Friday, June 4, 2010

Tal aka 'The Razor' on Checkers

"I'm 79 and have been playing checkers my whole life. They call me 'The Razor' because I am known for giving close shaves. I beat people before they even know they are beat. I am considered a wise and sharp checkers player. That's why they gave me that nickname.

"I was born in Ozark, Alabama, and came to D.C. in 1953 to go to 
Howard University. I wanted to be a physician. When I enrolled, I needed a science major, so I picked chemistry. I graduated in 1957 and got into medical school a few years later. I spent a year in medical school and realized that it was not going to be my claim to fame. I left and took a job as a chemist for the Food and Drug Administration. In my time, I also worked with the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries. This was the time of Sputnik when they were studying the atmosphere. At the same time, they started to explore the sea. I was involved on the team that was exploring the chemical elements of the Sargasso Sea, off the west coast of Africa. It was a collaboration of several countries and I met scientists from RussiaBrazil, and Germany.

"Meeting all of these people and traveling exposed me to how other countries play checkers. The strategies are similar the world over, but there are different styles of checkers. There is international checkers, with 100 squares and 20 men per side. We play American pool checkers on a 64-square board with 12 men per side. You can move forward one spot, but you can also jump backwards. When you get a king, he can move the entire square on whatever line he is on.

"I didn't start playing on a regular basis until 1980. At the time, we used to play at barber shops and under trees around town. In 1985, we raised enough money to open the club by charging membership dues to pay the rent. This is the only checkers club in Washington, D.C., but they do still play in other places like Mason's Barbershop in N.E. and at cab stands around the city.

"For 25 years, we have been playing here almost every day. We have about 30 members and I have been the president for 20 years. We play in checkers leagues and travel the country for tournaments. This year, we have already been to 
GeorgiaFlorida, and North Carolina. Our national tournament is coming up in July in North Carolina. We play competitively among ourselves to get ready for the tournaments. There are five categories of players for the tournaments, from beginner to master. They are: Blue Ribbon, Gold Bar, Junior Master, Master, and Top Master. Last year, I played as a Junior Master and did not lose a game, so I will probably get moved up this year to Master. One of the best checkers players in this club is a guy named Freddie Owens. He is one of the best in the country. He always comes out in the money.

"Everyday that I can, when I finish what I am doing, I am here. They say that people should exercise your body, but you need to exercise your mind, too. We believe that there is a relationship between checkers and warding off 
Alzheimer's. We have a saying that an idle mind is the devil's workshop. By playing checkers on a regular basis, we exercise our minds and develop a nice sense of camaraderie. Wherever you go, you will find checkers players. We know where to find a good game when we are out of D.C., and most checkers players from out of town know to come find us when they want a good game in Washington.

"See, we are passionate about our game. We love our game."

The Capital Pool Checkers Club is located at 813 S St., N.W.


RM said...

Fascinating! I'm terrible at chess but the thought of being a "razor" at checkers intrigues me... seems like a cool person with a lot of unique stories!

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