Sal's Summer Afternoon


It was mid-August, 1955, and in Bismarck, North Dakota on this Saturday afternoon the temperature exceeded 97 degrees. It was the kind of hot, dry prairie weather that led to rapid dehydration with the least amount of effort.


On a Saturday afternoon, Sal Westerman would have gone to the Beacon Cafe for a gathering of his Coffee and Cake Checker Club. But the club took a summer break between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Even so, Sal might have gone to the Beacon on his own, but Deana, the proprietess and baker, closed the cafe for a few weeks in August so she could visit her family over in Gackle, North Dakota.

To make things even worse, Sal's wife, Sylvia, had gone off to Dickinson, North Dakota, to visit with her sister, who lived alone and enjoyed the company.


But that left Sal with no company of his own and his favorite weekend spot unavailable. To top it all off, it was almost unbearably hot in the living room of his modest house. Even the basement wasn't a lot cooler, and there was no air circulation to speak of down there.

Sal tried reading a couple of checker magazines, but they stuck to his hands when he picked them up, and it just wasn't much fun.

What to do?

Maybe he could call one of the boys and they could go to one of those places with that new-fangled air conditioning. But Wayne would out in Wilton working on the farm, getting ready for the wheat harvest. Dan, Delmer and Mike, as far as he knew, would be out fishing or camping. They never missed a summer weekend, no matter how hot or how stormy the weather.


Kevin? Ron? Sal telephoned both of them, with no answer. Probably off on vacation. Louie? He'd be off somewhere with his latest girlfriend.

Well, Sal would just have to go by himself. He wasn't going to stay home, and a cold beer in a cool lounge sounded really good. He'd go over to the Patterson Hotel. It would be too hot up in the TipTop Lounge, but the Rainbow Bar and Lounge would be cool. He'd have a burger and a beer, and his latest issue of All Checker Digest wouldn't be so sticky in the air conditioning.


Sal put on his cap and walked on over. The walk alone was almost too much for him, and he was even hotter when he arrived.

Despite having air conditioning, the bar was nearly empty. The barkeep, a fellow named Jimmy Wilson, greeted Sal. "Nice to see you, Sal," he said. "Really slow today. Guess everyone's off on vacation or something."


Sal took a seat at a table at the side and put in his order. Jimmy brought over his beer right away and noticed Sal's magazine. "Hey, Sal, nothing much doing right now. Want to play a game or two? Just for fun, no stakes."

Jimmy was known to be a pretty good player. He often put as much as five or ten dollars on a game. That was a whole week's wages for him, but he won much more often than he lost. However, he knew Sal wasn't a gambler.

"Sure Jimmy, why not, but then after, say, best two out of three, I'll want my lunch, okay?"

"You got it Sal. Hey ... how about this ... lunch on me if you win and leave me a real good tip if I win."

Sal thought for a moment. Well, it wasn't exactly gambling ... "Okay, Jimmy, why not, but I would have left you a nice tip anyhow."

"Yeah, I know, I know, just trying to put a little fun into it."


Play began while Sal sipped his beer. Jimmy won the first game but Sal came back to win the second.

"The money round," Jimmy said as they set up the pieces for the third game. "Uh ... I mean, you know, sorta."

It turned out to be a really good game, and finally came down to the following position, with Sal to move.

White to Play and Win


Sal thought for quite a while, so long, in fact, that Jimmy went and tended to another customer. On his return, Sal said, "Jimmy, I think you're going to be buying me my lunch."

A juicy burger and a cold beer on a hot summer day, with someone else treating... does that sound good to you? If you were Sal, do you think you could win the deciding game? See if you can come up with a really "cool" winning move, and then coolly click on Read More to see the solution.null


Sal played 23-19 and the game continued as follows.

23-19 16-23---1 14-17 13-22 2-7 23-26---A, B 29-25 22-29 10-6 3-10 6-31 White wins.

A--22-17 10-6 3-10 6-13 White wins.

B---3-8 7-11 8-15 10-17 White wins.

1---18x9 19x12 leaves Black a piece down with no compensation, yet the computer, being a computer, chooses this move!---Ed.

"Gotta give you credit there, Sal, you won off me fair and square. I'll rustle up that burger right away, and like I promised, it's on me." Jimmy paused for a moment. "But if you want another beer, you gotta pay for that, okay?"


Sal smiled. "Sure, Jimmy, sure. Maybe I'll just deduct it from that big tip I'm going to leave you."

Jimmy frowned and Sal quickly added, "Just kidding, Jimmy. Thanks for the games. It really made for a nice afternoon."

Today's problem, solution, and notes are by grandmaster composer Ed Atkinson. He calls it No Escape, a most appropriate title. Our thanks to Ed for sending this one to us.

08/14/21 - Category: Fiction -Printer friendly version-
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