Jonathan Schaeffer

Review of One Jump Ahead:
Challenging Human Supremacy in Checkers

reviewed by Jim Loy

One Jump Ahead is a book about the World Champion checkers program, Chinook, and its creator Dr. Schaeffer, and his supporting team. It is also about Marion Tinsley, widely recognized as the greatest human checker player ever. The book may be the best and most interesting checkers book ever.

The book is, first and foremost, the sad story of Dr. Schaeffer's quest to defeat Marion Tinsley. Chinook got better and better. Could it defeat Tinsley. It started to look like Chinook would win. And then Tinsley got ill and died. Both Tinsley and Schaeffer were cheated out of the final confrontation by fate. That, in itself is an excellent story. Secondly, the book is about the grit and grime of computer programming. This is good stuff, too. If programming does not interest you, you may still empathize with the triumphs and frustrations of this search for excellence.

This book contains several annotated checkers games. In the appendix, you will find all of the Chinook-Tinsley games (unannotated). All checkers moves in this book are in algebraic notation (11-15 is f6-e5). The reason for this, of course, is that game players who are not checkers players tend to prefer algebraic. I am a chess player who has used algebraic for over 30 years, and I was surprised that I had trouble with the notation. But that gave me some insight into the troubles of the poor beginner who struggles with any notation. Anyway, the games in the book are well worth the effort of struggling with the notation.

In the book, Dr. Schaeffer occasionally says that checkers is dying. Of course, the number of serious checkers players is currently declining. But I am not as pessimistic as he is. I think we have a great game which cannot die. And I think we are in a low ebb. Chinook, the WWW, and this book may just help to bring back checkers as a popular tournament game.

This book is really good. Read it.

[University of Alberta] 
University of Alberta 
[Department of Computing Science] 
Computing Science