Marion Tinsley

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Marion Tinsley
Full nameMarion Franklin Tinsley
CountryUnited States
Born(1927-02-03)February 3, 1927
Ironton, Ohio, U.S.
DiedApril 3, 1995(1995-04-03) (aged 68)
Humble, Texas, U.S.
World Champion1955–1958

Marion Franklin Tinsley (February 3, 1927 – April 3, 1995) was an American mathematician and checkers player. He is considered to be the greatest checkers player who ever lived.[1] Tinsley was world champion from 1955–1958 and from 1975–1991 and never lost a world championship match. He lost only seven games (two of them to the Chinook computer program, one of them while competing drunk and one in a simultaneous exhibition)[2] from 1950 until his death in 1995.[3] He withdrew from championship play during the years 1958–1975, relinquishing the title during that time. Derek Oldbury, sometimes considered the second-best player of all time, thought that Tinsley was "to checkers what Leonardo da Vinci was to science, what Michelangelo was to art and what Beethoven was to music."[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Tinsley was born in Ironton, Ohio, but spent his early life in Greenup County.[5] Tinsley was the son of a school teacher and a farmer who became a sheriff. He had a sister and "felt unloved" by his parents.[4] To gain the affection of his parents, he competed in math and spelling bees as a child.[4] He said of his parents' disapproval: "And as a twig is bent, it grows: As I grew up, I still kept feeling that way."[4]

He skipped four of his first eight grades.[6] He graduated from a Columbus high school at fifteen.[5] Tinsley had a doctorate from Ohio State University in the mathematical discipline of combinatorial analysis.[6] He worked as a professor of mathematics at Florida State University and Florida A&M University. Tinsley once claimed to have spent approximately 10,000 hours studying checkers while in graduate school. Tinsley also served as a lay preacher in the Disciples of Christ church.[6]

Checkers career[edit]

After reading a book by Millard Hopper, Tinsley became interested in the game.[5]

Tinsley enlisted in the Navy in 1945 and was stationed at Gulfport, Mississippi, where he won the Southern Louisiana Open. In 1946, he finished second behind William F. Ryan at the Newark National Tourney, losing the finals 2–1–11.[5] Tinsley won four Ohio State Opens (1946, 1947, 1948, 1949), six Cedar Point Tourneys (1946, 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1952), and two Canadian Opens (1949 and 1950).[5]

Tinsley was an eight-time three-move world champion (1954, 1955, 1958, 1979, 1981, 1985, 1987 and 1989) and once in two-move checkers (1952).[7]

His 1951–1995 tournament record, excluding the Chinook games:[8]

Year Tournament Result W–L–D Year Tournament Result W–L–D
1975 Florida Open 1st
1951 Lakeside 1st 1976 Florida Open 1st
1952 Lakeside 1st 1977 Florida Open 1st
1952 Canadian Open 1st (tie) 1978 U.S. National Championship 1st
1952 World Two-Move Championship vs. Newell Banks Won 3–0–37 1979 World Three-Move Championship vs. Elbert Lowder Won 15–0–10
1954 U.S. National Championship 1st 1981 World Three-Move Championship vs. Asa Long Won 3–0–34
1955 World Three-Move Championship vs. Walter Hellman Won 3–0–35 1982 Southern States Championship Won
1956 U.S. National Championship 1st 1982 U.S. National Championship Won
1958 British Open 1st 1983 U.S.-Great Britain international match 1st board
1958 World Three-Move Championship vs. Derek Oldbury Won 9–1–24 1985 World Three-Move Championship vs. Asa Long Won 6–1–28
1970 Southern States Championship 1st 1987 World Three-Move Championship vs. Don Lafferty Won 2–0–36
1970 U.S. National Championship 1st 1989 World Three-Move Championship vs. Paul Davis Won 10–0–20
1974 Florida Open 1st 1989 U.S.-U.S.S.R. match 1st board
1974 Lakeside 1st 1990 U.S. National Championship 1st
1974 Southern States Championship 1st 1994 Mississippi State Championship 1st
1974 U.S. National Championship 1st 1994 U.S. National Championship 1st
1975 Lakeside 1st
1975 Southern States Championship 1st

Chinook games[edit]

Tinsley retired from championship play in 1991. In August 1992, he defeated the Chinook computer program 4–2 (with 33 draws) in a match. Chinook had placed second at the U.S. Nationals in 1990 after Tinsley, which usually qualifies one to compete for the World Championships.[9] However, the American Checkers Federation and the English Draughts Association refused to allow a computer to play for the title. Unable to appeal their decision, Tinsley resigned his title as World Champion and immediately indicated his desire to play against Chinook. The unofficial yet highly publicized match was quickly organized, and was won by Tinsley.

In one game from their match in 1990, Chinook, playing with white pieces, made a mistake on the tenth move. Tinsley remarked, "You're going to regret that." Chinook resigned after move 36, only 26 moves later. The lead programmer Jonathan Schaeffer looked back into the database and discovered that Tinsley picked the only strategy that could have defeated Chinook from that point and Tinsley was able to see the win 64 moves into the future.[10][11]

The ACF and the EDA were placed in the awkward position of naming a new world champion, a title which would be worthless as long as Tinsley was alive. The ACF granted Tinsley the title of World Champion Emeritus as a solution.

In August 1994, a second match with Chinook was organized, but Tinsley withdrew after only six games (all draws) for health reasons. Don Lafferty, rated the number two player in the world at the time, replaced Tinsley and fought Chinook to a drawn match at game 20.[12] Tinsley was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a week after the match, and died seven months later.


Tinsley died in Humble, Texas, on April 3, 1995, at the age of 68. He lived in Conyers, Georgia, but was visiting his sister in Texas when he died of cancer. He was survived by a twin sister, Mary Clark, who lives in Humble, Texas, and by two brothers, Ed, of Sarasota, Fla., and Joe, of Thornville, Ohio.[13] He is buried at Greenlawn Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio, next to his father, Edward H. Tinsley and his mother, Viola Mae Tinsley. His brother, Harold Edward Tinsley is also buried there.[13]

Television appearances[edit]

In 1957, Tinsley appeared as a guest challenger on the television game show To Tell the Truth.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thomas, Robert MCG. Jr. "Marion F. Tinsley, 68, Unmatched As Checkers Champion, Is Dead". New York Times. 8 April 1995
  2. ^ "Dr. Jonathan Schaeffer. Computer (And Human) Perfection at Checkers". YouTube.
  3. ^ Jonathan Schaeffer. "Marion Tinsley: Human Perfection at Checkers?". Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d Madrigal, Alexis C. (July 19, 2017). "How Checkers Was Solved". The Atlantic. Retrieved August 14, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e Wiswell, Tom; L. Shuffett, Robert (1957). "Marion F. Tinsley". America's best checkers; an encyclopedia of modern play. New York: Van Rees Press. pp. 169–170.
  6. ^ a b c "A Checkered Career". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 8 December 2013.
  7. ^ "The American Checker Federation – Welcome to the ACF website".
  8. ^ Schaeffer, Jonathan (1997). One Jump Ahead (1st ed.). New York: Springer. pp. 459–462. ISBN 0-387-94930-5.
  9. ^ "Chinook (ACJ Extra)". Archived from the original on 29 August 2006.
  10. ^ Jonathan Schaeffer and Robert Lake. "Solving the Game of Checkers." Games of No Chance, vol. 29, 1996, p. 129-130.
  11. ^ "Dr Marion Tinsley: The Checkers Mathematician", YellowMagpie
  12. ^ "Chinook (ACJ Extra)". Archived from the original on 29 August 2006.
  13. ^ a b "Marion F. Tinsley, 68, Unmatched As Checkers Champion, Is Dead". NCCheckers. Retrieved 9 December 2013.

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