“9-Square Championship”, by Danny Purvis

Aug 20th, 2008 | By | Category: Prose

COLUMBIA, South Carolina: Thirty of the world’s top tic-tac-toe masters converged here to contest the first ever World Tic-Tac-Toe Championship. Two days later, on Sunday, July 14, Willy E. Atwood of nearby Cayce emerged from the strenuous 8-round competition as the best player in the world of perhaps the world’s best-known pencil-and-paper pastime and, incidentally, a thousand dollars richer.

Atwood was tired but excited. Of the decisive game the twenty-something, self-described “squirrel-jumper handyman” exclaimed, “I hit him with the corner opening, square 1. He thought about it for several minutes, and I was sure he was going to the center square, square 5. When he reached for his pencil and went to square 9 I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘Crunch time!'”

If Atwood’s commentary seems couched in Einsteinian mathematics, blame the notational system invented by tic-tac-toe patron Talford Stoker. Stoker, who organized and financed the world championship tournament, says that his system can be learned by anyone. “It’s not that difficult, ” he told this reporter. “The germ of the idea is that each square gets a number, just like every house has an address. Think of yourself as a mailman. When you play a game of tic-tac-toe you’re just deliverin’ the mail.”

The competition was truly international with competitors from as far away as Denmark, Norway and South Korea. “Of course that’s Denmark, South Carolina, and Norway, South Carolina,” Stoker shrugged, “but Suzie’s the real thing.” “Suzie” is Sue Park, Stoker’s live-in girlfriend, who represented the Republic of Korea in the competition.

“Yobo make me carry this little flag,” Park clarified, pointing to a miniature South Korean flag. “I American citizen. Uncle Sam number one honcho. We no eat the dog.”

The tournament seemed to offer something for everybody. “Talford told us he was going to cut a watermelon,” said competitor Roy White. “It was a sweet one.” Prodigy Frank Hill, seven years old, enjoyed his rapid progress in the sport.

“After I lost I cried,” Hill recounted later. “Then my mom told me to always move to the middle.” Amazingly, Hill recovered from first-round disaster to avoid further defeat and ultimately capture the bronze medal, just one point back from Atwood.

Tied for second-place were 28 players with four points each. Stoker was delighted with the result. “It was hard-fought all the way through. Look how they bunched up. A perfect bell curve.”

Asked if there would be a second world championship, Stoker replied, “Absolutely. But next year I’m going to kill a hog and cook it in the parking lot. Vinegar base.” Stoker went on to say, “A man needs a hobby. Some men drink. Me, I organize world championships.”

Stoker said that he will give no consideration to the suggestion, widely circulated during the tourney, that the venue of next year’s proceedings be moved to Charleston, South Carolina, to coincide with the Spoleto arts festival. “I’m keeping it right here,” Stoker asserted. “I want to show the world that there’s more to this city than a redneck flag.” Stoker became thoughtful and then reflected quietly, “But I do love the flag.” Steel came into his voice as he continued, “My great-granddaddy lost half his manhood in that horrible war.”

Asked what it was like to be allied with the world’s foremost benefactor of tic-tac-toe, co-silver medalist Park observed, “That fool give away thousand dollar.”


Danny Purvis says: “When not working or writing I have the usual sort of interests: backpack gyros, musketry, cat-vectored investigations into alien presences in the wooded fields behind my house. My wife really is Korean and will kill me if she ever reads this piece.”

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