The Checker Maven

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

Published each Saturday morning in Honolulu, Hawai`i

Contests in Progress:

Composing Championship #71

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Engagement Party: A Marvin J. Mavin Story


In our previous two stories, we told about Priscilla's ultimatum to Marvin, who did indeed go with Priscilla to Sparkly Exclusives to buy her an engagement ring that ran to just under $200,000 after adding in sales tax. Marvin had tried to negotiate but Priscilla told him that was gauche and made him pay full asking price, to the great delight of the tuxedo-clad salesman.


While the wedding date wouldn't be set for some little while, as Priscilla wanted to plan a very lavish affair with hundreds and hundreds of guests, Priscilla's C-suite colleagues, delighted that she had finally become engaged, wanted to throw an engagement party in her honor. They booked it for a Friday evening at Excelsior Estates, a swank country club in the Detroit suburbs where the very wealthy met to play golf on a choice of three pro-caliber 18-hole golf courses, squash in the squash racquets complex, tennis on the four outdoor and six indoor courts, or checkers in the koa-paneled Draughts Room.


It was the kind of affair Marvin would gladly have skipped, but Priscilla said they were going and that was the end of the discussion. Or rather, there wasn't even a discussion in the first place. Furthermore, Marvin would attend in black tie formal wear.

It was only while they were in Priscilla's limo, on the way to the venue, that Priscilla dropped the real bomb.

Marvin was fidgeting with his bow tie, trying to create a little space in the tight collar of his white ruffled shirt, when Priscilla said, "You know, dear, that Excelsior has a draughts room."

Marvin's face brightened a little. "Drafts room? You mean, like, they have German beer on tap and stuff?"


Priscilla gently but firmly slapped Marvin's hand away from his collar. "Draughts as in checkers, Marvin. You know, the game you play so well?"

Marvin started to say something but Priscilla continued, "Some of my colleagues at Rust Belt play in the Executive Egotist League, you know, and they are quite good."

"Oh yeah, really? I don't know about that. Good, huh?"

"Yes, and you'll have your chance to find out just how good they really are."

Marvin suddenly looked wary. "Whaddya mean?"

"You'll be giving a simultaneous exhibition tonight as part of the festivities. You'll play 16 top executives from Rust Belt."

"Oh no I'm not ... I ain't gonna be some kinda show monkey ... "

"Yes you are, and not only that, there is one of them whom you have to let win." Priscilla reached into her purse and pulled out a small slip of paper. "Here, memorize this name. It's the executive you must let win. You can go ahead and win the other fifteen games, but the man on the list is very important and we have to stroke his ego a little."

Now, Marvin was an unusual character, but if he took anything seriously, it was winning. After a quick glance at the paper he said, "Frobtads von Glulx, President, Rust Belt Holdings. Uh, Prissy honey, I ain't gonna do that. If you wanna make me play, I'll do that for you even if I don't like it much. But lose on purpose? Not gonna happen."

"Marvin, I know you and I know how you feel about your checkers. But this will really help me a lot, okay? And it's all just for fun. Frobtads will figure out you let him win, but he'll still have something to boast about. Got it?"

When Marvin didn't reply, Priscilla simply said, "Good."


Marvin and Priscilla were greeted at the ornate clubhouse entrance with much fanfare, and inside a string quartet was playing. The hors d'oeuvres were of the best quality and very plentiful. French champagne was on offer but when Marvin asked one of the servers for a can of beer, he was treated to a snooty look and told, "Monsieur, in this club we drink French champagnes and grand cru wines and only the best single malt Scotches. But if you'd like some Vichy sparkling water ... "

There were the inevitable toasts and wishes for the couple's future happiness. Marvin, who had no patience for slowly sipping expensive imported French beverages, drank uncharacteristically little, although he did find the Shrimp Dijon and Lobster Alsace hors d'oeuvres to his taste.

Then it was time for the simul. Everyone adjourned to the Draughts room, where still more champagne was served. Marvin was introduced to the players, who ranged from Alexander Antagony, Senior Vice President of Hostile Acquisitions, to Zumba Zelarkey, Vice President of Recreational Restructuring, and of course President Frobtads Glulx.

Frobtads Glulx

The games began. Marvin found that the players weren't all that bad for amateurs. While he easily and quickly won twelve games, three more took a little longer and wouldn't you know it, the last game was with none other than Frobtads Glulx, and it was quite tight.

The following unusual position arose, with Marvin to play.

White to Play and Win


It was interesting indeed. Marvin saw pretty quickly that there was a move that would definitely give him a win. However, he saw others that would put Frobtads in a winning position, and given that the Rust Belt President was quite a decent player, he would probably find the right play.


It was a dilemma. Should Marvin do as Prisilla asked, and let Frobtads have a win? Or should he do as he always did, which was always to seize victory when it was within his grasp? That was how he became a top professional player: By never compromising and never settling for less than the best he could do.

"Frobby, old boy," Marvin said, "you've played really well."

Frobtads smiled, even though no one ever but ever dared to call him "Frobby." He said, "Yes, I do think I have, and I'm about to hand you your only loss in this simul."

Marvin straightened up in his chair. "Now wait a minute there Frobster ... "

"President Frobtads," came the reply, "and there's no need for you to be a poor sport just because you're going to lose a game."

Marvin had had enough. "Lose? To you? Yeah, you're good but you ain't good enough to beat ole Marvin J. Mavin."

And Marvin made his move.

Can you find the winning play? Do you dare find the winning play? Luckily, no one's telling you to throw the game, so go ahead and work out the winning moves, after which you can click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of our story.20050904-symbol.gif

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03/12/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Freezing Rain: A Beacon Cafe Story


It was the Saturday after Valentine's Day, 1955, and the weather was wet in Bismarck, North Dakota. Snow mixed with rain was falling, and it was certain that after dark the roads and sidewalks would freeze over, making for dangerous driving and walking conditions.


But Saturday was the day the Coffee and Cake Checker Club met at the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building, and Sal Westerman, the club's informal leader, wasn't about to miss his afternoon of checkers.

Sylvia Westerman

Oh, his wife, Sylvia, urged him to stay home so he wouldn't have to return on slippery sidewalks. Sal, after all, was over 70 now, and if he took a tumble it wouldn't be a good thing. But Sal was determined. He put on his winter jacket, rubber overshoes and some warm gloves and set out at about 12:45 PM. The club met at one o'clock and he didn't want to be late.

The skies were gray and Sal pulled up his hood to ward off the chilling rain. But he didn't live far from the Beacon and he was there in about fifteen minutes, his trip taking just a little longer than usual.

Some of the "boys" (all of whom were over fifty) were already there. Sam, Wayne, Dan, Delmer and Tom were seated in the big booth in the back. They waved to Sal as he came back to join them. Deana, the proprietress and an award winning baker, gave Sal a friendly greeting, too.

Then Louie (also known as "Louie the Flash") and Kevin (also known as "Spooler") came in. It was quite a gathering and it made Sal smile and forget the weather.


"Cherry muffins today," Deana said. "I got a shipment of really nice canned cherries and you're going to love these."

"We sure will," Sal said, "especially when the boys are buying."

That elicted groans and laughter from the boys. "Sure, Sal, whatever you say," Spooler said. The long-standing tradition was that Sal would set up a checker problem. If the boys could solve it, Sal bought, while if they couldn't, the boys bought.

"We'll see who laughs last," Sal replied. "I have a nice one from Ed."

Ed was Sal's checker pen pal in Pennsylvania, and his problems always were clever and always a challenge.

"Have a look at this," Sal said, and set up the following position on one of the checkerboards. "I'll give you an hour, and I think I'd better get you all some more coffee." Deana, never missing an opportunity, was already at the booth with a fresh pot ready to pour.

White to Play and Win


The boys focused on the problem. From time to time Sal took a look outside. By about two-thirty, when the hour Sal had alloted was up, the roads were indeed freezing over.

"Can't get it," Delmer said. "We tried, but ... "

Deana arrived at just that moment with a tray of cherry muffins. "Who's buying?" she asked with a smile. Delmer slowly raised his hand. "My turn," he said sheepishly. "Now, Sal, how about you show us how to do this one?"

Will you have better luck than "the boys"? Or will you be the one to buy the muffins? At least you won't have to go home on frozen roads (well, we hope not). Give this a try and then cherry-pick the solution by clicking on Read More.20050904-symbol.gif

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02/19/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Baby It's Cold Outside


It was the end of January in Bismarck, North Dakota, the coldest time of the year in a place known for its intemperately cold weather.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and at about quarter to one the temperature was still 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, and that would be the highest the mercury reached that day. And to top it all off, the wind was blowing at 20 miles per hour. Of course the sun was out, but that wasn't of much help.


Sal Westerman was undaunted. At one o'clock his Coffee and Cake Checker Club would meet as it did every week at the Beacon Cafe, normally a ten minute walk from Sal's home.

Sal was bundling up under the direction of his wife, Sylvia, who had even gone so far as to suggest that Sal stay home. But there was very little that could keep Sal from his beloved club, and cold weather didn't deter him.

So, as warmly dressed as a person could possibly be, Sal made his way to the club. The wind was biting and the cold wicked, and it took him longer than usual. It was nearly ten after one when Sal entered the Cafe, but as he passed through the door, he didn't feel the blast of heat that one usually felt when going from 20 below zero outside to 70 above zero inside.


Then he noticed that there were only four other people in the cafe, all of them still dressed in their winter clothes, gloves, wool caps, and all. Club members Wayne, Dan, and Louie the Flash were sitting in the usual booth at the back, while Deana, the proprietess, was behind her counter, similarly bundled up. She had an electric heater rigged up and blowing on the only shelf that had anything on it, a tray of coconut chocolate chip bars. There was a big coffee urn plugged in, and that was it.


"What's going on?" Sal asked.

"The gas heat for the building went out during the night," Deana said. "I have a couple of electric heaters running but it's still only 28 degrees in here. The gas company men were working on it but they said it'll be Monday until they can get the heat going again. They need a part from Minneapolis or something," Deana said.

"How come you don't close up?" Sal asked.

"Aw, I know how much you boys like your checkers," Deana replied. "Lucky I had a tray of bars I could go home and get. But I'm going to close early. It's just too darn cold in here."

"Yeah, it's cold even for checkers," Dan said. All of the boys (who were over 50) had big mugs of coffee in front of them. There was just a single checker board set up.

Sal got himself some coffee and went over to the booth. "Tell you what," he said. "I did bring along a problem from Ed. How about you boys try that while I go ahead and buy some bars. After that, we'll go home. What do you say?"

Everyone, including Deana, nodded agreement.

Sal laid out a position on the checker board. "Okay, here you go," he said. "Maybe make it quick as you can!"

But the boys knew a problem from Ed was seldom a quick solve.

White to Play and Draw


"Bars on me today," Deana said. "They're a day old."


In between sips of hot coffee the boys were working away at Ed's problem.

Hopefully, wherever you are, you're somewhere warm, and if you're in a cold climate, we hope the heating is working as it should. One thing for sure is that you'll warm up to Ed Atkinson's fine problem. See how you do and then give your mouse a heated click on Read More to see the solution.

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01/29/22 -Printer friendly version-
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The Game of My Life


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.

White to Play and Win


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.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/22/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Marvin's Agreement

Marvin J. Mavin

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.

White to Play and Win


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?

Marvin's Parents

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.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/08/22 -Printer friendly version-
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Marvin's Holidays


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.

White to Play and Win


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.null

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12/18/21 -Printer friendly version-
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Beacon Cafe: A Gift for Joyce


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.

Joyce Westerman

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.

White to Play and Win


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.null

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12/11/21 -Printer friendly version-
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Marvin's Thanksgiving


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

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.

Priscilla Snelson

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.

Mrs. Hermione Snelson

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.

Mr. Winston Snelson

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!"

"Marvin! Now!"

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.

White to Play and Win


"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.

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11/27/21 -Printer friendly version-
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Beacon Cafe: Among Friends


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.

Sal Westerman

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.

Deana Nagel

"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.

White to Play and Win


"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.null

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11/13/21 -Printer friendly version-
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Beacon Cafe: State Championships


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

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

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?"

BLACK (Gerhardt)
White to Play and Win


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.

Referee Julian Jaegerlitz

"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.null

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10/09/21 -Printer friendly version-
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Numbered Board and Notation

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