draws and only 2 losses. During this display he achieved a speed record of blitz blindfold games by playing 62 games in 4-hours , winning 61 with one draw.  But most amazing is that Newell Banks was a powerhouse at chess as well!  He defeated in a Chicago chess tournament both Frank J. Marshall and Isaac Kashdan in 1926. There he set a speed record of simultaneous mixed games with 75 draughts games, 25 chess games while also conducting 6 games of draughts blindfold. In 4-hours he had won 65 games with 10 draws of draughts and lost none; on the chess side, he axed 22 games while yielding 2 draws and losing only one chess battle.  He took 4 games in the blindfold play while drawing the remaining 2 games.

With all this success and achievement in promoting both games he never won an American tournament. However, he was recognized as the  Draughts Match Champion of the United States and successful against all the top players in the world in his era save one. In 1922 he challenged and played Robert Stewart for the World’s Championship but lost to Stewart 2-1-37. In literary terms, he wrote Bank’s Scientific Checkers where he presented and annotated 105 of the finest checker games played to that time.

Like Capablanca and Reshevsky, Banks was a child prodigy who made game play, study and writing about checkers his lifelong interest and career. Perhaps in the field of simultaneous board play, he had few if any equals and it was largely due to his displays which made the game so popular.

Adios for now!

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