The Checker Maven

The World's Most Widely Read Checkers and Draughts Publication
Bob Newell, Editor-in-Chief


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A Bittersweet Day at The Beacon Cafe

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It was Saturday, May 21, 1955, and for Sal Westerman of Bismarck, North Dakota, it was a bittersweet spring day. His beloved group of checkerists, The Coffee and Cake Checker Club, would meet today as they did every Saturday, at one o'clock at the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building.

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Sal was always happy to have Saturday come around, and spend some good checker time with the "boys" (all of them over 50) who made up the club. Yet it was the Saturday before Memorial Day, which this year fell on a Monday and made for a long weekend. That meant this was the last meeting of the club until the Saturday after Labor Day--- more than three months away.

Summer in North Dakota was short, and pretty much all regular activity, outside of work and church, ceased. There were no dance groups, no crafts classes, no book clubs ... and no checkers at the Beacon.

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Ted Harman

There was a good turnout for the closing meeting of the season. Wayne, Tom, Dan, Louie, Sam, Delmer, and even infrequently seen Ted were all there. That made eight, counting Sal, and they overflowed into a second booth adjacent to the large booth in the back that they always occupied.

Deana, the proprietress, would miss the club as well. They brought her some good business on slow Saturdays. In fact, she would even close on Saturdays from mid-June through mid-August. Today, though, she had baked a large tray of one of her all-time favorites: chocolate chip almond bars. She charged a little extra for them--- they were twenty cents a serving instead of fifteen cents--- but no one complained.

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When everyone was settled in with mugs of Deana's coffee, Sal announced that he had a problem from Ed in Pennsylvania, one that Ed said would go well with next week's Indianapolis 500 auto race. "Ed calls it 'Photo Finish'," Sal remarked. "He originally had in mind the Kentucky Derby, but you'll see when you solve it." Sal paused and chuckled. "If you solve it, that is." Sal turned and looked over at the baked goods case. "Those bars look really fine."

That got a smile out of Deana. "Sure are," she said. "A real deal, too."

Sal laid out the problem setting, once in the big booth and then again on another board in the adjacent booth.

WHITE
null
BLACK
White to Play and Win

W:WK4,K21,27:BK1,14,K29

"How long should I give you boys?" he asked, and then answering his own question, said, "Twenty minutes. After that, one of you buys the bars. And more coffee, too."

At first there was silence as the boys examined the position. Then there was discussion, starting with a few suggestions but becoming more and more lively as time passed. Delmer was arguing with Wayne, Sam was getting impatient with Louie, and Dan, Ted, and Tom were trying to solve as a trio.

Finally, it was Ted who spoke up. Over eighteen minutes had passed and Sal was closely watching the clock.

"I have the answer," Ted said, but his voice didn't sound confident at all.

"Glad to hear that, Ted," Sal said. Was there a tiny note of sarcasm? "Let's see it."

"Uh, sure," Ted said, and started to move the pieces.


It's the last chance until September to win some of Deana's famous bars. Can you do it? Do you think infrequent player Ted has found the solution?

You can take your time--- there's no need to race to the finish--- and when you're set, click on Read More for the solution and the conclusion of the story.null

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April in Bismarck

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The year was 1955 and it was the first Saturday of April. In the city of Bismarck, North Dakota, that day had special meaning.

No, it didn't have anything to do with April Fool's Day, which only fell on Saturday once in a while. It had to do with raking up your yard after the winter season.

It was practically an unwritten law. On the first Saturday of April, you raked up your yard. Period. It didn't matter if there were still some lingering piles of snow, or even that it was likely to still keep snowing during April. You raked up your yard, and if you didn't, you'd get glares and stares from your neighbors, who were out there doing their duty while you were ...

... playing checkers at the Beacon Cafe?

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Yes, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, led by Sal Westerman, met every Saturday afternoon from September to May at the Beacon Cafe, where they enjoyed a few hours of checker fun and the outstanding baked goods produced by the proprietor, Deana.

Now, Sylvia, Sal's wife of some 45 years, understood. She knew that Sal was 70 and not up to a lot of yard work, so she hired it out to Ted, an enterprising young man in their neighborhood. But it wasn't so simple for the rest of the boys--- Sal referred to the other club members as 'the boys' even though they were all over 50 themselves.

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Young Ted

So when Sal made his way to the big booth in the back of the cafe, where the 'boys' always gathered, there was no one present except Wayne and Dan.

"Raked our yard this morning," they both explained, in more or less the same words. "Got up early to get 'er done. Too bad the others are stuck doing it this afternoon."

Of course, the idea of not raking your yard on this appointed day would never occur to any of them. In Bismarck, that was unthinkable.

"Well, okay," Sal said, with a sigh of resignation. "Less treats for the losers to buy, I suppose."

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Deana, who missed nothing that went on in her cafe, called over from her counter, "Too bad, I have peanut butter bars today. Really good."

Sal smiled. "I'm sure they are, and in a little while Wayne and Dan are going to buy me one."

"We'll see about that," Dan said. "And hey, did you rake your yard this morning?"

"You know Sylvia hires young Ted to do that."

"Ah, cop out. Anyone who doesn't rake their yard ought to buy treats for those who did, don't you agree, Wayne?"

Wayne nodded. "Sure do. But let's see what Sal has for us today."

"Something from Brian," Sal said, "and he says it's very instructive."

"That's another way of saying 'hard', right?" Dan said.

Brian was Sal's St. Louis checker pen-pal, and his checker problems always puzzled and pleased. But they were seldom easy.

Sal set up the position on one of the checkerboards on the booth's table. "Here you go. Fifteen minutes ought to do it."

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK4,20,K21:B3,6,9

"Fifteen minutes! No way!" Wayne complained. "An hour, for sure!"

"Half an hour," Sal said, "and that's final." He crossed his arms over his chest and feigned a severe look.

But the boys were already deep in contemplation.


Peanut butter bars sound good, and you can have one if you can solve the problem (or if you've raked up your yard). When you're done, rake your
mouse over Read More to see the solution.null

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Marvin at the Checker Academy

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The turn of the scholastic year brought in a new freshman class at the elite National Checker Academy. Sponsored and operated by the National Checker League, the Academy put on a four-year accredited undergraduate program leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Checker Studies.

The curriculum was tough and demanding. Only the best could gain admission, and yet, despite major checker scholarships being offered by Big Ten universities, many a top high school player instead opted to brave the rigors of Academy study.

Tuition was free and the Academy provided room and board. Those who made it through the program--- and that certainly wasn't everyone, not by a long shot--- committed to five years of professional play, although many would go on to a lifetime career.

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This year, the Academy invited Marvin J. Mavin to address the incoming class, and that invitation raised some eyebrows in the checker community. Usually the frosh were addressed by someone, well, a bit more on the academic side, someone more erudite and polished.

Of course Marvin was a star player, no doubt about it. But there were some who felt he didn't properly model the high academic and self-disciplinary standards that the Academy rigidly enforced.

Marvin, for his part, didn't really know what kind of a speech to give. So he figured he'd just sort of play it by ear.

Marvin was advised by Academy officials that there was a certain dress code observed at the Academy. All students wore suitable formal business attire at all times, which consisted of a white shirt or blouse, blue or brown tie, a conservative brown suit or pant suit, and brown wing-tip shoes or pumps.

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"I ain't wearing no tie," Marvin said at once. "You ain't gotta strangle yourself to play better checkers. You gotta breathe, man."

But his longtime girlfriend, business executive Priscilla Snelson, who was invited to be present with Marvin, put her foot down, and when she did, there was no opposing her.

So Marvin came to the lecture dressed in strict Academy attire, and after a brief introduction by the Dean of Freshman, Dr. Reginald Pastor, Marvin took the podium at the front of the Academy's ultramodern Tinsley Hall.

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Marvin looked out over the audience. There were about a hundred members of the freshman class as well as many of the faculty, not to mention invited guests and a full compliment of newspaper, radio, and television reporters. And although Marvin didn't know it, his lecture would be live-streamed on the internet for a worldwide audience.

"Well, uh, hi there," Marvin began. "I'm like, you know, glad to be here. And stuff. Yeah."

Priscilla, from her front row seat, gave Marvin a cautioning look.

"Like, you know, you guys are good and all that..."

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"We're not just guys," one young woman piped up from her seat in the back. "Women play professional checkers too!"

Marvin, a bit surprised, said, "Oh, sure, you bet. Real good too. I didn't mean ... well, anyhow. Like I said you guys--- and gals, okay?--- you're all good..."

"Why do you have to say 'guys and gals'?" the young lady in the back retorted. "Can't you just say 'checkerists' or 'people'? Why does this have to be a gender thing?"

Priscilla nodded approvingly but again Marvin didn't notice."

"Look here, I ... anyhow I wanted to start off with a really good problem and see how fast you guys--- people--- can solve it."

But by now nearly everyone in the freshman class had started to mutter. Even some of the faculty were shaking their heads.

"Okay, here's the problem," Marvin said. The following diagram was projected on the big screen at the back of the stage.

WHITE
null
BLACK
Black to Play and Draw

B:W21,23,26,28,30:B7,8,14,17,19

"Okay there it is, fellas .... oops ..."

The muttering now turned into much more as catcalls rained out upon Marvin. Again, some of the faculty joined in. It was getting out of hand, and Dr. Pastor stepped up onto the stage, motioning Marvin away from the microphone.

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"Mr. Mavin," Dr. Pastor began, addressing the crowd, "doesn't realize we respect and acknowledge all fifteen genders..."

Someone in the audience interrupted, "That's gender identities and there are sixteen, not fifteen!"

"Yes, excuse my error," Dr. Pastor replied. Thankfully the crowd was quieting down. "I'm sure Mr. Mavin won't repeat his errors. Isn't that right, Marvin?" Dr. Pastor concluded, looking directly at Marvn.

"Yeah, doc, didn't mean to make any of you boys angry."

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That was it. The crowd erupted again and two uniformed security guards appeared on stage, quickly leading Marvin off, telling him it was for his own safety.

About half an hour later Priscilla met up with Marvin at the Security Office, when the security staff felt it was finally safe for him to leave.

On their way to the car Priscilla did little more than glare before finally saying, "I've warned you time and time again to be careful about disrespectful remarks."

"Disrespectful?" Marvin replied. "All I said was ..."

"Don't you dare repeat it!"

"But honey ..."

"Don't 'honey' me, either!"

"Okay, okay, I'm sorry. Can we go get a beer or something and kind of like make up?"

Priscilla shook her head in dismay.

"Like, maybe when we get to the airport?"

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"Get in the car, Marvin. Sometimes, I wonder just what I see in you."

Marvin, at this point, knew it would be best to keep very quiet and do as he was told.


The students at the Checker Academy never did get to solve Marvin's problem. Can you? We guarantee that the solution is 100 percent gender free. See what you can do and then click on Read More to check your moves.null

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A Snowy Day at the Beacon

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In Bismarck, North Dakota, the snow season starts around October and runs well through April. Some of the heaviest snowfalls can occur later in the season.

So, on a March Saturday in 1955, there was the feeling of snow in the air. It's familiar to anyone who lives in a northerly climate. You didn't need a weather forecast to know that it was going to start snowing later that day, and probably quite a lot.

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But the threat of bad weather didn't stop Sal Westerman from walking over to the Beacon Cafe at 1 PM for the regular Saturday session of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club. There would be plenty of Deana's hot coffee and some freshly-baked treats. Deana ran the Beacon and her baked goods had no match for miles around.

Turnout was a little less than usual. Just three of the boys (who were all over 50) were there: Dan, Wayne, and Mike, who, like Sal, showed up just about every single week.

"Too bad the others aren't here," Sal said, "for I've got a nice one from Brian this week." Brian, in St. Louis, was one of Sal's checker pen pals.

"Maybe they were scared off," Wayne said. "Brian's problems can be pretty tough."

"Oh, it's just the weather," Sal said. "But I want to know what kind of treats you boys will be buying me when you can't win this one."

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Deana, stationed behind her counter and ever alert, piped up, "Fresh pecan bars. Just the right thing to make you feel warm and comfy on a snowy day." She smiled, knowing she'd be selling quite a few servings before the afternoon was out.

"Well, there you go," Sal said. "I just love pecan bars. Might even let you buy me two."

Dan laughed. "We'll see about that," he said. "Now set 'em up and let's have a look."

The first few snowflakes were starting to fall outside as Sal set up the problem. But none of the boys noticed, as they were immediately engrossed in the following position.

BLACK

WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W7,22,27,K8,K20:B10,19,K21,K32

Sometimes Sal only gave the boys five or ten minutes to solve a problem. But problems from Brian or Ed (Sal's Pennsylvania pen pal) were tougher, and although Sal liked to win, he was always fair about things.

After about an hour, Deana said, "It's snowing pretty hard now. Might have to close up early. I live over in Mandan and driving is going to be tough." Mandan was a smaller town just across the Missouri River from Bismarck.

But no one heard her. Concentration was too deep. And then, Dan spoke up. "It's kind of hard to find., but I've got it."

"Is that right?" Sal said. "Show me."


Is Dan about to win pecan bars for all of the boys? How would you do? Hopefully you're not in the middle of a snowstorm, and can give today's problem a good effort. Don't flake out or drift away; plow ahead and when you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.null

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Valentine's Day at the Beacon Cafe

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Editor's Note: This column is dedicated to the memory of Sol Wezelman of Bismarck, North Dakota, who passed away at the age of 101 on January 23, 2020. May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.


It was Saturday, the 12th of February, 1955, and the weather in Bismarck, North Dakota was damp and windy with solid gray skies. But no one was complaining; the temperature had risen to nearly 40 degrees, a real break in what had been a very cold winter.

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Sal Westerman

Sal Westerman made his way to the Beacon Cafe just before one o'clock, the starting time for the Saturday sessions of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club. There was something bothering him, though he couldn't put his finger on just quite what it was.

Certainly, the damp weather was hard on him; he was getting older, having just turned seventy the previous year, but that wasn't it. There were plenty of damp days, and this feeling was different, more mental than physical.

Well, some checkers with the boys of the club (all of whom were themselves over fifty, some substantially so) would lighten his mood. It always did. And then there were Deana's coffee and baked goods. Deana ran the Beacon and no one but no one could make the kind of treats she did.

There was a good turnout today. Delmer, Dan, Wayne, Louie, Mike and even Larry had shown up and were gathered in the big booth in back, playing skittles when Sal arrived.

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Larry South

Sal got himself a mug of coffee and sat down next to Delmer, who immediately asked, "What have you got for us today, Sal? I'm ready for you to buy us some of Deana's bars."

Sal chuckled. "You wish," he said, and then, turning toward Deana's counter, he asked, "What's fresh today, Deana?"

"Something extra special," she said, smiling. "Cherry Valentine bars, for Valentine's Day."

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Sal winced and drew in a breath. That was what was on his mind!

"You okay, Sal?" Wayne asked. "You look a little pale."

"Fine, just fine," Sal said. "Everything's fine." But it wasn't. Sal had completely forgotten that Valentine's Day was Monday, and he hadn't gotten a thing to give to his wife, Sylvia. The stores would all be closed by the time he left the Beacon and nothing was open on Sunday. What was he to do?

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Sylvia Westerman

As if on cue, Deana said, "What did you get for Sylvia this year, Sal?"

"Uh, well, I ..."

"Don't tell me you forgot!" Deana continued.

The boys exchanged furtive glances but none of them said anything.

"Oh no, I ... well, drat it all!" Sal exclaimed. "What can I do now?"

"You could slip out and get something," Louie suggested. "We'll just play a little checkers until you get back. Of course you'll buy us some bars first, right?"

Sal gave Louie a skeptical look. "Don't think so," he said. "But here. I got this one from Ed." Ed was a top-rank problemist who lived in Pennsylvania, and was one of Sal's checker pen pals.

Sal quickly set up one of the checkerboards. "Here it is," he said. "You boys have until I get back to figure it out. I'm going to pop over to A.W. Lucas and get something for Sylvia. But I won't be long ... so Deana, keep those bars handy. The boys will be buying me one soon!"

With that, Sal put on his coat and exited. The boys watched him hurry off, headed for 4th and Broadway.

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"Looks kind of tough," Delmer said, looking down at the checkerboard. "Let's hope Sal has trouble finding the right gift and it takes him a little while."

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Draw

W:WK2,10,17,K24:B9,K11,K15,K23


There's a lesson here, and we hope you won't wait until the last minute to get something for your special Valentine. Don't wait to solve today's problem, either, if you want to get one of Deana's delicious cherry bars. Put your heart into it, make the right moves, and then click Read More to see the solution, notes, and the rest of our story.null

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15th Anniversary

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With this column, the Checker Maven completes 15 years of uninterrupted on-time publication with no missed Saturdays and no missed deadlines. Each weekend we've put something to do with checkers before our readers, who continue to number in the thousands. From what we can tell, you've by and large been pleased with our efforts.

It all started from a discussion with Brian Hinkle, and things went on from there.

Originally we were going to publish for 10 years. We extended that to 15. But we won't stop here. Although we can't give a timeline--- health and age have crept up on us and your editor has serious eyesight issues--- we'll go on as long as physically possible. We know one day we'll have to quit, but we hope that it won't be very soon.

One of the unique things we've done is to tell checker stories, and it's likely we've written more checker fiction than everyone else in the history of the game put together. So for our 15th anniversary, we have a story and a problem. The problem is by Brian (one of his best ever), and the story is set at The Beacon Cafe. It all somehow seems fitting.


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It was the first Saturday in December, a sunny, crisp and cold day. Sal was all smiles as he walked from his home on 7th Street over to the Beacon Cafe.

Certainly, he was bundled up against the cold. His wife Sylvia wouldn't have let him go out without his wool cap, gloves, and scarf, not to mention his heavy winter coat. "It'll get cold after dark," she warned, and she was right. At this time of year it got dark around four-thirty in Bismarck's northerly latitude, and he knew he'd be at the Cafe until its five o'clock closing time.

On Saturdays the Coffee and Cake Checker Club met regularly, but the holidays were approaching and after today there was only one more meeting until the New Year, so the boys would want to make the most of it. But there was more. Today Sal was bringing something extra special to the session.

Sal enjoyed the walk but just the same he was glad to get into the warm interior of the Cafe. He said hello to Deana, the proprietor, and made his way to the big booth at the back. A couple of the boys were already there: Dan, Mike, and Louie were sitting in front of steaming cups of coffee.

"Hey Sal," they all said, "you're late!"

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Sal looked up at the clock on the wall. It was three minutes after one. "Just a little," he said, "but you have a point. You're going to need a lot of time today."

The boys--- none of them younger than fifty--- exchanged glances. But just then three more members arrived: Delmer, Larry, and Wayne. It was just about a full house.

When everyone had settled, Sal immediately commandeered one of the checkerboards. "Have I ever got something today," he said. "It's from my pal Brian who said he composed it based on an idea he got from Ed."

Everyone groaned. Brian and Ed composed tough checker problems, but this promised to be really tough.

"Yep," Sal said, "it's a hard one. But it's one of the best ever. You boys will really enjoy it. And I'll enjoy my coffee and cake. You might as well buy it for me right away because you'll never ever get this one."

For years, the idea had been that someone would pose a problem and win or lose coffee and cake depending on whether the others could solve it.

"What've you got today, Deana?" Sal called, looking over to Deana's counter.

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"Chocolate chip zucchini bars," Deana replied. "Really good."

Everyone smiled. Who in North Dakota didn't love zucchini bars?

Sal laid out the problem. Then he grabbed two more boards and repeated the position on each of them. "I'll give you an hour," he said, "and you're going to need a lot of coffee."

BLACK
null
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W24,31,K9,K14,K28,K30:B16,K4,K5,K15,K22,K29

The boys looked surprised. Usually they only got ten minutes or so to solve a problem. An hour? And Sal was over at the counter buying coffee for everyone? Something was going on, that's for sure.

After about ten minutes, Dan, Mike, and Louie said they thought they had it. But then they changed their minds. "Nope, doesn't work," Dan said, and the others nodded their heads.

An hour passed, then two, then three. Finally Sal interrupted. "It's after four o'clock," he said. "Time to buy me a couple of zucchini bars before it gets too late!"

But there was no reply, just the sound of moves being discussed and pieces being shifted on the checkerboards.

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Finally, it was four forty-five. It was dark outside and Deana was saying she was closing in fifteen minutes and couldn't stay late because her boyfriend was picking her up on the dot of five.

"Okay, Sal, show us," Mike said. "We'll buy you a bar to take home."

"Two bars," Sal said. "One for Sylvia."

He paused and after a moment said, "No bars, no solution."

"Aw, c'mon Sal!" Wayne said.

"Bars," Sal repeated.

"Unfair!" Larry said. "This one was too hard and you knew it!"

It was now five to five.

"Everyone OUT!" Deana said, very impatiently.

Now, Deana was not one to trifle with. When she said 'out' then out you went.

"Tell you what," Sal said. "I'll give you until next week to solve it. But if you don't get it, you buy double, okay?"

The boys, not wanting to annoy Deana further, were putting on their coats. "Sure Sal, whatever you say," Mike said, and the others nodded agreement.

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"My boyfriend's here," Deana said, shooing everyone toward the door. She turned out the lights and pointedly held the door open.

With the setting of the sun, a wind had sprung up and it was now very, very cold. And Sal had to walk all the way home without a chocolate chip zucchini bar.

"Never mind," he said to himself, "I'll collect double next week."


The boys at the Beacon Cafe might have to wait to see the solution, but you don't. However, we suggest that you spend some time on this problem. It's rather difficult, but highly intriguing. Of course you can click on Read More to see the solution whenever you wish, but do really take the time to explore the problem first.null

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Coffee and Cake at The Beacon

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Back in the day, around 1955, Sal liked to wear a white shirt with a bow tie, a checkered jacket, and tweed pants. He said it fit his style, and he wore it pretty often, especially on Saturday afternoons when he went to The Beacon Cafe to preside over the Coffee and Cake Checker Club.

The coffee and cake idea wasn't original with Sal; he had read about it in one of Willie Ryan's books. Sal thought of Willie as the greatest checker player ever and had once hoped to meet him in person.

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Sal

But that never happened. The Beacon was in the Provident Life Building at Fifth Street and Rosser Avenue in Bismarck, North Dakota, a kind of out of the way city in an out of the way state that didn't attract a lot of visitors; and sadly, Willie had just recently passed on.

The proprietor at The Beacon was a lady named Deana Nagel. She was also the chief cook and baker. Deana put in a lot of hours and could be testy once in a while, but she was fond of her regulars.

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Deana Nagel

Most of the boys in the checker club, like Sal, were somewhat on the elderly side although a few youngsters (meaning someone under the age of fifty) showed up once in a while. A typical Saturday in the winter would bring in five or six, besides Sal. Summers were a little slower and they didn't even bother to meet in July and August.

They played, as you'd expect, for coffee and cake. The losers would buy for the winners (Deana never gave out freebies, not even to Sal himself). Sometimes a member would set up a checker problem and bet coffee and cake that the others couldn't solve it. That led at times to some lively debates about who really had the right answer.

Sal had a checker pen pal down in St. Louis, name of Brian, who would send him checker problems that he had composed himself. They were never easy but they were always clever. Some of the boys thought it wasn't completely fair of Sal to bet coffee and cake on a problem someone else had composed, but they usually went along with it because Brian's problems were always good entertainment.

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Brian

"Got a new one from Brian," Sal announced one cold November Saturday, "and Deana's got German Chocolate Cake today. Anyone up for a try?"

There were a few groans, but the prospect of German Chocolate Cake and a new problem from Brian was really too much to resist. Most of the boys were there today: Wayne, Delmer, Louie, Dan, Larry and Mike were all on hand.

"Brian says his checker buddies Edgar and William love it, but I'm not telling you any more than that." Quickly, Sal laid out the position on one of the checkerboards on the table in the big booth where everyone was sitting.

BLACK
null
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK8,K12,22,30,31:B5,6,14,15,K24

Deana, back behind the counter, was all smiles. She knew she was going to be selling at least seven more pieces of cake and lots of coffee. And the boys were pretty good tippers, too. Pretty clever of her to set out the German Chocolate just when she figured Sal was about to spring a challenge. Deana was very good at reading people and there wasn't a guy worth the name this side of Montana who could resist her cake.

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The boys thought about it for quite a while. Sal wouldn't let them move the pieces around--- said it was cheating--- and they were just about to give up when Wayne shouted, "Got it!"

Sal shook his head. He liked it a lot better when someone bought his coffee and cake rather than him buying for another fellow. "Show me," he said.

---

Deana's German Chocolate Cake indeed looks mighty good. Do you think you can win coffee and cake from Sal? You'll have to be pretty sharp to win it, but it's worth a try, and when you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution.null

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Three Move Opening, Part 7

Three Move Opening: A Checker Romance

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Part Seven: Finale

It was already after 11 PM, and Reggie wondered if it was too late at night to call Katie. He had figured her to be the early to bed type and it didn't seem like it would be a very good idea to disturb her if she were already asleep.

But then again, she had left him multiple messages and texts. Wouldn't it be better to call tonight rather than wait until morning?

Reggie's decision was made for him. Just then, he heard his coach calling his name. The match must be over, and Reggie, as captain, had to deal with closing ceremonies and accept the winning team's trophy.

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Weymouth had won a decisive victory over home club Lyme Regis, but both teams seemed in a good mood. There were sportsmanlike handshakes all around, a few brief comments by the winning and losing coaches, and then it was off to the bus for the ride home.

No way Reggie could make a phone call on the bus, at least not one that demanded privacy. He didn't want to think about the kind of long-lasting ribbing he'd get if the other players listened in.

The bus didn't get back to Weymouth until well after midnight. Reggie was able to get a ride back to his room with one of the other players. By the time he unlocked his door, it was one in the morning. No way he could call now.

But there was no way to sleep, either. Reggie, exhausted, didn't even bother to change his clothing. He just lay down on his bed with the lights out and his mind racing, playing over dozens of prospective conversations with Katie. Then, at about five o'clock, an idea came to him. Why hadn't he thought of it before? He quickly turned on his computer and went to work.

null

By about eight, he had found what he knew had to be there. Exhausted, he fell into an uneasy slumber in front of his open laptop.

Fortunately, he hadn't closed the window blinds, and bright sunlight coming directly through the window woke him at about ten. He had already missed his first class, and would have to hurry to get to his Chaucer class! Again, he was frustrated; Katie would already be at school with her phone set to silent.

Reggie didn't bother to change his clothes or even wash his face. He just grabbed his backpack, threw his books in it, and ran out to the bus stop. He might just make it if a bus came by soon enough.

Luck was with him. He only waited a few minutes before a bus arrived at his stop. Was this a good omen?

He fidgeted in his seat all the way to the college, attracting a disapproving stare from an older woman laden with shopping bags. But Reggie didn't care. There was only one person he wanted to please today.

null

Maybe it was lack of sleep. Maybe it was all the emotional ups and downs Reggie had been through. Or maybe it was something else, some undefined thing within Reggie that caused the next set of events to happen. Afterwards, Reggie would wonder about it himself, never quite finding the answer.

He was barely in time for class. Everyone was already seated as he came into the classroom, just as the minute hand on the clock touched the top of the hour. Katie, focused on the front of the room, didn't notice.

"No knight's costume today, Mr. Pastor?" said Dr. Rowan, staring at Reggie. "Frankly, I am surprised you returned to my class, even if only barely on time. And you do look a bit disheveled."

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Dr. Peter Forbes Rowan

Dr. Rowan turned his gaze to the front row of seats. "Miss Walton, what do you think of Mr. Pastor's appearance today? Would you have preferred him in his knight's garb again, ready to defend you with his trusty sword?"

Katie, surprised, started to turn red. But it was Reggie's reaction that surprised her and everyone else in the room.

Reggie came to his feet, a look of determination in his eyes.

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Reggie Pastor

"That's enough, Dr. Rowan!"

Dr. Rowan, taken aback, stopped in mid-sentence.

"You have no right to treat students the way you do! You will apologize to Miss Walton at once for the way you humilated her during our last class!"

Dr. Rowan finally was able to speak. "You're telling me to apologize? You, a mere student, are judging a professor?"

"I may be a mere student, but either you apologize or you answer to me!" Reggie balled his fists and took a couple of steps forward.

"Mr. ... Mr. Pastor ... are you threatening me?" Dr. Rowan's voice was uneven, and he had started to tremble, even if only slightly.

Reggie stepped back and relaxed his hands. Then he smiled. "Threaten you, Dr. Rowan? Why, I would never do such a thing. I'm merely instructing you in what it would be in your best interests to do."

Reggie paused for a moment, looking around the room. The students all seemed to be awaiting his next words.

"You see, I did some checking this morning. I found that there have been a long series of complaints against you for abusive behaviour in the classroom. I don't think another such complaint would help your bid for tenure."

Dr. Rowan was now trembling even more noticeably.

"What do you think, Dr. Rowan? I'm sure we'd all like to know."

Katie had had just a blank expression on her face, but now it had turned into a bit of a smile. She turned to Dr. Rowan and said, "Yes, Professor, I'd like to hear what you have to say as well."

null
Katie Walton

"Um ... well ... uh ... " Dr. Rowan began, "Yes, that is ... I mean ... Miss Walton, I apologize for ... uh ... you know, embarrassing you last time ... and ... um ... it won't happen again."

"It certainly won't," Reggie said, taking his seat and opening his book.

# # #

Class was over and Katie and Reggie decided to walk the half mile to Weymouth Beach so they could sit and talk privately, away from the campus hubbub.

null

"I'm sorry for what I put you through," Reggie said. "I only meant well but I just seemed to mess things up."

Katie uncrossed her legs and leaned toward Reggie. A cool breeze from the sea washed over them. "And I over-reacted," she said. "Can I blame it on genetics? A bit of a temper runs in my family. But I'm sorry too."

They sat in silence for a few moments. Then Katie said, "I can't believe how brave you were in front of Dr. Rowan! How did you ever have the courage to stand up to him? And to defend me, no less!"

"I don't know," Reggie said, and it was the truth. "Maybe ... I just couldn't let him make you cry again. He had no right."

"You know, there's probably some trouble ahead," Katie said. "At the least, he'll give you poor marks in the class. Maybe me too."

"I don't think so." Reggie hesitated. "Of course, it's hard to be certain, but you ought to see his record. He even faced a board of inquiry once. I don't think he's going to push this. And I think we're both going to get top marks. It will be his way of buying our silence."

"And I had thought so much of him. He seemed so intelligent."

"I'm sure he is. But that's no guarantee of being a good person."

"It's chilly." Katie moved closer to Reggie and took his arm. "So, you've tried Maid of the Mill and Laird and Lady, without much luck, but you've surely earned yourself another try. What will it be?"

Reggie, both surprised and delighted by the sensation of Katie sitting close enough so that their hips touched, thought for a moment.

Then, he took a sheet of paper from his backpack, wrote something on it, folded it and handed it to Katie.

Katie turned the paper over in her hands a couple of times, looked up at Reggie, and finally unfolded it.

"Why ... 11-15! That's not a complete opening ... oh!"

She looked into his eyes and smiled. "11-15. Old Faithful."

Reggie nodded, and oddly enough, he wasn't even all that surprised when she leaned closer and kissed him.

null


Although for once Reggie has something on his mind besides draughts, here's the run-up to an interesting situation.

11-15---A 23-18 9-14---B 18x11 8x15 22-17 4-8 26-23 7-11 23-19 5-9 30-26 9-13---C

BLACK
null
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W32,31,29,28,27,26,25,24,21,19,17:B15,14,13,12,11,10,8,6,3,2,1.

A---Old Faithful, of course.

B---Into a variant of the Cross (not that Katie is cross any longer).

C---15-18 or 3-7 would be correct. This move loses.

This isn't a particularly hard problem. We wonder if Reggie could solve it while he's --- let's say, otherwise occupied? Possibly. It all depends what he's concentrating on most.

But how about you? Distraction free, do you have faith in being able to find the winning play, or will it cross you up? When you've given it a good try, cross your mouse over to Read More, which will always faithfully lead you to the solution.null

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06/23/18 -Printer friendly version-
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Marvin Visits Grackle, ND

We're pleased to welcome back Marvin J. Mavin after a long absence from our weekly columns. Today, Marvin gets quite a surprise on a visit to a small Prairie town.


null

The best duck hunting in the world. That's what they told him. Never mind that he wasn't a duck hunter.

They called it 'outreach'--- a way of building a better future for the game of checkers. Sure, it was the national sport, but the National Checker League was not an organization that rests on its laurels; continual development, a constant search for new talent, and a great approach to public relations were as ingrained as Black moving first.


Marvin J. Mavin
Captain, Detroit Doublejumpers

Marvin J. Mavin, Captain of the World Series of Checkers winning Detroit Doublejumpers, was on an off-season publicity tour of the North Central states. The Grackle Duck Hunters, of Grackle, North Dakota, population 300 or so, had invited Marvin to visit, and against all odds, the National Checker League had scheduled an overnight visit by their superstar player.

The Duck Hunters were amateurs; they played in the East Central Dakota Counties League, and it was purely club-level play. But they loved their checkers and they would often drive to Minneapolis to see a major league match.

The NCL had chartered a small plane to fly Marvin from Fargo's Hector Field to the little municipal airfield just outside Grackle. The plane was a Piper Aztec, which the pilot referred to as the "luxury model."

null

Marvin was met at the airfield by an SUV driven by the Captain of the Duck Hunters, Steve Stonkus, accompanied by his son, Al Stonkus, and one of the other players, Wayne Bulow, who was introduced simply as "Flash" because of his fast over-the-board play.

After introductions, Marvin mentioned, "I've got a room at the Fowl Lodge. I booked it on-line. Seemed like a nice sort of place."

"The Fowl Lodge, seriously?" Steve asked. There were a few glances exchanged and a stifled laugh. "Well ... I suppose. We'll take you there, then, so you can, uh, rest up. The exhibition starts tomorrow morning at ten sharp. We didn't plan anything for tonight because we knew you'd be beat and anyhow it's kinda late."

It was eight in the evening on a Thursday in July, meaning that in this latitude, there were still a couple of hours of daylight left.

"Someplace we can go for a beer, maybe?" Marvin asked.

"It's Thursday," Al said, without explaining further.

"Yeah ... " Marvin replied.

"Right," Wayne chimed in. "Let's get on to the Fowl Lodge, then, if that's really where you're staying."

Marvin put his one travel bag in the rear of the SUV and took a seat in the back. It was only a fifteen minute drive, during which little was said.

The SUV pulled off the road in front of a camper trailer.

null

"There she is," Steve said. "The Fowl Lodge. The door is always unlocked. We'll pick you up at seven-thirty tomorrow morning. So we have plenty of time for breakfast."

Marvin said, "Nine-thirty will be fine. The website said they have food in the fridge for guests to fix meals."

"If that's what you want," Steve replied. "Good night, then."

Marvin got his bag and the SUV pulled away, without waiting to see if in fact the door was unlocked. Marvin couldn't see much of the trailer in the dark, but it looked kind of, well, old. And not a little run down.

"Fowl Lodge?" he said aloud.

The door was indeed unlocked, or more like hanging on its hinges, wide open. Marvin made out a hand-lettered sign taped to the door. "Fowl Lodge," he read. "Sure enough."

He stepped inside and felt around for a light switch. Dim incandescent lights came on, and for a moment Marvin wished he had stayed in the dark. Marvin supposed he ought to be grateful that the electricity was turned on.

The trailer looked like it hadn't been cleaned or tidied up in quite some while. There was caked mud on the floor, the bedding was in disarray, and he thought he heard mice scurry off into darker corners. He tried to close the front door but it fell off its hinges and banged on the ground. There was an interior screen door that he was able to close, not knowing if it would keep critters out or just keep the ones in that were already there.

He checked the fridge in the little kitchenette. When he opened the door a strong odor came out. There was some moldy cheddar cheese and gray looking sausages. He closed the fridge quickly. "No beer," he sighed.

null

A check of the cupboards yielded a couple of cans of chicken noodle soup, and Marvin managed to find a pot and can opener. He heated one up on the hot plate. "Dinner of champions!" he exclaimed. There was nothing to drink but water, and Marvin found that if he let the cold water run long enough, the rust would clear out.

He tried the hot water tap, and as he anticipated, it ran cold.

"No shower," he mumbled. "And as for sleeping ..." There was just the one bed so little choice, but he certainly wasn't going to change into his PJs.

His sleep was interrupted several times by the sound of little scurrying feet, and once he thought he felt something crawl across his face.

He managed to eat a second can of soup for breakfast. He thought about washing the pot but decided to just leave it with the rest of the dirty dishes in the sink.

The sun was up and the skies were blue and completely clear. It was a beautiful Friday morning on the prairie, but somehow Marvin fell short of appreciating it. At precisely nine-thirty, the SUV, now occupied only by Steve, pulled up.

Marvin ambled over to the passenger side and got in.

"Mornin', Marv!" Steve said with something of a sly look. "Sleep well? Did the Fowl Lodge meet your expectations?"

"Uh, well ..."

"Glad to hear it!" Steve paused, staring at the trailer. "Hey, what did you do to the door? The owners aren't going to be very happy."

null

Marvin didn't try to explain.

Again, the drive was silent, but it was only five or ten minutes. "The exhibition is at the Co-op," Steve said. "They got a big room on the second floor where our team practices and plays home matches."

"How did you do this year?" Marvin asked.

"Pretty good, pretty good," Steve said. "We finished second in our league. That team from New Leopard is pretty tough and we lost to them in the playoffs."

"Do they have a Fowl Lodge, too?"

"A what?"

"Never mind," Marvin said.

The Co-op turned out to be a sprawling, two story building, with gas pumps, truck and auto repair bays, farm supplies, and a lot else. There was quite a bit of traffic in and out, mostly pick-up trucks which arrived empty and went out laden with grain, fencing, building materials, and other necessities of rural life.

null

Marvin went up the old wooden stairs inside the building, following Steve. He entered the upper hall to see everything already set up: tables, boards and pieces in a large square. "We set up 32 boards," Steve said, "and we sold out on the first day of signups. A lot of our folks want a chance to play Marvin J. Mavin!"

But Marvin had noticed a table with coffee and donuts, and his first priority was to fill a cup and a plate.

Players were filing in, some dressed in overalls, a few with cowboy hats, a few others in corduroy shirts. It was just before ten o'clock. Marvin hastily finished his coffee as he was waved to the front of the room to be introduced by Steve.

"This here's Marvin J. Mavin!" he said. "But I reckon you all know that. Marvin stayed at the Fowl Lodge last night."

There were some laughs from the assembled players, but Steve went on, "Now he's ready to play and maybe even share a couple stories from the big leagues."

"Hi everyone," Marvin said. "Quite some place, that Fowl Lodge. Never stayed anywhere quite like it."

There were more laughs.

"Good luck to all!" he said, with a wave, and then went over to the first board to start the exhibition.

The players were actually pretty good, a few of them very good, and although Marvin wrapped up most of the games in relatively short order, a couple of them went on for a while.

In fact, it was nearly two o'clock before Marvin won his 31st game, leaving him one short of a perfect sweep. Fortunately, sandwiches had been brought in at lunchtime, and the players and Marvin ate as they played.

null

The last game, played by Al Stonkus, was tough, and Marvin was wondering if he could pull out a win. In fact, Al might himself have some winning chances. It was Al's move.

"You guys aren't supposed to be this good," Marvin muttered.

Al looked offended. "What's that supposed to mean?" he said.

null
Al Stonkus

"I mean, I should beat all of you."

Marvin had been getting more and more annoyed with how long it was taking to win his games. These were just country boys! What was the problem?

"Oh, I see. You figure us farm boys aren't up to big city standards, that it?"

Steve, who was standing by watching the game, said, "Easy, Al." But Al was not to be stopped.

"You're too good for us, we know that," Al said. "Sorry we don't meet your big league standards. Well, here, see what you do with this." Al made his move, banging the piece forcefully on the board.

Marvin did a double-take. This was really a problem. What was he to do?

WHITE
null
BLACK
Black to Play and Draw

B:W32,21,K18,17:B28,K26,20,1.

Marvin thought for quite a while and clearly Al was growing impatient. But at long last Marvin saw the way. It would get him a draw, no more than that, but he'd be saved the ignominy of losing to this ...

... to this good player. Marvin had to admit it, and his whole demeanor changed as he made his move.


Black is in a tough spot. The man on 28 is in the dog hole. The man on 20 can't get beyond 24. The king on 26 is cut off from the man on 1. What is Black to do?

Marvin J. Mavin came up with a possible drawing move. Can you? Are you up to the challenge presented by Al Stonkus of Grackle, North Dakota? As Marvin realized, perhaps a bit too late, talent can be and is found even in unassuming small towns.

Can you "duck" the loss or will you "fowl" out? When you're finished, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.null

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06/09/18 -Printer friendly version-
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Three Move Opening, Part 6

Three Move Opening: A Checker Romance

null

Part Six: Third Move

Reggie stumbled wearily out of the Security Office. He had been there for several hours and it was nearly time for draughts practice. The big match with Lyme Regis was to take place on the next day.

null

But all he could think about was Laird and Lady Refused. That was even worse, if such a thing could be imagined, than the humilation he suffered in front of his class--- in front of Katie--- at the hands of first Dr. Rowan and then the security officers.

Then he thought about the embarrassment Katie had been subject to, and he wanted to die. Literally. His life was over, there was nothing left. He had started with what he thought was a great idea and turned it into the most horrible experience of his life. Perhaps of Katie's life as well.

But his feet had taken him, seemingly unbidden, to the practice room.

Fine. He would go through practice, play the match at Lyme Regis tomorrow, and die afterwards. He supposed dying could be put off for a couple of days. After all, it was a really important match.

null

Coach Talovich noticed that Reggie was playing today's practice games in a rather aggressive manner, not in terms of draughts play, but physically. Never before had he seen Reggie slam the pieces down on the board when making a move. The coach watched over Reggie's shoulder for a few moments and decided against saying anything. Other team members were beginning to notice, too.

When practice was over, Jack, who had also observed Reggie's highly atypical behavior, caught Reggie at the door and put a hand on his shoulder.

"Do we need to talk, old chum?" Jack said.

Reggie shook his head and pulled away.

"Didn't your little stunt go well?" Jack asked, having no idea as to what had actually happened.

Reggie ran off into the parking lot without answering. Jack watched him for a moment, then shrugged his shoulders and gave up.

null
Katie

Katie had gone right back to the flat she shared with Barbara. There was no way she could have faced an afternoon of classes.

Barbara, who had no classes on Monday afternoon, was home when Katie arrived.

null
Barbara

"My goodness, what are you doing home?" Barbara asked when Katie entered. "Was there an earthquake that swallowed up the school? Seems like that's what it would take to get you to miss classes."

Barbara was sitting on the living room settee, eating a buttered roll, a huge anatomy text in her lap. She was in the nursing program and was busy nearly all the time.

Katie turned toward Barbara, let her backpack fall to the floor, and at long last lost control. "I hate that boy!" she said, tears falling in streams. "I hate him, hate him, hate him!"

"Whoa, whoa, easy now," Barbara said. She pushed aside her textbook and stood, walking over to Katie and embracing her in a warm hug. "Something's seriously wrong, isn't it?"

It took a little while for Katie to stop crying. Barbara led her over to the settee and got her seated, then sitting down alongside her.

"So who do you hate so badly? Is it that boy Reggie?"

Katie nodded her head and looked as if she were about to resume crying.

"What happened now?" Barbara asked.

It took a little while, but Katie told Barbara the story.

"Unbelievable," Barbara said at first. But she was smiling.

"It isn't funny!" Katie said angrily.

"No, it isn't funny, and I'm not laughing."

"Then why are you grinning like that?" Katie said, clearly upset. Wasn't Barbara supposed to be her best friend?

"It's called a smile," Barbara said. "Look, I know you're very angry and you have every right to be. But not with Reggie."

"After what he did? After what he put me through, I'm not supposed to be angry with him? Are you crazy? I hate him! I don't ever want to be in the same room with him again!"

"Slow down now. Think a little. Who should you really be angry with?"

null

Katie gave Barbara a withering look.

"Not with me! Don't be silly! But look at what happened, what really happened. Reggie went way, way out of his comfort zone to try to make an impression on you, in a way that was clearly meant to please you."

"Being humilated in front of everyone doesn't exactly please me!" Katie snapped.

"No, of course not. But did Reggie humilate you?"

"What do you mean ... oh." Katie's expression changed and her voice dropped. "You mean ..."

"Yes. Reggie went to a lot of trouble to stage an elaborate scene. Dressing up in a Knight's costume so he could appeal to you with words from Chaucer. Picking out the appropriate draughts moves to correspond to his theme. He probably even thought Dr. Rowat would be pleased and amused."

Katie was silent for a few moments. "It's him," she said. "And I thought he was so interesting, so intellectual."

null
Dr. Peter Forbes Rowan

She furrowed her brows. "It's Dr. Rowan that I should be angry with, isn't it? He's always picked on Reggie. He's never liked him. And given the chance, he did everything he could to embarrass him in front of everyone."

"And you were collateral damage," Barbara said. "He may not have intended that, but the fact is that all of this grief would have been avoided if Dr. Rowan had shown some sense--- some decency."

All of a sudden Katie started to laugh.

"What?" Barbara said. "Now you think it's funny?"

"No, no, not at all. But poor Reggie, getting hauled off by Security officers! What a sight!"

"I'm sure he wasn't amused."

"No, I suppose not." Katie stopped and thought once again. "But ... still, I think he ought to apologize."

"Oh, yes, he should. No doubt about it. And maybe you should reach out to him, too."

"What do you mean?"

"He's been hurt at least as much as you have. And he's certainly thinking that he's lost you forever."

"Well, hasn't he?"

"Only you can answer that question, Katie."

null

The next day, the draughts club took one of the school's buses over to Lyme Regis. Reggie was in quite a state of mind. He had resorted to an over-the-counter sleeping remedy the previous evening, and he was still a bit groggy. He had been drinking coffee all day long, which meant constant trips to the restroom. Fortunately there was no English class on a Tuesday, and he did manage to get to the rest of his classes.

For someone who felt like he wanted to die, he thought he had done pretty well. He was quite proud of himself. In fact, he was even starting to rethink the idea that he would rather be dead. It did seem pretty drastic.

But try as hard as he could, there was no way to get Katie's stinging refusal out of his mind. Two refusals, actually, but he had blown his second chance with that ridiculous stunt. He should have known better, but it had just seemed like such a good idea at the time.

Never mind. Concentrate on the match. Put off the idea of wanting to be dead at least until he won his match. He was going to win and nothing was going to stop him.

null

It wasn't long until the bus arrived and not much longer until it was time to start the match. Reggie reached out and shook hands with his opponent, Sydney Miles, the captain of the Lyme Regis club. "Ow," said Sydney, pulling his hand back, "you don't have to break my fingers."

null
Sidney Miles

Reggie grinned, enjoying the look of fear on Sydney's face. Reggie was focusing all of his anger and all of his pain on the upcoming match. Someone was going to pay, and it would be his opponent.

The match began, with Reggie playing White. It must have been fate. The opening moves formed "Laird and Lady." That only served to increase Reggie's focus.


1. 11-15 23-19
2. 8-11 22-17
3. 9-13 17-14
4. 10x17 21x14
5. 15-18 19-15
6. 4-8 24-19
7. 11-16
BLACK
null
WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W32,31,30,29,28,27,26,25,19,15,14:B18,16,13,12,8,7,6,5,3,2,1.

Reggie smiled inwardly. Sydney had blundered; he should have played 6-10 or 7-10, but now Reggie had a win. He made his move, and a few more moves later, the game was over. Reggie offered to shake hands again. "I don't think so," Sydney said. "My fingers still ache from the first time."

Reggie gave a little bow and walked over to the team seats to await the completion of the other games in the match. He accepted congratulations from the coach, but then needed to make another trip to the restroom. "Excuse me a moment," he whispered to the coach.

null

On the way back from the restroom, Reggie, for some reason, decided to check his cellphone. It wasn't something he was in the habit of doing. He had turned it off last night when he got home, not wanting to be disturbed. Of course, it wasn't like he got a lot of phone calls or text messages.

He waited a few moments while the phone powered up.

For the second time that evening, fate struck.

A half dozen messages flashed onto his screen.

null

Katie had called him not less than three times, and then left three text messages.

"Trying to reach you."

"Still trying."

"Reggie, I want us to talk. Please call me back."

Reggie, stunned, quickly gave up the idea of being better off dead.

To be continued ...


Can you find the White win in the diagram above? It's a well-known position, but nonetheless elegant and pleasing despite its being published many times throughout checker history. See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution.null

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05/19/18 -Printer friendly version-
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