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William Francis Ryan
Checkers Books

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 of Ryan’s expansive character and inimitable style because the annotations are copious and definitely entertaining.

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.

Ryan plays blindfolded

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.

World Champions Tournament

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.

Ryan in Time Magazine

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.

Dama's Followers

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 have too.

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. 1 mastermind.

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 years ago.

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 Willie Ryan.”

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.

Ryan In Washington

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.

Jump in Jive

“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 the “boss”, 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, ca 1945.

William Ryan 1949

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 a facade.

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.

Ryan World Champion

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 one.
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 the undefeated 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 stars.

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.

DeerLake Online Store Items

Wonder Mugs Play checkers online, and enjoy drinking from this cool wonder mug.
When adding hot liquid, the colors of the mug will change, checkers cool.

Checkers is a two-player game, where one player is assigned white-chip checkers and the other red. The aim is to play checkers online, capture all of the other player's checkers or make them impossible to move.

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