The Checker Maven

Coffee and Cake at The Beacon


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.

Deana Nagel

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.

White to Play and Win


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.null


12-16*---A, 24-20, 22-18*---D, 15-22---B, 30-26, 20-4, 26-1, 4-8, 1-6, 8-11, 6-10, 11-16, 10-15, 5-9, 31-26, 9-14---C, 26-22*, 14-18, 15-11*, 16-7, 22-15 White Wins. The White man will kill the Black king.

A---The suicide mission by the 2 White kings must start now; if 8-3?, 24-19, 3-8, 6-9, 8-3, 9-13, 3-8, 5-9, 31-27, 14-18 Drawn.

B---Black has 3 ways to jump but everything loses. If 20-4, 18-2, 15-19, 31-27, 4-8, 2-7, 5-9, 30-25, 9-13, 25-21 White Wins. The third way to jump by 14-23, 31-26, 20-4, 26-1 etc. is the same win as the trunk.

C---Same as Leesí Guide p. 188 Selected Problems #2.

D---White might be tempted here to play 16-12? to move his king out of danger. But then Black has a narrow draw: 16-12? 5-9* 8-3 15-19 3-7 20-24 12-16 19-23 16-20 23-27 7-2 24-28 31x24 28x19 30-26 6-10 2-6 10-15 6x13 14-18 22-17 18-22 to a draw. Was Sal counting on the boys at The Beacon getting stuck on the 16-12 move and missing the win?


Wayne smiled. "Pay up," he said to Sal.

As we said before, Sal didn't like to lose, but he was surely a good sport about it. "Deana," he called over to the counter, "Coffee and cake all around. On me."

Another hour or so and it would be time to head home. But Saturday afternoons at The Beacon were always a lot of fun.


Problem, solution, and notes are the work of Brian Hinkle. Thank you, Brian!

05/25/19 - Category: Fiction - Printer friendly version
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