Hamilton students 'smashed' record for most people playing checkers at once: teacher

More than 900 children bent over checkers boards on Tuesday — strategy in brain, candy in hand— unofficially breaking a Guinness world record for the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board

Hamilton school board celebrates 50th annual checkers tournament

Maddy Taylor, Grade 4, was one of 910 people playing in the school board's annual checkers tournament — planning her moves with a ring pop on one finger. (Laura Howells/CBC)

More than 900 children bent over checkers boards on Tuesday — strategy in brain, candy in hand— unofficially breaking a world record for the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board

"We not only broke it, we smashed it," said teacher Bill Forrester, who organized the Guinness World Record attempt — the current record is 540 checkers players in Nevada.

This was the school board's 50th annual checkers tournament, where 910 people played the classic game simultaneously.

The room at the Ancaster Fairgrounds buzzed with enthusiasm — and some were clearly there to win.

"Focus!" shouted one Grade 3 student, as the tournament launched. 

When the Hamilton school board started the tournament in 1969 there were only seven teams playing. This year, there were 146 teams, full of students from Grades 3 to 8. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Students from Grades 3 to 8 took part, from first-time players to four-time champions.

"It's really fun," said Grade 4 student Noor Derwi, from Ray Lewis Elementary School.  "You take everything out of your mind and just focus on the game."

Started small in 1969

Ken Shoesmith never imagined the tournament would grow so massive when he started it in 1969; he just wanted to get checkers into schools. 

Game on. There were students from 30 different Hamilton-area schools at the tournament, which took place at the Ancaster Fairgrounds. (Laura Howells/CBC)

There were only seven teams that first year, he said. But five decades later, there were 146 teams from 30 schools.

"I'm just blown away," Shoesmith said.

Current organizer Nick Trikoupis (left) stands with Ken Shoesmith, who started the school board checkers tournament in 1969. (Laura Howells/CBC)

"It takes a lot of checkers boards," to break a world record, said 10-year organizer Nick Trikoupis. He played in tournaments when he was a Hamilton student; now his three sons have won a number of tournaments.

But can they beat their dad?

"Not yet," Nick says with a smile.

Students faced off at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School board's annual tournament. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Checkers 'twice a day'

Easton Donn, age 8, plays checkers "a lot," he said. "Like, twice a day."

"I always beat my mom, I always beat my dad, I always beat my friends," said Donn, who started playing when he was three. He claims he hasn't lost a game yet — at least this year.

Easton Donn, age 8, says he started playing checkers at age 3. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Farhan El Mohammad learned to play checkers from his dad in Syria.

After moving to Canada, he kept it up — and now plays on the Grade 4 team at Cootes Paradise Elementary School.

"It's a really fun game," said El Mohammad, adding that he won against his dad yesterday.

Farhan El Mohammad learned to play checkers from his dad in Syria. (Laura Howells/CBC)

It's 'huge'

The checkers culture is "huge" at Franklin Road Elementary School, said teacher Astra Ireland. 

"They have to try out, there's playoffs," said Ireland. She brought 50 students with her to the tournament, but would have brought more than 100 if there wasn't a limit. Last year they came in third — and the pennant is hung up in the gym.

Teachers start coaching checkers in January, said Trikoupis, and some kids re-schedule family vacations because they want to be part of the tournament.

Asrta Ireland brought 50 students from Franklin Road Elementary School. There's a lot of checkers-lovers at her school, she says, with people practicing during lunchtime throughout January and February. (Laura Howells/CBC)
Bill Forrester helps his students tally the scores. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Teaching to 'look ahead'

Checkers teaches kids "to think carefully, to look ahead, " said Shoesmith, who used to own 100 books about the game.

Plus, it's accessible. A child in a wheelchair "can take on the biggest, strongest player" with no disadvantage, Shoesmith said.

Police officers were at the event to help with the world record attempt — and to try their hand at a game or two. (Laura Howells/CBC)
Noor Derwi (second on the right) says "focus" is important to checkers success. She competed with her Ray Lewis Elementary schoolmates, Matin Siddiq (left), Sophia Aguilar and Maddy Taylor. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Strategy: 'to win'

You've got to have a good strategy, said Sawyer Hutchison, a 9-year-old Yorkview Elementary School. 

"At the end of the game when the board starts to clear up, I just get goin' on my attack. I just start jumping kings and getting guys," Hutchison said.

Paula Huang has a different approach.

"I don't move the back where you can get kings, so they can't get a king." said Huang, a grade 4 student at Franklin Road.

Paula Huang (left) likes to keep her checkers in the back, so opponents can't get a king. Her classmate, Alex Baker, is also in Grade 4 at Franklin Road Elementary School. (Laura Howells/CBC)

For Jaycee Gordon, "my strategy is just to win," he said.

"But it's got to be a fair game," said the Grade 4 student.

This is the longest-running checkers tournament in North America, Trikoupis said. They now await official verification on their victory from Guinness World Records.