William Francis Ryan
The first and probably best part of this
checkers book is a record of the 1951 Ryan-Cameron
match, which was held in St. Petersburg,
Florida. This checkers book section by William
Francis Ryan gave a solid representation
expansive character and inimitable style
because the annotations are copious and definitely
This was followed by a recount of the Ryan-Young
match held in 1953 in Pittsburgh. Not many
book notes were included and only for one
or two of these games. The book continued
with William Francis Ryan's copious notes
and "cooks" that
he made in his preparation for the 1954 checkers
match against Walter Hellman. Unfortunately,
Willie Ryan passed away a mere ten days
before the match was scheduled to open. This
checkers book section of writings was quite
extensive and well annotated. Warren's
Corrections and Improvements of William Francis
Ryan's Modern Encyclopedia of Checkers concluded
the chapters of this checkers source, and
this was done perhaps with the simple intent
to finish the manuscript. Although the checkers
book was not edited well and lacked a certain
organization, it would still be a good reference
book for the avid William Ryan fan or collector
of his checker plays.
Today, all of William Ryan’s books and magazines
are considered as collector’s items, and are
certainly among the most important ever printed on
the game. His Grandmaster status cannot be denied.
According to checkers sources in the checkers field,
Dr. Marion F. Tinsley had once stated that the best
checker champion he ever played was Walter Hellman,
then Asa Long, and then Willie Ryan. Ryan was one of
the few checkers players to have an “even score” with
the great Marion Tinsley, as their match record was
two wins each and the rest of their games ending in draws.
Throughout his checkers career, William Francis Ryan
proved himself to be a diverse individual who was not
afraid to take on unique challenges. He was one of
the few players who could play a game of checkers blindfolded,
as the photo below clearly indicates.
In this match, Ryan played blindfolded
against several opponents at one time, moving
from checkerboard to checkerboard. This type
of play would have taken great memory and
also amazing concentration. At the time,
he was considered the “Blindfold
Checkers Champion of the world.”
In 1934, William Francis Ryan played in
the 8th American Checkers Tournament, which
was held at the Hotel Jamestown, in Jamestown,
New York. At the checkerboard on the left
were checker champions Nathan Rubin challenging
Asa Long, while at the board on the right,
Edwin Hunt played against Willie Ryan in
the white spats.
The winner of the tournament was Edwin
Hunt and through it he became World Champion
in checkers. Later in the year, Asa Long
challenged Hunt and took the title from him.
Unfortunately, despite his checkers prowess,
William Ryan never became a World Title
holder, and neither did Nathan Rubin, but
still they both remain as two of the greatest
players of all time.
It was obvious that the game of checkers was
rooted in Ryan’s blood as he loved to
travel across the country throughout his varied
career and he loved to participate in numerous
checkers exhibitions. William's brash
and cocky nature would often have him showing
off his skill. He was often full of humor and
undaunted in this somewhat arrogant display.
Ryan was confident in his checkers techniques
and skill and certainly not afraid to show
it at any given time.
In an article in the May, 1943 edition
of Time magazine, William Ryan’s editorial
and writing personality was the subject of
discourse and indicated that not all of society
was intrigued by this spectacular checkerist.
Monday, May. 31, 1943
“To the average firehouse
or parlor player, checkers is one
of the simplest of indoor sports.
Yet since Pearl Harbor the game has
waxed inexplicably in popularity.
Fighting men have taken it up. Civilians
Newcomers to serious checkers have found
that there is more to the game than meets
the dilettante's eye. They have learned to
call themselves "checkerists," have
taken up the game's esoteric lingo, become
used to describing moves and successions
of moves by the numbered squares on the boards.
They even have their private deity: a goddess
named Dama (Italian for checkers).
For centuries, experts at checkers had
only one series of starting moves, the single-corner
opening. Now, thanks to the hated analysts
who have worked at the game in such dedicated
spots as Broadway's checker palaces, there
are some 49 classified two-man openings,
with hundreds of complicated variations.
To checkerists, the post mortem of a game
is as dear as it is to bridge players.
Some checkers sharks have turned to writing
checkers books about the game. Latest guide
checkers book is The Modern Encyclopedia
of Checkers ($5), compiled and published
by pompous, publicity-loving, 36-year-old
William Francis Ryan, a barnstorming champion
who advertises himself as the game's No.
Unlike Expert Millard F. Hopper's recent
bestseller checkers book, How to Play Winning
Checkers (6,000 copies sold to date), Willie
Ryan's book is no primer. It is for the checkerists,
new and veteran, who have pored over Dama
literature dating back beyond Spain's Torquemada
(1547). For the checkerist who can spot a
three-for-two shot, Ryan's maze of checker
lore is shimmering with clear-cut tactics
based on the operations of the best generals
in the game.
Prefaced by a characteristic William Francis
Ryan checkers book, "Through
the Pages Following Here After Pass the Most
Beautiful Checker Games in the World," and
sprinkled with un-Shakesperian asides, he
unfolds 232 pages of diagrams and diagnoses.
He also expounds for pages on three of the
most treacherous openings ever devised: the
Edinburgh Single, a deciding factor in more
match and tournament games than any other
known opening; the Octopus, whose "manifold
tentacles . . . have ensnared many of the
game's ablest critics"; and Oliver's
Twister, a baffler ever since Manhattan's
Oliver J. Mauro laid down its basic "theme" some
Intrigued by such contrapuntal variations
on a simple theme, many a dub of long standing
has plucked up interest. Checker sales are
ballooning. And the crusty, generally introverted
old men of checkers who have long pored over
the game that few understood, now have company
and competition in the new recruits who talk
familiarly of Millard Hopper and bumptious
Again, undaunted by such reports, William
was still eager and ready to share his checkers
game knowledge with others and this aspect
of his personality can be seen in the photo
below in Washington D.C. taken at an exhibition
in 1945 where he showed a couple of women
some checkers techniques.
Around the same era, William Francis Ryan
was associated with other notable people
in the American society. Ryan had developed
a good relationship with famous bandleader,
Benny Goodman, who was also known to be a
good checkers player. In the photo below,
Ryan is shown as joking around with Goodman,
while at the same time, giving him some instruction
in the game.
“This one is on the house. The above
shot shows the original King of Swing, Benny
Goodman, taking pointers from checkers book
Editor William Francis Ryan on how not to
play checkers. Mr. Goodman, father of modern
music, has long been lauded in musical journals
as a checker champion. Between their four
regular daily stage shows, Benny takes a
mischievous delight in beating the boys in
the band. The lads started buying books from
the Checkerist in an all-out effort to beat
but so far the Goodman tempo is in the lead.
Benny says that he never studies the checkers
game, likes to play it as a recreation to
relieve “ego” and “tension”.
Willie Ryan was so involved in spreading
the joy of checkers in his travels that he
associated with many other famous individuals,
and numerous photos from these excursions
appeared in his magazine, The American Checkerist.
One such picture showed comedian-actor,
Jimmy Durante, who also loved a good checkers
game, facing an opponent across the checkerboard,
However, for William Ryan, the world of
checkers was not only about studying the
game, writing checkers books about the great
matches that took place, but also about his
own playing as a master in a checkers setting.
In 1949, William Ryan played against World
Champion, Walter Hellman, for the world checkers
title. The photo depicts an actual scene
taken with Hellman on the left of the checkerboard,
Ryan on the right, and the referee, Tommie
Wiswell, with the stopwatch. Grandmaster
and former World Champion, Newell Banks,
looks on from behind Hellman. The atmosphere
is serious and the viewer can almost feel
the tension resulting from the concentration
of the board, yet Ryan still appears more
relaxed than Hellman. Perhaps this was merely
Tom Wiswell was the timekeeper for the match
to ensure that neither checker player violated
the time limit per move. John Dale Heath, an
Illinois promoter and player, was the other
spectator observing the game.
Unfortunately, William Ryan never realized
his dream of becoming the World Champion
because after 30 games of a 40-game match,
Hellman was in the lead with four wins to
However, this did not deter William Francis
Ryan, and with only ten games left, he utilized
his checker tactics and skill to win three
of the remaining games, and he was nearly
successful in winning the last one as well.
This has been sited as one of the greatest
comebacks in the history of the checkers game.
This result left the two checker champions
deadlocked with four wins each, and Hellman
retained his title by virtue of a drawn match.
Ryan campaigned hard for a re-match against
Walter Hellman, and actually called himself
challenger, which, in reality, he was.
Finally, in early 1954, the long-awaited
checker match for the World Championship
title was announced, and William Francis
Ryan would have another shot at becoming
the World Champion. However, Fate stepped
in a mere ten days before the match, when
the outgoing checkerist, William ‘Willie’ F.
Ryan, died suddenly, at the age of 47 from
a cerebral hemorrhage. His sudden death both
stunned and shocked checker players of the
world. William Francis Ryan would now never
reign as Checker Champion of the world. The
checker world lost one of its most prolific
William Ryan was buried without his usual
pomp and ceremony in a very simple funeral
service, and his headstone reads:
“William Francis Ryan”
”A Checker Player “
Although Ryan did not win a great
number of checker titles throughout his career,
other than the national titles in 1939 and
1946, he had an undeniable flair about him.
Many people who never met him adopted William
as their “hero”, just from reading
his checkers books and magazines because his
both his personality and character were truly
eschewed within these publications. As long
as the game of checkers is played, his memory
will indeed live forever as one of the checker
greats in history.