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In this time when we mourn and resist those who have chosen the way of white supremacy, let’s turn to a Southern white man who was transformed by the work of Christ.

The greatest checker player known

Marion Tinsley (1927 – 1995) held the World Checker Champion title for 19 years. Beginning as champion at 21, he only lost seven games in 45 years of match play. Finding no worthy opponent, he retired for years. What mastery!

In 1990, checker computer, Chinook, played Tinsley. At the 10th move, Tinsley predicted: “You will regret that.” Chinook resigned after move 36. That was 51 paired moves later! Chinook’s programmer, Schaeffer, had programmed Chinook to look ahead 20 moves. He realized that Tinsley, on his 11th move, picked the only strategy that could have defeated Chinook. Tinsley saw more than 50 moves ahead! Tinsley explained his advantage: “I have a better programmer, God.”

A few clues about Tinsley

As a teen, Marion voraciously studied checkers. His greatest checker strength was his uncanny memory. Playing Chinook, he recalled a series of moves he made in games played during the 1940s. He relished playing Chinook but withdrew from their last match due to health problems. Seven months later, pancreatic cancer claimed his life.

Years earlier, considering what Christ had done for him, Tinsley stated: “I had thought of going to Africa as a self-supported missionary until a sharp-tongued sister pointed out to me that most people who wanted to help blacks in Africa wouldn’t even talk to blacks in America.” Tinsley taught mathematics at Florida A&M -- a mostly black school. He preached at a predominantly black church, St. Augustine Street Church of Christ, Tallahassee.


Imagine being able to anticipate 50 moves. We long to predict future events. Oddly, some seek personal aid from impersonal astrological signs. Go figure. Some ask the advice of friends or mentors who eventually fail or disconnect. Some depend upon algorithms that predict success when stocks are volatile or down. But what happens when stocks are up?

Scripture gives us the wisdom of God. God.

In the beginning, the Holy Spirit “hovered” over creation (Genesis 1:2). The Spirit ordered the formless, empty chaos. Life abounded. In 2 Peter 1:21, Peter uses the same word for “hover” the translators of the Greek version of Genesis used: “Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were ‘carried along’ (‘hovered over’) by the Holy Spirit.” Aha. The Holy Spirit is vital in forming creation and Scripture.

The father in Proverbs urges his child to study the Spirit-authenticated Scriptures as Tinsley scrutinized checkers: “Do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight” (Prov 3:21). Then his child will see more than 50 moves ahead -- even 50 years ahead. Like Tinsley, let’s love our Bibles.

Getting past failure

As marvelous as the word of God is, we neglect it; we rebel against it; we make an effort to obey its teaching and then falter -- and we make excuses. We fail. When we have some measure of success, we miss the point by becoming self-righteousness.

In 1957, Sputnik showed the U.S. that the Russians were ahead in the space race. In 1960, by passing an IQ test, I was selected to be in an advanced class in Colorado Springs that someday might make a difference. One test question showed a baseball field. A watch had been lost. How would I find it? I started well -- tracing my ordered steps. But eventually, I scribbled my random quest. Somehow, I got into the class. But 57 years later, that botched question is the only question I recall.

Of course, I’ve had many more profound failures. And, I wonder how often did Tinsley think about the seven match games he lost. What failures haunt you?

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What helped Tinsley persevere in good? When Marion was young, an older woman boarded with Tinsley’s parents. She always beat little Marion in checkers. Those defeats did not keep him from pursuing checkers.

Loving the one who loved us first

Jesus loved Peter. But, Peter failed Jesus. When Peter walked on the water, he looked away from Jesus. Jesus had no hands on the hips rebuke! No, Jesus reached out and rescued sinking Peter. When Peter three times denied knowing Jesus during Jesus’ trial, later Jesus responded to Peter’s profound betrayal by three times asking Peter if Peter loved him. Love is what counts for Jesus. We love the one who loved us first -- even when we were sinners.

A pitcher for the Brewers walked the first three batters he faced. I asked: “What did you do?” He said: “I trusted God. Because of Jesus, I know God loves me -- even when I don’t perform skillfully.” The next two innings he pitched well.

I told him about Johnny Carson’s interview of Hall of Famer, Orel Hershiser. After the 1988 World Series, Carson asked Orel, “How did you handle the pressure?” A very competitive Orel surprisingly replied: “After I pitched, I went into the dugout and hummed hymns like: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” Johnny asked Orel to sing the words. Timid Orel sang the song -- for the glory of God.

Likewise, another very competitive man, Tinsley, said he “really hated to lose.” But, after winning his matches, he always gave glory to God. Let’s marvel that this glorying brainiac professor was free to cross racial barriers instead of retreating into nerdiness. Upon his death, the Chinook team wrote: “Dr. Tinsley was exceedingly kind and loved by everyone. He was a great friend.” Chinook’s programmer, Schaeffer, commented: “He was kind and gentle, equally with checker master and checker novice.”

Here’s Paul’s summary: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6). Let’s believe the good news of Jesus -- loving God -- glorying in him -- and loving our neighbor. What an advantage!

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Steve Bostrom, a descendant of Swedish homesteaders, husband of Via, father of eight, and grandfather of nine, loves Helena and serves here as a pastor at large. The Presbyterian Church in America oversees his work. To contact him, email: If you would like access to previous columns, please go to


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