Fido and Me for July 15

Fido and I are playing checkers.

Most people think checkers is a kids' game, but checkers is more complicated than you'd think. Even more than that, checkers is a convivial game. It' not like chess. Chess is played by erudite and bloodthirsty combatants; Germany and France and all of that.

Fido is neither erudite nor bloodthirsty and checkers is the game for him.

Being a red dog, he always chooses the red pieces, so he gets the first move.

"Hey Hey Hey Hey!‚" he says. He makes the same first move every time. He puts his paw on a checker in the middle of his front line and moves it to the right and forward.

"You're using the center strategy again," I says to Fido.

Fido says, "Umm."

We play on a big rollout mat. It's kind of like Twister. I would never deign to play Twister with Fido. Neither he nor I could ever imagine that.

We have some rules.

First, he plays with his back to the deck door. We tried it the other way round for a couple of weeks but there were too many distractions for him. Birds flying past and landing on the deck rail just drive him crazy, although in a good kind of way.

"Hey Hey Hey Hey!" he yells as he gets out to the deck, in vain.

Ground squirrels are another thing altogether. He hears them chirp and he's out on the deck in a New York second.

"Hey Hey Hey Hey!" he woofs.

We live on a very quiet street, and he can hear a dog coming up or down the hill a mile away. He has to defend the Sacred Turf. On those days that he is playing opposite sides, he's spilled many a checkerboard.

I put the pieces back on the board, more or less. I do not cheat, but I don't always get it right. Fido says he doesn't mind.

We've settled on the back-to-the-door positioning.

Me, I tend toward taking the side route strategy. It used to work all the time against my twin brother, and it works against Fido almost all the time.

I figure it's the best crowning strategy. One way is to take the pieces on a safe route. And that's what the side squares are for.

When the checkerboard is oriented the right way (white square at the right extreme lowest end of the board) anyone can see that there are four black squares on each side of the board.

These are the side or edge squares. These squares are the safest route on the board through which I can take pieces I plan to crown into enemy territory. It's not very safe, but its' the safest on the board.

Fido has never caught on. He hangs on to the center strategy doggedly.

Between moves, we have time to chat. From time to time he leaves the board to have a drink from his water bowl, but he always comes back.

"Good boy," I says, and I ruffle the fur on his head.

I can usually beat him, two out of three.