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In the columns of The Checker Maven we've presented a fair amount of checker fiction from the past (not that there's a copious amount to choose from). We've also presented a great deal of our own checker fiction, and will continue to do so.
But it's a real pleasure to be able to present contemporary checker fiction from another author. Grandmaster problem composer Ed Atkinson sent us a little story of his own, and we're delighted to present it here. Of course, it's accompanied by one of Ed's fine compositions. Ed took his inspiration from the famous story A Midnight Encounter.
The Game of My Life by Edgar Atkinson
It was late in the evening when I set up the checker board to go over a game played by one of the great masters of yesteryear. Then there came a knock on the door. Upon answering the knock, a tall stranger, wearing a black cowl and holding a large scythe, stood before me. I knew in a moment that it must be the Grim Reaper.
"Why are you here?" I asked. "I am in good health and I have done no wrong."
"It is time for you to come with me," the Grim Reaper replied.
I had to think quickly. "Here," I said. "Sit down and we'll play a game of checkers. If I win, you can be on your way without me."
"Checkers?" the Reaper replied. "I have never been beaten. When I win the game, we will be off together."
With a sigh of relief I sat down to play, knowing full well that I had more to gain than my adversary had to lose. This was to be the game of my life.
The game took an unusual turn. At a critical point the Grim Reaper, playing Black of course, attacked one of my pieces from behind, a move that would win the piece and apparently win the game as well.
"Now you will lose a piece and with it the game," the Reaper said. "Then we will be on our way together."
This was a pretty fix indeed. I gave the situation all the attention that I could muster. Suddenly I saw my way through. Not only would I escape, but also would pay back my tall adversary in kind.
This was the position on the board.
With trembling hand I reached out to make the first move of the combination that I had envisioned.
Ed Atkinson's problems are seldom easy, but always clever and entertaining. How would you do facing off against the Grim Reaper? Fortunately, you don't have to do so to solve Ed's problem. See if you can sow the right moves and reap the victory. There's no need to be grim as you can easily click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story.[Read More]
In our last story, Marvin J. Mavin, the superstar captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers, a top team in Major League Checkers, was in a tight spot. His long-time girlfriend, the wealthy business executive Priscilla K. Snelson, had given Marvin a holiday ultimatum: Go to Las Vegas and get married, or else. She sent Marvin home and said he had one week to decide.
Now, Marvin did not want to get married. But he didn't want to risk losing Priscilla, either. They had been together for ten years and he truly loved her.
It wasn't for her money or any other ulterior motive. Marvin had a multi-million dollar contract with the Doublejumpers. He just chose to live simply, driving his old Volkswagen and living in a studio apartment in a less favorable section of Detroit. He didn't care about Priscilla's upscale lifestyle. It was just that he had never met anyone quite like her and she was the only one in the world for him.
Could he risk all of that?
He was in his little apartment, trying to focus on a problem in All Checkers Digest by Ed Atkinson, but his mind was elsewhere.
He needed more time. The week Priscilla had given him would be up tonight. Should he call Priscilla and beg for another week? She probably would say "no" and then where would he be?
He had talked things over with his Mom, but of course she had long wanted him to marry, so that didn't help much. His Dad was no help either. He had just said, "Whatever makes you happy." Of course, Marvin didn't know what that was.
Maybe she'd be okay with just an engagement? And put off setting a wedding date? Sure, he could say that for a person in her position, a Las Vegas elopement wouldn't look very good. Yes, that was it!
He should call his friend Marty. Marty lived in Switzerland and was on the Swiss National Checker Team.
Marvin got out his cell phone, looked up Marty's number and called. After several rings, a sleepy voice answered, "Ja?"
"Marty, it's Marvin!" Marvin said cheerfully.
There was a pause and then a groan. "Marvin, it's 3 AM over here."
"Oh, uh, yeah, sorry, well ... "
"What is it, Marvin, that is so important that you had to call me at this hour?"
Marvin explained the situation and his proposed solution.
"You'd be pitching a piece with no compensation," Marty said. "Now, I have an early practice tomorrow, so good bye, Marvin."
The line disconnected.
"I gotta clear my head," Marvin said, and then went to his fridge and got out a beer. He took it back to his chair and began looking at Ed Atkinson's problem again.
After half an hour and another beer, Marvin said out aloud, "Ah, it ain't no use. I gotta call Priscilla and get this over with."
Once again, Marvin picked up his phone and called a familiar number.
Hopefully, you won't be distracted and unable to focus as you try to solve Ed's problem. We definitely do not recommend beer, let alone two bottles of it. See how you do, make your decision on the right moves (something that Marvin needed to do albeit in a different context), and then dial Read More to see the solution and the rest of today's story.[Read More]
The holiday season was coming up, and the National Checker League took a two week break. So Marvin J. Mavin, superstar captain of the many-time World Champion Detroit Doublejumpers, would have a welcome vacation.
His long-time girlfriend, Priscilla K. Snelson, also decided to take two weeks off. As an important C-level executive at the multibillion dollar conglomerate, Rust Belt Holdings, it was something she almost never did. But she had an ulterior motive. It had all started on Thanksgiving Day, when at a disastrous dinner with Marvin at the Grosse Pointe home of her parents, her father had said one thing that stuck with her. It was time to move her relationship with Marvin forward. Quite far forward.
She and Marvin had been keeping company for nearly ten years, since a time when Marvin had yet to become captain and she had yet to move to the executive suite. Although they had never really discussed the matter, she agreed with her otherwise strident father that it was time for them to get married, and in fact had been waiting for Marvin to propose for some little while. She was getting impatient and decided to set the stage on her own.
They were visiting one evening in Priscilla's upscale condo. Her staff had just cleared off the dinner dishes and Marvin was enjoying a beer (what else?), trying to solve a Brian Hinkle checker problem published in All Checkers Digest, while Prisilla was sipping a first flush Darjeeling tea from a renowed estate.
"Have you thought about where we should go on our vacation, dear?" she asked in as innocent a tone as possible.
"What? I've almost got this one ..."
"Put your magazine down and talk to me. I asked you about our winter vacation."
"Uh, yeah," replied Marvin, "it's been kinda cold here and I was thinkin' maybe we could go to Tahiti, you know, warm up a little, sit on the beach with a couple of Hinanos ... "
"Sounds great. Sitting and watching you drink beer. How original. No, I was thinking of somewhere else."
"Where? Hawai`i? I sorta didn't like it the last time I was there."
"Yes, you got yourself into trouble as I recall. No, I want to go to Las Vegas."
At that, Marvin did put his magazine down. "Las Vegas? I never heard of you gambling or nothing. What's in Vegas besides gambling and a bunch of expensive shows?"
"Marvin, they have a lot of nice chapels there. Very fancy. I'd ... like to see one of them."
"Just one of 'em? There must be dozens! And there are better churches in Europe so why ... oh." Marvin turned pale. "You're not thinking ... "
"I'm not thinking what, exactly, dear?"
"I mean ... uh ... in Vegas ... people ... they go there to ... oh, no. Are you serious?"
"Marvin, we've been seeing each other for how long now? I'll tell you. Ten years. That's a long time for a girl to wait. A very long time." Priscilla's tone had become more stern. "So, Marvin, what will it be?"
"You mean ... you mean I have choice?"
"You certainly do."
"Okay, then, let's just go to Tahiti, that would be my choice." He smiled but it was rather weak.
"Tahiti may be your choice but it isn't my choice," said Priscilla.
"I thought you said I could choose?"
"I said you had a choice, not that you could choose where we're going." It was Priscilla's turn to smile, but hers was an ironic smile.
"Uh, I don't get it ... "
Priscilla stood and put her hands on her hips. That was never a good sign. "Well, if you don't get it, then how about you go home right now, and don't call me until you do get it. Take your stupid magazine and leave! And just to be clear, you've got one week to get it ... or else!"
Marvin knew better than to ask "or else what." Silently he picked up his magazine and put on his winter jacket, which the butler conveniently proffered at just the right moment.
"Priscilla, won'tcha ... "
"Good night, Marvin!"
Knowing he had best cut his losses, Marvin hurried out the front door. Fortunately, as he and Priscilla had had a few previous rows, he knew where to find the nearest bar.
Marvin never did get to finish solving Brian's problem, and All Checkers Digest only prints the best compositions.
See if you can solve it, and then click on Read More to check your solution. But be careful. If, while you're solving, your significant other wants your attention, it might be wise to listen.[Read More]
It was a Saturday afternoon just two weeks before the holidays, and Sal Westerman had a problem. His daughter, Joyce, was coming home to Bismarck, North Dakota, to visit for ten days, something she wasn't able to do very often because of her work as a lawyer at the Washington D.C. firm of Dark, Darker, and Darkest, a high-end and very busy litigation practice. Sal wanted to get her a nice holiday gift but just didn't know what it should be.
Now, Saturday afternoons were when Sal's club, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, gathered at the Beacon Cafe for an afternoon of checker fun among checker friends. It was normally Sal's favorite part of the week, and he always looked forward to it. Today, though, he was preoccupied and his friends noticed.
Wayne, Delmer, Dan, Louie the Flash, Sam, and Tom were all on hand today, although another regular, Mike, wasn't able to make it. Deana, the proprietess of the Cafe, had announced that she had baked a couple of trays of festive cherry bars, and her baked treats were the best around.
Sal knew he should be happy and at his ease, but he just wasn't.
"Come on Sal, what's up?" Louie asked. "You're just not yourself today. Heck, you haven't even challenged us with a checker problem yet."
"I ... well, I forgot to pick one out," Sal said, a bit sheepishly.
"You forgot?" Dan said. They were all rather surprised. Sal never forgot anything to do with the club. "Gosh, something must be really wrong."
"It's like this," Sal said, realizing that he'd have to explain. "You all know my daughter Joyce? Well, she'll be here in a week for a holiday visit, and I just don't know what gift to give her. I've gone through all the department stores; Sears, A. W. Lucas, everywhere, and I couldn't find a single thing to get her. Not even in the Sears catalog, although it's a little late to order now."
"Hmm," said Wayne, "I never know what to get for my kids, either. Most of them farm and there's nothing that they really want. I always end up with a gift certificate to the farm supply store or something practical like that."
"Wouldn't help Joyce much," Sal said. "I guess I could get a Sears gift certificate but she doesn't really have time for much shopping, and I wanted something more personal."
"What kind of things does she like?" asked Tom.
"She likes to read," Sal said, "at least when she has time. Maybe a book or something?"
Then Sam spoke up. "Hey, I've got an idea. But tell you what, let's do a problem and have some treats first. I'll even buy!"
"Hey, nice of you," Sal said, "and I'd love to hear your idea. But as I said, I didn't remember to bring a problem today."
"Well, I've got one," Sam said. "At least I'm pretty sure I can remember it. I heard about it on late night radio this past week. You know that show where they give those hard checker problems and then have a commentator talk about the solution?"
"Sure," Dan said, "'The Midnight Checker Show.' Too late to stay up for me. And you have to get a board out to follow along with the moves."
"Well, here, take a look."
Sam set up the following position.
Sam smiled. "Now, Sal, I'll tell you my gift idea ... if you and the boys solve the problem."
"You strike a hard bargain," Sal said. "But I guess we really had better figure this one out."
Sam went to Deana's counter to order a dozen cherry bars and refills on coffee while Sal and the boys studied his checker problem.
Finding the right holiday gift can sometimes be pretty difficult, especially for people really close to you. You're luckier than Sal, though, as you'll be able to learn about his idea whether you can solve the problem or not. But do give it a good try and then click on Read More to see the solution and read the conclusion to our story.[Read More]
It's Thanksgiving weekend, and Thanksgiving has long been our favorite holiday. It's a great day to reflect upon the many things we have to be thankful for. Yes, we've lived in difficult times, but we can give thanks for lifesaving vaccines, for caregivers and first responders who give their all, and for so much more.
Usually we present a problem from a great American composer. Today we have one from a prolific composer of yesteryear, Bert Berry. It's all part of a story about our iconic character, Marvin J. Mavin, and how he spent his Thanksgiving.
Marvin J. Mavin, the superstar captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers of the National Checker League, had to make a decision. But there was little question about what decision he was going to make.
In our previous story, Marvin embarrassed himself and his team by violating protocol during a showcase match in Japan. He was fined $10,000 by his Coach, another $10,000 by the League, and in lieu of suspension was sent to the Doublejumper's Rookie League Farm Team in Bayonne, New Jersey, where he was made to spend a month waiting things out as a substitute player.
But worst of all was the trouble he had gotten into with his long-time girlfriend, business executive Priscilla Snelson. Priscilla wouldn't even talk to Marvin for two weeks, and when she finally did, Marvin wished she hadn't.
In any event, Thanksgiving was coming up. Marvin generally spent that holiday with his parents in Berkeley, California. Sometimes Priscilla joined him, sometimes he went alone. But this year Priscilla asked Marvin to join her with her own parents in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Except she didn't exactly ask, and Marvin was hardly in a position to bargain or plead.
Hence, Marvin's decision as to what to do about Thanksgiving was pretty much a done deal.
The trouble was, Marvin didn't get along with Priscilla's parents. Or rather, they didn't get along with him. It wasn't very good with Priscilla's mother, Mrs. Hermione Snelson. But it was much worse with Prisilla's father, Mr. Winston Snelson, who was a partner at the Detroit law firm Snelson, Nelson, Kelson, and Delson, a high-end outfit whose rates started at $3,000 per hour for junior staff and rose to $10,000 per hour for partners. Mr. Snelson also thought himself to be rather good at checkers, and in fact had played while at law school years ago, but went on to a law career when he didn't get selected for a pro team in the amateur draft. He continued to play to this very day in the Metro Detroit Super Suers League, a rather strong amateur organization for players at law firms.
Priscilla's parents lived on a large estate in Grosse Pointe, in a home with 10 bedrooms, 14 baths, a 10 car garage, a horse stable, two guest houses, and around a dozen full-time staff.
On Thanksgiving Day, Winston sent one of his Rolls-Royce limos to pick up Priscilla and Marvin. As usual, Marvin was running behind schedule and Priscilla, waiting in the car, was getting more frustrated by the minute. Finally, Marvin strolled out of the entrance of his apartment building.
"Will you hurry up, Marvin?" Priscilla called through the open car window. "You know how my father hates us to be late."
The look on Priscilla's face told Marvin enough, and he hustled over to the car and quickly got in. "Okay, Prissy, okay, we'll be pretty close ..."
"Don't call me Prissy! And no, we're going to be fifteen minutes late!"
The car sped along but there was some traffic and didn't pull up to the front of the Snelson mansion until 4:30, a full half an hour late.
Mrs. Snelson met the couple at the huge, ornate door, held open by two liveried footmen. She gave Priscilla a hug and Marvin a cold stare. "Don't make excuses," she snapped at him. "You've made Priscilla late and my husband is very angry."
"Aw, gee, Mrs. Snelson, it ain't that late ..."
A nudge from Priscilla was all it took to stop Marvin from saying anything further.
"Dinner will be at five o'clock precisely," Mrs. Snelson said. "That will just leave you time to ... clean up." She eyed Marvin from head to foot. "If that's possible."
"However," she continued, "you have missed the cocktail hour so you will have to go without drinks. You may have some wine at dinner, but that will be all."
"No beer ... ?"
Priscilla gave Marvin another nudge, this time a little harder. "Please, Marvin," she said, "keep the peace and go wash up a little. For me, okay?"
Half an hour later, Marvin, Priscilla, and Mr. and Mrs. Snelson gathered in the mansion's huge formal dining room. Winston merely nodded at Marvin and didn't offer to shake hands.
"At least your dad didn't chew me out this time," Marvin whispered to Prisilla.
"What did you say, young man?" Mr. Snelson said in a commanding voice. "Speak up so everyone can hear you. We don't have private conversations at our table."
"Uh, nothing, sir, I didn't say nothing," Marvin said sheepishly. "Just, you know, asking where to sit."
"You know very well where to sit, and you may all be seated now."
The staff began to serve dinner. There were courses of mock turtle soup, Salade Nicoise, and Dover sole, followed by the main course, Beef Wellington, accompanied by Pommes Anna and a medley of fresh steamed vegetables. Crusty French bread served with Lille butter completed the offerings.
"Ain't we havin' turkey?" Marvin asked. "Thanksgiving, you gotta have turkey. It just ain't American ..."
"I decide the menu at this table, not you," Mrs. Snelson said.
"I told you we should never have invited him," Mr. Snelson said.
"Father," Priscilla said, "please, give Marvin a break. You're awfully hard on him."
Marvin gave Priscilla a look of gratitude but Mr. Snelson went on, "Well, my daughter, if that's how you feel, why don't you insist that this --- person --- marry you instead of leading you on for so many years? Not that I want him for a son-in-law, mind you, when there are so many good men who would wish to court you if you would only let them."
"Hey, Mr. S., I make lotsa money! I ain't so bad ... and Priscilla's my honey." He put his arm around Priscilla's shoulders. She beamed until Mr. Snelson's scowl made Marvin pull his arm quickly away.
"Priscilla has plenty of money in her own right, both from her highly successful career and her family. You may be a checker superstar, and you may get a superstar's wages, but look at you. At heart you're nothing but a bum. When was the last time you took a shower or brushed your teeth?"
"Hey, Mr. S., just because you couldn't make it in the pro ranks don't mean ..."
"Enough of this!" Priscilla's voice was loud and sharp. "Father, Marvin is my intended and you need to accept that gracefully. And Marvin, don't you go throwing gasoline on the fire. Come along, we're leaving now."
"Aw, Prissy, I'm still kinda hungry!"
Mr. and Mrs. Snelson were stunned. Priscilla had never been so forceful with them. They said nothing as Priscilla took Marvin's elbow and steered him toward the front door.
They were putting on their winter jackets in silence when Marvin noticed a checkerboard on a side table in the entryway. It had been said up with the following position.
"Hey, kinda cool," Marvin said. "Looks like all you need to do is ... hmm ... yeah, maybe not ... oh, how about ..."
"Lemme just take a picture, willya? I kinda want to figure this one out ..."
But before Marvin could reach into his pocket for his cell phone, Priscilla had him out the door and on the way to her waiting car and driver.
After they were seated and the car departed, Priscilla said, "We'll stop for turkey at a diner. Just you and I." She smiled. "I think that will be nice, don't you?"
Marvin's only reply was to pull her close and kiss her cheek.
Evidently Mr. Snelson, despite his somewhat supercilious nature, enjoyed a good checker problem, too. A shame that Marvin never got to solve it. Can you? Give it a try; you won't have anyone rushing you out the door. It's some good Thanksgiving fun. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Thanksgiving was coming soon, and after today, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club would only have one more Saturday afternoon meeting before the 1955 Thanksgiving break.
That break wasn't very long--- only one Saturday session would be missed, on Thanksgiving weekend--- but Sal Westerman loved his checkers and loved his little club. He had become a sort of minor celebrity around Bismarck, North Dakota after winning the North Dakota State Checker Championship last month, but he didn't care about fame. More important to him was the camaraderie and companionship he shared with the "boys" of the Club (all of whom were over 50).
It was a crisp and clear afternoon with temperatures in the low 30s and a bit of a wind starting to come up. Sal was the first one to arrive at the Beacon Cafe, where the club met.
"Going back to Gackle for the holiday?" he asked of Deana Nagel, who was the Cafe's proprietess and one of the best bakers anywhere around.
"Yep," Deana replied. "Closing for five days. A little vacation for me." Deana was a hard worker, keeping the Cafe open every day but Sunday and getting up early to make the delicious baked goods that everyone craved.
"What's fresh for today?" Sal said.
"Cranberry muffins," Deana said. "You and the boys are going to have a real treat."
Just then, Wayne, Dan, Tom, and Delmer arrived. "Ron and Larry can't make it today," Wayne said. "I ran into both of them at the hardware store. Ron's got to fix his furnace and Larry has a backed-up kitchen sink."
"Well, there's still the five of us," Sal said, "and I know one of you will be buying those cranberry muffins that Deana has."
"You mean you, don't you?" Dan said with a smile. "We might just beat whatever problem you're going to show us. You might be State Champ but you can still buy us muffins and coffee."
"We shall see!" Sal replied, smiling back. "Take a look at this. It's from Ed in Pennsylvania."
The boys weren't smiling any longer. Ed, one of Sal's checker pen pals, was a grandmaster problem composer, and his creations were always a challenge.
Sal set up the following position on one of the checkerboards.
"How about I give you ... oh ... 30 minutes?" he said.
"Aw, Sal, how about an hour?" said Tom.
"45 minutes and not a second more," Sal answered.
With a quick glance at the clock, the boys started to work on the problem.
Cranberry muffins as a pre-Thanksgiving treat, with a hot cup of coffee to go with them? Sounds pretty good. Well, you'll have to supply your own muffins (and coffee) but the problem is there for you to enjoy. Do the best you can and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story.[Read More]
It was the big day. This Saturday, the North Dakota Open would take place with the winner declared the North Dakota State Checker Champion. This year, 1955, the tournament was taking place in the famed Silver Ballroom of the Patterson Hotel in Bismarck.
Sal Westerman and the "boys," all of whom were at least 50 years old, wouldn't be meeting at the Beacon Cafe this afternoon, as several of them, including Sal, were competing in the tournament.
The format was simple. The tournament would use the "Swiss" system with three rounds in the morning and two in the afternoon. Players with equal tournament scores would be matched against one another. Play was divided into the Championship Division and the Minor Division.
Gerhardt G. Grossvater of Minot was the defending champion and the favorite to win. Other top seeds were Professor Don Steam from Fargo, Danny Dan Daniels from Dickinson, and Bismarck's own Sal Westerman. But there were numerous other strong players and upsets were known to happen.
There was an air of excitement in the ballroom as the early rounds were played. One by one, the lesser players were defeated by the greater. Professor Steam, however, was upset by a player from Beulah, Pawel Patschpawkoski, who was now in the top four along with Danny Dan, Sal, and Gerhardt.
At the lunch break, Sal and a couple of the boys, Delmer and Wayne, went downstairs to the Rainbow Bar for a quick burger.
"What do you think your chances are, Sal?" asked Delmer.
"I don't know. I play Danny Dan and I think I have good chances. My record against him is almost all wins. And I don't think this Pawel fellow, good as he must be, can take out Gerhardt. That would leave me to play Gerhardt in the final round, which has never worked out for me."
"Come on, Sal," said Wayne. "You'll do it this time for sure."
But Sal didn't look so confident. The boys finished their lunches and went back upstairs a few minutes before the final rounds were to begin.
Sal was right. He won against Danny Dan, but the game was a close one. Gerhardt easily disposed of Pawel.
It was four o'clock and time for the final round. Gerhardt and Sal, the only players with a perfect score of four points so far, would once again play for the title.
Gerhardt was certainly polite enough, though he had just a bit of a swagger about him. Perhaps, as many-time State Champion, he felt he had earned it. For his part, Sal looked a little worried. Gerhardt was more than just good. He held his own in national tournaments, let alone in North Dakota.
The game began. Spectators thronged around the playing area. This was the game of the year, the one that would crown the Champion.
Sal gained a little confidence as play went on. Gerhardt, on the other hand, seemed frustrated at not being able to force a quick advantage.
The game took some odd twists and turns. Numerous kings were crowned but still the game stayed close. Finally Sal went a piece up, having four kings and a man to Gerhardt's three kings and a man. Could this be Sal's moment?
But the win, if any, looked tough. Gerhardt, having made a move, looked over at Sal, extended a hand, and said, "Draw?"
Sal was surprised by this. Gerhardt played games to the very end, almost never resigning and seldom even offering a draw unless the position had no play whatsoever left in it. Did this mean, Sal wondered, that Gerhardt might actually be in a loss and was bluffing?
"Thank you, but let's play it out," Sal replied.
"You won't take a draw against the great Gerhardt G. Grossvater, someone against whom who have a lifetime score of zero?" Gerhardt replied.
Now the crowd murmured. Gerhardt was known to have something of an ego, but this was a bit much.
"Quiet on the floor!" Referee Julian Jaegerlitz called out. Sal, for his part, did not reply. He thought for a minute or two, and then simply said, "Here," as he made his move.
Can you win this one? For Sal, his first ever State Championship hangs in the balance, but for our readers, there's no pressure, just the enjoyment of solving a fine problem (it's by Brian Hinkle). See you how do and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
The new season of the National Checker League was ready to start, and in a very special way. The reigning World Champion team, the Detroit Doublejumpers, had traveled to Chigasaki, Japan, along with the San Franciso Souters. They would play the season opener in front of over 50,000 Japanese checker fans in the Chigasaki Checkerdrome.
Checkers in Japan was really big, nearly as big as the national game of Go. Japanese checkerists dreamed of earning a place on a National Checker League team, and in fact the Captain of the Souters, Tadeo Tachikawa, was a native of Chigasaki! He was a local and national hero and the Checkerdrome had sold out within minutes after sales began, even at the startling equivalent price of $250 per ticket.
The teams had been given a series of protocol lectures by US State Department officials prior to their arrival. They were to carefully observe all Japanese customs and represent both the United States and the National Checker League in a dignified and honorable manner.
That all went quite well for the two days of ceremonies prior to the big match. At least until the banquet on the evening prior to the competition.
Now, Marvin J. Mavin, the superstar Captain of the Doublejumpers, had the best of intentions. He listened carefully during the protocol lectures, and then asked questions of his girlfriend, Priscilla, a high-ranking executive who had made many business trips to Japan. Marvin learned to say a few words in Japanese, like "konichiwa" and "arigato"; he bowed when appropriate, and made every effort to be polite.
It was just that the Japanese beers were so good. Fresh and flavorful, and served icy cold, they just hit the spot, especially after the very strict summer training camp regimen Marvin had gone through.
Of course, his Japanese hosts, who had mastered the art of hospitality untold centuries ago, saw how much Marvin enjoyed their beer, and kept bringing him refills throughout the course of the banquet. And it was a rather long banquet, replete with speeches, toasts, and ceremony.
So when it came time to leave the 5-star hotel where the teams were hosted and go to the Checkerdrome early the next afternoon, Marvin was notably absent at the bus loading area in the back of the hotel.
"Go find him!" roared Coach Ronaldson. "I want him inside the bus in no more than five minutes!"
Assistant Coach Joe Radler and Trainer Bobby Berkowitz ran off into the hotel and hurriedly summoned an elevator to the 30th floor. They both knew what they would find, just as did Coach Ronaldson, even though he had said nothing.
Pounding on the door of Marvin's room yielded no results. Luckily, Trainer Berkowitz spoke Japanese and was finally able to get a hotel worker to open the door, citing an emergency situation. But that took well over an hour. The worker had to consult with his manager, who had to call hotel security, who passed the decision up to the hotel manager. Meanwhile Assistant Coach Radler received a text from Coach Ronaldson saying that they couldn't wait, the bus had left, and to take a taxi to the Checkerdrome as quickly as possible.
Marvin was in the bathtub of his suite's sumptuous bathroom, soaking in soapy water, oblivious to everything.
"Marvin! Marvin!" shouted the Trainer. "We have to go to the Checkerdrome! Now!"
"Hey, hey," Marvin said, his voice a bit slurred. "Too loud, bro! My head ain't feelin' so good ... and ... hey ... what time is it anyhow?"
"Four in the afternoon," the Trainer replied. "The bus left at two thirty. We play at five sharp and it's an hour by taxi to the Checkerdrome."
"Bus? What bus?" Marvin said. "Uh ... oh ... yeah, we play today ... I kinda spaced that out ..."
"OUT OF THE TUB! NOW!" the Assistant Coach shouted. "I don't care if you have the biggest headache in world history!"
It took Marvin another twenty minutes to dry off, get into his uniform, and get down to the lobby.
The taxi went as fast as it could, but the driver would not speed or otherwise break the law. Trainer Berkowitz heard him mutter something about disobedient Americans having no respect, but the Trainer didn't reply. The driver, after all, was right.
When Marvin finally came out on the field, it was five thirty. The match had long since begun and Marvin's clock was running down. "The only reason I didn't sub for you," Coach Ronaldson hissed, "is that a lot of people paid a lot of money to see you play. But you're in big trouble. You're not getting away with this."
Being late was a tremendous breach of protocol and a huge gesture of disrespect toward Marvin's opponent, Tadeo Tachikawa. Marvin was greeted with stony silence when he took the field. The Japanese crowd did not appreciate having their customs dishonored. Though too polite to boo, failing to cheer and applaud communicated a clear enough message.
Tadeo stood and bowed. Marvin awkwardly returned the bow, and stammered an apology. "Let us play," Tadeo simply said in return.
The game commenced. Marvin was hardly at his best and Tadeo was a very strong player, aided by having much more time on his clock than Marvin did. The game finally reached this point.
Marvin knew he was in a difficult position. His clock was down to six minutes. Could he at least find a draw? He tried to focus but his head was pounding. If only ...
With just two minutes left on his clock, Marvin played 22-26.
"Oh, Marvin-san," said Tadeo, "I am so sorry."
Marvin looked puzzled. "Huh? Say what? I ... oh."
Did Marvin miss a draw? Our hapless hero seems to be having a difficult day, albeit one of his own making. See if you can correct Marvin's move and then find Tadeo's win. When you're ready to see the solution and read the rest of the story, click your mouse politely on Read More.[Read More]
Editor's Note: At the Beacon Cafe, it's always 1955. We rejoin our intrepid checkerists now in September of that year. It's the Saturday after Labor Day, and with the summer season at an end, the "boys" (all of them over 50 years of age) return to their Saturday afternoon sessions in the large booth at the back of the cafe, enjoying a few hours of problem solving, skittles games, baked goods, coffee, and good companionship.
Everyone in North Dakota enjoyed summer, brief as it was, and Sal Westerman, the informal leader of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, was no exception. Still, no one could be happier when September rolled around and his club started meeting once again.
Apparently the other members felt the same way, for today there was a big turnout, with Dan, Wayne, Louie, Mike, Delmer, and even Spooler, Tom, and Ron, the latter three of which weren't seen quite as often.
Deana, the proprietress and the best baker anyone had ever met, was smiling broadly. She enjoyed having the "boys" come in on what would otherwise be a slow Saturday afternoon. "Zucchini and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies today," she announced. "Fresh and hot."
There were sounds of approval from the big booth where the "boys" were. "Sal's buying today!" Spooler piped up.
"Okay, Spooler, I'll buy," Sal said, "but only because I'm so pleased with today's turnout." Addressing Deana, he said, "A couple of large plates of cookies and coffee all around, on me!"
"You got it," Deana replied. She had already started stacking plates with her warm, fragrant cookies.
"State championships are in Bismarck this year," Sal added. "Next week, even!"
"Yup, over at the Patterson Hotel," Wayne said. "Usually Fargo or Grand Forks gets the bid, but not this time."
"Is everyone playing?" Louie asked.
There were nods all around. Traveling to Fargo or Grand Forks wasn't always feasible, but having the tournament right there in Bismarck made it just about a must-do event.
"Think you can win it, Sal?" continued Louie.
"I don't know," Sal said. "I pretty much took care of that Steam fellow last spring, but Grossvater up in Minot will likely take it." Gerhardt G. Grossvater was the reigning State Champion, a title he'd held for ten years straight. (Professor Steam was from Fargo--- see previous Checker Maven stories.)
"You might have a shot at it," Ron said. "You haven't played in the tournament for a couple of years and maybe you'll win this time."
"I last played Grossvater in '52 when the tournament was in Minot. He won in the finals. I've never been able to beat him," Sal said.
"Well, tell you what," Wayne said. "I found a problem that your friend Ed from Pennsylvania published in All Checkers Digest quite a while ago and I brought it along. How about you all try it out? It's called 'Head Bumper.' That'll give everyone a little warm-up for next week."
"Lay it out," Sal said. Sal was the one that usually brought along a challenging problem or two, but today he was happy to be on the solving end.
"Okay, here you go," Wayne replied, and set out the following position on a couple of the checkerboards on the booth's table. "See if you can get it in an hour or so while we sample these cookies." Deana had just set two plates of cookies on the table and was refilling everyone's coffee mugs.
"Hey, this is a good one," Sal said. "We're going to need that hour."
Cookies in hand, the boys got to work.
A warm-up problem is good for everyone, even if you're not planning to take on a tough opponent like Gerhardt G. Grossvater. With or without zucchini oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, see how you do, and then click Read More to check your answer and read the rest of our story.[Read More]
Summer training camp wasn't Marvin J. Mavin's favorite thing. Not at all.
Every August, before the start of the National Checker League regular season, the championship team which Marvin captained, the Detroit Doublejumpers, held training camp at a classy resort near the appropriately named town of Au Train in Northern Michigan. Training camp was no joke to Head Coach Ronaldson. He put the ten players on the Doublejumper team through a rigorous program of study, competition, and even intense physical training, as the players had to be able to withstand the long hours that checker matches could occupy.
Marvin, after previous bad experiences, knew better than to arrive out of shape, lest he be made to run laps up and down the lake for what seemed like forever. He also knew better than to bring along a bad attitude ... or a craving for a cold beer. The Coach was very strict about things like that, even limiting the amount of coffee his players were allowed.
This year Marvin thought he was as ready as he could possibly be. He had spent a lot of time with his girlfriend Priscilla, and they had frequently jogged and worked out with weights in Priscilla's extensive home gym. He allowed himself just one beer after a workout and none at all during the rest of the day. And whenever he made a smart remark, Priscilla instantly scolded him.
It didn't work out the way Marvin had hoped and expected.
A couple of days after reporting for camp, Coach Ronaldson, at the daily morning team meeting, introduced a new person.
"I'd like you all to meet Betsy Batsy. I've recruited her and she's agreed to try out for the team."
"I'm going to be the Captain," Betsy interrupted in a deep voice. "I'm going straight to the top and you over there ..." pointing at Marvin " ... aren't going to stop me. I'm going roll right over you and ..."
"Thank you, Betsy, I'm sure we all appreciate your ambition," Coach Ronaldson said. "I met Betsy at a Checker Barrel restaurant. She was giving an impromptu exhibition at those tables they have outside and I watched her beat 50 players at once. There was even a AAA pro in the group. Now, although Betsy has never played professionally ..."
"I can beat any pro there is," Betsy blared. "You, him ..." (again pointing to Marvin) "... anyone."
"Well, I did play a few games with Betsy after her exhibition, and uh ..."
"I kicked you in the pants," Betsy said, guffawing.
"Well, yes, Betsy won every game, actually. So I thought someone this good, who by the rules could be recruited outside of the amateur draft, might be a real addition to our team."
"I can replace your whole team," Betsy stated. "Just me. I can play every board in every match and win the championship all by myself."
Although no one spoke up, the Doublejumper team, and Marvin in particular, were really wondering. Was this Betsy that good that the Coach, who was always strict, would put up with her attitude? It all seemed really strange.
"Come on boys," Betsy said, addressing the team, "or should I say girls?" That got a stern look from the three women on the Doublejumper team. Betsy noticed and said, "Sorry, girls, I should have said 'babies.'"
"Okay, team, set 'em up," the Coach said, "ten boards. First team and second team. Betsy is going to play a simul against all of you. Then you'll see she deserves a place on the team. Of course, that means one of you will get sent down to our AAA farm club, but that's how it goes."
"Him," Betsy said, pointing to Marvin. "He's the one you're going to send down.
"Uh, well, that's up to me ..." the Coach said.
"You want me to play for you, you do things my way," Betsy stated flatly.
But the boards were set out and play began. The Coach decided on single elimination. In the first round, Betsy defeated eight of the ten players, all of whom were eliminated. She drew with second board player Pete Butterworth and lost to Marvin on first board.
In the next round, second board was again a draw, meaning Pete was eliminated. But Marvin won again.
"Just you and me," Betsy said to Marvin, "mano a mano. Ha ha! You just won those games because I was playing more than one opponent. Now I crush you like the bug that you are. And the rest of you ... " Here Betsy looked around at the other team members. "The rest of you are off the team!"
"Wait a minute, now," Coach Ronaldson said. He was starting to wonder if he had made a big mistake. But he said no more, as the playoff between Marvin and Betsy had started.
The game reached the following position with Marvin to move.
"You're finished, little buggy boy," Betsy teased. "Squashed! Like a filthy roach!"
"That's it," said Coach Ronaldson. "Miss Batsy, I invited you here to try out for a place on the team. You're a great player but I won't put up with any more of your bad attitude. If you want to play professional checkers, you can go try out for one of the Rookie Leagues and see if they'll want to deal with you."
"Coach, let me finish this game, okay," Marvin said. "Then old Batsy here can go hitch a ride back to ... wherever she came from."
"As you wish," the Coach replied. "Finish your game."
Marvin made his move.
Betsy Batsy is a tough opponent, but Marvin seems pretty confident. Can you find a win here, or will Batsy Betsy bat you down to the minor leagues? See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.[Read More]