Obituary:Marion Tinsley

Marion Tinsley was, quite simply, the greatest draughts player who ever lived. Indeed it is difficult to think of anyone who has dominated any competitive activity in the way Tinsley held sway over the draughts world. He won the world title in 1955 and remained undefeated until his death. In the last 40 years of his life he lost fewer than a dozen competitive games.

Tinsley's first regular draughts opponent, according to his own account, was an old lady, Mrs Kershaw, who lodged with his family in Columbus, Ohio. "She used to beat me in game after game," he said. "Oh, how she'd cackle." Irritated by the cackling, the young Tinsley came across a book on draughts, or checkers as it is known in America, in the local library. He was hooked at once by the intricate mathematical patterns of the game and even gave checkers the credit for teaching him how to study for his maths degree.

Tinsley won the world title from Asa Long in 1955 and defended it against the English challenger, Derek Oldbury, in 1958. Shortly after, he announced his retirement from competitive checkers in order to concentrate on his mathematics teaching and research post at the University of Florida.

His return came in 1970 as a result of a curious deal with a friend who had long been trying to tempt him back to the board. "I told him I'd compete again if he gave up drinking," explained the abstemious Tinsley. The friend did not entirely stick to his side of the bargain, but Tinsley immediately regained the United States championship and, in 1975, the world title. For the rest of his life, he popped in and out of retirement, and was even given the title "World Champion emeritus" by the World Draughts Association, so that the other players could get on with their own world title contests while Tinsley was in one of his retirement phases.

When he did play, however, he was unbeatable. In 1989, he defeated a challenger, Paul Davis, by 10 wins to zero with 20 draws, an unprecedented level of domination in a game where the general level of technique normally guaranteed that most games were drawn.

Two years previously, he had had a closer contest with Don Lafferty, one of his own students, which ended 2-0 to Tinsley with 36 draws. Perhaps the most famous contest of his career came in 1992 when he was challenged by a computer program. "Chinook", named after a draughty wind in the Rockies, had finished second only to Tinsley in a recent contest of the world's best players. Its programmers were confident that computers were on the verge of playing perfect draughts. Soon, they said, a contest between man and machine at draughts would be like pitting a weightlifter against a fork-lift truck.

On this occasion, however, the fork-lift truck was made to look more like a Dinky toy. Tinsley won a tough contest by four wins to two with 33 draws. Before the match, Tinsley had said: "I'm sure I have a better programmer than Chinook has. God gave me a rational mind." In that sense, his victory was confirmation of Tinsley's deep religious faith. A part- time minister at the Church of Christ in Tallahassee, Tinsley also taught bible classes. He saw a parallel between draughts and the Christian Fellowship of Suffering. Draughts players, shy and condemned to living with the tag of playing a kid's game, had, according to Tinsley, their own fellowship of suffering.

William Hartston

Marion Tinsley, draughts player: born Columbus, Ohio 3 February 1927; died Houston, Texas 3 April 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)