During the early 20th century, the atmosphere surrounding a good ole checkers game was quite different from that which has evolved during the second half of the century. Checkers was played on street corners, back alleys, barbershops, grocery stores, church basements, or basically anywhere willing players could congregate to face each other across the checkerboard. The spirit of the checkers game was to challenge each other to out maneuver, out think, out wit, out talk, and out move the checkers pieces to a final win.
Checkers players during that time would readily travel from one part of the city to another in order to satisfy their competitive zeal at the checkerboard. These game enthusiasts took real delight in "mugging" or defeating their opponents by five straight wins. Just as much fun was "hooding" the challengers or beating their victims by ten straight wins. However, though winning the checkers game was an enjoyable endeavor, it wasn't as much fun as when the loser had to buy the winner a bottle of soda and then personally bring it over to the winner while indignities were shouted at the loser when he sat down waiting for his turn to get even. There was a real sense of ‘fair play’ and camaraderie in the checkers arena in the early days of the game.
Nathaniel Leach and John Otis witnessed how people loved to play checkers but in so many different locations around the city, which happened to be Detroit, Michigan at that time. They quickly began to visualize how these checkers enthusiasts could come together as one body, one organization, and play to their hearts’ content because they saw that there really wasn't any sense of organization to the game, which was called "Spanish Pool" Checkers during the early days of the game. Also, this style of checkers was played primarily by African Americans throughout the United States. Classic or Straight Checkers was considered too slow a game and not as exciting in the play making moves or jumping, and therefore, it was not as appealing an activity as Spanish Pool Checkers.
What this game needed was a system to give it a set of distinctive rules and a schedule of tournament matches that could be played during different times of the year and at various locations. Leach and Otis noticed that this checkers format did not have any written rules to govern play nor were there any recorded accounts of games or players. Generally speaking, the checkers players simply agreed on local rules or those accepted by majority rule. Furthermore, no divisions, instructions, or tournaments existed, and the streets or locale where the checkers games were played gave the group its name. It wasn't just in Detroit that checkers was being played in this manner, but rather this format was also occurring in many other major cities where checkerboards could be found.
In order to change and improve on the method of checkers play where this style of game existed, Nathaniel and John had the vision to devise a new format by creating a checkers club at the YMCA in Detroit during the early 1930’s.
In 1938, the St Antoine Checkers Club held its first citywide sanctioned checkers tournament, and two years later, the club established the Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight Divisions for the checkers tournament that same year.
However, though their idea held great merit because it brought keen checkers players together, it turned out that it was not easy to collect dues from the club members, even though these funds went against the cost of light and heating expenses. So, many players returned to their old ways of playing on street corners because they didn't want to take on the burden of some of these overhead costs. Also, because these same players came from all over, it was not easy to find them again as there were no formal addresses or names left behind; in fact, often what was listed were merely the nicknames of these checkers players.
However, faithful followers of the checkers club congregated in different homes and in local recreation centers. For many years the checkers game continued in this vein, though Leach and Otis still believed that there was a better way to play the game than in this unorganized fashion.
Still, the idea of ‘unorganized’ play that was popular in the fashion of Spanish Pool Checkers did not fit the vision of Leach and Otis at all, so in 1960 they approached Grandmaster checkers player, Newell Banks, for some guidance as to where to take their ideas for the game. Banks was a Grandmaster and blindfold expert in American ‘straight’ or regular checkers, who could offer John and Nathaniel some instruction on how to form an organization that would teach its members the finer aspects of the checkers game and show them how to maintain individual records of the plays, or basically how to annotate games at the checkerboard.
By the following year, Otis and Leach had gathered the necessary support as well as information on organizing a new membership, and before long the American Pool Checker Association was formed and subsequently registered with city office. The newly devised organization was granted a charter as a ‘non-profit’ membership to organize all American Pool checkers players in the U.S.
Four years later, the Association proudly held its first major competition called the Midwest Open Tournament. In 1965, the organization also published the Point Manual and Rules, which clearly laid out the philosophy and game rules behind the new American Pool Checker Association, or A.P.C.A.
Finally, in 1966, the dream behind Leach and Otis began to materialize when the A.P.C.A. sponsored the first national Pool Checkers tournament in Detroit. For this competition, checker players were brought together in one locale to play organized games of American Pool Checkers.
It didn't take long before the concept spread to Pool Checkers players across the country, and Nathaniel’s and John’s dream was finally realized in December 1976 when the state of Georgia joined in full membership by organizing the Georgia Pool Checker Association as an affiliation to the American national association.
However, over the years, as the organizations grew, modifications and some adaptations to meet the needs of the membership were made. With time, it was clear that there were checkers players playing the game at different levels of expertise and experience. Therefore, divisions were established to accommodate the various levels of play: Top Master, Master, Junior Master, Gold Bar and Blue Ribbon. Subsequently, rules and regulations were adopted to govern the organization and tournament play. The 21st century has witnessed a growth in the membership of American Pool Checkers in much the same way Straight Checkers is growing once more. The American Pool Checkers Association currently holds annual tournaments in various cities throughout the United States.
The one major difference in the membership of this checkers association is that more African American players are involved in this mind sport than in regular American checkers because this style of game is where their roots were firmly established generations ago in front of the grocery store or in the alley down the street. Loyalty to this game has not wavered with time, and many ‘old time’ African American players got with the new program of organized play. American Pool Checkers is a timeless part of the American ‘Black’ culture.
The question that has been posed throughout the years is why Pool Checkers primarily became a sport of the Black population. Some have speculated that it derived from a European variant of the game of Spanish Checkers that slaves had played in the Caribbean and then brought it into New Orleans generations ago in the 18th or early 19th centuries. As Ervin Smith, head of the National Pool Checkers Association, has commented: "I think it's for the same reason you see these kids wearing baggy pants down to their knees. It's the desire to have something different. Look at our name: American Pool Checker Association." From where did the ‘pool checkers’ component in the name come? Any guess is viable. In all likelihood, the name pool checkers may have something to do with the way in which the checkers pieces are moved around the checkerboard like billiard balls on a pool table.