Contests in Progress:
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]
It was mid-August, 1955, and in Bismarck, North Dakota on this Saturday afternoon the temperature exceeded 97 degrees. It was the kind of hot, dry prairie weather that led to rapid dehydration with the least amount of effort.
On a Saturday afternoon, Sal Westerman would have gone to the Beacon Cafe for a gathering of his Coffee and Cake Checker Club. But the club took a summer break between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Even so, Sal might have gone to the Beacon on his own, but Deana, the proprietess and baker, closed the cafe for a few weeks in August so she could visit her family over in Gackle, North Dakota.
To make things even worse, Sal's wife, Sylvia, had gone off to Dickinson, North Dakota, to visit with her sister, who lived alone and enjoyed the company.
But that left Sal with no company of his own and his favorite weekend spot unavailable. To top it all off, it was almost unbearably hot in the living room of his modest house. Even the basement wasn't a lot cooler, and there was no air circulation to speak of down there.
Sal tried reading a couple of checker magazines, but they stuck to his hands when he picked them up, and it just wasn't much fun.
What to do?
Maybe he could call one of the boys and they could go to one of those places with that new-fangled air conditioning. But Wayne would out in Wilton working on the farm, getting ready for the wheat harvest. Dan, Delmer and Mike, as far as he knew, would be out fishing or camping. They never missed a summer weekend, no matter how hot or how stormy the weather.
Kevin? Ron? Sal telephoned both of them, with no answer. Probably off on vacation. Louie? He'd be off somewhere with his latest girlfriend.
Well, Sal would just have to go by himself. He wasn't going to stay home, and a cold beer in a cool lounge sounded really good. He'd go over to the Patterson Hotel. It would be too hot up in the TipTop Lounge, but the Rainbow Bar and Lounge would be cool. He'd have a burger and a beer, and his latest issue of All Checker Digest wouldn't be so sticky in the air conditioning.
Sal put on his cap and walked on over. The walk alone was almost too much for him, and he was even hotter when he arrived.
Despite having air conditioning, the bar was nearly empty. The barkeep, a fellow named Jimmy Wilson, greeted Sal. "Nice to see you, Sal," he said. "Really slow today. Guess everyone's off on vacation or something."
Sal took a seat at a table at the side and put in his order. Jimmy brought over his beer right away and noticed Sal's magazine. "Hey, Sal, nothing much doing right now. Want to play a game or two? Just for fun, no stakes."
Jimmy was known to be a pretty good player. He often put as much as five or ten dollars on a game. That was a whole week's wages for him, but he won much more often than he lost. However, he knew Sal wasn't a gambler.
"Sure Jimmy, why not, but then after, say, best two out of three, I'll want my lunch, okay?"
"You got it Sal. Hey ... how about this ... lunch on me if you win and leave me a real good tip if I win."
Sal thought for a moment. Well, it wasn't exactly gambling ... "Okay, Jimmy, why not, but I would have left you a nice tip anyhow."
"Yeah, I know, I know, just trying to put a little fun into it."
Play began while Sal sipped his beer. Jimmy won the first game but Sal came back to win the second.
"The money round," Jimmy said as they set up the pieces for the third game. "Uh ... I mean, you know, sorta."
It turned out to be a really good game, and finally came down to the following position, with Sal to move.
Sal thought for quite a while, so long, in fact, that Jimmy went and tended to another customer. On his return, Sal said, "Jimmy, I think you're going to be buying me my lunch."
A juicy burger and a cold beer on a hot summer day, with someone else treating... does that sound good to you? If you were Sal, do you think you could win the deciding game? See if you can come up with a really "cool" winning move, and then coolly click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Every year since he started grade school, Tommy Wagner had gone to two weeks of summer camp at fabled Camp Fortress in northern Florida. He always had a lot of fun, what with swimming, nature walks, sports competitions, and the many other things the camp had to offer. The food was good, too, and there was plenty of it.
But this year was different. In the camp's talent competition last year, Tommy had put on a simultaneous checker exhibition, playing sixteen other campers at a time and almost always winning. So this year, instead of attending as a camper, Tommy had been invited to come for the whole eight week summer session as a staff member, with pay plus room and board. He was to be the checkers instructor.
Tommy bid farewell for the summer to his mentor, Uncle Ben, and took up residence at the camp. It was great. Four times a day, six days a week, he gave one-hour checker lessons to a variety of age groups. The rest of his time was his own and he made the most of it.
Campers came for two weeks at a time, with the eight week session divided into four periods. Everything went great for Tommy until the third session.
Tommy's older students, ages 14-17, had the 3 to 5 PM lesson slot. When 3 o'clock rolled around on the first Monday of the third session, Tommy got a real shock as he watched Tina Tooner enter the open air tent where lessons were held.
"You," Tina gasped.
"You!," Tommy gasped in return.
Tina and Tommy were once very good friends, but then Tina caught Tommy at the movies with another girl, Letitia Wong, and it was all over. Even though they were in the same school, and on the same checker team, they had barely exchanged more than a few words since their falling out.
"Uh ... you're the teacher?" Tina asked.
"Yeah, I ... right. I didn't know you go to this camp."
"I wanted to try it out. The brochure mentioned checker lessons from a qualified instructor. I'm calling my parents. We need to get our money back and I need to go home. There's no way I'm staying at a camp where you are, Tommy Wagner!"
"Hey, wait a minute Tina, that's not fair."
"What isn't fair was you going out with another girl!"
Other campers were starting to arrive, and they were watching Tommy and Tina with great interest.
"Aw gee, Tina, let's not make a scene, okay? I have a class to teach."
"That's funny, Tommy Wagner. No, it's not even funny. It's pathetic."
The full compliment of campers was now on hand and they were laughing and pointing fingers.
"Tell you what, Mr. Cheater. I'll play you for the right to be teacher. How about it, will you take me on or are you just a Cheating Chicken?"
"Hey, look, Camp Fortress hired me for the summer. This is my job."
"You going to play me or are you going to wimp out in front of your class? I'm sure they would really respect you a lot if you can't even take on a little girl like me."
Tommy didn't reply. It was a no-win situation. Silently he sat down at one of the checkerboards arranged on a long folding table and motioned Tina into the opposite seat.
The campers gathered around. This was going to be even better than a fistfight.
Tommy had White and the game reached the position shown below. Tommy had just played 11-7.
Tommy looked over at Tina and, without realizing it, smiled. But Tina didn't miss it.
"What are you smiling about, Mr. Bad Ex-Boyfriend? Trying to be friends again? Well forget it. And forget this game. It's a draw. You didn't win. Get over it and play me again."
"Sure," Tommy said, "but how about we wait until you make your move? I've already made mine." But then, seeing the look on Tina's face and realizing the double meaning of what he had just said, Tommy turned away, embarrassed.
What is Tommy up to? If you were Tina, what would you play? How do you think it's going to turn out? Think about it, work out a line of play, "make your move" and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of our story.[Read More]
Marvin J. Mavin, superstar Captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers in the National Checker League, was on summer vacation, that precious period of time between the World Series of Checkers in June and the start of training camp in August.
Each July he and Priscilla Snelson, his long-time girlfriend, took a week of vacation together. Priscilla was a C-level executive at Rust Belt Holdings and it wasn't easy for her to get time way, but she left her cell phone at home and treasured the undisturbed days spent in pure leisure.
This year she and Marvin went to Orlando, Florida, to make the rounds of the theme parks. They both tried their best to stay incognito and avoid attracting attention.
One of the parks they both had wanted to visit was Wacky World, a place noted for its strange and imaginative take-offs on everything from pop culture to Wall Street. And wouldn't you know--- checkers as well.
Priscilla was the first to spot it. "Look, Marvin," she said, "over there. There's a booth marked Checker Chuckles."
"Checker Chuckles? Really? Let's go see!"
It was a fairly small booth, not even a full-fledged exhibit. There were a couple of checkerboards on the counter, and sitting in the booth was an elderly fellow wearing a striped suit and bow tie. He had on a name tag that simply said, "Walt."
Spotting the approaching couple, Walt spieled, "Step right up. Play a game for a dollar. Winner takes all. One small dollar, maybe you'll win a prize!"
Indeed, sitting on a shelf in back of Walt was a collection of the largest Teddy Bears you could imagine.
"Oh, Marvin, win me a bear would you?" Priscilla said.
"Hey honey, never seen this side of you before! Didn't know you liked girls' toys!"
"I have my youthful moments, you know. Life isn't all mega-mergers and billion dollar contracts."
"I don't know, Prissy. Doesn't seem fair, me bein' ..."
"Afraid, son?" Walt interrupted. "The rules are easy. You pay a dollar. If you win, we play again. If you win three in a row, you get a Teddy Bear for the beautiful lady."
"What about draws?" Marvin asked.
"Wise guy, are you?" Walt's expression changed. "Nope, three wins in a row, them's the rules."
"But you could just play a drawing line ..."
"Oh, think you know all about the Grand Old Game, do you? Well, here's a different offer then, Mr. Ace Checker Player. You solve just one little checker problem, where White has 9 pieces and Black only has 6. White has to win. Anyone could do it, right, even you!" Walt snickered. "Yeah, even you!"
Marvin saw Priscilla's pleading look, but knew it would turn into something a bit difficult for him to handle if she didn't get her Teddy Bear. "Okay, there Walt," he said, "set 'em up."
Walt started arranging checkers on one of the boards. "I'm so generous, I'll even give you a hint," he said, "as you could probably use one. Now listen up. Remember that this is the Checker Chuckle booth at Wacky World. Here you go. I'll give you ten minutes. Now where's your dollar?"
Marvin forked over a dollar as Walt finished his set-up. Marvin faced the following position.
"You're right, Walt, old boy, that sure is a wacky position. But I don't get the chuckle part. Oh ... wait ... hmmm."
Marvin twisted his dreadlocks and leaned his elbows on the counter. "Now if I ... no ... how about ..."
Can you figure out this definitely wacky position? You won't win a Teddy Bear but you might get a couple of chuckles. Still, don't laugh it off; give it a try and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of our story.[Read More]
It was the end of the school year, and Tommy Wagner, a young student completing his freshman year at a high school in central Florida, had a big week ahead. Tommy was an up-and-coming checkerist, and had the rare distinction of being Captain of the Junior Varsity Checker Team while still a freshman.
He had tried out for Varsity (see previous Checker Maven story) in the fall, but didn't make it. His school's Varsity team was very strong and Tommy, though a fine player, was told by Coach Schann that he wasn't quite ready. Small wonder; Varsity had four experts and a titled Master.
But this time around, Tommy was hopeful. His rating had advanced to the top of Class A, just short of expert in the non-professional rankings, and he thought he might have a chance.
All year, he had continued his Saturday morning lessons with retired professional master Uncle Ben. Of course Ben wasn't really Tommy's uncle, but everyone called him Uncle Ben out of respect. Lessons took place on Uncle Ben's front porch, and were usually accompanied by a pitcher of Uncle Ben's homemade lemonade, the art of which Uncle Ben had also mastered.
Tommy had greeted Uncle Ben and taken his usual seat in front of the checkerboard. "Varsity tryouts start on Monday, eh, Tommy?" Uncle Ben asked.
"Yes sir," Tommy replied. "Monday right after school, and they run every afternoon through Thursday."
"And what are your expectations?"
There was that look in Uncle Ben's eyes. Tommy had been sorely disappointed with not making Varsity last time, but Uncle Ben had counseled him about being patient and putting in the necessary time and effort. Making Varsity wasn't easy.
"Well, Uncle Ben, it's kind of like you taught me. I've done everything I could to prepare and be ready. Whatever Coach Schann decides, that's how it will be."
"Will you be disappointed if you don't make it again?"
"Honestly, sir, I will. I've worked very hard. But I do know that few freshman ever move up. It takes until Junior Year for nearly everyone, and that's another year off for me. So I guess my feelings would be mixed." Tommy paused for a moment and then smiled. "But that doesn't mean I won't give it everything I've got on Monday!"
"Very wise, Tommy, and very grown up, and I know you're sincere about what you say. You might make it; you've really become quite the player. But the others have advanced, too, although I hear that Reynaldo will be graduating as will two other players, so there will be some vacancies." Reynaldo Garcia was a Master and one of the top scholastic players in the state. He would be going on to the University of Notre Dame with a full four-year checker scholarship.
"So let's do a little practice, shall we?" Uncle Ben asked. "I'm going to put you through your paces with a dozen problems today, and you'll only have five minutes for each. So have some lemonade and get ready for some hard work while I set up the first problem."
Tommy eagerly accepted a glass of lemonade and sipped thoughtfully while Uncle Ben laid out the following position.
Do you think you can find the solution in five minutes, as Tommy has been asked to do? Since you're playing along at home, you can actually take as long as you wish. Then, when you're ready, you can click on Read More to see the solution, and a dozen or so additional problems and solutions on the same theme. You'll have to provide your own lemonade, though.[Read More]
Recall from last month's story that in the Division Playoffs between the Kansas City Kingers and the Detroit Doublejumpers, the final match had ended in a tie, when Marvin J. Mavin came from behind to take a game from the Kansas City captain, Dr. Sharper.
But the game ended in controversy with Dr. Sharper accusing Marvin of cheating and demanding that the referee, Dasha Dachner, search Marvin's copious hair for concealed communications devices. A near-riot took place and Dasha ordered all the players off the field while she made an urgent phone call to National Checker League President Nhoj Rekca.
Dasha then used her wireless mic to announce, "Mr. Rekca has ruled. Searches must be requested before a game begins, not after it ends. The result stands and a sudden-death game will begin."
Booing came loudly from the huge Kansas City hometown crowd, but it wasn't going to change anything. Dasha called Marvin and Dr. Sharper back to the field and announced the terms of the Playoff version of the sudden death round.
"Play continues, alternating colors, until one player wins. If the other player doesn't win the next game, the match is over, otherwise the match continues until a player wins two games in a row, or scores a win followed by a draw. After six games, the first player to win carries the day.
"Gentlemen, play checkers!"
"But what about his hair?" complained Dr. Sharper.
"What about your hair?" said Marvin. "You ain't got much and it's probably full of cooties!"
"The decision of the NCL President is final!" said Dasha. "Begin play now or you will be ordered out of the match."
After a few stares and glowering looks passed between Marvin and Dr. Sharper, play did finally commence. There were two draws, then Marvin won a game but Dr. Sharper won the next. Another two draws followed.
The next player to take a game would claim the Division Title for his team.
Two more draws later, the following position was on the board with Marvin to play.
"Another draw," said Dr. Sharper, "unless, of course, you blow it and lose. Which you will. I'm a doctor and I can see how tired you are."
"Hey, Sharpie, cut the talk. I ain't tired. And I ain't going to lose neither."
"Right, you'll cheat again."
"That does it!" Marvin stood up and remained silent for a moment. The crowd fully expected him to call for the referee and make a complaint.
But instead, Marvin made his move.
What move would you have made in this position? Is the game a dead draw as Dr. Sharper claimed? Or did Marvin have a "sharper" view of the position?
Stay sharp, solve the problem, and give a sharp click of your mouse on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.[Read More]
They arrived in Bismarck at around 11 AM in a brand new 1955 Chrysler Imperial.
"That's a $15,000 car," whispered Louie, looking out through the front window of the Beacon Cafe as the Imperial pulled up at the curb. "That Professor must be loaded!"
It was the last Saturday in May, the final meeting before the summer break for the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, and it was no ordinary meeting. Today was the much-anticipated rematch between the Bismarck club and Fargo's Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee, Let's Have Another Piece of Pie Checker Club. Recall (see last month's Checker Maven story) that the first match, held in Fargo, was a draw, and today, everything would be once again on the line.
Sal Westerman, the leader of the Bismarck club, tried. He really did. He tried hard to be polite to the Fargo leader, Professor Don Steam, despite his rival's rudeness. So when the Fargo team entered the Beacon Cafe, Sal shook hands and with the Professor and welcomed his team to Bismarck.
Deana, the proprietress of the Beacon and a championship baker in her own right, had a different view. Anyone who was rude to Sal was no friend of hers. She threatened to serve the Fargo team day-old cold coffee until Sal intervened and convinced her that would be bad for business. "Kill them with kindness," Sal said, "it's always the best way."
It didn't take long for the Professor to start with the jibes. "Well, Westerman, you won't be lucky twice in a row. This time, you go down." (In the previous match, Sal had saved the day by finding a draw in a tough position.)
As the home club, Bismarck would treat the visitors to lunch after the match was concluded, and Bismarck Mayor Evan Lipps would put in an appearance. A reporter from the local newspaper and a local radio station were on hand. The match would be broadcast live over the radio, as the Beacon Cafe was too small to accommodate many spectators.
"How can you play in such a dingy dump?" Professor Steam asked.
That was too much for Deana. "Watch your mouth, you!" she said. "If you don't like it here, there's the door!"
"Gosh, don't you tame your women out here?" Steam asked. "That one could use a little ..."
But Deana, brandishing a rolling pin, was already out from behind her counter, and the look on her face made Steam take a couple of steps back. "Look, I was just ..."
"Yeah, right," Deana said. But, satisfied for the moment, she returned to the other side of the counter.
Fargo had brought along the same team that played in the previous match. Sal, though, had changed things around a little. He would still play first board, with Dan still on second board and Wayne on third. Louie would move up to fourth board while Mike would play fifth. Delmer had asked to sit this one out.
Then a funny thing started to happen. Professor Steam would look at Sal and start to say something, but then he would glance over at Deana and seem to change his mind. The match began without him saying more than a few additional words.
The players were in the booths at the back of the cafe. As the match progressed, the radio announcer, Rollie Gordon, kept up a whispered commentary over the special telephone line the radio station had run into the Beacon.
All of the games were close, but finally the results started coming in. Mike won one and lost one. Louie lost two, while Wayne won two and Dan got two draws. The first game between Sal and the Professor was a draw.
As it was last time, the match was even at 9-9 with one game to go between Sal and Professor Steam. Neither of them had yet managed a win against the other, yet neither of them wanted to adjourn for the summer without a definite settlement to the club rivalry.
Deana served coffee to the growing crowd of onlookers. The cafe was filled to capacity and then some, and business was brisk. Deana freshened Sal's cup and then, while refilling Professor Steam's, accidentally spilled a little coffee on his overalls. Or, perhaps, it wasn't entirely accidental?
"Hey, watch it, you ...." But again, a stare from Deana stopped him mid-sentence. "Coffee's probably poisoned," he muttered under his breath, but he made sure Deana had moved out of earshot before he did so.
The game was tense and well-fought, and finally came down to this position, with Sal to move.
Sal was a piece up, but the Professor was threatening to get it back right away, and if he did he would have the lead with three kings to Sal's one. It didn't look good.
"For goodness' sake, don't you know when to resign?" Professor Steam said. "It's insulting, your playing on in such a bad position. Time to admit that we're better than you are and go back to playing skittles and eating cake while the real checkerists play real checkers."
But Sal, deep in thought, didn't respond. His five minutes was up, the referee gave the one minute warning--- and then Sal looked up at Professor Steam, grinned, and made his move.
Honor and pride are at stake and the pressure is really on. Did Sal come up with something in this tough position? What would you do? We certainly hope you wouldn't take Professor Steam's bait and resign. Think it over; unlike Sal you can have all the time you wish, and then make your move before clicking on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.[Read More]
We've published a great deal of checker fiction in The Checker Maven, nearly all of it our own, so it's a special occasion when we come across a piece that is new (to us) by another author. Today we present When I Played Checkers For My Life, taken from a 1908 issue of The Canadian Checker Player. The story is attributed to an S. L. Merrill and first appeared on January 18, 1908 in the Lewiston Journal of Lewiston, Maine. Despite searching old newspaper archives and city directories, we've found no information on Mr. Merrill, but his story, running about 2,800 words, is a good one containing a nice checker problem about three-fourths of the way in. Illustrations have been added by us.
by S. L. Merrill
From my early childhood, I have been a lover of the game of draughts or "checkers" as it is more generally known. My grandfather who lived in Cumberland county, was regarded even after he had passed his 70th year, as one of the most formidable opponents in the "Pine Tree State," to meet across the board. One of my earliest remembrances is of being permitted to sit up an occasional evening after "little folks should be in bed," to see the veteran play the good old game, in the old fashioned way. Intense, ofttimes bitter, was the rivalry, and exciting were the contests between the local champions; and ofttimes the friendly intervention of a third party was necessary to restore harmony and good will.
I remember well the low studded kitchen, with its quaint furnishings, also the spacious old-fashioned fireplace, with its massive andirons, and its huge back log, while a small wagon-load of pine knots crackled and threw a soft and cheerful light, even to the farthest corner of the room.
The dingy asthmatic hand bellows, battered by long years of service, hung on the wall close by.
In the spacious chimney-corner stood, where it had stood for years, the old arm chair, whose cushioned depths, "Tip," the household tabby cat--- a handsome "tortoise shell" of sedate manner, and of usual size--- had shared for sixteen years with my grandfather. She was in all respects a privileged character, and invariably when the neighbors came in of evenings to have a friendly game, she would leave her cozy place by the fireside, jump upon the table, and curling herself up in a comfortable position, would watch with close attention and apparent understanding, every move made by the grave and gray-bearded men who had come to give battle to "Uncle Zaccheus," as he was affectionately called by all who knew him.
At times when disputes waxed hot between the belligerents, she would rise to a sitting position and lash her tail impatiently to and fro, as if in full sympathy with the question involved.
In those days, especially in the country towns, "bookplay" was a thing comparatively unknown, and the terms, "Ayrshire Lassie, "Maid of the Mill" and "Glasgow" were as unintelligible to the average player as would have been the cuneiform inscriptions upon the walls of Karnak.
The favorite opening--- in fact, one of the very few practiced--- was the "Single Corner." As an old Vermont farmer, and a clever checker player of the old school, once said to me: "In those good old days we used to start in with 11-15 , 22-18, 15-22, 25-18, 8-11 , 29-25, 10-15, 25-22, 4-8, 24-20. 12-16, 27-24, and we thought that we had quite a good game for Whites. But some of those city fellows came up here one summer and played at this point 16-19, 23-16, 12-19, 24-15, 9-14, 18-9, 11-25, and there we were, left like a ship without her rudder. We old fellows now have to take a back seat."
Naturally, with those opportunities for observation, I early mastered the rudiments of the game, and under the tutelage of my grandfather, who took great pride in my progress, I found myself, at the age of sixteen, a match for any of the local aspirants for championship honors; even for my venerable tutor, who ever seemed to be greatly pleased , and in no ways discomfited by reason of my superior play.
About this time my parents removed to Boston, Mass., where my studies at school, and, later on, my business , afforded me but little time to indulge in my favorite game. Among the acquaintances formed in connection with my business was a young man, about my own age, named Bert Halliday, with whom I was soon on terms of closest intimacy. Our tastes were similar, and we soon be came "chums" in every happy sense that the term implies. As it had been several months since I had studied the "magic squares" naturally the subject of checkers had never been discussed between us.
I had no intimation that my friend possessed any knowledge of the game, until one evening he asked me to accompany him to the rooms of the Y.M.C.A. There to my surprise and pleasure, I saw over a dozen tables "set up" in the room and several games in progress. The old-time love for the game came back to me and I watched with intense interest many of the famous Scotch openings, with their intricate problems and crafty variations, which were both admirably played and sharply contested.
It was not long before one of the seats was vacated , and Halliday sat down. His adversary was a man of middle age, whose play had especially attracted my attention by reason of the summary manner in which he had disposed of his late opponents. My friend seemed to be in no way awed or embarrassed as he faced the expert, but started in, in an off-hand manner, that clearly showed his confidence in his own ability to make a creditable score where all others had failed.
The first game was the "File"--- drawn! This was followed by the "Glasgow" and "Defiance," both of which were won by Halliday. The stranger then opened with the "Bristol," which after a hard-fought battle was won by him.
One more game was left to he played, and my friend chose the "Kelso." For a long time there has been a difference of opinion regarding the strength of Black's defense in this opening, many experts stoutly maintaining that White at all points held advantage. When the facts of this ensuing game became known all the other players in the room left their boards and crowded around the contestants. Amid breathless silence they fought as though the international championship was depending upon their efforts.
Gradually the older player was forced into a position from which there was no retreat, so he resigned courteously, rising and congratulating Halliday upon his remarkable play.
Score for "the boy"-- won 3; lost, 1; drawn, 1.
If I had previously entertained an idea that I possessed some knowledge of draughts, I was equally convinced that I was the veriest tyro. Before we parted that evening it was agreed that we should meet two evenings in a week, and that he would "try to teach me a thing or two about the game." By degrees I became initiated into the mysterious mazes of the Scotch variations, and during the long winter evenings attained a proficiency that won from him many words of commendation.
During the following summer my business necessitated my absence from home to an extent that we saw but little of each other and had but few opportunities to indulge in our favorite pastime. Early in the fall we met by chance at an uptown hotel. I noticed at once in him a strangeness of manner, an unnatural lustre in the eyes and a certain petulance when opinions were conflicting with his own, all of which convinced me that something i was wrong. Halliday held a position of great responsibility in one of the large importing houses in the city, and very often worked late into the night, and I felt that he was overtaxing his strength and vitality and needed a rest--- a change of surroundings--- and told him so. He signified his intention of so doing, and we planned then and there a canoe trip together up the waters of the famous West Branch in Maine to try the fishing as we went along. As we parted he seemed to have regained his old time cheeriness of manner and was especially jubilant over the prospective outing.
One Saturday afternoon a week later, contrary to my usual custom, I went directly home from my office, hoping that an afternoon's rest and quiet would in some measure relieve me of neuralgic pains that had aggravated me since the day before.
All the members of the family had gone to an afternoon matinee, so I had the house to myself. While reclining upon the couch where I was just beginning to feel comfortable I heard a familiar step upon the piazza, and without the usual preliminary knock, in stepped my friend Halliday. His face was flushed, his hair disheveled, and his eyes glowed with a strange luster.
"Hullo!" said he, "what's wrong? You didn't call for me this noon as usual."
I offered my indisposition as an excuse. He replied somewhat indifferently "Then indeed are we brothers in misfortune. I've been so for days."
He seemed to be restless and ill at ease, walking repeatedly to the window and looking up and down the street, then picked up and examined the various articles of bric-a-brac upon the mantel that never before had excited his interest, all the time gently humming to himself. Happening to get sight of my checker table,--- a fine one, laid out in mosaic squares and won by me in a prize contest he proposed at once that we would have "a sitting." Thinking it best to humor him in his strange condition I assented, though with reluctance I seated myself at the table and arranged the checkers for play. Upon looking up I saw him standing facing me, with a cocked revolver in his hand.
"Old man!" said he, "you and I have played many a game for fun, for the dinners or for the theater tickets; now we are going to play another kind of game, with our lives for the stake."
Alarmed by this remark. I started to my feet undecided just what course to take. His next action and remark however gave me no other alternative than to obey.
"Sit down!" said he, "and begin to play! This revolver has got a hair trigger and is liable to go off at any time. It is is going to be the match of our lives. If you fail to win or draw the entire five games that we shall play, I shall shoot you. If I lose I shall shoot myself. Ah ! that will bring out play that would be worthy of a Barker or a Yates. It is a glorious game."
Though inwardly despairing and fearful, I maintained an outward composure, and resolved to take immediate advantage of any unguarded moment or action on his part and grapple with and overpower him if possible, or at least, get possession of the deadly weapon.
With that intuition or cunning so often seen in people insane, he seemed to divine my intentions, and remained standing, making his moves with his left hand, and carelessly toying with the revolver in his right. If I had thought that his moves would be erratic and careless, owing to his mental condition, 1 was doomed to disappointment, for I never saw him play with more consummate skill. I resolved to play for a draw when any critical point should be reached, and rely upon two of my favorite openings to secure a win. I opened with the "New Sixteenth," knowing him to be not thoroughly "booked" in its variations. He studied the many pitfalls laid for him, and by remarkable play drew the game. Next followed the " Bristol" and the "Ayrshire Lassie" openings, each of which I drew with difficulty. At this, he smiled grimly and said. "You are doing well! You have certainly improved in play." But two games now remained to be played, and I breathed a bit easier.
I opened with the famous "Glasgow" an opening that has been a favorite with those great masters at draughts--- Barker, Yates and Wyllie--- and that has won for them some of their most famous matches. But in my alarmed state of mind, I had forgotten that he had made a profound study of this opening, and all of its strong and beautiful lines of play. In all my previous "sittings" with him I was invariably worsted. What had I been thinking in allowing myself to be drawn into this line of play?
He noticed my ill-repressed agitation, and tapped his revolver significantly. "Then you do not like the 'Glasgow', and yet you play it!" he remarked with a small laugh that did not please me at the time.
I replied blandly that I regarded it as the very finest of the Scotch openings, as it afforded the best opportunities for brilliant play, with however this mental reservation, that there were times and conditions more propitious than the present for a thorough enjoyment of the opening.
I made here the desperate resolve that if I failed either to win or draw I would overturn the table and grapple with him regardless of consequences. As I stole a stealthy glance at him, I noticed that his air of intense concentration seemed to be flagging, though he was still a formidable as well as a dangerous foe. Much to my surprise he failed to take advantage of an exchange that would have won for him the game, and I lost no time in improving my opportunity--- the first that had occurred--- to draw the game.
Only one more game to play! The pace was beginning to tell upon me and all the variations of all the various openings seemed to be jumbled together in my mind.
By an effort I collected my scattered wits and resumed play. He chose an English opening, bristling with traps and pitfalls and played to win. Gradually but surely he forced me into the following position.
I felt the blood go from my heart at this unexpected problem. Halliday chuckled complacently and applied himself with his old time concentration and skill to the finish. I felt that there must be a win for whites, but what genius short of a Barker could force one ? And my crazed opponent relentlessly, with splendid play was pressing his advantage. I asked for a few moments of time. More or less would make but little difference to me now.
Suddenly my mind seemed to grow clearer, and I felt that both life and the game were mine. How many of the readers of this story can follow out the game and give a white win?
At this moment I chanced to glance out of the window, and I saw approaching the house, two athletic young fellows, who I knew had some business with me. I realized that not only my life but the life of my friend, which was none the less dear to me, was saved. With a nervous hand I made the final move that secured for me the game.
Halliday stared at the position a moment, then without a word raised the pistol to his temple. I had but little time to decide what to do, and to have clinched with him without first disabling him, would haye been simply suicidal. Quick as a flash I grasped a footstool near at hand and hurled it with all my force at the uplifted hand, at the same time overturning the table and grappling with him.
The missile thrown by me went true to its mark. The revolver was discharged the bullet passing upward through the ceiling, while Halliday's arm, benumbed by the shock, fell limp and powerless at his side. The weapon dropped to the floor, where a sharp kick from my foot sent it to the farthest corner of the room. The noise of the discharge added to my calls for assistance caused my visitors to enter hurriedly, without the ceremony of knocking or ringing the bell.
My unfortunate friend fought desperately, but was finally overpowered. After securing him so he could do no injury to himself or to others, medical aid was summoned and he was removed to a place where he could have the best possible care and treatment. Beyond a sprained wrist and slight shoulder bruises, my friend was uninjured.
Halliday remained in a sanitarium until the following spring and passed the summer mouths hunting and fishing in the Canadian Rockies. He returned to his business in September of that year in splendid physical condition fully recovered from his strange malady. Strangely enough he retained no recollection of the time when he played a checker match with his dearest friend, the stakes being a human life.
Halliday and I took that trip up the West Branch the following summer, and tramped it together over the northern peaks of the Presidential Range, N. H. with the ever popular Charley Lowe as guide but when the subject of checkers is brought up each seems to be willing to concede the question of supremacy to the other.
The problem is an excellent one although certainly not easy. See how you do--- thankfully no lives are at stake--- and then click on Read More to see the winning method.[Read More]