The Checker Maven

Marvin and Josh


Gananoque, Ontario, is a nice little town in Eastern Ontario with a population of about 6,000, and during the summer tourist season it hosts many visitors to the beautiful Thousand Lakes region in which it lies.

Residents of Gan, as they sometimes call it, are torn between their love of the card game Euchre and the great sport of checkers. Gan features a Rookie League team, the Gananoque Goatgetters. Led by rising young star Josh Gordon, the team is considered quite strong in its category, and everyone in Gan knew Josh (who grew up in Toronto) would quickly climb the professional ranks.


This was to be a big weekend in Gan, for superstar Marvin J. Mavin, Captain of the World Champion Detroit Doublejumpers, would to be in town to play a simultaneous exhibition against the the ten members of the Goatgetters, and then run a workshop the following day for the Gananoque High School team.

It was rumored that a couple of scouts from double-A and single-A teams might be watching, so it would be a big weekend for Josh, too, who was hoping to land an offer in a higher league.


The simul would take place at the site of the old Boston Cafe, now sadly closed, but still used for indoor events such as the this one.

On the evening of the simul, all of the Goatgetters arrived early, awaiting Marvin's arrival. But time passed. The team had a few servings of french fries (with white vinegar, of course) and a couple of soft drinks. They sang the team song, "If You Can, Meet Me in Gan" several times. Still no sign of Marvin, fully an hour after the simul was to begin.


Marvin, however, had just arrived at the Gananoque train station. The Canadian National train that served the station had arrived very late and Marvin was now looking around for his ride. It took him several minutes of head scratching, walking around the station, and turning his head this way and that before he realized no ride had been arranged as Marvin had never told anyone about his plan to arrive by train.

"Yeah, well," Marvin said to himself, "I shoulda told them what train I was on, I 'spose. Heh heh. Well, maybe there's a taxi I can catch."

Of course Marvin didn't know of any taxi companies in Gan, so he got out his phone and did a quick search. "Ah yeah, Gan Taxi, that should be good." Marvin placed the call and a woman answered.


"Gan Taxi."

"Hey, like I'm at the train station and I gotta get to Boston Cafe, can I get a ride? You know, like a taxi ride?"

"No. It's not far, you can walk, buster."

"But I don't know ... "

The call disconnected.

"Well ain't that rude ... walk, huh, but walk where? Boston Cafe ... hmm." Marvin looked for directions on his phone. "Okay yeah here we go!"

He started off on foot, rolling his suitcase behind him, following the directions the computer voice was giving him. "Head west on Station Road ... "


Marvin kept walking, and walking, and walking. "That gal said it ain't far ... what was she talking about?"

It took Marvin almost an hour and a half, and it was nearly dark when he finally arrived at the Boston Cafe. The loyal Goatgetter team members were still there waiting and greeted Marvin with a cheer.


Josh, as team captain, extended a formal welcome. "Glad you could make it, Captain Marvin. We were beginning to worry and gosh, we didn't have your cell phone number."

"Yeah, I kinda forgot to tell you when my train got in, and that taxi lady said it ain't far and I should just walk."

"I'll bet you called Gan Taxi instead of 1-A Taxi. That lady ... gosh, Captain Marvin, it's over 6 kilometers to the train station!"

"Yeah, I seen it on my phone, but I thought one of them kilometers was like, you know, a city block or something."

"Gosh though, we're happy you're here, no matter. Shall we get started with your simul? Everything's set up and the team is all set to play."

"You keep saying 'gosh.' I oughta call you 'Gosh Josh.' Ha that's good! But hey, I'm kinda thirsty. Can I get like a beer or something?"


Josh frowned. "Gosh, Captain, I'm sorry but we don't serve alcohol at our matches. Doesn't go well with good play, you know. We can offer you a cola, and some fries with white vinegar if you like?"

"Oh yeah, well, vinegar, huh? Maybe just the cola if you ain't got nothing else."

Marvin was given an icy cold bottle of cola and, after shaking hands all around, he was ready to take on the ten members of the Goatgetters. By now, though, Marvin was feeling a bit tired from his travel to Gananoque and then the unexpected exertion of a long walk.

The games began. The players on the Gan team were quite talented and as play progressed, Marvin was having to make quite the effort. But he finally pulled off nine wins, two of them very narrow, leaving only the game on first board against Josh to be decided.

The game had reached a tough position, with Josh to move. Now, Josh was so focused on his play that he hadn't noticed two more people coming into the Cafe about 90 minutes ago. He certainly wouldn't have known, though he might have guessed, that they were scouts from the double-A Kingston Krushers and the single-A Guelph Gonotskys.


Marvin was smiling. "Hey there Gosh Josh, you're in a kinda pickle. Or maybe a bottle of that there white vinegar! Ha ha! That's a good one!"

Josh didn't reply. Americans, he thought. They had their own strange sense of humour.

But his position, with White, did look difficult.

White to Play, What Result?


Don't get rattled, Josh told himself. Focus. Look for the hidden resource. Find all the possibilities in the position. Look at the board, not the opponent. Yes, it was Marvin J. Mavin, one of the great players of the day. But that didn't mean giving up without a fight.

A few minutes passed with all eyes on first board, waiting to see what would happen. Finally, Josh nodded his head and made his move.

Are you an up and coming player? Are you a champion of Marvin's caliber? Or are you, like many of us, a regular checker fan who just enjoys the game without professional ambitions? It doesn't matter. Josh's advice is sound. Don't give up without a fight. Don't be intimidated by your opponent or by the situation. Focus.

This position isn't especially easy but something is there, and it's up to you to find it. When you've given it a really good effort, you can focus your mouse on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story.20050904-symbol.gif

Solution and Conclusion

Play went on as follows.

11-7---A, 31-26---C, 17-14, 6-9, 7-2, 9-13, 2-7---D, 26-22---E, 7-10, 22-29, 21-17, 13-22, 14-9, 5-14, 10-26, 29-25, 26-22, etc. Drawn.

A---17-13---B, 31-26, 21-17, 26-22, 25-21, 18-23, 11-7, 22-18, 7-3, 23-26, 3-7, 26-30, 7-11, 30-26, 11-16, 26-23, 16-11, 23-19, 17-14, 18-9, 21-17, 19-23, 11-15, 6-10. Black Wins.

B---17-14, 6-9, 11-7, 9-13, 14-10, 31-26, etc. Black Wins.

C---6-9, 17-13, 9-14, 7-2. Drawn.

D---2-6, 26-23, 6-10, 18-22, 25-18, 5-9. Black wins.

E---26-23, 14-10. Drawn.

Josh looked up from the board and said, almost in a whisper, "Draw?"

Marvin, looking amazed, replied, "Well gosh, Gosh Josh, that was some pretty slick play there. You got talent that's for sure. Draw, yeah. Nice job!" He smiled and offered his hand. Josh, himself now all grins, shook hands eagerly as the Goatgetters cheered and started another chorus of "If You Can, Meet Me in Gan."

No one but Marvin noticed the two scouts conferring silently. Marvin walked over and introduced himself.

"Whaddya think of this kid?" one of them asked Marvin.

"Gosh Josh? Hey, he's got it. Triple-A material once he gets some experience. Should hit the Majors in a couple of years, maybe less. But don't you two get thinking about making him an offer. You ain't gonna get him. Nope. Ole Marvin is about to call the Doublejumpers management and Gosh Josh, by gosh, he'll have an offer in his hand within an hour or two. With the Double-A Erie Eliminators in the Doublejumper farm system. And don't think you can give him a better offer 'cause that ain't gonna happen neither. Gosh Josh, by gosh, he's too good to pass up."

Marvin turned away, leaving the scouts red-faced. He went over to Josh, who was still accepting congratulations from the team for getting a draw with superstar Marvin J. Mavin. "Gosh Josh, old fella," Marvin said, "You had dinner yet? I mean something other than fries and vinegar? How's about we go for a burger and a beer at that pub I seen down the street? We got stuff to talk about. Big stuff."


Today's problem is due to A. J. Heffner, who composed and published many excellent checker problems back in the day. The solution is given as published in Grover and Wiswell's Let's Play Checkers. Surprisingly, the computer didn't come up with bizarre lines of play and agrees with the published, practical solution.

10/29/22 - Category: Fiction -Printer friendly version-
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