The Checker Maven

Thanksgiving Weekend

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We say it every year: Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday. It's typically American (and, of course, Canadian), it's relevant to every belief and creed, and it unites us all in giving thanks for the many blessings we have. No matter our station in life, we can all find something to be thankful for.

We like to turn to the great American checkerist and problemist Tom Wiswell for holidays such as these, and what better than a problem, arising from an actual game, that Mr. Wiswell called Dixie.

Mr. Wiswell noted, "We met with the well-known O. J. Tanner, who got us into the following predicament."

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Draw

W:W12,18,21,22,25:B2,4,K26,K30

White may be a piece up but his options are severely limited by the two Black kings. Can you find your way out of this one? Make yourself a hot turkey sandwich (with mashed potatoes and gravy, of course) as you contemplate this one, and then--- when you've finished the sandwich and come up with a solution--- click on Read More to check your answer.

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11/30/19 - Printer friendly version
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Uncle Ben's Porch: Girl Trouble

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Tommy Wagner had girl trouble, and as a ninth grader, he had never expected any such thing.

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Tommy

It all started when he had a match-up against rising star Letitia Wong (see previous Checker Maven story). Tommy won his game, but he was especially impressed with Letitia's sportsmanship and gentle manner. It had given him a funny feeling that was hard to describe.

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Letitia Wong

So a week later, even though he knew maybe he shouldn't be doing it, he gave Letitia a call. Despite his nervousness, Letitia had been very receptive and friendly and even suggested that they go to a movie together on the following Sunday afternoon.

Tommy didn't know how to refuse--- he wasn't even sure that he wanted to refuse--- and that's when the trouble began.

The problem was this: Tommy had been keeping company with another girl, Tina, for quite some little while. They had gone to grade school together and were close friends.


Tina

It was just Tommy's luck, or maybe it was fate, that Tina and her older sister went to the very same movie at the very same theater on the very same Sunday. Naturally, she saw Tommy and Letitia together. Tina immediately burst into tears, and after the movie both she and her sister confronted Tommy and Letitia.

It was not a pretty scene and Letitia, mortally embarrassed, was quite angry with Tommy--- although maybe not as angry as Tina was. In the course of not even five minutes, Tommy went from two girlfriends to none, with Tina and her sister stomping off angrily and Letitia telling Tommy pointedly that she'd take the bus home by herself.

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Tommy was in a down mood all week, and it persisted into his Saturday morning checker lesson with Uncle Ben, a retired checker professional and Tommy's long-time mentor.

Tommy dragged up the steps to Uncle Ben's front porch and plopped into a chair with only the barest of greetings.

"Something's wrong, isn't it?" Uncle Ben asked. He could have chided Tommy for his lack of manners, but Uncle Ben was too kindly for that.

"No, sir," Tommy muttered. "Everything's fine."

"I don't think so," Uncle Ben said firmly. "Now, you don't have to tell me about it, but please don't deny it. After all these years I think I know you pretty well."

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Tommy sat silently while Uncle Ben, wishing to put Tommy at ease, poured out tall glasses of his deservedly famous lemonade.

Tommy couldn't help but relax, if only a little, after his first sip. "Thank you, Uncle Ben," he said, and then, at all once, launched into the story of his girl trouble.

It was Uncle Ben's turn to sit silently for a few moments. Then he said, "Well, Tommy, and who do you suppose is to blame for this situation?"

"If Letitia hadn't asked me to go to the movie with her ..."

"Just a minute! There are three things wrong with that. First, Letitia didn't know anything about Tina. Second, you didn't have to accept her invitation. And third, you're the one who called Letitia to begin with."

"Um ... yeah ... kind of looks like I brought this on myself, doesn't it?"

Uncle Ben didn't need to reply.

"But now, I don't know what to do about it!"

"What does someone do when they've hurt or offended someone else?"

"Er ... well ... they say 'sorry'?"

"Exactly. You've taken the first step by admitting responsibility. That's a big thing. But it's not enough by itself. Now you have to do something even harder. You have to face the people you've hurt and apologize. Do you think you can do that?"

"I don't know ... but I have to, don't I? So I guess ... well, I just have to. Right away."

"Very good, Tommy, the sooner the better. But not quite right away. You can do what you must this afternoon. I think it will go better if you do a little checker study first to clear your head and focus your thoughts."

Uncle Ben pointed to the checkerboard he had set up on a little porch table. "Today we're going to study something known as the back shot. Take a good look at this position. Push everything else out of your mind and focus. Then tell me how to solve it."

WHITE
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BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:WK4,13,17,21,26,27,32:B1,3,6,10,14,19,20

Tommy took a deep breath, then another, and began to concentrate. After about five minutes, he said, "I'm ready, Uncle Ben."


Do you need a checker problem to clear your head and put you in a frame of mind for doing ... whatever you need to do? We certainly hope you don't have girl (or boy) trouble! Do give the position a good try and then click on Read More to see the solution, notes, and numerous additional examples of the theme.null

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11/23/19 - Printer friendly version
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Return to The Beacon

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It was September and the Coffee and Cake Checker Club was meeting for the first time after the usual summer hiatus. There was a good turnout this week with Sal and five of the boys present: Wayne, Delmer, Louie, Dan, and Mike. The "boys" were all over 50 years old, but nevertheless that's how Sal Westerman, the club's leader, thought of them.

Sal should have been happy. He loved these Saturday afternoon gatherings at The Beacon Cafe more than just about anything else. It was September, 1955, and the weather in Bismarck, North Dakota had started to turn cooler.

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Sal Westerman

So it might surprise you to hear that Sal wasn't the least bit happy.

It all started when Deana, the proprietor of the Beacon Cafe in Bismarck, North Dakota announced that she had fresh lemon bars this afternoon, and Sal frowned. More like scowled, because Sal didn't like lemon bars, not one little bit. He just plain didn't like them, no matter how good they were.

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Dan Kemper

"Lemon bars, Sal!" Dan Kemper, one of the boys, said in a teasing tone. "Don't you want to win one?"

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"No, I do not," Sal said emphatically. He looked over to Deana's service counter. "Deana, don't you have anything else?" he asked her.

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"Got some fudge brownies left over from yesterday," she said. "Half price for day-old. But the lemon bars are fresh and good." She frowned in turn. Sal had been coming to the Beacon for so long she knew exactly what he liked and didn't like, but she always felt a little insulted when her customers didn't care for her baked products. Everyone said she had the best desserts in town. Even Mayor Lips came here often for coffee and treats with his political pals.

Dan continued, "Come on, Sal, I know you've got a coffee and cake problem for us. Heck, you don't have to eat lemon bars if you don't want to--- more for us!" Dan said, and the rest of the boys added their agreement.

"Okay, okay," Sal said, "it just happens that Ed sent me a nice one." Ed was Sal's checker pen pal in Pennsylvania. "Guess I'll have to settle for those day-old brownies when you boys can't solve it."

They all laughed. "Hey, how about if we do solve it you have to eat a lemon bar?" Dan suggested.

"That's not even funny," Sal replied.

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Deana Nagel

Deana wasn't laughing, either. "You make fun of my food, you leave," she threatened. Deana didn't get upset very often but when she did, you had better watch out.

Sal realized that things were going into the ditch in a hurry. "Okay, okay!" he said. "Let there be peace! I'll show you Ed's problem, and whether you solve it or not, I'll buy lemon bars for everyone and a brownie for myself! How's that sound?"

Everyone now smiled, even Deana. The tension was relieved and Sal set out the following position on one of the checkerboards in the big booth that the club always occupied.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK2,15,16,K20,26:B1,K14,19,K30

"Ed calls this one Sweet Spot," Sal said. "What do you boys think?"

Five minutes passed with everyone scratching their heads and looking puzzled. "Five more minutes," Sal announced.


Can you win this one? And what's your take on lemon bars? (Be careful what you say; Deana might hear you.) When you've given this one a good try, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of today's story.null

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11/16/19 - Printer friendly version
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Logical Checkers Vol. 3: Two-Move Expert

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Today we're delighted to announce the immediate availability of the third volume of Grandmaster Richard Pask's Logical Checkers series, subtitled Checkers for the Two-Move Expert. In this new book, which runs to close to 300 pages, Mr. Pask presents new material on endgames, landings, and a vast array of tactical themes, as well as a survey and analysis of two-move ballots (as a stepping-stone to eventual study of three-move ballots).

You can get the book from the Richard Pask page as linked in the right-hand column, or directly here. The book is of course completely free of charge thanks to the generosity of Mr. Pask.

As a bit of a teaser, here's a position found in the book. It's one of Mr. Pask's own devising which he calls Life's Not Fair.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK3,13,17,21:B5,6,10,K22

To see the solution, download the book and go to Diagram 391 on page 92.

The Checker Maven thanks Mr. Pask for the continuing privilege of editing and presenting his work.null

11/09/19 - Printer friendly version
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A Cakewalk

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The Cakewalk goes back a long way, and is intimately connected with Black history and pre-Civil War southern plantation life. But today, a Cakewalk is something of a carnival game, something like musical chairs but with a cake as the prize. The word has also come to mean something that is extremely easy to do or accomplish.

And no, today's column doesn't have anything to do with our ongoing Coffee and Cake series; we've chosen the title Cakewalk because today's problem is very easy indeed. It's so easy that we've resurrected our long-neglected Javascript timer.

Expert players will take longer to read the terms of the problem than they will to solve it; an instant solution is likely. Even intermediates will solve it just about at once. Beginners may have to reflect a few seconds but they too should not have much trouble.

Why such an easy problem? Well, we present hard ones week after week and once in a while we think it's good to go in the other direction. Players of all levels should find a home in our columns. The position was sent to us by regular contributors Lloyd and Josh Gordon of Toronto and arose over the board.

So here we go. Click below to show the problem and start the clock.

Cakewalk (very easy)

Got it? Of course you did. But click on Read More all the same, just to be sure.null

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11/02/19 - Printer friendly version
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