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Friday, August 24, 2012

Newell Banks

       Newell William Banks (October 10, 1887 – February 17, 1977) was noted primarily as a checker player, but he was also a chess master of some ability. Banks learned chess from his father.  Banks played his first game of blindfold checkers at five years and six months at the Detroit Chess and Checker Club.
      In 1909 he defeated Hugh Henderson for the national checker championship. In 1947, at age 60, for 45 consecutive days (4 hours per day) Banks played 1387 blindfold checker games finishing with a record of +1331 -2 =54. He also set a new blindfold speed record playing 62 games in four hours, scoring +61 -0 =1. He averaged about one second per move.  By 1933, Banks held all speed records at blindfold and simultaneous checkers.
       In the Master's Invitational Tournament held in Chicago in 1926 Banks defeated Isaac Kashdan and Frank Marshall (reigning US Champion) and drew with former champion Jackson W. Showalter, the strong Chicago master Samuel Factor and Oscar Chajes. Chicago was won by Frank Marshall with 8.5 ahead of Maroczy and Torre at 8.0, and Jaffe and Kupchik on 7.5. The remainder of the field was Kashdan, Factor, Edward Lasker, A.J.Fink, Newell Banks, Oscar Chajes, Jackson Showalter, and Lewis J. Isaacs. Chicago was a watershed for Marshall; aside from Olympiads, he never again won a significant tournament.
       How did Banks think chess compared to checkers? In one of Banks comments appearing in A Chess Omnibus he stated that checkers is 80% memory and 20% intuition while chess is the opposite.
      Of the two games, which do I prefer? This is a question not to be answered lightly. Although as a checkers player I held the American championship for 25 years, whereas my best achievements at chess were probably my isolated victories over Marshall and Kashdan in one tournament, I have to admit that I get more enjoyment out of my chess. Mainly for its greater variety.

In 1947 Banks expressed more of his thoughts in Banks’ Blindfold Checker Masterpieces:
      In the course of 50 years of checkers and 45 years of chess, after a careful study of both games, I have reached the following conclusions…The end play in checkers is more subtle than chess, for while the moves are more restricted, the timing is, nevertheless, more profound. ... The overwhelming beauty in chess lies in the opening and the middle game, both of which fields, in my opinion, are unquestionably far superior to those in checkers.

      Banks also believed a beginner could learn to play a fairly competent amateur game of chess in one-third the time it would take to learn checkers. He went on to explain that this didn’t mean checkers is the more difficult game but that since checkers has been analyzed at least five times more thoroughly than chess, the beginner at checkers is called upon to absorb a formidable amount of material. It also means that checkers is a game of memory.
       As a youngster Banks claimed he learned more about chess looking over Morphy’s games during about a six month period than he ever learned from any book he studied and recommended the study of Morphy’s game to beginners.  He felt Morphy’s games exposed the student to the principal of mobility and how to play open games.
       Banks never stressed endings because he felt most games were decided in the opening and middle game, and it was a rare occasion when a game is won by superlative endgame play.  He also believed checkers was of great value in improving a chess player’s sense of timing in the endgame. For that reason Banks advised serious students of either game to study both chess and checkers.
       He pointed out that in checkers you must move forward at all times and the slightest mistake is usually being fatal. In chess, on the other hand, if a minor error is made you can, in many cases, avoid disaster. Another point he stressed was that in checkers if you are one piece down in any normal position will lose but that is not always the case in chess.
       In 1953, his book, World’s Championship Checker Match American Style, was published and the biographical notes stated Banks traveled over 1,000,000 miles and played about 600,000 checkers and chess games. During this time he played over 80,000 blindfold checker games.
       Banks died in 1977 at age ninety.

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