Besides soccer, the two most common games are pool and “drafti” (checkers). I have seen other games, all homemade, but these are the ones that appear most often. Pool is played out on the street, usually with a homemade awning to protect the table. Checkers is played wherever people feel like.
The checkers boards are painted or drawn, with bottle caps for pieces. One side has the caps face up, and the other side has them face down. People take the game very seriously, and betting is not uncommon. I sat down for a couple of games against some good players (without betting), and got soundly beaten. Now, for those of you who don’t know, I play chess pretty regularly, and have always considered checkers to be that game of my childhood that I could never lose at. So, losing was a bit of a shock. Granted, they play slightly different rules here than I’m used to (forced take, kings can move any distance along a diagonal), which does change the strategy a bit. They don’t really take time to think, it’s usually less than 10 seconds per move, so I feel bad thinking a position through. You need to look a considerable number of moves ahead to beat a good player, and they, who grew up with the game, have a distinct leg up on me in the faster games. Anyway, it appears that the strategy here is deeper than I had thought. It saddens me to think that a lot of these players (I’ve played on the street and with the Kili porters) did not have the chance to go to secondary school. Their skill at drafti says something about their wasted intellectual potential.
Anyway, I’ve been a little bored here in Karatu waiting for market day, so I decided to build myself a checkers solver. It plays the game of checkers, and tells you the best move in any position. After Kili, I needed a nerdy moment. I programmed the solver in Java, and it analyzes a particular position with a recursive algorithm, looking a certain number of moves ahead (you can specify how many). Here’s a screen shot, along with the cryptic move outputs that tell you what the possible moves are and what the best move is. It seems to work, but I haven’t had time to sit down and actually learn from it.
I’ve only played pool once here, but it was quite an experience. They keep the felt immaculate (I really have no idea how, since they play outdoors in all this dust). The table and balls were small, and the cue was smaller. The cue also looked more like a golf ball, it had so many dents and pockmarks. Needless to say, it was difficult to hit the balls straight. The games seem to just go on and on, until someone manages to hit just the right dent in the cue to sink the 8 ball. Anyway, people (men) gather around pool tables in the evening that are set up under small shelters.
Interestingly, these games seem to be only for locals, as the craft shops sell mancala and chess sets, but no checkers sets or pool equipment. I thought before I came that mancala was the African game, but that was clearly just my ignorance. I’ve seen a grand total of one game of mancala in my time here, and no games of chess.