Every year since he started grade school, Tommy Wagner had gone to two weeks of summer camp at fabled Camp Fortress in northern Florida. He always had a lot of fun, what with swimming, nature walks, sports competitions, and the many other things the camp had to offer. The food was good, too, and there was plenty of it.
But this year was different. In the camp's talent competition last year, Tommy had put on a simultaneous checker exhibition, playing sixteen other campers at a time and almost always winning. So this year, instead of attending as a camper, Tommy had been invited to come for the whole eight week summer session as a staff member, with pay plus room and board. He was to be the checkers instructor.
Tommy bid farewell for the summer to his mentor, Uncle Ben, and took up residence at the camp. It was great. Four times a day, six days a week, he gave one-hour checker lessons to a variety of age groups. The rest of his time was his own and he made the most of it.
Campers came for two weeks at a time, with the eight week session divided into four periods. Everything went great for Tommy until the third session.
Tommy's older students, ages 14-17, had the 3 to 5 PM lesson slot. When 3 o'clock rolled around on the first Monday of the third session, Tommy got a real shock as he watched Tina Tooner enter the open air tent where lessons were held.
"You," Tina gasped.
"You!," Tommy gasped in return.
Tina and Tommy were once very good friends, but then Tina caught Tommy at the movies with another girl, Letitia Wong, and it was all over. Even though they were in the same school, and on the same checker team, they had barely exchanged more than a few words since their falling out.
"Uh ... you're the teacher?" Tina asked.
"Yeah, I ... right. I didn't know you go to this camp."
"I wanted to try it out. The brochure mentioned checker lessons from a qualified instructor. I'm calling my parents. We need to get our money back and I need to go home. There's no way I'm staying at a camp where you are, Tommy Wagner!"
"Hey, wait a minute Tina, that's not fair."
"What isn't fair was you going out with another girl!"
Other campers were starting to arrive, and they were watching Tommy and Tina with great interest.
"Aw gee, Tina, let's not make a scene, okay? I have a class to teach."
"That's funny, Tommy Wagner. No, it's not even funny. It's pathetic."
The full compliment of campers was now on hand and they were laughing and pointing fingers.
"Tell you what, Mr. Cheater. I'll play you for the right to be teacher. How about it, will you take me on or are you just a Cheating Chicken?"
"Hey, look, Camp Fortress hired me for the summer. This is my job."
"You going to play me or are you going to wimp out in front of your class? I'm sure they would really respect you a lot if you can't even take on a little girl like me."
Tommy didn't reply. It was a no-win situation. Silently he sat down at one of the checkerboards arranged on a long folding table and motioned Tina into the opposite seat.
The campers gathered around. This was going to be even better than a fistfight.
Tommy had White and the game reached the position shown below. Tommy had just played 11-7.
Tommy looked over at Tina and, without realizing it, smiled. But Tina didn't miss it.
"What are you smiling about, Mr. Bad Ex-Boyfriend? Trying to be friends again? Well forget it. And forget this game. It's a draw. You didn't win. Get over it and play me again."
"Sure," Tommy said, "but how about we wait until you make your move? I've already made mine." But then, seeing the look on Tina's face and realizing the double meaning of what he had just said, Tommy turned away, embarrassed.
What is Tommy up to? If you were Tina, what would you play? How do you think it's going to turn out? Think about it, work out a line of play, "make your move" and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of our story.
Solution and Conclusion
Tina played 10-14. "Happy now?" she said.
But Tommy replied with 22-25. "Yes, Tina," Tommy said, "I'm happy now."
10-14 22-25 3x10 25-30 10-15 30x23 15-18 24-28 18x27 28-32 White Wins.
Tina knew it was over. Tommy had won. Tina, though very disappointed, was nothing if not a good sportswoman.
"Well, Tommy Wagner, I may still be angry with you, but I must say, that was a brilliant win."
Tommy smiled, very carefully this time, and set the pieces back a few moves. "Look, Tina, when you played 10-14, you could have played 26-30 and gotten that draw after all." Tommy showed how: 26-30 10-15 (or 10-14, but not 30-26? 2-6 26x17 21x7 3x10 6x15 White Wins) 2-6 30-26 21-17 26-23 24-20 23-18 22-25 31-26 25-21 3-8 and Black has a safe draw.
Tina's whole demeanor seemed to undergo a sudden change. "Thank you, Tommy."
Tina reached out and shook Tommy's hand. Did she perhaps hold on to his hand just a bit longer than was quite necessary? But then the other campers, who never missed an opportunity to tease, started chanting "First comes love, then comes marriage." It was Tina's turn to be red-faced and she quickly fled the tent.
Tommy, seeing Tina leave so suddenly, was surprised to realize that he felt ... disappointed. "Girls," Tommy muttered to himself, "they leave a guy so confused."
Today's problem was composed by grandmaster problemist Brian Hinkle, who provided these additional notes.
"This is a 'sensing danger' setting where you should simply show a player the position and ask, 'Where would you move with Black?'
"It was composed around 2017-18 and has been presented to some of the world's best players, including Sergio Scarpetta, Richard Beckwith and Alex Moiseyev.
"It is the first checker problem ever composed that uses the tactic 'captive Cossacks' in consecutive order on different parts of the checker board.
"Also, it is the only checker setting ever composed that has two starting moves 10-14? and 10-15? that use two different 'captive Cossacks.'
"When I first showed this to composers Bill Salot, Ed Atkinson and Roy Little, they all said that they had never seen anything like it and all of them congratulated me for my original work."
Our thanks to Brian for sharing this amazing setting with us.