Contests in Progress:
The new season of the National Checker League was ready to start, and in a very special way. The reigning World Champion team, the Detroit Doublejumpers, had traveled to Chigasaki, Japan, along with the San Franciso Souters. They would play the season opener in front of over 50,000 Japanese checker fans in the Chigasaki Checkerdrome.
Checkers in Japan was really big, nearly as big as the national game of Go. Japanese checkerists dreamed of earning a place on a National Checker League team, and in fact the Captain of the Souters, Tadeo Tachikawa, was a native of Chigasaki! He was a local and national hero and the Checkerdrome had sold out within minutes after sales began, even at the startling equivalent price of $250 per ticket.
The teams had been given a series of protocol lectures by US State Department officials prior to their arrival. They were to carefully observe all Japanese customs and represent both the United States and the National Checker League in a dignified and honorable manner.
That all went quite well for the two days of ceremonies prior to the big match. At least until the banquet on the evening prior to the competition.
Now, Marvin J. Mavin, the superstar Captain of the Doublejumpers, had the best of intentions. He listened carefully during the protocol lectures, and then asked questions of his girlfriend, Priscilla, a high-ranking executive who had made many business trips to Japan. Marvin learned to say a few words in Japanese, like "konichiwa" and "arigato"; he bowed when appropriate, and made every effort to be polite.
It was just that the Japanese beers were so good. Fresh and flavorful, and served icy cold, they just hit the spot, especially after the very strict summer training camp regimen Marvin had gone through.
Of course, his Japanese hosts, who had mastered the art of hospitality untold centuries ago, saw how much Marvin enjoyed their beer, and kept bringing him refills throughout the course of the banquet. And it was a rather long banquet, replete with speeches, toasts, and ceremony.
So when it came time to leave the 5-star hotel where the teams were hosted and go to the Checkerdrome early the next afternoon, Marvin was notably absent at the bus loading area in the back of the hotel.
"Go find him!" roared Coach Ronaldson. "I want him inside the bus in no more than five minutes!"
Assistant Coach Joe Radler and Trainer Bobby Berkowitz ran off into the hotel and hurriedly summoned an elevator to the 30th floor. They both knew what they would find, just as did Coach Ronaldson, even though he had said nothing.
Pounding on the door of Marvin's room yielded no results. Luckily, Trainer Berkowitz spoke Japanese and was finally able to get a hotel worker to open the door, citing an emergency situation. But that took well over an hour. The worker had to consult with his manager, who had to call hotel security, who passed the decision up to the hotel manager. Meanwhile Assistant Coach Radler received a text from Coach Ronaldson saying that they couldn't wait, the bus had left, and to take a taxi to the Checkerdrome as quickly as possible.
Marvin was in the bathtub of his suite's sumptuous bathroom, soaking in soapy water, oblivious to everything.
"Marvin! Marvin!" shouted the Trainer. "We have to go to the Checkerdrome! Now!"
"Hey, hey," Marvin said, his voice a bit slurred. "Too loud, bro! My head ain't feelin' so good ... and ... hey ... what time is it anyhow?"
"Four in the afternoon," the Trainer replied. "The bus left at two thirty. We play at five sharp and it's an hour by taxi to the Checkerdrome."
"Bus? What bus?" Marvin said. "Uh ... oh ... yeah, we play today ... I kinda spaced that out ..."
"OUT OF THE TUB! NOW!" the Assistant Coach shouted. "I don't care if you have the biggest headache in world history!"
It took Marvin another twenty minutes to dry off, get into his uniform, and get down to the lobby.
The taxi went as fast as it could, but the driver would not speed or otherwise break the law. Trainer Berkowitz heard him mutter something about disobedient Americans having no respect, but the Trainer didn't reply. The driver, after all, was right.
When Marvin finally came out on the field, it was five thirty. The match had long since begun and Marvin's clock was running down. "The only reason I didn't sub for you," Coach Ronaldson hissed, "is that a lot of people paid a lot of money to see you play. But you're in big trouble. You're not getting away with this."
Being late was a tremendous breach of protocol and a huge gesture of disrespect toward Marvin's opponent, Tadeo Tachikawa. Marvin was greeted with stony silence when he took the field. The Japanese crowd did not appreciate having their customs dishonored. Though too polite to boo, failing to cheer and applaud communicated a clear enough message.
Tadeo stood and bowed. Marvin awkwardly returned the bow, and stammered an apology. "Let us play," Tadeo simply said in return.
The game commenced. Marvin was hardly at his best and Tadeo was a very strong player, aided by having much more time on his clock than Marvin did. The game finally reached this point.
Marvin knew he was in a difficult position. His clock was down to six minutes. Could he at least find a draw? He tried to focus but his head was pounding. If only ...
With just two minutes left on his clock, Marvin played 22-26.
"Oh, Marvin-san," said Tadeo, "I am so sorry."
Marvin looked puzzled. "Huh? Say what? I ... oh."
Did Marvin miss a draw? Our hapless hero seems to be having a difficult day, albeit one of his own making. See if you can correct Marvin's move and then find Tadeo's win. When you're ready to see the solution and read the rest of the story, click your mouse politely on Read More.[Read More]
"Kingless" in chess isn't possible. The White King must be somewhere. The above chess position was originally presented as a "find the White King's square" puzzle. Unfortunately the puzzle is trivial and flawed with multiple solutions.
"Kingless" in checkers, on the other hand, is quite a normal situation.Contest 58 in Bill Salot's spectacular long-running Unofficial World Championship Checker Problem Composing Contest series has begun. and the theme of this contest is indeed Kingless. It features four disparate problems, all of whose settings contain no kings. However, this set of problems is free of multiple solutions and certainly isn't trivial.
The contest can be found, as always, at contests.checkermaven.com. It runs until the end of October. Be sure to try out the problems and cast your vote for the one you think should win the title.
For today's problem, Bill provided us with a "sample" kingless problem. It's not part of the contest but it illustrates what you have to look forward to. The problem is entitled Bewildered and is by well-known composer Roy Little.
Bewildering? Perhaps. You don't need to be the king of checkers to solve it, though; it's within reach if you put in the effort. When you're ready, give your mouse a kingly click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Editor's Note: At the Beacon Cafe, it's always 1955. We rejoin our intrepid checkerists now in September of that year. It's the Saturday after Labor Day, and with the summer season at an end, the "boys" (all of them over 50 years of age) return to their Saturday afternoon sessions in the large booth at the back of the cafe, enjoying a few hours of problem solving, skittles games, baked goods, coffee, and good companionship.
Everyone in North Dakota enjoyed summer, brief as it was, and Sal Westerman, the informal leader of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, was no exception. Still, no one could be happier when September rolled around and his club started meeting once again.
Apparently the other members felt the same way, for today there was a big turnout, with Dan, Wayne, Louie, Mike, Delmer, and even Spooler, Tom, and Ron, the latter three of which weren't seen quite as often.
Deana, the proprietress and the best baker anyone had ever met, was smiling broadly. She enjoyed having the "boys" come in on what would otherwise be a slow Saturday afternoon. "Zucchini and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies today," she announced. "Fresh and hot."
There were sounds of approval from the big booth where the "boys" were. "Sal's buying today!" Spooler piped up.
"Okay, Spooler, I'll buy," Sal said, "but only because I'm so pleased with today's turnout." Addressing Deana, he said, "A couple of large plates of cookies and coffee all around, on me!"
"You got it," Deana replied. She had already started stacking plates with her warm, fragrant cookies.
"State championships are in Bismarck this year," Sal added. "Next week, even!"
"Yup, over at the Patterson Hotel," Wayne said. "Usually Fargo or Grand Forks gets the bid, but not this time."
"Is everyone playing?" Louie asked.
There were nods all around. Traveling to Fargo or Grand Forks wasn't always feasible, but having the tournament right there in Bismarck made it just about a must-do event.
"Think you can win it, Sal?" continued Louie.
"I don't know," Sal said. "I pretty much took care of that Steam fellow last spring, but Grossvater up in Minot will likely take it." Gerhardt G. Grossvater was the reigning State Champion, a title he'd held for ten years straight. (Professor Steam was from Fargo--- see previous Checker Maven stories.)
"You might have a shot at it," Ron said. "You haven't played in the tournament for a couple of years and maybe you'll win this time."
"I last played Grossvater in '52 when the tournament was in Minot. He won in the finals. I've never been able to beat him," Sal said.
"Well, tell you what," Wayne said. "I found a problem that your friend Ed from Pennsylvania published in All Checkers Digest quite a while ago and I brought it along. How about you all try it out? It's called 'Head Bumper.' That'll give everyone a little warm-up for next week."
"Lay it out," Sal said. Sal was the one that usually brought along a challenging problem or two, but today he was happy to be on the solving end.
"Okay, here you go," Wayne replied, and set out the following position on a couple of the checkerboards on the booth's table. "See if you can get it in an hour or so while we sample these cookies." Deana had just set two plates of cookies on the table and was refilling everyone's coffee mugs.
"Hey, this is a good one," Sal said. "We're going to need that hour."
Cookies in hand, the boys got to work.
A warm-up problem is good for everyone, even if you're not planning to take on a tough opponent like Gerhardt G. Grossvater. With or without zucchini oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, see how you do, and then click Read More to check your answer and read the rest of our story.[Read More]
It's Labor Day weekend at the time of publication of this column, and on Monday, we recognize and celebrate the contribution of workers in all walks of life. The drawing above shows just a few of the many ways in which people contribute. There are lots more, and we've always said that we think all honest work is praiseworthy and honorable.
After some really tough times, we're happy to note that America is getting back to work, and in fact the demand for workers is high. So let's give Labor Day an extra measure of emphasis this year and enjoy the day as never before.
We usually turn to Tommie Wiswell for a problem on holidays such as this, but instead today we've got one that Tommie selected for inclusion in one of his books. It's by William Link, who composed this problem while still playing as a youth in New York City a nearly 80 years ago. Mr. Wiswell viewed him as an up and coming champion, but we've not heard or read much about him. Perhaps something derailed his checker career? We don't know, but we do know that the following position, which Mr. Link called Out on a Limb is an interesting one. Mr. Wiswell calls it "simple, pleasing, and instructive."
White to Play and Win
You should be able to solve it, but if you can't, you won't be out on a limb, as clicking on Read More will show you the solution.[Read More]
Our Prize Problem contest, sponsored by Brian Hinkle, has ended. No, we can't offer the Nobel Prize, but Brian did offer $25 to the first person to solve it. He later upped his offer to $50, then $75, and finally $100.
But no one submitted a correct solution so Brian got to keep his money.
For those of you truly puzzled by the problem (which must be just about everyone), don't feel bad. The two most powerful computer engines in the world, KingsRow and Cake, couldn't solve it either! Here's Brian's solution and brief notes.
3-7 10-15 7-10 20-24 21-17---A 24-27---B 11-7 2x11 10-6 1x10 22-18 15x31 17-14 10x17 25-22 17x26 5-1. White Wins.
A---Planning ahead for the fireworks.
B---16-20 25-21 24-27 11-7 2x11 30-25 23x30 32x7. White Wins.
White is down no less than six pieces, but still wins as Black will eventually run out of moves in this incredible block position. Marching the checkers on 11 and 4 down the main diagonal won't work as White will simply allow his piece on 29 to capture both of Black's approaching men. Try working through it on your own. You won't find a single variation in which Black doesn't eventually become completely blocked.
Block problems, along with fortress problems and "fugitive king" problems are notoriously difficult for computers to solve, and Grandmaster problemist Brian Hinkle has here created what may be the ultimate block problem of all time. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. In fact, if you'd like to see another Brian Hinkle classic, check out Bear Claw, published back in the early days of The Checker Maven.
Summer training camp wasn't Marvin J. Mavin's favorite thing. Not at all.
Every August, before the start of the National Checker League regular season, the championship team which Marvin captained, the Detroit Doublejumpers, held training camp at a classy resort near the appropriately named town of Au Train in Northern Michigan. Training camp was no joke to Head Coach Ronaldson. He put the ten players on the Doublejumper team through a rigorous program of study, competition, and even intense physical training, as the players had to be able to withstand the long hours that checker matches could occupy.
Marvin, after previous bad experiences, knew better than to arrive out of shape, lest he be made to run laps up and down the lake for what seemed like forever. He also knew better than to bring along a bad attitude ... or a craving for a cold beer. The Coach was very strict about things like that, even limiting the amount of coffee his players were allowed.
This year Marvin thought he was as ready as he could possibly be. He had spent a lot of time with his girlfriend Priscilla, and they had frequently jogged and worked out with weights in Priscilla's extensive home gym. He allowed himself just one beer after a workout and none at all during the rest of the day. And whenever he made a smart remark, Priscilla instantly scolded him.
It didn't work out the way Marvin had hoped and expected.
A couple of days after reporting for camp, Coach Ronaldson, at the daily morning team meeting, introduced a new person.
"I'd like you all to meet Betsy Batsy. I've recruited her and she's agreed to try out for the team."
"I'm going to be the Captain," Betsy interrupted in a deep voice. "I'm going straight to the top and you over there ..." pointing at Marvin " ... aren't going to stop me. I'm going roll right over you and ..."
"Thank you, Betsy, I'm sure we all appreciate your ambition," Coach Ronaldson said. "I met Betsy at a Checker Barrel restaurant. She was giving an impromptu exhibition at those tables they have outside and I watched her beat 50 players at once. There was even a AAA pro in the group. Now, although Betsy has never played professionally ..."
"I can beat any pro there is," Betsy blared. "You, him ..." (again pointing to Marvin) "... anyone."
"Well, I did play a few games with Betsy after her exhibition, and uh ..."
"I kicked you in the pants," Betsy said, guffawing.
"Well, yes, Betsy won every game, actually. So I thought someone this good, who by the rules could be recruited outside of the amateur draft, might be a real addition to our team."
"I can replace your whole team," Betsy stated. "Just me. I can play every board in every match and win the championship all by myself."
Although no one spoke up, the Doublejumper team, and Marvin in particular, were really wondering. Was this Betsy that good that the Coach, who was always strict, would put up with her attitude? It all seemed really strange.
"Come on boys," Betsy said, addressing the team, "or should I say girls?" That got a stern look from the three women on the Doublejumper team. Betsy noticed and said, "Sorry, girls, I should have said 'babies.'"
"Okay, team, set 'em up," the Coach said, "ten boards. First team and second team. Betsy is going to play a simul against all of you. Then you'll see she deserves a place on the team. Of course, that means one of you will get sent down to our AAA farm club, but that's how it goes."
"Him," Betsy said, pointing to Marvin. "He's the one you're going to send down.
"Uh, well, that's up to me ..." the Coach said.
"You want me to play for you, you do things my way," Betsy stated flatly.
But the boards were set out and play began. The Coach decided on single elimination. In the first round, Betsy defeated eight of the ten players, all of whom were eliminated. She drew with second board player Pete Butterworth and lost to Marvin on first board.
In the next round, second board was again a draw, meaning Pete was eliminated. But Marvin won again.
"Just you and me," Betsy said to Marvin, "mano a mano. Ha ha! You just won those games because I was playing more than one opponent. Now I crush you like the bug that you are. And the rest of you ... " Here Betsy looked around at the other team members. "The rest of you are off the team!"
"Wait a minute, now," Coach Ronaldson said. He was starting to wonder if he had made a big mistake. But he said no more, as the playoff between Marvin and Betsy had started.
The game reached the following position with Marvin to move.
"You're finished, little buggy boy," Betsy teased. "Squashed! Like a filthy roach!"
"That's it," said Coach Ronaldson. "Miss Batsy, I invited you here to try out for a place on the team. You're a great player but I won't put up with any more of your bad attitude. If you want to play professional checkers, you can go try out for one of the Rookie Leagues and see if they'll want to deal with you."
"Coach, let me finish this game, okay," Marvin said. "Then old Batsy here can go hitch a ride back to ... wherever she came from."
"As you wish," the Coach replied. "Finish your game."
Marvin made his move.
Betsy Batsy is a tough opponent, but Marvin seems pretty confident. Can you find a win here, or will Batsy Betsy bat you down to the minor leagues? See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.[Read More]
It was mid-August, 1955, and in Bismarck, North Dakota on this Saturday afternoon the temperature exceeded 97 degrees. It was the kind of hot, dry prairie weather that led to rapid dehydration with the least amount of effort.
On a Saturday afternoon, Sal Westerman would have gone to the Beacon Cafe for a gathering of his Coffee and Cake Checker Club. But the club took a summer break between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Even so, Sal might have gone to the Beacon on his own, but Deana, the proprietess and baker, closed the cafe for a few weeks in August so she could visit her family over in Gackle, North Dakota.
To make things even worse, Sal's wife, Sylvia, had gone off to Dickinson, North Dakota, to visit with her sister, who lived alone and enjoyed the company.
But that left Sal with no company of his own and his favorite weekend spot unavailable. To top it all off, it was almost unbearably hot in the living room of his modest house. Even the basement wasn't a lot cooler, and there was no air circulation to speak of down there.
Sal tried reading a couple of checker magazines, but they stuck to his hands when he picked them up, and it just wasn't much fun.
What to do?
Maybe he could call one of the boys and they could go to one of those places with that new-fangled air conditioning. But Wayne would out in Wilton working on the farm, getting ready for the wheat harvest. Dan, Delmer and Mike, as far as he knew, would be out fishing or camping. They never missed a summer weekend, no matter how hot or how stormy the weather.
Kevin? Ron? Sal telephoned both of them, with no answer. Probably off on vacation. Louie? He'd be off somewhere with his latest girlfriend.
Well, Sal would just have to go by himself. He wasn't going to stay home, and a cold beer in a cool lounge sounded really good. He'd go over to the Patterson Hotel. It would be too hot up in the TipTop Lounge, but the Rainbow Bar and Lounge would be cool. He'd have a burger and a beer, and his latest issue of All Checker Digest wouldn't be so sticky in the air conditioning.
Sal put on his cap and walked on over. The walk alone was almost too much for him, and he was even hotter when he arrived.
Despite having air conditioning, the bar was nearly empty. The barkeep, a fellow named Jimmy Wilson, greeted Sal. "Nice to see you, Sal," he said. "Really slow today. Guess everyone's off on vacation or something."
Sal took a seat at a table at the side and put in his order. Jimmy brought over his beer right away and noticed Sal's magazine. "Hey, Sal, nothing much doing right now. Want to play a game or two? Just for fun, no stakes."
Jimmy was known to be a pretty good player. He often put as much as five or ten dollars on a game. That was a whole week's wages for him, but he won much more often than he lost. However, he knew Sal wasn't a gambler.
"Sure Jimmy, why not, but then after, say, best two out of three, I'll want my lunch, okay?"
"You got it Sal. Hey ... how about this ... lunch on me if you win and leave me a real good tip if I win."
Sal thought for a moment. Well, it wasn't exactly gambling ... "Okay, Jimmy, why not, but I would have left you a nice tip anyhow."
"Yeah, I know, I know, just trying to put a little fun into it."
Play began while Sal sipped his beer. Jimmy won the first game but Sal came back to win the second.
"The money round," Jimmy said as they set up the pieces for the third game. "Uh ... I mean, you know, sorta."
It turned out to be a really good game, and finally came down to the following position, with Sal to move.
Sal thought for quite a while, so long, in fact, that Jimmy went and tended to another customer. On his return, Sal said, "Jimmy, I think you're going to be buying me my lunch."
A juicy burger and a cold beer on a hot summer day, with someone else treating... does that sound good to you? If you were Sal, do you think you could win the deciding game? See if you can come up with a really "cool" winning move, and then coolly click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
On one of those hot, hot summer days in the Northern Hemisphere, the best thing to do is relax and cool off, as the young lady in the photo is enjoying doing. There are days when we just don't want to be bothered with any amount of effort or exertion.
Even we have to admit that on hot summer days, our attention can be drawn away from checkers. So today we've got an easy problem sent to us by regular contributors Lloyd and Josh Gordon of Toronto. It's one of those settings for which you'll either see the solution immediately, or you'll go astray at the outset.
Experienced players will make short work of this, and the rest of us will get it with a little thought. Keep your cool, see how quickly you can solve it and then click on Read More to check your line of play.[Read More]
Brian Hinkle's Prize Problem has remained unsolved and now Brian has increased the prize to $100 as of 00:01 HST, August 1, 2021. The final deadline for the receipt of a correct solution is 00:01 HST, August 27, 2021. There will be no further prize increases and the solution and name of the winner (if any) will be published in The Checker Maven on August 28.
The problem has resisted the efforts of top players and strong computer programs. Brian has even asked to have a computer search done to an unprecedented level of a trillion positions.
But it can be solved. Will you be the one to do it?
Terms and conditions apply; see the Prize Problem article, linked above, for full details. Void where prohibited by law.
Every year since he started grade school, Tommy Wagner had gone to two weeks of summer camp at fabled Camp Fortress in northern Florida. He always had a lot of fun, what with swimming, nature walks, sports competitions, and the many other things the camp had to offer. The food was good, too, and there was plenty of it.
But this year was different. In the camp's talent competition last year, Tommy had put on a simultaneous checker exhibition, playing sixteen other campers at a time and almost always winning. So this year, instead of attending as a camper, Tommy had been invited to come for the whole eight week summer session as a staff member, with pay plus room and board. He was to be the checkers instructor.
Tommy bid farewell for the summer to his mentor, Uncle Ben, and took up residence at the camp. It was great. Four times a day, six days a week, he gave one-hour checker lessons to a variety of age groups. The rest of his time was his own and he made the most of it.
Campers came for two weeks at a time, with the eight week session divided into four periods. Everything went great for Tommy until the third session.
Tommy's older students, ages 14-17, had the 3 to 5 PM lesson slot. When 3 o'clock rolled around on the first Monday of the third session, Tommy got a real shock as he watched Tina Tooner enter the open air tent where lessons were held.
"You," Tina gasped.
"You!," Tommy gasped in return.
Tina and Tommy were once very good friends, but then Tina caught Tommy at the movies with another girl, Letitia Wong, and it was all over. Even though they were in the same school, and on the same checker team, they had barely exchanged more than a few words since their falling out.
"Uh ... you're the teacher?" Tina asked.
"Yeah, I ... right. I didn't know you go to this camp."
"I wanted to try it out. The brochure mentioned checker lessons from a qualified instructor. I'm calling my parents. We need to get our money back and I need to go home. There's no way I'm staying at a camp where you are, Tommy Wagner!"
"Hey, wait a minute Tina, that's not fair."
"What isn't fair was you going out with another girl!"
Other campers were starting to arrive, and they were watching Tommy and Tina with great interest.
"Aw gee, Tina, let's not make a scene, okay? I have a class to teach."
"That's funny, Tommy Wagner. No, it's not even funny. It's pathetic."
The full compliment of campers was now on hand and they were laughing and pointing fingers.
"Tell you what, Mr. Cheater. I'll play you for the right to be teacher. How about it, will you take me on or are you just a Cheating Chicken?"
"Hey, look, Camp Fortress hired me for the summer. This is my job."
"You going to play me or are you going to wimp out in front of your class? I'm sure they would really respect you a lot if you can't even take on a little girl like me."
Tommy didn't reply. It was a no-win situation. Silently he sat down at one of the checkerboards arranged on a long folding table and motioned Tina into the opposite seat.
The campers gathered around. This was going to be even better than a fistfight.
Tommy had White and the game reached the position shown below. Tommy had just played 11-7.
Tommy looked over at Tina and, without realizing it, smiled. But Tina didn't miss it.
"What are you smiling about, Mr. Bad Ex-Boyfriend? Trying to be friends again? Well forget it. And forget this game. It's a draw. You didn't win. Get over it and play me again."
"Sure," Tommy said, "but how about we wait until you make your move? I've already made mine." But then, seeing the look on Tina's face and realizing the double meaning of what he had just said, Tommy turned away, embarrassed.
What is Tommy up to? If you were Tina, what would you play? How do you think it's going to turn out? Think about it, work out a line of play, "make your move" and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of our story.[Read More]