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Juhnke to demonstrate championship strategy game skills at Fall Festival

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A Newton High School graduate who has made a name for himself in the world of abstract strategy games will return home to demonstrate his skills.

Karl “Fritz” Juhnke, NHS class of 1987, is the two-time world champion of the chess-like game Arimaa (Ah-REE-ma). He is also the author of a new book, Beginning Arimaa: Chess Reborn beyond Computer Comprehension (Flying Camel Publications, 2009).

On Saturday, Oct. 3, Juhnke will be on the program at Bethel College’s Fall Festival. He will present a lecture on Arimaa at 11 a.m. in Krehbiel Science Center #121. That afternoon at 1 p.m. in front of the college library, Juhnke will give a master demonstration of the game, playing against all comers – plus the best computer program online – simultaneously.

Juhnke is the son of James Juhnke, Wichita, professor emeritus of history at Bethel College, and the late Anna Juhnke, who taught English at Bethel for 30 years. He and his wife Katie Hoody, a piano teacher, live in Garland, Texas.

When he was in fourth grade at Northridge, Juhnke was chosen for the Newton Public Schools’ Extended Learning Program for gifted children, where his math tutor was Franco Sjogren. Each of his four years at Newton High School, Juhnke had the highest score in Kansas on the American Mathematics Competition.

He has studied mathematics at Bethel College, Reed College, Stony Brook University and the University of Minnesota. He served two years in the Peace Corps in Swaziland and taught English in China and now works as a statistical analyst at theYahoo video platform in Dallas, Texas.

Juhnke’s current avocational passion is the game of Arimaa, played on a chess board but with different characters (for example, the chess “king” is the Arimaa “elephant”). Arimaa has simple rules but about 500 times as many options on each move as chess. The game is, according to Juhnke, “easy to learn but inexhaustibly profound.”

In 1997, Omar Syed was distressed by the IBM computer Deep Blue’s defeat of reigning world chess champion Gary Kasparov. Syed determined to create a new chess-like game that would enable the best human players to defeat the best computer programs. The result was Arimaa.

For the past six years, Syed has offered a $10,000 challenge to any computer programmer who could create software that would defeat the best human players. So far, the humans have won.

Karl Juhnke has been deeply involved in the rapidly growing community of Arimaa players. In 2005 and 2008, he won the championship in the annual online tournament of the best Arimaa players. He also defeated the best computer in the 2006, 2007 and 2009 Arimaa Challenge matches, showing that computers have a long way to go to equal the top human players.

Until this summer, Arimaa has been played exclusively online. Z-Man, a board game publisher in New York, has now produced 10,000 boxed sets of the game.

Juhnke’s book, Beginning Arimaa, is for sale at the Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center on the Bethel College campus. The board game is available online at zmangames.com and is coming soon to game stores in Wichita. For more about Arimaa, see arimaa.com/arimaa/.

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