The Checker Maven

Return to The Beacon


It was September and the Coffee and Cake Checker Club was meeting for the first time after the usual summer hiatus. There was a good turnout this week with Sal and five of the boys present: Wayne, Delmer, Louie, Dan, and Mike. The "boys" were all over 50 years old, but nevertheless that's how Sal Westerman, the club's leader, thought of them.

Sal should have been happy. He loved these Saturday afternoon gatherings at The Beacon Cafe more than just about anything else. It was September, 1955, and the weather in Bismarck, North Dakota had started to turn cooler.

Sal Westerman

So it might surprise you to hear that Sal wasn't the least bit happy.

It all started when Deana, the proprietor of the Beacon Cafe in Bismarck, North Dakota announced that she had fresh lemon bars this afternoon, and Sal frowned. More like scowled, because Sal didn't like lemon bars, not one little bit. He just plain didn't like them, no matter how good they were.

Dan Kemper

"Lemon bars, Sal!" Dan Kemper, one of the boys, said in a teasing tone. "Don't you want to win one?"


"No, I do not," Sal said emphatically. He looked over to Deana's service counter. "Deana, don't you have anything else?" he asked her.


"Got some fudge brownies left over from yesterday," she said. "Half price for day-old. But the lemon bars are fresh and good." She frowned in turn. Sal had been coming to the Beacon for so long she knew exactly what he liked and didn't like, but she always felt a little insulted when her customers didn't care for her baked products. Everyone said she had the best desserts in town. Even Mayor Lips came here often for coffee and treats with his political pals.

Dan continued, "Come on, Sal, I know you've got a coffee and cake problem for us. Heck, you don't have to eat lemon bars if you don't want to--- more for us!" Dan said, and the rest of the boys added their agreement.

"Okay, okay," Sal said, "it just happens that Ed sent me a nice one." Ed was Sal's checker pen pal in Pennsylvania. "Guess I'll have to settle for those day-old brownies when you boys can't solve it."

They all laughed. "Hey, how about if we do solve it you have to eat a lemon bar?" Dan suggested.

"That's not even funny," Sal replied.

Deana Nagel

Deana wasn't laughing, either. "You make fun of my food, you leave," she threatened. Deana didn't get upset very often but when she did, you had better watch out.

Sal realized that things were going into the ditch in a hurry. "Okay, okay!" he said. "Let there be peace! I'll show you Ed's problem, and whether you solve it or not, I'll buy lemon bars for everyone and a brownie for myself! How's that sound?"

Everyone now smiled, even Deana. The tension was relieved and Sal set out the following position on one of the checkerboards in the big booth that the club always occupied.

White to Play and Win


"Ed calls this one Sweet Spot," Sal said. "What do you boys think?"

Five minutes passed with everyone scratching their heads and looking puzzled. "Five more minutes," Sal announced.

Can you win this one? And what's your take on lemon bars? (Be careful what you say; Deana might hear you.) When you've given this one a good try, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of today's story.null

Solution and Conclusion

A total of ten minutes elapsed and Sal called time. "You boys are rusty," he said. "I thought you'd get this one. So here's how it goes."

15-10 30-23---A 10-6 1-10 2-6 10-15---1 6-10 14-7 16-11 7-16 20-11-18-27 White Wins.

A---14-7 2-11 30-23 11-15 and White Wins in a 3 vs. 2 ending after Black plays 1-6 or 1-5.

1---The computer move here is 23-26, leading to a much longer White win in a 3 vs. 2 ending. But it's doubtful that a human would play anything other than the text 10-15.

"Nice," the boys said, almost in unison.

"You win," Dan said. "I'll buy."

"No," Sal said, "my treat. I promised." He went to Deana's counter and soon returned with half a dozen lemon bars.

"Where's your brownie, Sal?" Dan asked.

"Oh, I'm giving the lemon bars another try," Sal said, turning and smiling at Deana. "Why not?"

Sal bravely ate the lemon bar while playing skittles with Wayne.

"Good, isn't it?" Dan asked.

"Oh, yes, very fine," Sal said, "but I could use a little more coffee."

Everyone laughed, knowing just what Sal meant, but didn't dare say.


The Checker Maven thanks problem composer Ed Atkinson, who kindly sent us the position and solution.

11/16/19 - Category: Problems - Printer friendly version
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