Legendary Suki –– the king of draughts
There’s hardly a Barbadian who has not discovered the pleasure of playing draughts. But I have to admit I have been clueless about how to make the right moves on the board of squares. That was until I met the genius Suki King.
“It’s time you learn to play draughts; there’s nothing hard to it. So let’s go,” he said, setting up the board on the counter of his bar in Dover, Christ Church.
I was all game, but intimidated by this local icon who holds more world titles than the ten fingers of my inexperienced hands.
“Draughts is really about the ability to read beyond what you see, studying your opponent and making the right moves,” Suki advised.
“Your play first,” he offered; and I moved my red counter up the board, blocking his white in a bid to make it to his side of the board.
“Not bad,” he noted. “Your job is to restrict my movement.”
I continued in the same vein, all the while keeping a close eye on my opponent who was casually observing my actions.
I almost thought I had the hang of it, when he rapidly captured my red counters all the way to my side of the board, and grinned like a king.
“Losing is not a bad thing,” he said; and, though bruised, I proceeded to discover just what he meant.
It was defeat that led Ronald “Suki” King to become one of world’s top players of the game.
As an eight-year-old student of St Jude’s Primary in St George, Suki, a young cricketer, who already had a reputation for his unusual draughts skills, opted to play with a group while waiting to bat against rivals St George Primary. “. . . I went and end up getting beat six-love.”
It was a hard blow for the youngster who could not handle the agony of defeat.
“Once you get beat six-love, everybody would laugh at you. While they are beating you six-love they would call you an idiot. It was very embarrassing to get beat six-love.
“So as soon as the cricket was finished, I came back and beat my opponent six-love; and from then I was a wanted person.
“Everybody used to come from all over Barbados –– Speightstown; St Lucy –– after hearing about this young primary school boy. So then people use to come and borrow me from my mother, and take me places to play across Barbados.”
Amazingly, no one had taught young Suki how to play the game; he mastered it on his own, driven by passion and a desire to always win.
“I played out of my head; and when I was about 20, I learnt about checker books and I borrowed them.
“When someone beat me, I would go home and sit down at nights and study how to beat my opponent until next morning. I got no sleep because I hated to get beat; and as soon as light was out, I would get up and go at the person’s house and beat them six-love.”
Suki’s love for the game led him to join the Barbados Draughts Association; and he was the grouping’s most successful member.
“I think the lowest I would have ever come in a tournament was second.”
Suki’s continued success at a home put him in a league of his own; but Suki became bored and anxious for a challenge. He found it after discovering the American Checkers Association, which had a popular competition that attracted well-qualified players. Suki set his sights on competing; but it was not an easy move.
“I tried to get sponsorship from corporate Barbados, and everybody would tell me no.”
So the self-employed Suki King, who juggled between tailoring, bookbinding and carpentry, eventually found himself cutting canes to purchase his plane ticket.
“I went to Cottage Plantation and asked them to let me cut cane; but I had on a lot of white clothes. The supervisor said to me, ‘You can’t cut cane; you have on lily-white clothes’.
“But then the owner knew my grandmother, who worked very hard. So he let me work. I would not leave the cane ground, because I wanted that ticket; and in one week I worked for $845. I cut canes two days and two nights without coming out of the ground.”
With his earnings in hand, Suki again appealed to corporate Barbados for more support; and this time around he received funds, and took off to prove he was not just a star at home. It was not as seamless as he had thought.
“When I got to America, some white people told me, ‘You are going to Mississippi? They don’t like black people. My advice to you is to turn back’. One said, ‘I could only give you my number and if you run into trouble call me’.
“So I was alone; no manager, no one. It was the first time I was travelling.
“I told them I came to the United States to win the tournament and then I am going back home; and I expect to be world champion by next year.
“Everybody laughed at me. They wanted to know if I was mad, because I was the only black person, and I was bragging already.
“So one or two people tried me out. One man told me that if I beat him, Jesus Christ was a black man. There was a bet of $10,000 on the match. He was so confident that no young, whippersnapper could beat him; no unknown black person!”
With a laugh, Suki continued: “Now you know what complexion Jesus Christ is? I beat him.”
By now everybody wanted to play against the rising star. Suki would meet his match in the then world champion Dr Marion Tinsley.
“He used his tactics on me. I had a win on the board that would have given me six straight wins, but he took very long to play and I hastily played a fast move that caused me to lose the game by default, because I played out of turn. If not, I would have won the tournament.”
King invited Dr Tinsley to Barbados and took his revenge. He won; and the rest is history.
This Barbadian gem has won too many United States titles to count, and 12 World Championship titles, including being three-time World Champion in 1994, 1996 and 1997, and nine-time Go-As-You-Please World Champion: 1991,1992, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2006, 2008.
The legend also landed himself in the Guinness Book Of Records in 1998 for playing against 385 players simultaneously and beating them all.
He was named Barbados’ Sportsman Of The Year in 1991 and 1992, and has received the Barbados Service Star.
Suki credits his achievements to his strong relationship with God, hard work and determination to excel.
“I was never frightened; I had confidence. I knew The Bible backward and forward. I knew the power of the Lord, and I had faith in myself.”
Suki’s record-breaking career has not been without controversy. He admits he’s still somewhat disappointed at how he has been treated in his homeland; but he’s not bitter. He loves his country.
“This is the best place in the world. Who would want to move from Barbados?”
However, this 50th anniversary of Independence, he would change one thing –– ensuring children are exposed to the game of draughts. He is still willing to share
In the meantime, Suki King continues to be a quiet ambassador for his country, particularly to the scores of tourists who readily stop by his bar for drinks, photographs, autographs, and a game or two.
Suki says: “Whether you are winning or losing, always do your best; and thank the Lord for everything.”