Lafferty checkers games from 1933 to 1998.
Throughout the course of checkers games history,
North America and Europe have witnessed the
birth of many great board players. This mind
sport may not rank high on the worldwide
sports scene and may not receive a lot of
media coverage, other than a few random newspaper
stories, but the checkers scene has definitely
not yet passed into oblivion. In fact, it
is still very much a part of the lives of
many checkerboard enthusiasts.
Another such spirited checkers player was
Grandmaster Don Lafferty. He was born August
5, 1933, in Barren County, Kentucky. Like
many of his peers, Lafferty first became
interested in checkers games at an early
age while playing with his uncle and grandfather.
The endless game possibilities intrigued
his curiosity; so much so that later he was
coached in his board game by Horace Steen,
who was also young Walter Hellman’s
checkers games coach in Gary, Indiana, in
the early 1930s.
Although checkers games became an integral
part of his life, Lafferty still pursued
his education through high school and into
post-secondary education. Lafferty received a Bachelor’s
degree in math and physics from Western Kentucky
University at Bowling Green, Kentucky. Then
he continued his education in graduate studies
at both Washington University in St. Louis,
Missouri, and Vanderbilt University in Nashville,
Tennessee, where he earned a Master’s
degree in Math and Physics as well as thirty
hours for a Rank One Teacher’s Degree.
Don Lafferty used this educational background
to establish himself as a high school math
and physics teacher in Kentucky. He retired
from the field of teaching in 1988. It is
likely that his innate math skills assisted
his checkers games much in the way that Tinsley’s
math genius was in tune with his checkerboard expertise.
Lafferty was active in the checkers games
circuit during the early 1950’s but
took a hiatus until 1960 while he pursued
his studies. However, once he was back at
the checkerboard, his skills displayed a
solid understanding of the game.
During his lifetime, Don Lafferty sat at
the checkerboard as a willing and more than
capable opponent in many different checkers
game tournaments; in fact, the account of
games and matches is probably not complete
as not all the checkers records that were
compiled appear to contain all the details
from every tournament game held.
Checkers Grandmaster, Don Lafferty, also
traveled thousands of miles across the U.S.
as well as across the Atlantic to Britain.
He also made trips to Edmonton, Alberta and
one down south to Barbados to attend a variety
of checkers game matches and championships.
His record shows that he played in eighteen
Southern States Tournaments that were held
in a variety of locations from small rural
towns to large urban cities. Lafferty
entered his first major checkers tournament
at the age of 18 in 1951. This tourney was
held in Nashville, Tennessee, and he placed
really well for a young novice checkers games
player by ranking 4th in Masters, behind
W.Q. Gresham, Sanders and Fields.
In these tournament matches, Don Lafferty
displayed a keen checkers mind and developed
game skills as he placed 1st on seven occasions,
ranked 2nd one time, received 3rd place once,
placed 4th three times, and ranked 5th and
6th on one occasion, respectively. Lafferty
also tied for 1st and 2nd twice during the
match plays and tied once for 3rd and 4th
place. In one match, Lafferty scored out
of the prize list and that was due to illness
so it could be said that he definitely wasn't
on top of his checkers games at that time.
These matches were played from 1951 onwards
during the following years: 1953, 1960-61,
1963-64, 1969-72, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981,
1985, 1988, 1992 and 1995.
Don Lafferty also entered twelve Northern
States Tournaments in 1955, 1964, 1969-73,
1984 and 1990-93. In his first of these tournaments,
Lafferty was only 22 and he ranked 9th
at the end of the competition; however, he
went on to play against many checker game
notables to achieve the following ranking in these matches:
- 4 ~ 1st
- 2 ~ 2nd
- 3 ~ 3rd
- 4 ~ 4th
- 3 ~ 5th
During one match, Lafferty tied Walter
Hellman and then also received 2nd in honors
due to twenty draws in five rounds.
As with many of the champions in the checkers
games arena, Don possessed a true love of
the board game and as a result, also challenged
different masters in other state checkers game tournaments.
In 1954, Lafferty won his first Kentucky
State Tournament, which was one of 12 where
he was a Masters competitive through to 1975.
He placed first in each of these tournaments.
Don Lafferty also ranked first in the Tennessee
State Checkers Games Tournament and the 6th
District Open Tournament. In 1962, he won
the Florida State Open Tournament held in
St. Petersburg, Florida. His 1st place was
ahead of N. Wexler, Burton, Lober and Elbert
Lowder. Though exact records don’t exist,
Lafferty also won numerous other state, district,
and local competitions.
The checkers games trail didn't end there,
however. Don Lafferty was also a Masters competitor
in thirteen U.S. Open 3-Move Tournaments held
anywhere from Illinois to Virginia to Tennessee
to North Carolina to Mississippi to Florida
to Alberta, Canada and also miles away in
Barbados in the West Indies. Lafferty competed
in these matches during 1962, 1964, 1970,
1974 and then every two years from there on
until his three-way tie in 1994.
He tied with Chinook and
Marion Tinsley for first, second and third
place in the title checkers games match in
Garland, Texas, that Marion Tinsley began
but was forced to withdraw due to poor health.
Don Lafferty stepped into Tinsley’s
place to finish the checkers match. Marion
Tinsley received the ranking of 1st on honors.
In the other checkers matches Lafferty seated
well in the Masters Division of checkerboard
tournament play as he ranked the following:
1 ~ 1st
2 ~ 2nd
1 ~ 3rd
4 ~ 4th, where one was a tie with Asa Long
3 ~ 5th.
Were these many checkers game competitions
the extent to which Don Lafferty committed
his time and game expertise? No, indeed.
He also played in five U.S. Open GAYP Tournaments
held in 1981, 1983, 1985, 1993 and 1995.
Don placed first in Sanford, Lexington and
Nashville, but in the last two tourneys,
he ranked fifth behind Elbert Lowder, Ron
King, Jim Morrison, Richard Hallett and Jack
Francis. However, the latter results did
not reflect that Don Lafferty’s game
was waning but simply that his opponents
in these matches were in top form and perhaps
visualized more opportunities on the checkerboard than he did.
Throughout his checkers career, Don Lafferty
became a Grandmaster checkers games player
with great skill and at times vision in his
board play. Between 1983 and 1995, he also
participated in two International Checkers
Game Matches as a member of the U.S. team
against Great Britain, four GAYP World Title
Matches and four 3-Move World Title Matches.
During the 4th International Match held
at the International Checkers Hall of Fame
in Petal, Mississippi, Don scored three wins,
zero losses and eleven draws in 7 Rounds
and in the 6th International Match in 1995,
also held at the ICHF, Lafferty’s record
was five wins, zero losses and nine draws
in 7 Rounds of match play. In both of these
events, since the USA held a significant
lead, Don graciously retired in order to
give the alternates a chance to play the last three rounds.
The Grandmaster’s checkers games record
for the World GAYP Title Match again gives
credence to Lafferty’s checkerboard
skill. In 1982, the championship match was
held at Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Lafferty
won the title in his play against Grandmaster
Derek Oldbury with a score of one win, no
losses, and twenty-three draws. Then in 1984,
again at Elizabethtown, Kentucky, Don Lafferty
defeated checker master, Paul Davis, by an
end score of five wins, no losses and fifteen draws.
The World Title Match for GAYP was held
in Cave City, Kentucky, in 1986. Don Lafferty
tied Jim Morrison with no wins and twenty-four
draws and then in 1989, at ICHF in Petal,
Mississippi, Don Lafferty played against
Elbert Lowder. Once again the Grandmaster
was successful in his board play and retired
undefeated due to illness. He beat Lowder
with a score of four wins, three losses and
sixteen draws. Lafferty retained the World
GAYP Checkers Games Title and was GAYP Champion from 1982 until 1991.
In the 3-Move World Title Match Play, Don
Lafferty played opposite Marion Tinsley in
1987 at ICHF in Petal, Mississippi, but was
defeated by Tinsley, whose end score consisted
of two wins, no losses and thirty-eight draws.
1994 and 1995 saw the Grandmaster Lafferty
play in the Man vs
Machine checkers games title match.
He played against Canada’s Chinook computer
program. The first match was played in Boston,
Massachusetts, where Chinook and
Don tied with one win each and eighteen draws.
The second match was held at the International
Checkers Hall of Fame in Mississippi. Chinook defeated
Lafferty with a score of one win, no losses
and thirty-one draws. During this match,
30 draws were played until Chinook finally
won the 31st game. It was definitely a checkers
challenge to the finish and under the circumstances,
Don Lafferty fared extremely well.
Then in 1996, Lafferty traveled to Barbados
to play the checkers games championship match
against Ron King. The match ended with a
tie of five wins each and thirty draws.
Even though Don Lafferty participated in hundreds of
checkers games across the country, he still had time
for four other 3-Move Exhibition matches:
- 1982 in Carrollton, Illinois, at the
home of Louis Van Deven, Lafferty played
a friendly practice match with Asa Long,
which resulted in 2 wins - 2 losses - 8 draws.
- 1991 in St. Petersburg, Florida, Lafferty
defeated Chinook with
an end score of 3 wins, 2 losses and 11
- 1993 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Don
again defeated Chinook with
a result of 3 wins, 1 loss and 14 draws.
- 1994, also in Edmonton, Lafferty and Chinook tied
with no wins and 18 draws.
During the period of time between the summer
of 1990 and January 1995, Don Lafferty played Chinook numerous
times and leads the checkers computer program
in total games of match and tournament play
by the close score of 8 wins, 7 losses and
109 draws. Checkers games sources believe
that Don Lafferty was the only human checkers
player to have the score on Chinook and
that, in itself, is an amazing legacy to
leave behind for future generations of checkers
enthusiasts to ponder over.
Don Lafferty loved the challenge of a strategic
game of checkers and faced many master players
across the checkerboard. The following list
clearly indicates his commitment to the game
because he was an opponent on more than one
occasion to these checkers greats: Mike Loew,
Ed Bruch, Elbert Lowder, Edwin Hunt, LW Taylor,
Ed Scheidt, H. L. Cravens, Walter Hellman,
Derek Oldbury, Jim Morrison, Tim Laverty,
Basil Case, Marion Tinsley, Asa Long, Richard
Hallett, Les Balderson, Joe Schwartz, Paul
Davis and Ron King of Barbados.
In a little trivia called “What
is Harder ~ Chess or Checkers?” there
is always a debate between checkers and chess
players. In a “Deep
Blue Gary Kasparov” Chess match,
the commentators made mention of the game
of Checkers being “mastered” or “solved” by
the “Chinook” computer
and Don Lafferty had this comment to make:
“They must have
a pipeline to heaven. The only ones who have mastered
this game reside there.”
Of course, the “debate” about
which game is harder, Chess
or Checkers, will always continue.
When facing an opponent across the board,
the player must play what s(he) can see,
not what is listed in a literary source in
the library or in a database. Said the chess
play chess, we can’t analyze it.” Said
the checker player: “We
analyze Checkers, we can’t play it.”
Throughout his amazing checkerboard career,
Don Lafferty simply played his game of checkers.
On September 23, 1997, Lafferty made the
following comment as to the reasons for much
of his game success:
indeed been very fortunate for many years
to have had as close friends and mentors
the great players; Walter Hellman, Marion
Tinsley, Edwin Hunt and Asa Long. Also, my
good friend, Richard Fortman, has supplied
me with wonderful play and much help for
a long time. Whatever I have accomplished
in our grand old game of checkers in a positive
way is mainly due to their kindness and endless
help - many thanks old dear friends.”
”It is with
deep sadness we announce the passing of
Don Lafferty on June 7, 1998. As a man, Don
was exceedingly kind, a great friend of the
Chinook team and a fine gentleman.”
Jonathan Schaeffer, University of Alberta (Chinook