Student Rick damt op hoog niveau. “Doordat het zo’n strategisch spel is, leer ik vooruitdenken en methodisch handelen.”

Thinking at high level

‘Checkers is pure psychological warfare’

Who thinks checkers is just a simple children’s game, is wrong. It is an international sport with tournaments, championships and endless depth. Business administration student Rick Hakvoort plays checkers at a high level: “It really is endlessly complex.”

It began at primary school for the twenty-year-old. “In the 7th grade there was a sort of game night and that is where I discovered checkers. I was immediately crazy about all the complex opportunities and I thought it was really cool to discover the tactical aspects. Not long after, I joined a checkers club and took lessons. That is where my passion for checkers was born.”

Creative strategies
This year Rick and his team played in the honorary division for the first time: the highest Dutch division of checkers. “I have been national champion at an individual level, and I have played at national and world championships, but playing in a team gives it whole other dimension. You play nine against nine and everybody plays against one another individually. Who is up against who is decided by the team captains before the match. It is of great importance that you look up your opponents beforehand!”
Luckily it is very easy to make up a profile of your opponent because of the extensive database.
“Everything you need to know is in there: how many times your opponent has won and lost, what their play style is, et cetera. For example, when you look me up you will find that I am an aggressive player that mostly wins because of creative strategies. My biggest weakness is that I play fast and make errors because of this.”

Mentally in great shape
To stay mentally in shape, Rick spends a lot of time training. “I train about eight hours per week, but that is really necessary to stay in sharp. I mostly play over the internet, but I also read a lot about theories. With checkers, these are endlessly complex. More than, let’s say, chess. Chess does not have a lot of creativity; it is mostly about the knowledge of the chess pieces. Therefore, it is hard to think up something new that has not already been completely analysed by science. I do not see this happening with checkers, there are just to many options in the game.”
To switch things up, Rick also plays other varieties on the game of checkers, such as playing blindfolded at which you cannot see the board anymore, and playing checkers simultaneously. “With playing checkers simultaneously, I play against twenty other opponents. That can be hard sometimes, but playing blindfolded is for the real advanced players. Because it is impossible to remember everything, you will luckily get a notepad, but even then it is too hard to play this often. However, you do have people who play blindfolded and simultaneously. These game often take days on end.”

Old fashioned image
To a lot people checkers may seem outdated and dull. And that is a real bummer and unjustified, according to Rick. “A little bit is to blame on the checkers society, who started doing something about their image a little too late. And it does not help that the average age of the checker player is around 48. A lot of people got it from home before the digital age, when checkers was played way more often.”

Nonetheless, there are more upsides to checkers than there are downsides, according to Rick. “Because it is such a strategic game, I have a lot of advantages in my studies. By acting creatively and methodically, and possessing the skill to think ahead, I think these skills are really handy when it comes to my business administration studies. At first glance, checkers seems like ‘just a game’, but there so much to it that I use it in corporate life. However, that does not take away that checkers is hard to combine with my studies. In itself studying is going pretty well for me, but if I suddenly have to leave for a match for two weeks in Salou, then it could be hard to work with projects.”

World Championship
He who thinks checkers is a sophisticated and honourable game, will be disappointed according to Rick. “You are is allowed to play dirty and hinder your opponent, but if you take it too far it will be frowned upon. Therefore, it is an art to do this subtly: there are some older players who hate it when the pieces are not perfectly in the middle of the square. I take this as an opportunity to do this on purpose. Or when my opponent is taking ten minutes to make a move, I will try to throw him off his concentration by offering him something to drink or by annoyingly tapping on the table with my fingers. Checkers is pure psychological warfare!”
Rick is ambitious, but being world champion is not on his bucket list. “That would take way too much time and effort, and I cannot muster it. With checkers, you work with a ranking list based on a scoring system and I am at 1250. The best Dutch player is at 1595. I would be really cool to join the national championship for seniors, but that is only for myself. Checkers is not football; you do not have do it for the money. You will be sorely disappointed.”

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