They arrived in Bismarck at around 11 AM in a brand new 1955 Chrysler Imperial.
"That's a $15,000 car," whispered Louie, looking out through the front window of the Beacon Cafe as the Imperial pulled up at the curb. "That Professor must be loaded!"
It was the last Saturday in May, the final meeting before the summer break for the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, and it was no ordinary meeting. Today was the much-anticipated rematch between the Bismarck club and Fargo's Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee, Let's Have Another Piece of Pie Checker Club. Recall (see last month's Checker Maven story) that the first match, held in Fargo, was a draw, and today, everything would be once again on the line.
Sal Westerman, the leader of the Bismarck club, tried. He really did. He tried hard to be polite to the Fargo leader, Professor Don Steam, despite his rival's rudeness. So when the Fargo team entered the Beacon Cafe, Sal shook hands and with the Professor and welcomed his team to Bismarck.
Deana, the proprietress of the Beacon and a championship baker in her own right, had a different view. Anyone who was rude to Sal was no friend of hers. She threatened to serve the Fargo team day-old cold coffee until Sal intervened and convinced her that would be bad for business. "Kill them with kindness," Sal said, "it's always the best way."
It didn't take long for the Professor to start with the jibes. "Well, Westerman, you won't be lucky twice in a row. This time, you go down." (In the previous match, Sal had saved the day by finding a draw in a tough position.)
As the home club, Bismarck would treat the visitors to lunch after the match was concluded, and Bismarck Mayor Evan Lipps would put in an appearance. A reporter from the local newspaper and a local radio station were on hand. The match would be broadcast live over the radio, as the Beacon Cafe was too small to accommodate many spectators.
"How can you play in such a dingy dump?" Professor Steam asked.
That was too much for Deana. "Watch your mouth, you!" she said. "If you don't like it here, there's the door!"
"Gosh, don't you tame your women out here?" Steam asked. "That one could use a little ..."
But Deana, brandishing a rolling pin, was already out from behind her counter, and the look on her face made Steam take a couple of steps back. "Look, I was just ..."
"Yeah, right," Deana said. But, satisfied for the moment, she returned to the other side of the counter.
Fargo had brought along the same team that played in the previous match. Sal, though, had changed things around a little. He would still play first board, with Dan still on second board and Wayne on third. Louie would move up to fourth board while Mike would play fifth. Delmer had asked to sit this one out.
Then a funny thing started to happen. Professor Steam would look at Sal and start to say something, but then he would glance over at Deana and seem to change his mind. The match began without him saying more than a few additional words.
The players were in the booths at the back of the cafe. As the match progressed, the radio announcer, Rollie Gordon, kept up a whispered commentary over the special telephone line the radio station had run into the Beacon.
All of the games were close, but finally the results started coming in. Mike won one and lost one. Louie lost two, while Wayne won two and Dan got two draws. The first game between Sal and the Professor was a draw.
As it was last time, the match was even at 9-9 with one game to go between Sal and Professor Steam. Neither of them had yet managed a win against the other, yet neither of them wanted to adjourn for the summer without a definite settlement to the club rivalry.
Deana served coffee to the growing crowd of onlookers. The cafe was filled to capacity and then some, and business was brisk. Deana freshened Sal's cup and then, while refilling Professor Steam's, accidentally spilled a little coffee on his overalls. Or, perhaps, it wasn't entirely accidental?
"Hey, watch it, you ...." But again, a stare from Deana stopped him mid-sentence. "Coffee's probably poisoned," he muttered under his breath, but he made sure Deana had moved out of earshot before he did so.
The game was tense and well-fought, and finally came down to this position, with Sal to move.
Sal was a piece up, but the Professor was threatening to get it back right away, and if he did he would have the lead with three kings to Sal's one. It didn't look good.
"For goodness' sake, don't you know when to resign?" Professor Steam said. "It's insulting, your playing on in such a bad position. Time to admit that we're better than you are and go back to playing skittles and eating cake while the real checkerists play real checkers."
But Sal, deep in thought, didn't respond. His five minutes was up, the referee gave the one minute warning--- and then Sal looked up at Professor Steam, grinned, and made his move.
Honor and pride are at stake and the pressure is really on. Did Sal come up with something in this tough position? What would you do? We certainly hope you wouldn't take Professor Steam's bait and resign. Think it over; unlike Sal you can have all the time you wish, and then make your move before clicking on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.
Solution and Conclusion
Sal played 21-17. He realized that if he played 11-8 to save his piece, he'd fall into Professor Steam's trap: 11-8 15-18 22-15 29-24 and Black wins. 32-28 didn't look good either, as play would go 32-28 15-8 22-17 29-24 (the order of the jumps doesn't matter) 26-10 13-22 to a dead draw, and Sal wanted a win.
The Professor took back his man with 15-8. "Are you blind?" he asked. "Over five minutes to choose a move and you let me get your piece?" But it was obvious that he was disappointed that Sal didn't fall for the losing 11-8.
Then Sal played 22-18 and the look on Professor Steam's face was indescribable.
"Seriously?" he said, scratching his head and then pulling a bit at the straps of his overalls. "I take two men two different ways or three men one way ... oh ... "
Professor Steam jumped three men with 13-24 but he finally realized that it didn't make any difference how he sequenced the jumps.
Sal quickly played 32-28. Professor Steam had to play 29-15 and then Sal jumped in the circular path given by 28-19-10-3-12-19. That left Sal with the opposition and an easy finish. He had won, and the Coffee and Cake Checker Club were the victors.
"You're a cheater!" Professor Steam cried. "You had your helper spill coffee on me and distract me while you did ... I don't know what ... something! There's no way I could lose to the likes of you!"
Deana once again came out from behind her counter. "Listen, Bud," she said, "I've taken all of your insults, but when you accuse Mr. Westerman of cheating, it's more than I can stand. He's the most honest and decent man I've ever known and for darn sure he's nothing like you! Now you can gather up your crew and get out of my cafe! I'm not serving you lunch or anything else! So scram! Twenty-three skiddoo! Hit the road before you regret ever being born, you ... "
"Okay, Deana, okay," Sal said. He turned to Professor Steam. "Look, we can go to lunch at the Patterson Hotel, it's just a couple of blocks ..."
"Not on your life!" said Professor Steam. "We're not spending another minute in this lying cheating town of yours! And just wait til next year! We'll show you!"
"No, you won't," said Sal quietly. "Our competitions are over. If you can't be good sports, if you come here just to insult us, if you can't treat fine people like Deana with respect, we want nothing more to do with you."
"You're just yellow!" shouted Professor Steam. "Scared, that's all! Well fine, then, we don't want anything to do with you either!"
The Fargo club, without shaking hands or any further words, tramped out of the cafe, got into their car, and sped off down the street.
A couple of minutes later, the radio commentator came over to Sal. "All of that went out over the air," he said. "I think when word gets back to Fargo, that Pie Club's days will be numbered. The Fargo Mayor doesn't like anyone giving his city a bad name like that guy just did."
It was the end of the season for the Coffee and Cake Checker Club. Memorial Day was next weekend, and they wouldn't meet again until after Labor Day. But they certainly would have quite a story to talk about all summer long.
The excellent checker problem in this story was composed by grandmaster composer Ed Atkinson, who also provided the solution. Here it is in capsule form.
21-17---A,B 15-8 22-18 jump 32-28 jump 28-19. White Wins.
A---32-28 15-8 22-17 jump 28-10 jump. Drawn.
B---11-8 15-18 22-15 29-24. Black Wins.
Ed aptly named this problem "Professor Oddpusher." We hope you enjoyed both the problem and the story. The "boys" are off for the summer but will return to the Beacon Cafe in September.