The Checker Murders is a 16,000 word novelette published in seven monthly installments. It is perhaps the most extensive work of checker fiction ever published. We hope you enjoy it, but if you wish you can skip to the end to see this week's checker problem. Be forewarned that the problems in this series are for the most part very difficult.
Over steak and baked potato dinners in the dimly-light restaurant, Mortimer told Sheila all about his research and how his theory had been confirmed by the latest murder.
"It's pretty predictable," he told her. "I haven't completely figured out the checkerboard part yet, but I'm working on that and I'm sure it will fit somehow with the rest of my ideas. "This next one--- I mean, when the murderer strikes again--- was a little harder to figure because there were a few possibilities, but it should be at 1115 Montrose Street, Evans, Colorado."
"What makes you think so?"
"Look at the numbers and street names. They match up with checker opening names. And the method of murder--- that corresponds to the name of a variation of the checker opening."
"That's crazy. But if you're right..."
Sheila's phone rang.
"Sheila Larkspur." She listened for a few moments. "OK, yes. I'll come."
Her look had changed to one of dead seriousness. Dessert was forgotten. "Mortimer. There's been another murder. Exactly where you predicted. I'm going to the crime scene, and I think you better come with me. There are going to be questions and you need to be on hand. You can drive me there. Right now."
Needless to say, Mortimer had never been at the scene of a murder before. In his fantasy life, he had dreamed of coming on to the scene and dazzling everyone with his brilliant analysis, bringing the criminal swiftly to justice.
Reality was a lot different, and a lot less attractive. In fact, Mortimer found it more than a little frightening.
Police were everywhere, yellow tape cordoning off the scene of the crime.
Special Agent Purdy was already on site when Mortimer and Sheila arrived and got out of Mortimer's car. Purdy, standing outside the house, saw Sheila and went over to her.
"What's he doing here?" Purdy asked, jerking his thumb at Mortimer.
"Give us a minute, will you?" Sheila said to Mortimer. When he nodded his head but didn't move, Sheila added, "Mortimer, that means I want to speak privately with the Special Agent. Can you please go wait by your car?"
Mortimer looked a little dejected but did as he was asked. He watched while Sheila and Purdy talked for what seemed like quite a little while, but was probably just a few minutes. Toward the end of their discussion, Mortimer noticed Purdy looking repeatedly in his direction.
"All right, Sherlock, either you explain how you knew about this," Purdy growled, "or I'm taking you in."
"Special Agent! That really isn't necessary! You're getting me very upset!" Sheila objected.
Purdy hesitated a moment. "You going to cooperate?" he said to Mortimer.
"Uh, yes, sir," Mortimer said in a frightened squeak.
"All right, but it's only because of her that I don't haul you right off," Purdy said. "I don't wanna upset the young lady too much. But you got a lot of questions to answer. For instance, where were you...."
"Special Agent," Sheila cut in, "obviously he was with me. How else could he have driven me here?"
Purdy seemed to ponder this. "Yeah, I guess you got a pretty good alibi from the little lady here." When he saw Sheila glare he added, "Oh, I don't mean nothin'--- whaddaya callit--- sexist."
Purdy turned back to Mortimer. "All right then, but how did you know where the next murder would take place? You might be some sort of smart kid, but nobody could know that unless they know the killer too. So who done it? You better come clean with me..."
Mortimer said in a weak voice, "Uh ... could you please tell me the method of murder, Agent Purdy? It makes a difference ..."
Purdy grunted but grudgingly gave a brief rundown on the current crime. The victim, a young waitress, had been beaten to death in her living room. The murder weapon, found next to the body, was a heavy iron cross that had been reported stolen a week ago by a local church. There was the usual checkerboard, set up on the living room's coffee table.
"Your turn now, college boy," Purdy said.
Sheila glared again. "Tell him your theory, Mortimer."
Mortimer went through his ideas. Purdy's expression very quickly glazed over. When Mortimer was done, Sheila said to Purdy, "It's brilliant, isn't it?"
"Well, I don't understand none of it," Purdy said. "And it don't tell me nothing about who the killer is."
"Yes it does!" Mortimer piped up. "I mean, well, sort of."
"What's that supposed to mean, 'sort of'?" Purdy asked, obviously impatient and annoyed.
"The murderer is a checker expert or at least someone who knows a lot about checkers," Mortimer said.
"Oh, that helps a lot, don't it," Purdy said. "There's what, five million people in the Denver area and only about, say, five million of them know how to play checkers. Yeah, that narrows it down for me. Great job."
"No, no, it's someone who knows a lot about checkers. Really a lot; I have to finish my analysis but I'm sure it has to be someone who is a high level player, and there aren't a lot of them around."
"Can you give me names?"
"Maybe... after I do some more checking. But I can tell you for sure where the killer will strike again."
"He's been killing one every night."
"I know. But I think you can catch him tomorrow night."
They did all eventually wind up at FBI headquarters, although Purdy and Sheila would have gone there anyway, and Mortimer was happy enough to stay with Sheila. When they got there Mortimer repeated his ideas, not just to Purdy but to the whole team working on the case. Sheila sat near him and smiled at him from time to time, evidently very pleased with her new friend.
Most of the team seemed as lost as Special Agent Purdy, but Mortimer could see that at least a couple of them caught on. When Mortimer gave his prediction as to where the next murder would be--- 1116 Glasgow Circle, Aurora, Colorado--- the ones who got it nodded agreement. "You were right about the one tonight," Purdy told him, "so I guess we gotta listen about this one. We'll set up some kinda stakeout and try and catch this guy."
He got up as if to end the meeting and leave, but then added, "And don't you get any ideas, Sherlock. You're staying right here and doing nothing except keep quiet. I don't want you saying nothing to the press and you ain't going on the stakeout, so don't even ask. In fact don't even think about asking."
Purdy left the room and the others started to trickle out. Two of the team members did come over to introduce themselves and shake Mortimer's hand.
After everyone had left and Mortimer was still sitting at the front of the room, Sheila came over to him and put her arms around his neck. "Very well done," she whispered in his ear. "I'm proud of you, I really am." She squeezed his shoulders with both hands. "But it's getting late. I'll be here all night again. You better drive home. You have class tomorrow, don't you?"
Mortimer, now more dazed than ever, simply nodded.
"I do too, and I won't have any sleep, so I'll have to just go straight through and sleep later. That means I won't see you tomorrow."
"Can't we just meet at dinner, then we can ... I mean you can go to bed."
Sheila laughed at his little slip. "Naughty boy," she said in a teasing tone. "Getting a little ahead of ourselves, aren't we?" But she said it with such a smile that Mortimer wasn't embarrassed. In fact, it took him several moments to figure out just what he had said that was so amusing. When he finally did, he turned all red.
"Oh... oh no, I didn't mean...."
"You know, Mortimer, the nice thing about you is that you really didn't."
Again as is typical in this series, the problem is world-class tough unless you've seen the position before. Definitely try it out but don't be afraid to click on Read More to see the solution and discussion.
This position comes from a famous game in the 2003 Alex Moiseyev-Ron King world championship match. Here's the run-up.
19-23 is the KingsRow book move here.
Alex, in his book Sixth, calls 31-27 the "Cook of the Century." Alex went on to win the game. But mail-play champion Mac Banks later suggested 16-20 to draw in this position. Ed Gilbert's KingsRow computer engine, using its 10-piece endgame database, agrees that Alex's 31-27 is the strongest move after 4-8. It also agrees that 16-20 is the best reply, but it doesn't see its way to the draw right away. The following line of play was calculated with KingsRow. It differs substantially from the actual game, and in some lesser details (such as move order) from Mac Banks's drawing line.
The computer now clearly sees the way to a black draw, with the following intriguing line of play.
Variations are of course possible. You'll need a strong computer engine to explore them. Alex's aforementioned book, Sixth, also contains much interesting analysis and commentary.
If you didn't solve this one, don't feel bad. Unless you're Alex Moiseyev, Mac Banks, Marvin J. Mavin, or S. Mortimer Holmes, it was anything but easy.