It was another Saturday afternoon at The Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota, and the Coffee and Cake Checker Club was in session in one of the large booths.
Sal was the leader and there were five others present today. It was cloudy, windy, and chilly outside and the coffee was flowing.
After the boys had played an hour or so of informal games, one of them, Mike, said, "Hey Sal, don't you have a coffee and cake problem today? You didn't have one last week and I've been kind of wanting to win another piece of cake off you."
Sal frowned. The last time he tried, Mike had indeed solved Sal's problem and Sal had to buy coffee and cake. But then Sal's frown turned into a smile. "Matter of fact, Ed sent me a real nice one."
"Uh-oh," Mike said. Whenever Sal had a problem from either Brian in St. Louis or Ed in Harrisburg, it was bound to be tough. Top quality for sure, but never easy.
Sal leaned back against the seat. "Are you up for it?"
Mike and the rest of the group hesitated a little, but Deana, the owner, knowing just when to jump in, said from behind her counter, "I've got fresh apple kuchen this afternoon, boys!"
Well, that did it. Deana's apple kuchen, like most of her desserts, was irresistible.
"Lay it out," Mike said to Sal, pointing to one of the checkerboards, "and pretty soon I'll be enjoying that kuchen you're going to buy me."
"There it is," Sal said after setting up the position. "Take your time. Just not too long. I don't want to have to rush the kuchen that you'll be buying me, Mike!"
Mike laughed. "We'll see about that," he said. But five minutes later, all of the boys were still scratching their heads.
"I'll give you five more minutes but that's it," Sal said. He was greeted by the usual groans.
Once again we're asking if you can win coffee and cake from Sal, but unlike at The Beacon, you can take all the time you wish. When you're finished, click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Some of us need to be on diets. 1,000 calories a day, maybe? That doesn't allow for much. Salads with no-fat dressing, if any dressing at all; steamed vegetables (hold the butter, thank you), and a little protein. Just a little.
Fortunately our game of checkers doesn't involve diets, but it can involve small servings in the form of miniature problems. Today in Checker School we continue with another composition by William Veal--- a small slice, if you will.
Well, yes, White is a man up and should win, but maybe it's not as easy as all that. The White men look pretty exposed and Black might be able to chase one of them down ... but we'll let you figure out the best line of play. In the end, it's a fairly small effort. So slice (and dice) this one, and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Summer speed. It can mean a number of things, but today we encourage you to enjoy the way things slow down to 'summer speed' during those long, warm days. Take some time to relax and get out of the daily rat race that persists during the larger part of the year. Surely take time to enjoy a little checkers.
Surely you've solved it already, but if you'd like to double-check, click on Read More to see the snappy solution.[Read More]
When this column first appears, we'll be just a few days away from the Fourth of July, America's birthday and one of our favorite holidays. We never tire of saying that we are unapologetic American patriots with a deep appreciation for our freedom and democracy. We're not one of those who believes that America is responsible for the ills of the world and we're proud of what's good about our nation.
We always turn to Tom Wiswell on this holiday. Mr. Wiswell, as we've so often noted, was a patriot who served our nation as did so many members of the Greatest Generation.
It's indeed a nice problem, as we have come to expect from Mr. Wiswell. Give it a good try and then click on Read More to see the solution and notes.[Read More]
Marvin J. Mavin, Captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers, a highly ranked team in the National Checker League, was on summer vacation. The League wrapped up the World Series of Checkers in May, and players were off until training camp started up at the beginning of August.
Ten weeks of vacation. He'd spend some of it with his girlfriend Priscilla, although she could only get away from her corporate executive job for a week at a time, and only now and then. He'd spend four weeks doing outreach work in the inner cities. And he'd spend three blessed weeks at a lake cabin, kicking back and thinking of little else but when to pop open his next beer. No cell phone. And definitely no checker board.
Except it didn't work out exactly like that.
Marvin booked a cabin in Idaho under the name of John Smith. He thought that was pretty clever. Of course, he was a national sports figure and pretty easy to recognize, but he always looked for a cabin that was out of the way and isolated, and then he stuck pretty much to himself, arranging to have the refrigerator well stocked before his arrival, so that he could just hang around the cabin, walk down to the lake, and not be bothered by anything or anyone.
It must have been on the third or fourth day when he saw a familiar looking figure walking further down the lakeshore. Now, Marvin's cabin was indeed well separated from the others, so it was pretty far, but the figure was quite unmistakable. Marvin just hoped he hadn't been noticed, and he was pretty careful to check each time he went to the lake thereafter.
Two evenings later, Marvin had just finished with dinner --- he had plenty of microwave meals in the cabin's freezer --- he was about to open another beer when there was a knock at the cabin door.
Marvin was pretty surprised. Could it be the camp manager? No one else was supposed to bother him. He got up, opened the door, and saw ---
Yes indeed, Dmitri Tovarischky. The guy he had seen further down the lakeshore. The guy who was his archenemy, a former Soviet champion who was asked to leave the National Checker League over a gambling violation, and who now stalked the star players.
"Ah, Checkers Boy. I see you other day by lake. How conwenient we are staying in same campsite," Dmitri said. "Maybe coincidence, maybe not, eh? I come in now, da?"
Dmitri entered before Marvin could reply.
Marvin made a mental note to later find out who leaked his vacation plans.
"We play one game, da?" he said. "Play maybe for wodka. I win, you give me couple bottles Stolichnaya. You win, I give you same thing, only you don't win, this I know already."
"I ain't got no 'wodka,' Pinko. Never touch the stuff. Now leave and don't come back."
"Ah, Checkers Boy should not be rude. I have little set here, I put on table." Boris quickly got out a portable checker set and made it ready. Marvin could tell it was going to be hard getting rid of him. "Maybe play for hundred bucks?"
So that was what it was all about. Dmitri was an inveterate hustler. Marvin replied, "Okay. One game. A hundred bucks to the winner. Nothing on a draw. But no matter what you get lost permanently."
"Easy money for me," Dmitri said. "Deal."
The two of them sat down and the game began. Outside, the sun was setting over the lake and the air was cooling. It was a beautiful Idaho evening but neither of them noticed.
Dmitri played Black and Marvin had White.
26-22 was weaker than 25-22. Perhaps Marvin was throwing Dmitri a bit of a curve ball? But Dmitri missed the opportunity to reply with 15-18.
"Hoo, Checkers Boy, you are making stupid move. Why you not play 23-19? Now Dmitri have big winning game!"
"Dmitri can even win by playing of 12-16. So many ways to win, so nice, da?"
Marvin, for his part, was starting to sweat. How could he have made such a blunder?
"Uh, hey there Commie, I think you blew it. You even mentioned 12-16 your own self, why didn't ya play it?" Marvin said.
"I am still going to win, Checkers Boy, do not worry yourself." But Dmitri sounded a bit less confident.
At this, Marvin started to laugh. "Nice try, get an early king, that's what you think? You shoulda played 8-11, pal. Now you lose."
Does Marvin now have a win on the board? Did Dmitri make a huge blunder in his own right? Study the position and see if you can find the winning moves. This one actually falls on the easy side. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.[Read More]
William Veal was a British problemist of some renown, perhaps best known (to us, at least) for composing a monster stroke problem featured some years ago in our columns.
Did Mr. Veal's ancestors at one point deal in veal? That would fit with popular theory, which insists that names like "Smith" eventually trace back to someone who was a smith, and so on. Of course, those links are likely very tenuous if they exist at all.
But one other possibility was turned up by our Research Department. "Vieil" is the Old French term for "old" and this became "viel" in Anglo-Norman French. It refers to an old man or the elder of two people with the same name. It's not a long leap from there to "Veal."
A long leap? That brings us back to checkers and this month's Checker School column, the first of a series of "gems" from, of course, William Veal.
Certainly at first glance a White win is anything but obvious, and Black is poised to crown one or perhaps two of his men. Can you match Mr. Veal and find the solution? There's a bit of a clue (just a bit) in the writeup above. See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
In the latter 1940s, back in the heydays of checkers, men's hairstyles were short and neat, and in general, appearances were more dressy than today. Men wore fedoras, and suit with a white shirt and tie was almost a sort of uniform.
The following problem was published anonymously in an old newspaper, which declared it to be "short and neat." We're surprised it didn't appear next to an advertisement for grooming products!
Short and neat? We'll let you decide, but in any case Black, being a piece up, ought to win. Yet as we've often said, showing the win is the hard part. Can you find a short and neat solution? Or even a long and messy one? Give it a try--- more than a short try--- and then neatly click your mouse on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
We're definitely diving into the deep end with this month's mind-boggling stroke problem. You'll really need to keep your wits about you to solve this one.
Can you solve it without moving the pieces? It's an enormous test of visualization skills. And though it's hardly a practical over the board situation, we think this sort of problem builds your ability to see ahead and calculate (and do go ahead and move the pieces if it's all just a bit too deep).
Don't go off the deep end yourself; try it out and then click on Read More to dive into the solution.[Read More]
Back in the day, around 1955, Sal liked to wear a white shirt with a bow tie, a checkered jacket, and tweed pants. He said it fit his style, and he wore it pretty often, especially on Saturday afternoons when he went to The Beacon Cafe to preside over the Coffee and Cake Checker Club.
The coffee and cake idea wasn't original with Sal; he had read about it in one of Willie Ryan's books. Sal thought of Willie as the greatest checker player ever and had once hoped to meet him in person.
But that never happened. The Beacon was in the Provident Life Building at Fifth Street and Rosser Avenue in Bismarck, North Dakota, a kind of out of the way city in an out of the way state that didn't attract a lot of visitors; and sadly, Willie had just recently passed on.
The proprietor at The Beacon was a lady named Deana Nagel. She was also the chief cook and baker. Deana put in a lot of hours and could be testy once in a while, but she was fond of her regulars.
Most of the boys in the checker club, like Sal, were somewhat on the elderly side although a few youngsters (meaning someone under the age of fifty) showed up once in a while. A typical Saturday in the winter would bring in five or six, besides Sal. Summers were a little slower and they didn't even bother to meet in July and August.
They played, as you'd expect, for coffee and cake. The losers would buy for the winners (Deana never gave out freebies, not even to Sal himself). Sometimes a member would set up a checker problem and bet coffee and cake that the others couldn't solve it. That led at times to some lively debates about who really had the right answer.
Sal had a checker pen pal down in St. Louis, name of Brian, who would send him checker problems that he had composed himself. They were never easy but they were always clever. Some of the boys thought it wasn't completely fair of Sal to bet coffee and cake on a problem someone else had composed, but they usually went along with it because Brian's problems were always good entertainment.
"Got a new one from Brian," Sal announced one cold November Saturday, "and Deana's got German Chocolate Cake today. Anyone up for a try?"
There were a few groans, but the prospect of German Chocolate Cake and a new problem from Brian was really too much to resist. Most of the boys were there today: Wayne, Delmer, Louie, Dan, Larry and Mike were all on hand.
"Brian says his checker buddies Edgar and William love it, but I'm not telling you any more than that." Quickly, Sal laid out the position on one of the checkerboards on the table in the big booth where everyone was sitting.
Deana, back behind the counter, was all smiles. She knew she was going to be selling at least seven more pieces of cake and lots of coffee. And the boys were pretty good tippers, too. Pretty clever of her to set out the German Chocolate just when she figured Sal was about to spring a challenge. Deana was very good at reading people and there wasn't a guy worth the name this side of Montana who could resist her cake.
The boys thought about it for quite a while. Sal wouldn't let them move the pieces around--- said it was cheating--- and they were just about to give up when Wayne shouted, "Got it!"
Sal shook his head. He liked it a lot better when someone bought his coffee and cake rather than him buying for another fellow. "Show me," he said.
Deana's German Chocolate Cake indeed looks mighty good. Do you think you can win coffee and cake from Sal? You'll have to be pretty sharp to win it, but it's worth a try, and when you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
The great guitarist Andres Segovia once said, in effect, that technique either advances or retreats; it never stays the same. Of course, he was talking about the classical guitar, but the same applies to the game of checkers. We need to constantly strive to improve our technique and not allow it to slip back.
In today's Checker School entry, we divert briefly from our "gem" problems and present an exercise in endgame technique. It's a bit on the long side, but it's very instructive.
White has a win on the board; that's probably obvious to the experienced eye. But the win takes patience and the skilled application of technique. Can you find the winning path? It's well worth your time and effort; do give it a solid try before you click on Read More to see the details.[Read More]