A motel conference room packed with folding tables, time clocks and people quietly staring at checker boards might not conjure up the phrase “championship” to many sports fans. But that’s what’s in store at Medina’s Rodeway Inn later this month.
The motel, located on state Route 18 next door to a Dairy Queen, will host three checkers tournaments in September: the Ohio State Tournament (Sept. 6 and 7); a go-as-you-please-checkers world championship match between current champ Ron King of Barbados and Lubabalo Kondlo of South Africa (Sept. 8 through 13); and an Ohio state title match between three-moves-checkers world champion Alex Moiseyev of Dublin, Ohio, and Richard Beckwith of Willoughby (Aug. 30 through Sept. 1).
The 38-year-old Beckwith, a chemist at Ricerca Biosciences near Painesville, has been playing checkers since he was 9 and in state tournaments since he was 15.
“I pretty much have always been playing,” he says. “It’s a skillful game. The rules are simple, but it’s difficult to master.”
Checkers, while not as popular as its high-brow cousin, chess, offers its adherents a lot in the way of building logic and problem-solving skills, Beckwith says. And while he does enjoy other board games such as chess and Scrabble, checkers still holds sway.
Beckwith, a player representative for the 400-member American Checker Federation, helped organize the Medina tournaments, which will highlight the two main variants of the game of checkers. Go-as-you-please is the kind most people played when they were kids. Three-move checkers involves a set of cards that dictate the opening three moves of the game. It’s considered the more difficult of the two.
Championship matches can stretch out for days. It’s serious business. While players don’t often make a living at the sport, they do vie for purses worth several thousand dollars.
The September tournaments are a warm-up for an October exhibition in China — the first-ever World Mind Sports Games in Beijing. While not yet approved as an Olympic event by the International Olympic Committee, Beckwith and about 50 other top-ranked players will sit down two months after the Summer Games end to make their case for checkersas a serious sport. Medals will even be awarded.
“This isn’t just some game for old men and little kids,” Beckwith says. “One bad move could beat you 30 or 40 moves down the road.”
Checkers advice from Richard Beckwith, a seasoned tournament player:
1. If you’re interested in getting into checkers,look into a tournament or a local organization. The more you play, Beckwith says, the more you’ll develop: “You learn from your mistakes and improve. See what the game has to offer.”
2. “You like to be able to control the center of the board,” Beckwith advises. “There’s more mobility in the center of the board.” Positions on the sides are weaker, and certain corners are hard to defend.
3. Keep your pieces in the back row — the king row — as long as possible. And when you get a king, use him. “You should be putting him to work.”
4. In the end,stay cool. It can take as many as 40 moves to win an endgame in checkers, Beckwith says. “Just be patient.”