It wasn't just an ordinary Saturday for Sal Westerman and the members of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club. Today, they wouldn't be gathering in the big booth at the back of the Beacon Cafe in Bismarck, North Dakota. Instead, a team of five club members would depart early in the morning, bound for Fargo, North Dakota, about 200 miles to the east.
It was the big day, the day that the Coffee and Cake Checker Club would contest a team match with Fargo's new Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee, Let's Have Another Piece of Pie Checker Club.
And it wasn't just an ordinary match. Bismarck club leader Sal Westerman had exchanged letters with Professor Don Steam, the leader of the Fargo club, and the Professor's tone had been rather aggressive. They challenged each other to solve checker problems with neither club gaining the advantage, and now the fight for supremacy would take place over the board--- or rather, five boards, with the five top players from each club facing off.
The match would take place at high noon at the coffee shop of the Powers Hotel, the Fargo club's home venue. Sal, as captain, would play against Professor Steam.
Fueled with coffee and some sweet rolls made by Deana, the proprietor of the Beacon Cafe and a baker without equal in a dozen counties or more, the "boys" (all of them over 50) got on the road at 7 am for the nearly four-hour trip on Highway 10 to Fargo. They were all in good spirits. The team consisted of Sal, Dan, Wayne, Delmer, and Louie, and they were all squeezed into Wayne's station wagon.
They arrived at the Powers Hotel right on time and were greeted by the Fargo club at the entrance to the coffee shop. While the Fargo "boys" (all of them over 50 as well) were mostly quite friendly, there was a definite coolness between Sal and Professor Steam.
The format of the match was simple. Each player would play two go-as-you-please games with his opponent, once with Black and once with White. Two team points for a win; one each for a draw. The Fargo team would stand lunch for everyone after the match ended. Stakes for the match were five dollars per point, a pretty steep amount.
Professor Steam had notified the media and there was a reporter and photographer on hand from the local paper, the Fargo Forum. It was rumored that Fargo Mayor Herschel Lashkowitz would make an appearance at lunch to congratulate the winning team, although some thought he just was looking for a free meal.
It was almost time to start.
"Welcome to the first Fargo-Bismarck club match," Professor Steam announced to the small but growing group of spectators. "It's likely to be the last match, too, as we expect the Bismarck club to slink off with their tails between their legs after we demolish them today."
"Let's find out over the board!" Sal said, "and let's do it politely, shall we?"
"Well, then, it's time to get down to business," Professor Steam replied.
The match began just a few minutes later. Wayne and Dan were calm, but Delmer and Louie were a bit nervous and fidgety.
Nearly two hours passed. Delmer lost to Kraanz, 2-0, and Louie lost to Krabz, 2-0. But on boards two and three, Wayne beat Kracz 2-0 and Dan beat Kradz 2-0. On board one, Sal and Don drew the first game and were well into the second game. The score so far was Bismarck 9 and Fargo 9.
But in the final game of the match it appeared Professor Steam had the upper hand against Sal. The position on the board was as follows, with Sal to move.
Sal knew he would have to fight for a draw, just to draw the match, and it didn't look easy. To make it worse, Professor Steam kept up a barrage of trash talk.
"Give it up and save us some time. The Mayor's here and you're holding up lunch. You haven't got what it takes to pull off a draw. Why don't you just admit it?"
Sal did not reply. The referee, Miss Kraetz, should have asked Professor Steam to quit disturbing Sal, but she was from Fargo and clearly biased.
But Sal closed his eyes and focused, picturing the position in his mind. There ... there ... and there.
"Let's just play it through," he said, looking squarely at Professor Steam, "and we'll see just what happens."
Sal reached out and prepared to make his move.
Facing a rival who has done everything possible to infuriate you, how would you do? Could you save the match for your team? Think it over and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story.
10-6---A1,A2 27-24 11-8*---B 24x15 16-11*---C 26-23 8-4 15x8 4x11 23-27 6-10 27-24 10-15 24-28 15-19 28-32 19-23 Drawn.
A1---10-15? 27-24 11-8 24-20 8-11 26-23 15-10 20-24 11-15 23-18 15x22 24x6 Black Wins.
A2---10-14? 27-24* 11-15 26-23 14-9 23-18 15x22 24x15 Black Wins.
B---Moving the second king backwards and giving up the man on 19 is the only way to draw. If 11-15? 3-7* 6-2 7-10 15x6 24x15 Black Wins.
C---A beautiful position. Where would you move with Black? Do you see the threat of 2 for 1 shots? If 12-16 8-4 15x8 4x20 draws. Or if 15-19 11-7 3x10 6x24 draws.
After Sal made his move, Professor Steam stared for a while. "I didn't expect that," he said, "but I don't think it's good enough."
The game proceeded. "Are you kidding me?" Professor Steam said after one of Sal's follow-up moves.
But a couple of moves later, it was clear the game was a draw.
"Well I'll be," said the Professor. "You must have gotten lucky because you're just not good enough to have seen that draw."
"Say what you will," Sal said, "but still, both the game and the match are a draw."
"Is it lunchtime yet?" That was Mayor Lashkowitz, who had arrived near the end of the match and was eyeing the T-bone steak on the cafe menu.
Feelings were mixed as the boys from Bismarck, having decided not to stay overnight, started on the long drive home at around four in the afternoon. They held their own against a strong Fargo club, and no money had changed hands, but in all honesty they had wanted to bring home a win. Next month, the Fargo club would visit Bismarck for a return match.
Sal was happy to have broken even with Professor Steam, who was obviously a good player. It's just that he was such a poor sportsman. Win or lose, Sal loved checkers, but he won with grace, lost without excuses or complaints, and above all never gloated or spoke poorly of others.
Professor Steam might be a teacher but he had much to learn. There would be more on the line next month than just bragging rights.
Problem and solution were provided by grandmaster composer Brian Hinkle. Thank you, Brian!