Marvin J. Mavin was in Pelham, Alabama, on the occasion of the Alabama State Fair, where he had just given a simultaneous exhibition. As Captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers, a very strong team in the National Checker League, Marvin was in great demand.
The previous evening, the Doublejumpers had played a team exhibition against the Birmingham Crimson Cross, a leading team in the Triple-A Southern League, and while the Doublejumpers took the match by a score of 8-2, the hometown crowd enjoyed every minute of it.
Tonight, Marvin's simul had gone well. Out of fifty boards, Marvin won 46 and drew 4 against mostly amateur league opponents. But, like all such exhibitions, it was hard work, and Marvin was ready to relax.
His long-time girlfriend, Priscilla Snelson, had a rare few days off from her corner-office executive job at a major company, and had joined Marvin in Pelham. She was eager to explore the sights and attractions of the State Fair, and while Marvin was more interested in finding a cold pitcher of beer, he did as Priscilla wished.
It was after they had gone on a couple of rides and eaten some cotton candy that Priscilla noticed a drab tent marked Fortune Teller.
"Don't you think that's odd, Marvin?" she said, pointing to the tent. "The sign is hand-lettered and kind of crude and the tent has certainly seen better days. Seems like a strange way to attract clients."
Marvin, who had spied the Bama Beer Garden a little ways further down the path, mumbled something and tried to lead Priscilla in that direction. But she pulled back a little and said, smiling, "Marvin, let's get our fortunes told!"
Marvin sighed. "Aw, you don't believe in that stuff, Prissy. C'mon, let's go ..."
"Of course I don't believe in it. But it's just for fun. Marvin, do this for me, would you?"
There was no resisting. Priscilla was charming and she had her ways. "Okay, Prissy," he said, "but can we make it fast? I'd kinda like to ..."
Priscilla smiled again. "Okay, Marvey, I know you want a beer. We'll just get a quick reading."
"Aw, don't call me Marvey, willya?"
"Then don't call me Prissy." She grabbed Marvin's hand and pulled him toward the tent.
When the couple opened the flap and stepped inside, they were greeted by a dimly lit interior, with a dirt floor covered only by a cheap rug that looked as if it hadn't been cleaned since it left the factory. At the back of the tent, behind a card table, sat a large woman of something beyond middle age, dressed in a colorful robe and wearing a tired-looking turban that might have once been white. And was that a whiskey bottle that the woman was trying to surreptitiously hide behind her seat?
"Welcome, welcome," the woman said in the crackly, low voice of a heavy smoker. "What brings you here?"
"Pretty obvious, don't ya think?" Marvin said.
"Marvin! Be polite!" Priscilla hissed. "We'd like our fortunes told," she said to the woman. "Maybe just the short version."
"Fortunes ... oh, yeah, sure ... just a minute." The woman appeared to take a moment to compose herself, and then began, "Step into my realm, a place of light and darkness, in which all things can be seen by those with the power to discern events that are yet to come. Sit thee down and listen, and I shall tell thee many secrets." She made a flowery gesture toward two metal chairs by the card table.
"Corny, if you ask me," Marvin whispered, rather loudly.
"Stop it!" Priscilla commanded as she and Marvin took the proffered seats.
"How much?" Marvin asked bluntly, but the woman ignored him.
Closing her eyes and making circles over the card table with her hands, she said, "Ah, I see much to come for the two of you. You shall go through trials but you shall survive them." She made more circles. "But just barely." She glanced quickly at Priscilla's left hand. "You shall marry, but it will not be until the sun and the moon grant their blessings. Let me see your palms," she said.
Priscilla extended her right hand, and with her left hand, pulled Marvin's own right hand forward.
The woman used a forefinger to trace patterns in Marvin's hand.
"Hey, that tickles!" he said, laughing.
"I see you are a checker player," she said.
"How did you ... oh ... the brochure." Marvin's photo had appeared in the State Fair brochure, advertising his exhibition.
"You travel much," the woman said, and then noticing Priscilla's quick glance at Marvin, "and so do you," she went on, now looking at Priscilla.
"Oh, cut the baloney," Marvin said. He pushed back his chair and sat up.
The expression on the woman's face changed. "Baloney, huh," she said, the tone of mystery now completely gone from her voice. "Listen boy, this is what I do for a living, just like you play checkers. But if you want to be rude I'll teach you a little respect."
"Whaddya mean?" Marvin said.
"Yeah, you need a lesson, and I've got a checker problem that I betcha you can't solve."
"What? I'm a champion player, and anyhow what do you know about checkers?"
"I know I got one that you can't figure. This ain't no coffee and cake deal. Now put up or shut up. A hundred bucks says you can't get it."
"Hah!" Marvin said. "Five hundred, then!"
"Marvin, what are you doing!" Priscilla said. She was still seated and turned to the woman. "I'm sorry. We should be going. What do we owe you?"
"Forget it, lady," the woman said. "I'm taking that bet from your boy here. Five hundred it is."
Priscilla stood. "Marvin, you're a top flight professional. You can't take her money like this. It's not fair."
"Butt out! This is between me and your high-falutin' checker player!" the woman said.
"Whatever!" Priscilla forcefully said. "Marvin, if you won't come along with me this instant, I'm leaving on my own."
"Honey ... "
"Don't honey me!" Priscilla turned on her heel and strode out of the tent, letting the flap fall behind her.
The woman pulled a checkerboard and a box of pieces from somewhere off to the side. Quickly she set up a position.
"There you are, smart guy. I'll give you, oh, eight minutes instead of just five."
"You're on," Marvin said. He sat back down and started to study the board. After a few seconds, he said, "Black to play and win, right?"
The woman smirked. "White to play and win," she replied.
"Nah ... Black has four kings against none! You sure you set this up right?"
"White to play and win. Eight minutes for five hundred bucks. And the clock is ticking. Want a shot?" She started laughing, a strange deep sound that gave Marvin the shivers. "This kind of shot," she said, pulling the whiskey bottle from behind her chair.
"You ain't got a beer, do ya?" Marvin asked, but there was no reply. The woman took a swig from the whiskey bottle and watched as Marvin slowly began to sweat.
Would you bet five hundred US dollars on your ability to find a White win in just eight minutes? Do you agree with Marvin that the terms of the problem must be incorrect? Better stay away from anything stronger than coffee while you work this one out. When you're ready you can click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.
Conclusion and Solution
Time passed as Marvin frowned and fidgeted and scratched his head. Finally the woman said, "Eight minutes are up, boy. Either show me or pay me."
"Look," Marvin said, "I know the first move has to be 9-6 and then there's the double exchange. Black plays maybe 3-7 and White gets a king with 6-1. White is more mobile and should win." Marvin looked up at the woman and smiled. "So there! That'll be five hundred, please!"
"Not on your life, boy. You gotta show me the whole win, not just a few moves."
"Well, I didn't get that far ..."
"Then you pay me. That was the deal. Get out your wallet, I ain't got all night."
"No way, lady. You can't show me either. Four kings against none. You're full of beans."
9-6 2x9 13x6 1x10 15x6 3-7 6-1 7-10 1-6 10-14 6-9 14-17 9-14 17-22 14-17 22-26 32-28 8-11---A 28-24 26-31 17-22 White Wins.
A--- if Black tries 26-31 White has a spectacular win: 26-31 19-15 31-24 28-19 20-24 23-18 16-23 15-11 8-22 17-28 White Wins.
"Holy Kaledo," Marvin said. "I can't believe it."
"Holy Toledo, you mean. Kings are over-rated, Marvey. Pay me! NOW!"
Marvin sheepishly got out his wallet and looked inside. He had a couple of tens and a five. "Uh ... I got a little problem ..."
"Call your fancy girlfriend. She's probably loaded."
But Marvin was already on his cell phone. "Honey? Don't be mad, okay? I need a little help ..."
This brilliant problem was composed by master checker problemist and analyst Brian Hinkle, who very kindly provided it to us for publication. Mahalo, Brian, and The Checker Maven salutes you!