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Checker Champion James Wyllie
Herd Laddie

The Wanderlust Returns.

James Wyllie, better know as Herd Laddie was becoming older, yet his checkers activity did not slacken. In 1877, he faced Willie Bryden, one of the strongest players of western Scotland, in a subscription match, wherein Wyllie secured it with four wins and four draws. Then, in 1880, champion James Wyllie challenged Robert Martins yet again. This checkers match was played in Glasgow, and it was staged to settle the controversy whether 29-25 in the "Switcher" game was a losing move or could draw. Both checker masters were engaged to test the theory behind the move and as a result, this match created a lot of public interest. In this famous match, James Wyllie easily demonstrated that 29-25 was sound and won by four games to one, with 13 draws.

In 1881, he began a second American tour seeking new checker opponents to test his skills and challenge his strategies in this board game that was becoming more and more popular around the globe. Champion Wyllie’s travels lasted four years and were again exceedingly successful. By his own estimation, he played eleven thousand games, of which he won ten thousand, lost one hundred and two, and drew nine hundred. Twice James defeated a strong master, J. P. Reed, of Pittsburgh. His hardest competition was against Charles Barker, younger brother of W. R. Barker. The match was played for the world championship, but ended in a draw with one win each.

Wyllie then returned to Britain and set out on another tour of England and Scotland. On these travels, a second match with Bryden was played in Glasgow in 1886 and brought Wyllie another victory in four games to none, with sixteen draws.

Again checkers champion James Wyllie began looking for uncharted seas and new adventures as well as new checker opponents, so this time, in 1887, he sailed from London, and spent another four years of his life touring Australia and New Zealand. He sensed that he would have many opportunities to play this great checkers game because Scottish immigrants had taken draughts with them to their new homes abroad.

Wyllie’s intuition was indeed correct for he found some serious opposition from competitive players who had acquired their skill in Caledonia. From the beginning, James was extended a warm welcome from loving hearts. Not only could he enjoy the riches of a new land, but he could also reap the bounty from the many and varied checkers games that he played against some very skilled opponents. His journey to Australia was more than successful, for out of the twelve thousand games Wyllie played, he won eleven thousand, seven hundred and sixty, lost only forty, and two hundred ended in a draw.

Ouch! ~ After James Wyllie returned to Scotland, a checker match was arranged between him and a leading member of the Edinburgh club, 19-year-old Richard Jordan. This checkers match, played in Scotland’s capital in May 1892, also holds a special niche in draughts/checkers history, for Jordan won the set by two games to one, with 17 draws. This young player possessed a skill in the board game equaled to that of James Wyllie, and his ability eventually led him to become world champion in 1896.

The winter of his career ~ While James Wyllie traveled abroad in pursuit of new conquests in checkers, and throughout the 1890's, a new generation of Scottish checkers stars had risen. The Herd Laddie was the aging checker champion in his seventies but he was still a vigorous figure with a love of draughts that had surpassed his initial passion from years ago. Champion Wyllie still possessed an innate desire to face the checkerboard so he turned to James Ferries, one of the most prominent masters in the game during this era in Scotland, and pressed him to play for the world title. Ferrie, a mere 36, agreed to the match in Ramshorn Hall in Ingram Street, Glasgow, to be played in April 1894. The checker match was scheduled to be longer than any played before with a total of ninety-four games so that every possible opening could be formed in turn by each player. After 88 games had been played, the end came with Ferrie leading by thirteen wins over Wyllie's six, with 69 draws. Ferrie became the new checkers world champion. Though James Ferrie would have a notable career in draughts, by winning the Scottish tournament six times, he would always be remembered for ending the reign of the Herd Laddie.

Though no longer the checkers world champion, Wyllie continued to play at the top level for five more years as a well-loved veteran. He played against Robert Martins, his great rival, in a match that became known within the checkers circle as "the last battle". This match reportedly took place in 1897, and the fifty-two games were split between Glasgow and Manchester. James Wyllie succeeded with ten winning games to four by Robert Martins, and there were thirty-eight draws. During all their friendly checkers encounters since 1859, champion Wyllie won maybe twelve games more than his rival.

International matches between Scotland and England had since been established in the early 1880’s, and took place in 1884 and 1894; both were won by Scotland. A third match was to be played in Glasgow for April 1899, and both masters, Wyllie and Martins, were selected to play checkers for the Scottish team but unfortunately both were unable to participate due to illness. James Wyllie had been looking forward to representing the team, but fell ill with bronchitis. It was with great sadness that Scotland received the news that the Herd Laddie had succumbed to the illness and passed on without playing another checker game.

James Wyllie, the "Herd Laddie", and one of the greatest checker players to ever live, died in Glasgow on April 5, 1899. Wyllie still occupies a unique place in the history of draughts, for he devoted his life to the board and dominated the game for more than fifty years. That is an astonishing feat in any sport. Champion James Wyllie was an outstanding personality whose activities popularized more than just the game, but encouraged the study of checkers strategy and the multitude of openings, midgames, and endgames. Wyllie held the honored position of world draughts champion for forty years, a span of time that was interrupted only by two brief spells when other contenders outmaneuvered his play. His name is still frequently seen in checkers books because he contributed so much to the development of the game. Wyllie’s influence is evident to this day, for he is remembered as a player of originality and innovation, and responsible for his very successful "Ayrshire Lassie" opening and the "Fife". Furthermore, James Wyllie is also associated with the "Switcher" opening, which he clearly stated that he had used to "perplex many an eminent player".

During his time, the style of play was GAYP (Go-As-You-Please) with "restricted" checkers thrown in to prevent repeat games. These established restrictions were not the same two-move checkers, as the world later came to know it, but generally restrictions that were agreed upon by contract for that match or set of games. The restrictive play might demand so many games be played with a specific opening move, and the white reply would be forced by the contract. There were several ways to begin the checkers game and these were the ones agreed to by the players so that many games were played according to the agreed opening moves.

Wyllie was a dynamic player even in his early years. He was a natural cross-board player, who had no real competition with the exception of Anderson. For half a century, he dominated the game, and as an Ambassador, was unequalled in checkers. He had never owned a book on checkers or studied published play. But today his own moves exist as published play in book format or booklet form.

Checkers champion James Wyllie was about eighty years old when he died, but even at that advanced age his mind was still sharp, his skill was still at the level of a master player, and his heart and mind carried a unique enthusiasm for the sport. Throughout his life, James Wyllie remained a formidable competitor, who really never lost his edge when facing a checkerboard or an opponent, and he will be remembered for his indelible contributions to the progress of the checkers game around the world.

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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