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Checker Champion
James Wyllie 2

Wyllie and the checkers/draughts’ champion, Andrew Anderson ~ In 1838, James Wyllie met one of Scotland’s greatest checker players, Andrew Anderson of Braidwood, Carluke, for the first time. This was indeed a special challenge and honor for Wyllie as Anderson already held a special place in the history of the game as the first checker player to be recognized as a world champion of draughts as well as a noted authority on the subject as represented by his classic book on the game of checkers.

The checkers match between Anderson and James Wyllie took place in Edinburgh and was set with a £10 stake, though, unfortunately, it ended in defeat for Wyllie. A second match between the pair was declared and both checker players fought valiantly but sadly ended with the same result. However, Wyllie was not discouraged because his games were prevailing elsewhere around the various counties: defeated George Wallace of Glasgow, who later became his life long friend won two matches against Steel of Kirkconnel. In 1840, James Wyllie traveled south into England and shocked the ‘Sassenachs’ by beating the champion of England ~ Price of Manchester ~ in a match by winning eleven games to the master’s two games. When champion James Wyllie returned to Scotland with these successes under his belt, he challenged Andrew Anderson for a third time with a stake of £100. The contest was close but James Wyllie lost again. He was now in his early twenties and had succeeded against all his opponents except Anderson. During these years, Wyllie's game had improved tremendously and it was apparent that his ability was increasing. This was evidenced in that he could make concessions in a game by allowing his opponents to count draws as wins against him, and yet, Wyllie still emerged the checkers winner. In another meeting with Price, James Wyllie gave his opponent a start of seven games, and against Muirhead of Macclesfield, he achieved 12 wins and five draws. Then in 1844, Wyllie challenged Anderson yet again to another checker series of games, and this time the match was played at Carluke and caused a lot of excitement in the area. It also brought James Wyllie's first success in the series, where he won nine checker games to Anderson's four, coupled with several draws in between the wins. This result did not please Andrew Anderson, so he sought another trial of strength. Wyllie agreed and therefore, a fifth checkers match was arranged and this became the last time they would meet. The checkers challenge was played at Edinburgh in 1847, and is one of the most famous on record, as described in Joseph Gould's book, "Memorable Matches". Andrew Anderson won nine checker games to Wyllie's six and there were 31 draws between them. Afterwards, Anderson retired as draughts champion and left the championship title to James Wyllie.

An element that dominated Wyllie’s life was certainly checkers but his focus also changed slightly when James met and married a local ‘lass’, Helen Hendrey, at Dunfermline. Champion James Wyllie and his new bride settled down to marital bliss at Leven and soon began raising a family. Wyllie’s family became his new focus and as a result, he didn't seek checkers matches for about 10 years. Many thought that he had actually decided to retire from the board game.

Then one day Wyllie learned of the rise of a new checkers star in the South. Much as James Wyllie had successfully managed to do years before, Robert Martins was sweeping all before him in England. It was inevitable that the two masters would eventually face each other across the board in a challenging checkers match. This event took place at Edinburgh in 1859. However, Wyllie was out of practice and Martins won the checker match by four games to one, and with 49 draws between the two masters. Martins’ supporters cheered him on and rejoiced when he took the championship title from James Wyllie. This game was the beginning of a rivalry that would last close to forty years.

Champion James Wyllie returned to Leven, but undaunted, practiced hard on his checkers game. He tried again against Martins in Glasgow in 1863, but they played the same opening over and over again and it only resulted in a draw. So when the two masters met for a third time in Glasgow in 1864, they both knew that this match could not end with a repeat performance of the previous one. The end result was a splendid checkers match wherein the quality of play aroused the admiration of the spectators. James Wyllie maintained his lead throughout the match and won by ten games to five, including 47 draws. From here on, Wyllie and Martins tilted at each other in a series of epic matches.

From 1864, Robert Martins, a Cornishman, settled at Douglas, Lanarkshire, and became as much a part of the Scottish scene as the Herd Laddie. Although he originally hailed from English, and should be remembered as an English winner of the world championship, he settled amongst the Scots and lived so long among the people north of Tweed that he was almost considered one of the locals from that area.

Checker Champion Again

Now champion Wyllie had captured the checker championship title once again. Working hard at his game, James Wyllie was determined to maintain his superiority and did so in all future matches against Martins.

In 1867, they played a challenging match in Glasgow, in which champion player succeeded in seven wins apiece. However, Wyllie's backers were not pleased that he had agreed to a drawn contest of equal wins. This led to yet another match of four games wherein champion Wyllie won two games without loss. Later, in 1872 a match was played between them in England with games played in Leeds and Newcastle, and Wyllie won this set four games to three.

The New World; Wyllie’s checkers expertise crossed the Atlantic Ocean and he became internationally famous. Soon James was receiving invitations from across the Atlantic in the New World, where checkers players were really eager to meet him. Encouraged by this enthusiasm from abroad, champion James Wyllie sailed from Liverpool in 1873 for New York. Here he spent three years between the United States and Canada where he played match after checkers match in Boston, Providence, Chicago, St Louis, Pittsburgh, Portland, Quebec and numerous other places on the North American continent.

According to his own record, James played a total of 21,500 games, wherein he won 20,694, lost 206, and played 600 to a draw. There were very few large-scale matches, because there seemed to be a general reluctance among leading players to face such a formidable opponent and world checker champion.

While in Boston, James Wyllie met and played against W. R. Barker, the current American champion in a match, which was easily won by champion Wyllie with ten games to one, including with several draws. Wyllie's tour of North America was very successful, but it ended with one of the biggest upsets in draughts/checkers history.

Wyllie had previously met a 15-year old boy, Robert Yates, who at that time performed well against him in New York. Yates later became the strongest player in the New York area, and when Wyllie returned to the city in 1876 on his way home to Scotland, a match of fifty games for the world championship was arranged between Wyllie and Yates. It became a tremendous struggle for James Wyllie to maintain his upper hand. Wyllie won the thirty-third game, while Yates won the forty-seventh. At the final game the scores were even between James and Robert at one game apiece, with forty-seven draws. This final game between the two checkers masters has become one of the most famous games in draughts/checkers history.

It was James Wyllie’s turn to move. Yates was cornered into a losing position but Wyllie missed his opportunity, as he didn't see the play, and the advantage passed to Yates. Robert forced James back until he trapped him at the side of the board. Yates, who was still not quite 19, made the final move that won him the match and the world championship from the Herd Laddie by two games to one. Negotiations for a return match were begun but Yates later relinquished the championship because he was about to commence medical studies. By common consent, the title then reverted back to James Wyllie.

Continue reading about Checkers Champion James Wyllie, Herd Laddie

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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