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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Halloween At The Beacon


It was Saturday, October 29, 1955. That meant that Monday would be October 31. Halloween.

Now, every Saturday except during the summer and major holidays, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club met at The Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota. Bismarck was a very traditional, home-town sort of place, and holidays were celebrated with enthusiasm.

Deana Nagle

So Deana Nagle, the proprietor of the Beacon and the best baker in a dozen counties, decided that on Saturday she'd give free coffee to anyone in costume. She couldn't do it on Sunday, when the Beacon was closed, or on Monday, when folks had to wear work clothes, so Saturday was it.

There's nothing a hometown likes more than something for free, and all Saturday morning, customers in various types of costume came in for free coffee. Of course Deana was as good at business as she was at baking, and as she expected, a lot of customers bought her baked treats. Deana had even dressed up herself--- as a baker, of course!


But the afternoon would be slower. Some folks still had leaves to rake and yards to prepare for winter, and important chores like that weren't put off in a town like Bismarck. Still, the Checker Club would be there. Would they wear costumes? Deana didn't know what to wish for. The "boys" of the Club (all of them over 50) drank a lot of coffee and ate a lot of baked goods. It would be quite a bit of free coffee to hand out. On the other hand, the boys were good natured and usually left tips in addition to all the goodies they bought.


One o'clock rolled around and the first one through the door was Sal Westerman, the leader of the Club. Sure enough he was dressed as a college professor, in an academic gown and wearing a mortarboard. It suited him well, Deana thought as she poured him a cup of coffee and returned his greetings.


Next in was Wayne.


He was dressed as a farmer. Deana thought that hardly qualified, as Wayne grew up on a farm north of town. But he got his free coffee anyhow.


Then Dan came in. He was costumed as a cowboy--- not much of a costume in western North Dakota, but still, he was in the spirit of the day.


Next was Louie, appearing as the comic book character Flash (Louie's nickname was itself "Flash").


Sam then appeared, in a clown suit.


Finally there was Tom, appearing as a football player (Tom had played football in college).

That was a lot of free coffee already, and when Sal laid out the checkers on a board in the big booth at the back, and announced, "This is a tough one from my checker pal Brian in St. Louis," Deana knew the coffee would have to keep flowing.

White to Play and Win


"I've got raisin pumpkin bars today," Deana announced, and there were grins all around. She knew she'd be selling a good dozen of them in a little while, as the boys would each have one and some of them would take a couple home for their grandkids.


But for the moment, the concentration was intense. Deana sat back and relaxed. Half an hour passed and Sal called "Time!" She heard Wayne say, "We can't get it. You win, Sal. Show us."

She watched as Sal began to move the checkers and explain the solution.

You don't have to dress up in Halloween garb to solve this problem, unless, of course, you wish to do so. Costume or no costume, see how you do with this one. In the spirit of Halloween, it's "scary" hard! But don't be scared off. Try to find the win and when you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and explanatory notes. Who knows, you might win a (virtual) raisin pumpkin bar.null

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Election Day


Election Day in the United States is not far off, and The Checker Maven urges all of our eligible American readers to get out and vote, whether by mail, in-person, or however it works in your particular place of residence. We're not going to express any opinions on how you should vote. Cast your vote as you see fit, but definitely vote!

The story below may perhaps be taken as a bit of a cautionary tale. It is of course purely fiction but may highlight what can happen when the wrong person gets elected ... something for which the voters are directly responsible.

Senator Marcy and Chief of Staff

Marcy Baloner was a United States Senator from a state quite distant from the nation's capitol. (She was the older cousin of Mary Baloner, whom we met in another Checker Maven story some years ago.)

Now, Senator Marcy wasn't quite the brightest lightbulb in the chandelier, and she wasn't the most stable person, either. In fact, some of her critics called her "Crazy Marcy" because of the way she acted during Congressional hearings. She was always outraged over something and didn't hesitate to express her emotions.

Little known to those outside of her advisory circle was that each morning, her staff briefed her on what she ought to be outraged about on that particular day. They even had assigned outrage themes to the days of the week, much like the old Mickey Mouse Club had daily themes. For instance, Monday was Gender Identity Outrage Day; Tuesday was Evil Capitalism Outrage Day, and so on.

At nine o'clock on a Thursday morning, Senator Marcy sat down in her conference room for her daily briefing. "What have we got for today?" she asked her assembled staff.

Her Chief of Staff replied, "Well, Thursday is Microaggression Outrage Day. The St. Louis newspaper's checker column has a checker problem by Brian someone or other, and it's filled with microaggressions."

Senator Marcy thought for a moment. "St. Louis? Is that in my constituency? Where is St. Louis, anyhow? Did they vote for me in the last election?"

The Chief of Staff, accustomed to such questions, replied calmly, "No, Senator, St. Louis is in Missouri. You represent ..."

"Oh, right, of course," the Senator replied. "Well, anyhow, what's my stand on this?"

"Brian refers to the checkers as 'men' and 'kings.' Obvious microaggressions. Your position is that checkers is a misogynistic, racist game that has no place in America."

"Oh, racist, too?" the Senator said. "That sounds great. I can get really mad. Two things at once to yell at people about."

"Well, Friday is Racism Outrage Day, but I see no problem in advancing that to Thursday and combining it with Microaggression Outrage Day," the Chief of Staff said. "After all, Brian also calls the checkers Black and White, and he even dares to capitalize White!"

Marcy shook her head. "Terrible, terrible. Something must be done about checkers! Maybe I should introduce a bill. Like, eliminate the teaching of checkers in the schools and substitute something else. Except I don't know what."

"You can make your usual point about Mindful Woke Pronouns," the Chief of Staff suggested.

"Oh ... is that my usual point? You would know better than I would," the Senator said. "Write a speech for me and tell me when I should yell and frown and throw stuff. It's going to be a great day. And make sure the networks and newspapers all cover it."

"I'm on it, Senator," the Chief of Staff said. Gosh, but how she loved her job, working with such a distinguished Senator.

Brian's outrageous checker problem is show below, and we hope you're not too offended or outraged yourself to give it a try. Brian says it's about 7 out of 10 in terms of difficulty, and he notes that some skilled solvers are having a little trouble with it.

White to Play and Win


When you're outraged enough to see the solution, click on Read More to see the winning moves and composer's notes.null

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10/24/20 -Printer friendly version-
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Opening Day

Dallas Checkerdrome

Opening day.

Excitement and electricity were in the air, for today began the new season of the National Checker League. Each and every team was hopeful, their eyes set on unseating the World Champion Detroit Doublejumpers and claiming the crown for themselves.

It would take a lot of good checkers and maybe a few breaks to accomplish that, but the Pennant Race would soon be on.

No team was more optimistic than the Dallas Defiance, led by their new captain, a young lady who went by the name of Sunny Sunshine. She was a bit, shall we say, theatrical, but she had earned her team captaincy by showing skill and daring at the checkerboard.

Sunny Sunshine

Today, in the Dallas Checkerdrome, she would face Marvin J. Mavin, superstar leader of the aforementioned World Champion Detroit Doublejumpers.

Marvin J. Mavin

The Checkerdrome was packed with a sellout crowd of over 50,000 rabid Dallas fans. Soon the players and umpires were introduced and the teams stood at attention in front of their dugouts for the playing of the National Anthem.

Then the players took the field, and the season was on!

But where's this Sunny lady? Marvin asked himself as he stood in front of first board, his playing position. His opponent seemed to be missing--- oh, you've got to be kidding me! he thought.

For here came Sunny Sunshine, riding a unicycle in from the outfield! The crowd roared its appreciation and Sunny waved and blew kisses and she made her way toward first board.


She rode straight up to Marvin, jumped down from her unicycle, and cast it aside as she offered Marvin a handshake.

"Pleased to meet you, Marvster!" she said. "Ready to get your pants handed to you?" As attendants cleared the field of the unicycle, Sunny laughed and slapped her knees, and the crowd laughed with her.

Marvin, for once, was speechless.

"Lost your voice, Marvster?" she asked as she did lively dance steps over to her side of the board. "Doesn't matter. Won't change anything. But you're going to look pretty silly without pants!"


Finally Marvin spoke. "Oh yeah, well you're going to ... "

"Ah, watch what you say, Marvster," Sunny interrupted, "wouldn't want to get charged with Misogynist Microaggression Offending, now, would you?"

Marvin stopped mid-sentence. MMO would be a very serious thing indeed, and could even tank his career. The National Checker League had become very careful about staying on the good side of the LTBO (Looking To Be Offended) Movement.

"Hey," he finally said, "how about we just, you know, compete over the checkerboard?"

"You're on," Sunny said, "that's just what I had in mind." She grinned. "But I'd still hang on to your pants."

Before Marvin could either attempt a reply or realize that he had best stay silent, the whistle blew and the call "Play checkers!" resounded through the stadium.

"Play Checkers!"

The game was a tough one and for the most part it went on in silence. Finally Marvin, playing White, felt he had an advantage in a very complicated and unusual position.

White to Play, What Result?


But at that moment, Marvin forgot himself. "Well there girl, looks like I just might win this one and keep my pants." Marvin, thinking he had been very clever, chuckled.

"What did you call me?" Sunny exclaimed. "Did you call me girl?" She stood up behind her board, hands on her hips.

Marvin replied, "Well, yeah, uh, I mean you are a ... you know ... "

Sunny interrupted. "After a remark like that you still think you're going to win?"

"Well, look here young .... um, person, I got eight men to your seven, even though you got a lotta kings ..."

"Men," Sunny said in a clearly derisive tone. "And Kings. It figures. You know what this game is called in French and German? Bet you don't because you're not exactly educated. It's called Jeux de dames and Damenspiel--- the game of Queens. So don't you ever call me girl or any sexist term again. From now on you'll either call me Ms. Sunshine or Queen Sunny, is that clear?"

"Uh, yeah. Clear as Sunshine on a Sunny day. Well then, Queen Sunny, watch this."

Marvin made his move. Sunny quickly sat back down and studied the board, a frown on her face.

What will happen next? Can Marvin pull off a win? How will Sunny react? Is Marvin in hot water?

Solve the problem as best you can and then click on Read More for the solution and some answers to these questions.null

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Uncle Ben's Porch: When 'Sorry' Isn't Enough


It was Saturday morning and as usual, Tommy Wagner was sitting on Uncle Ben's porch for his weekly checker lesson. Uncle Ben wasn't really Tommy's uncle, but everyone called him that. Tommy had much potential as a checker player, and the kindly old retired checker professional had been tutoring him for several years.

But Tommy surely didn't look happy this morning.

A month had passed since Tina had caught Tommy at the movies with Letitia. Although Tommy had apologized, Tina was continuing to give him the cold shoulder, barely even responding to his greetings when they passed in the hallways of their central Florida high school.


Tommy, knowing his chances of getting a date with Tina were about zero, had called Letitia a couple of times, not realizing that if Tina ever found out, he might as well forget about Tina for the rest of his life. But Letitia, although receptive to Tommy's calls and polite enough, had refused multiple requests to go out with him, and finally Tommy stopped calling.


Tommy was feeling pretty down about the whole situation and his checker playing suffered. He had risen to Team Captain of the Junior Varsity team, no small feat for a 9th grader, but lately his performance had been well below his usual standard.

Uncle Ben noticed Tommy's diminished focus, and said, "Still having girl trouble, are you Tommy?"

"Yes, Uncle Ben, I sure am. I did what you said and apologized but it didn't really make a lot of difference, I guess."

"Didn't it? Do you mean that your apology was wasted?"

"Well, kind of ... I mean ..."

"You thought they would just forgive you and everything would be as it was."

"Yes sir, I suppose I did."

"Well, Tommy, there are two reasons to apologize. One reason is for them, and the other is for you."

Tommy continued to look confused. "I'm not sure I understand, Uncle Ben."

"You apologize to them because you did something to offend or hurt them, and they deserve to hear that you recognize that you did something you shouldn't have, and regret having done it. But you apologize for yourself so that you can do better in the future, and that can only happen when you accept the fact that you had gone wrong."

"Sure, Uncle Ben, but ..."

"... but you have to recognize that actions have consequences. If Letitia and Tina remain angry with you, or perhaps have lost faith and trust in you, then you'll have to accept that."


"I know, you're right, but it's so ... miserable!"

Tommy turned his head away. He didn't want Uncle Ben to see the tear in the corner of his eye.

"It can be miserable. But on the other hand you can't let it take over your life. You did the right thing by apologizing, and if there's nothing more you can do, you have to move on and try not to let it affect things that are important to you. One day, perhaps, your apologies may be fully accepted, but until then, you must deal with things as they are."

"You mean ... oh ... I haven't been playing very well lately, have I?"

"Honestly ... no, and no doubt your coach has noticed."

"Yes. He's talked to me. He told me I need to pull out of it and get my head together, although he doesn't know anything about Letitia and Tina."

"Well then ... nothing like some good hard practice. Are you ready for a challenge? Accompanied by some fresh lemonade?"

Tommy managed a smile. "Yes sir, I'm ready."

"Okay, young man. You just take a look at the position on the checkerboard while I pour us some refreshment."

Black to Play and Win


Tommy did as he was instructed. Very shortly thereafter, Uncle Ben handed him a tall frosty glass. Tommy took a sip and then refocused on the checkerboard.


"This is a hard one, Uncle Ben. I think ... aha! That's the idea!"

"Show me, Tommy." Uncle Ben smiled inwardly. He knew there was nothing like a good mental workout to chase away worries. And he knew that, given time, Tommy would have internalized a difficult life lesson, and have become a better person by it.

We can't say if you've been on-track or off-track lately, but we can say that a mental workout is good for all of us no matter what the situation. Can you solve this one? Focus! With or without lemonade, give it your best effort and then click on Read More to see the solution, notes, a sample game, and numerous additional examples of the theme.null

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Marvin Returns To Summer Training Camp


Marvin J. Mavin, star professional checkerist and Captain of the World Championship Detroit Doublejumpers, was on top of things this year.

Marvin J. Mavin

He dutifully reported to training camp in August, which was once again at a lakeside resort in Northern Michigan near the town of Au Train. But this year he made sure he was in good shape, both physically and mentally.

Coach Ronaldson

The previous summer, Coach Ronaldson had been tough on Marvin, making him run extra miles along the lake and watching him closely to be sure he didn't break any of the team's strict training rules. Marvin wasn't about to go through that again, so he trained over the summer break, going jogging with his girlfriend Priscilla, playing tennis with his friend Brian, and keeping sharp with tough matches against the top-flight King of Checkers computer program.

During the first week of camp, Coach Ronaldson noticed the difference. Marvin's usual irreverent attitude was even missing. The Coach was pleased and didn't feel the need to single out Marvin for special 'attention.' But privately the Coach wondered if the 'new' Marvin was a temporary thing.

Toward the end of the second week of camp, Coach found out.

It was in the evening after a hard day of training and the customary team dinner, a time when the players had precious leisure time. Coach was in the resort's lounge, studying from the latest book by Dr. Reginald Pastor, when Marvin came up to him.


"Coach? Can I ask you something?"

Coach Ronaldson looked up. "Yes, what is it, Marvin?"

"Well, Coach, maybe you noticed that this year for me is a lot different than last year."

"Yes, it would be hard not to notice. Frankly, I'm a little surprised but quite pleased with your preparedness, and especially with your positive attitude."

Marvin grinned. "Gee, thanks, Coach, I was hoping you'd say that, so I was wondering, if like, maybe, you know as a sort of reward, well ..."

Coach frowned. He had an idea what might be coming, and he didn't like it. "Get to the point, Marvin."

"Okay, you know, Sunday being our day off and stuff, like maybe we could go into town for a couple of beers?"

Coach sat up straight, his frown deepening. "Tell you what, Marvin. Solve this problem in five minutes or less." Coach indicated a problem in the book he was holding.

Black to Play and Win


"Uh, sure coach ..." Marvin scratched his head, looked puzzled, and then grinned. "Black to play and win, right? You're kiddin' me. Easy. Black is two pieces ahead ..."

"Yes, Black to play and win. Now show me, if you think it's so simple."

Marvin, now a little uneasy at the Coach's sharp tone, thought for a couple of minutes. "Oh wait ... heh heh, well Coach, maybe it ain't all that easy ... "

A few more minutes passed. "Aha!" Marvin exclaimed, and then began to show Coach the solution.

If your Coach challenged you with a problem like this, could you solve it in five minutes? Well, we won't hold you to any particular time limit; take as long as you like and then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of today's story.null

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Sal's Summer Vacation


It was July, 1955, and the summer heat had invaded Bismarck, North Dakota. Known for its cold and prolonged winters, those who didn't live there never realized that summer on the prairie, though very short, could be intensely hot, with the mercury rising above 100 degrees on some days.

Sal Westerman

Sal Westerman, the informal leader of Bismarck's Coffee and Cake Checker Club, found himself missing the club's weekly meetings at the Beacon Cafe. The club took a summer break between Decoration Day and Labor Day. The cafe itself closed for about six weeks as the proprietor, Deana, enjoyed summer with her parents on the family farm near Gackle, in eastern North Dakota.

Sylvia Westerman

Sylvia, Sal's wife, had talked Sal into renting a small cabin near Lake Sakakawea. It was a bit cooler up there, with breezes off the lake, and a simple lifestyle with few intrusions. Sal had to admit he enjoyed the long, lazy summer afternoons, and although he wished he could be at the Beacon, he had a stack of checker magazines to keep him busy.


One Tuesday, after doing a little fishing in the morning when it was cooler, Sal and Sylvia were relaxing in wicker chairs on the shaded veranda of their cabin. Sal had a copy of All Checkers Digest on his lap and Sylvia was doing some knitting. It was a peaceful scene.

"Anything good in your magazine?" Sylvia asked.

Sal figured she was just making conversation, as he replied, "Yes, they've got this three-by-three problem from Brian in St. Louis, that's really kind of fun. I think I've almost got it."

To Sal's surprise, Sylvia said, "Oh? Let me see!"

Sal, puzzled, handed his wife the magazine, saying, "It's this one here in the middle of the page."

White to Play and Win


Sylvia frowned a bit. Something like four or five minutes passed, with Sal looking on in bewilderment.

"Oh, here's how you do it," Sylvia said, a big smile on her face. "It's not that hard, you know!"

Did Sylvia actually solve one of Brian's problems? Can you solve it? Take four or five minutes, or as long as you wish, and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story.null

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Marvin At The World Series: Sudden Death


In our previous episode, Detroit Doublejumpers captain Marvin J. Mavin drew in the deciding game of the World Series of Checkers, forcing a sudden death playoff on the following day.

Marvin J. Mavin

Sudden death playoffs were conducted solely between the team captains. That meant that Marvin would be playing a series of five minute games against Los Angeles Leapers captain Hyun-Mi Park. The first player to win a game would bring home the championship.

Hyun-Mi Park

To put it mildly, the pressure was on, and Hyun-Mi was known to be a deadly opponent at speed checkers. Marvin, on the other hand, was stronger in games with longer time limits. Las Vegas book was a whopping 5 to 1 in favor of Hyun-Mi.

Marvin knew full well that he was the underdog. It was a situation that called for a beer, but there was no chance of that, and anyhow Marvin knew he had to keep a clear head. So in his warm-up prior to the game, he tried chewing gum. When that didn't help, he gargled mouthwash for a full 90 seconds. His coach told him to spit it out and run in place for a while, but that only made Marvin's legs hurt.


Marvin then asked for a cheeseburger and fries, but the coach refused, instead having a plate of carrot sticks sent in from the stadium's kitchens.


Marvin barely had time to scowl before the players were called on the field for the playing of the National Anthem.

After the Anthem and the ceremonial playing of the first move by the Governor of Michigan, Hyun-Mi and Marvin met at the center of the field for handshakes and photographs. Hyun-Mi was, as always, stern and composed, while Marvin did his awkward best, all the while trying not to tremble with what he would never admit was fear.

Then the preliminaries were over and the whistle blew, indicating the start of the game. Just before pressing the clock button, Hyun-Mi looked into Marvin's eyes with her patented steely gaze and sent shivers down Marvin's spine.

The first five games ended in draws. Hyun-Mi had the advantage in most of them, but Marvin managed to hold out, though the effort was exhausting. Hyun-Mi, on the contrary, remained cool and composed, content to just wear Marvin down.


There was a fifteen minute break, and Marvin retreated to the Doublejumper dugout for a few cups of sports drink and a toweling down of his face, neck, and arms.

"She's getting the better of you," Marvin's coach remarked pointedly.

As if I didn't know, Marvin thought, but knew better than to say it out loud. Under the rules, the coach could bring in a pinch checkerist at any time, and Marvin didn't want to suffer the humiliation.

Seemingly reading Marvin's mind, the coach said, "Maybe I should bring in Pete Butterworth to pinch play for you. What do you think?"

Pete Butterworth

"I can do it coach, I really can," Marvin said. "Just give me a chance."

"Okay, one more set of five, after that Butterworth comes in. And don't even think about losing."

The whistle blew and Marvin and Hyun-Mi resumed their match.

Three draws ensued, then a fourth. As the fifth game began, Marvin knew it was his last chance.

Hyun-Mi, for her part, never thought Marvin would last this long. She was the best speed checkerist anywhere, and she should have won during the first two or three games of the first round. Was her confidence shaken, if ever so slightly? No matter. She would never show it. If there was one thing she had learned in North Korea, other than checkers, it was how to hide her emotions.


The players moved rapidly, and after a few minutes the following position was reached.

White to Play, What Result?


Marvin felt he actually had a chance, if he could just work it out quickly enough. There was only a minute left on his clock. He would have to make his move while still keeping enough time in reserve to finish out the game. Fifteen seconds at best to find the right move.

Sweat was pouring off him. He was fidgeting in his seat as he always did when things got tough. The seconds ticked by ...

And then he made his move.

What do you think of this position? Marvin has five men vs. four kings, is that the better side to have?

The position is not especially difficult but under intense pressure anything can happen. Give thanks that you're not facing Hyun-Mi, and can take your time to find the solution in the comfort of your own non-North Korean surroundings. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of the story.null

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Marvin At The World Series: Part One


The Detroit Doublejumpers had done it again. Led by their captain, Marvin J. Mavin, they had made it to the top of the American Division of the National Checker League, and were playing the National Division winner, the Los Angeles Leapers, for championship honors in the World Series of Checkers.

The Spring Classic was set at the best four out of seven, and the Doublejumpers and the Leapers had won three each. In the seventh match, the lower four boards had split at 2-2 with only the first board game left to be decided.

Tension was high in Doublejumper Park, all 60,000 fans on the edges of their seats.

Marvin needed to win this game and bring the crown to the Doublejumpers. It was a very big deal. A draw wouldn't do, for in that case, there would be a sudden death playoff the next day, consisting of five-minute speed games between the team captains. The first captain to win a game would carry home the championship on behalf of his or her team.

Marvin J. Mavin

Marvin was one of the best, if not the best, at checkers played at the professional time control of two hours per game. He was good enough, but not tops, at speed checkers.

The opposing captain, Hyun-Mi Park, never lost at speed checkers. Never.

Hyun-Mi Park

Ms. Park had originally played for the North Korean National Team, but at an exhibition match in Los Angeles, she had defected and was granted political asylum in the United States. It was a bold and courageous act, and in fact Ms. Park was now protected by a full-time security detail.


Ms. Park had gone on to join the ranks of professional checkers, and before long had risen to the captaincy of the Leapers.

However, Marvin, at least at the moment, didn't care about any of that. He just had to focus on winning this game. And he had a strong position.

Black to Play and Draw


He didn't think Hyun-Mi, who was on move, could find a draw. Or maybe he was just hoping she couldn't. He just desperately wanted this to be over so he could celebrate with a few beers.

Hyun-Mi was a model of concentration. She, too, knew what was at stake. The clock continued to tick down but her focus was unbroken. Finally, she uttered a soft, "Danggeun!" and made her move.

How would you do if the stakes were so high? Would you be able to find a draw? Unlike Hyun-Mi, you have as much time as you wish. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the Part One.null

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A Bittersweet Day at The Beacon Cafe


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


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

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

Ted Harman

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

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


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

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

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

White to Play and Win


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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05/16/20 -Printer friendly version-
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April in Bismarck


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

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

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

... playing checkers at the Beacon Cafe?


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

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

Young Ted

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White to Play and Win


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

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

But the boys were already deep in contemplation.

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

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04/25/20 -Printer friendly version-
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