Contests in Progress:
The Christmas and New Year's holidays were coming, and this would be the last meeting of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club until after the two week break.
Everyone was gathered in the big booth at the back of the Beacon Cafe, which was situated in the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota. The year was 1955 and the club was informally led by Sal Westerman, a very accomplished but very modest elderly gentleman.
Several of the "boys" (all of whom but one were over 50 years of age) were on hand. Young Blaine had put in an appearance, as well as regulars Dan, Mike, Wayne, Larry, and Louie the Flash. The group was rounded out by Old Frank, who only was seen on occasion.
It was cold, clear, and crisp outside. The temperature at 1 PM, the club's meeting time, was hovering just above zero (Fahrenheit, of course) and would likely drop well below zero by the time the club adjourned just before the cafe closed at 5.
The cafe was gaily decorated for the season and the chatter was about what everyone would be doing over the holidays. Several of the boys were going back to their family farm in various locations around the state, to celebrate with relatives. Young Blaine would spend the holiday with his parents up in Minot. Sal and a couple others would have a quiet holiday at home.
Now, young Blaine was a busy fellow and only could make it to the club once in a while. Today, he was coming in for some serious but good natured teasing from the older members--- which was everyone else, actually.
"So young Blaine, you finally going to propose to Moira?" Dan asked. Moira was young Blaine's girlfriend of some five years. "I'm sure a big sparkly ring would make a great Christmas gift for her."
"Well, I was actually thinking of maybe a nice bottle of perfume," young Blaine replied, turning a bit red as he did.
"No, no," Sal said, "I tried that one Valentine's Day and trying to choose perfume for a young lady, or a lady of any age for that matter, is just a way to get yourself into hot water. Come now, young Blaine, she's been waiting for how long now? The bird could fly the coop, you know."
"Aw, she wouldn't ... would she?" Blaine said.
"Happened to lots of guys," Old Frank put in. "Why, I remember back in ... "
"Things have changed a bit since the Civil War!" Mike said, and everyone laughed.
But before young Blaine could make a reply, Deana, the proprietess and a championship baker, announced that today she had a special holiday treat, date nut bars with candied fruit. "Kind of a fruit cake except they're bars," she pointed out, and then couldn't help but add, "and you there, young Blaine, listen to a gal who knows the score. You better propose while the proposing's good."
"Well, then," Sal interrupted, adroitly changing the subject, "those bars sound very festive and I'll be sure to take a few home for my wife Sylvia. Of course you boys will be buying because you're not going to solve the problem I brought along today. So much as this discussion is interesting I think we'd best get down to business."
That elicited a chorus of "oh yeah" and "we'll see." But Sal had accomplished his goal. The boys were ready to turn to checkers, likely much to young Blaine's relief.
The long-standing tradition was for Sal to bring along a checker problem; if the boys solved it, Sal bought the treats but if they didn't win it, they would buy for Sal and Sylvia.
"Okay, Sal, put up or ... you know!" Wayne said playfully.
"You're on," Sal replied, and set up the following position on two of the waiting checkerboards.
"Hmm," young Blaine said, anxious not to have the conversation revert to his relationship with Moira. But, when presented with a nice checker problem, the boys weren't about to focus on anything else.
Sal, meanwhile, was looking in young Blaine's direction and smiling, if ever so slightly. He could still remember his days of youthful love. There was an intensity to it that was perhaps suitable only for the young. But there was another reason Sal had changed the subject and directed the conversation away from young Blaine. There were some bittersweet memories that at the moment Sal didn't want to revisit, but couldn't help doing.
He and Sylvia had recently celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary. They were married in 1914. Sal was 28 years old at the time. He had courted Sylvia for a good five years. She had turned 23 and was getting impatient. A young lady of 23, her parents told her, should have been married by now and starting a family.
But Sal was afraid. He was afraid to ask, for fear of being turned down. Until the day he was summoned to the Army, to fight in the Great War, which had just begun.
He was to report in 90 days, and there was no telling when he would be home again--- if ever. It looked like the war would go on for a while, and lives were already being lost. So he scraped together his savings, and went and bought the best ring he could afford. It wasn't much but it would have to do.
Then one evening that week when he and Sylvia had some precious time alone in the parlor of Sylvia's home, where she lived with her parents, all in practically a single breath he told Sylvia of his being called to go to war and then instantly bent a knee and asked her to marry him.
Sylvia looked into Sal's eyes and wept. Finally she said, "Sal, I don't know what to say. I've been waiting so long for you to ask me I was on the verge of telling you we would have to break off our relationship. In fact, I was prepared to do that tonight."
Sal's expression turned from nervous to crestfallen. "So," he said, "you won't accept?"
"You're asking me to marry you and at the same time telling me perhaps I'll become a young widow. Five years of courting, why couldn't you ask me before it came to this?"
Sal didn't respond, didn't know how to respond. Silent, he stayed on one knee, waiting for Sylvia to say more.
"We don't even have time to get married," she said. "You leave so soon." She paused. "I have to think about this. Give me a day or two, would you?"
Sal stood. His voice trembling, he said, "Of course. Whatever you wish." But his heart was about to break.
"I think you had better go now," Sylvia said. "Come back in two nights and I'll give you my decision. Don't get in touch with me or my parents until then."
Sal nodded his head and quietly made his way to the front door. It was a long, cold walk home, but not as long as the ensuing two days would be.
When the 2nd evening came, Sal, his heart skipping beats, willing himself not to shake, made his way back to Sylvia's. She answered the door herself.
"Come in, Sal," she said quietly. She walked with Sal into the parlor and pointed to the sofa. "Have a seat," she said. Sal sat as directed but Sylvia made no move to join him. Instead, she stood in the middle of the room with her arms crossed over her chest.
"I've decided to accept," she said. Sal started to smile and looked as if to speak, but Sylvia didn't give him the opportunity. "I've discussed this with my parents," she went on, 'and they agreed, but they and I are imposing a condition."
"Anything, dear, anything," Sal said but Sylvia had already gone on.
"You must marry me before you report for duty," she said. "That doesn't give us much time, and we'll only be able to have a small wedding with just a few guests and a reception here at the house. We'll go for the marriage license tomorrow."
Then she smiled. "Now, where's the ring?"
They were married just a few days before Sal went off to boot camp. Sal didn't return until the war was over. But he did return.
Sal's reverie was interrupted by young Blaine. "You look like you're somewhere else, Sal," young Blaine said. "But look, we've solved this one."
Sal looked at the clock. An hour had passed. "Show me," Sal said.
We can't say if you're in a situation in which you're thinking of proposing to a girl- or boyfriend over the holidays; we suspect that would apply to a rather small number of our readers. But perhaps some of you can recall a past year, whether near or distant in time, when that was the case. No matter. There's a nice sparkly checker problem for you to try. Young Blaine seems to have the solution in hand, and we "propose" that you see if you can match the boys on this one. It's a bit long and a bit difficult but we're sure you can "engage" with it, and then click on Read More to check up on your "proposed" solution and read the conclusion of our story.[Read More]
The photo above is of the Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It's a fitting header for today's Checker School column in which we present not just one but two problems involving three kings. Not ancient kings perhaps, but kings that figure prominently in instructive endgames.
The following pair of positions appeared in Andrew Banks' eclectic book Checker Board Strategy, which has been the basis of many recent Checker School columns.
The first one is really easy and is sort of a speedy warm-up. It's an illustration of finding a way to draw when a piece down. (Mr. Banks points out, however, that this position couldn't have arisen had not White blundered into it. Well, as they say, anything can and does happen in over the board play.)
The second one will be easy for the experts and good practice for the improving player. Winning three kings against two baffles many a novice, and even a surprising number of players above the novice level.
Give these problems a royal effort, and after you've put on the crowning touches, click on Read More to verify your solutions.[Read More]
We're upgrading software versions on our site. While we're doing the best we can to keep everything stable and working, if you notice anything out of line please let us know. Thanks for your patience!
This week The Checker Maven celebrates its 19th publication anniversary, and as we've said every year for some little while, we never expected to get this far, and we wouldn't have without our many loyal readers. We have no timetable and no prediction for how long our column will continue. It depends a lot on your aging editor's health and eyesight, neither of which are the best. All we can do is repeat that we'll go on as long as we reasonably can.
This anniversary we turn to someone whom we see as something of a role model, Bill Salot, who at above 90 years of age is still as active and productive as many who are many decades younger. We present one of Bill's best problems, about which noted problemist Brian Hinkle had the following to say.
"Roy Little and I decided to solve Bill's masterpiece The Clincher together by discussing it over the phone. We worked on it together, off and on, for about two months. I finally came up with the winning theme and shared my solution with Roy and he quickly agreed that I was correct."
This problem first appeared in Elam's Checker Board, April 1962, Page 5260, Scorpion Club Column, where it was called Traveling Man.
Tom Wiswell included it in his The Science of Checkers and Draughts, 1973, Page 46, where he renamed it The Clincher.
Mr. Salot notes, and Mr. Hinkle confirms, "Brian Hinkle took days to solve it."
Obviously this one isn't easy, but please join us in celebrating our anniversary by trying this one out. We're sure you'll like it, and you can always click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
This column will appear on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, 2023. We hope you've had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Perhaps you were off on Friday and are enjoying a four-day weekend. Maybe you participated in the crazy shopping day known as "Black Friday" when, it is said, the ledger sheets of merchants turn from loss (red) into profit (black).
However, and even if you are celebrating, it's a weekend that can always use a good checker problem and maybe you have a little extra leisure time to take one on. We often turn to Tom Wiswell for a holiday problem, so here's a position we think you'll really enjoy.
Mr. Wiswell calls this one "The Gold Brick" and informs us as to its origin.
" ... White has just played 19-16 which allows Black a fine win. XXXX would have drawn, but many experts have walked into this inviting trap ... which originated from some analysis by the author (Mr. Wiswell) and Monte Schleifer."
We've redacted the move that White should have played and leave that as an exercise for the reader.
Try to solve this one. Maybe coffee and slice of pumpkin pie can be your reward once you win it ... or even if you don't, since you can always see the solution by clicking on Read More.[Read More]
It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The year was 1955 and the place was the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota.
At just after one in the afternoon, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club had started its weekly meeting. The club, nominally led by Sal Westerman, had a number of checker enthusiasts as members, all but one of whom were over the age of 50.
The club meet each Saturday from just after Labor Day to just before Memorial Day, except for holidays such as Thanksgiving weekend.
The "boys" as Sal called them, were all enjoying their coffee. Dan, Sam, Delmer, Wayne, Tom, and Louie the Flash were on hand today. But instead of being deep into a checker discussion, they were talking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. A rather pointed debate was going on about what you should eat on Thanksgiving.
"Turkey, what else?" Dan said, and there were a number of nods of agreement. But Sal was espousing a contrary point of view.
"Now, boys," he said, "I certainly can't argue against the great American tradition of turkey, with lots of stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and so on, not to mention pumpkin pie for dessert."
As if on cue, Deana, the Beacon's proprietess, called out from behind her serving counter, "Pumpkin spice bars today, boys!"
There were smiles all around as Sal continued, "But my wife Sylvia allows as how she's a little tired of turkey after so many years, and wants to make prime rib instead. She says it's 'festive and celebratory' as she puts it, and 'a nice change from the ordinary.'"
"I like that idea," Deana said. "Are you having a lot of company? With a big crowd, a large turkey is probably a better choice, but for smaller groups a nice three rib roast might be just the thing."
"It's just us this year," Sal said. "Our daughter can't make it up from Washington D.C., and Sylvia's sister Phoebe is going down to Utah to visit with their other sister." Sal almost expressed his relief at Phoebe's being elsewhere, but held back at the last minute. He and Phoebe didn't exactly hit it off.
"Well, then, there you go," said Deana. "A three rib roast will make a great dinner and lots of roast beef sandwiches during the coming week."
A few of the boys said, "I don't know" or words to that effect, but the discussion finally ended with Sal saying, "Thanks, Deana. In any case you can imagine I didn't want to argue with Sylvia, especially after she kind of implied that if I want a turkey I can cook it myself."
Everyone had a good laugh, after which Wayne asked Sal what he had in mind for today's checker problem.
"Here's what I've got for you," Sal said.
The tradition was that Sal would bring along a checker problem for the boys to solve. If they got it, Sal bought the treats but if they couldn't solve it, the boys bought their own plus some for Sal--- and Sylvia.
Sal laid out the following position. "Here you go, boys. It's already one-thirty so let's keep it to no more than half an hour."
The boys all nodded their assent and were soon deep into contemplation.
Our Checker Maven staff do sometimes have prime rib at Thanksgiving, but to support tradition, we serve traditional stuffing, even if pan baked, prepared according to a recipe that is at least 150 years old. What do you have for Thanksgiving? Do you stick with traditional turkey or do you serve something completely different? We'd love to hear from you.
Of course first you should tackle today's problem. We promise you it's not a turkey and you won't have any beef about it. See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Throwing pitches is a big part of the game of baseball. The heart of the sport is the battle between the pitcher and the batter, and a good pitcher (considering modern baseball contracts) is worth literally many times his or her weight in gold. (180 pounds of gold at the time of writing is valued at about US $5 million.)
Pitches are also a big part of the game of checkers. Pitching a piece, while on the surface a loss of material, can result in a winning situation some moves later--- if it's a good pitch and doesn't let the opponent hit a home run and win the game.
Contest 71, in Bill Salot's superb long running series of checker problem composition contests, involves pitches. The four contest problems can be found here. Be sure to check them out and vote for the one you like best.
As an introduction to the theme, here's an example by noted player, writer, analyst, and problemist Jim Loy. It's an excellent problem which Jim created independently. Unfortunately it didn't qualify for the contest as it had previously been discovered and published with colors reversed by T. Riley, as Problem 513 in Horsfall's Problem Book, 1909.
Will this problem throw you a curveball or be a sinker? We hope it's just a fastball that you can hit out of the park. Take a swing at it and then connect your mouse with Read More to see the solution. After that, go on to the contest page.[Read More]
In Simon and Garfunkel's famous song, Mrs. Robinson, there are the famous lyrics
"When you've got to choose
Every way you look at it you lose."
Seems like something that might often apply to our game of checkers, but do the lyrics apply to the following position?
Well, not quite every way you look at it. There's one and only one way to draw in this position. Can you find it? This is not really a speed problem but neither is it too difficult; perhaps it's on the edge between "easy" and "medium." In any case don't be like Mrs. Robinson. Choose but don't lose, then click on Read More to check your solution.[Read More]
Recall from our last story that Tommy Wagner, an aspiring young checker player at a high school in central Florida, had made it onto the Varsity Checker Team. But, alas, it was the second team.
Following his initial disappointment at not making first team, Tommy, under the tutelage of kindly old Uncle Ben, a retired professional checker player who wasn't really Tommy's uncle, played out the season with determination and patience. And so it was when fall came around, with the graduation of some top first team players, there were vacancies.
The head coach, Coach Schann, immediately promoted the two top second team players. That left one vacancy, and Coach was frank about not being sure whether Duwayne Zigley, who played fourth board on second team, or Tommy, who played third board, should get the nod and move up to fifth board on the first team.
"We're going to have a playoff," Coach announced. "Four pairs of games over the course of two afternoons. High score gets the position. In case of a tie, preference goes to Tommy, who is currently on a higher board."
At first Tommy thought this was a little unfair. Hadn't Tommy played a higher board than Duwayne the previous year? Still, Tommy knew he and Zigley were very close in skill, and Tommy didn't dare question Coach. Also, Duwayne had been been doing a lot of training with his own private coach, another retired professional named Ginsberg. So Tommy accepted that he would have to earn his promotion over the board.
The match took place and sure enough, Duwayne and Tommy played even; the first seven games were draws! Tommy had Black in the eighth game and only needed a draw to squeak by and make it to first team.
The game played out to the following position with Tommy to move. He was in a little bit of a situation but all he needed to do was find the draw.
The thing was, Tommy had gotten nervous. His next move would make or break his bid for first team, and he knew it. Furthermore, his clock was running down and he had to make a decision quickly.
Finally, Tommy made his move.
This is not a difficult problem at all, and well within the reach of a player of Tommy's caliber. Can you match wits with Tommy--- and Duwayne? You likely don't have a promotion at stake, so enjoy the problem and then click on Read More to see the rest of the story, the solution, and many examples of this theme.[Read More]
Things had seemingly returned to normal in the National Checker League after the near-disastrous player's strike just before the start of the season. Fortunately, as described in our previous Marvin J. Mavin story, the strike came to a negotiated end afer Marvin defeated Charity Chastity "Cha Cha" Hopkins in a one on one match intended to settle the terms of the strike. At the conclusion of the match, Cha Cha, in a rage, assaulted Marvin and ended up being jailed on a charge of attempted second degree murder. Marvin missed the first two weeks of the season while recovering from a broken collarbone and injuries to his throat and neck.
However, not much could keep Marvin away from the checkerboard, and he was soon back in action.
But, alas, everything isn't always simple. Cha Cha, despite bail being set at $1 million, obained her release and immediately mounted a defense and had her lawyer file for summary dismissal of all charges based on Texas law which accounted for "fightin' words." Cha Cha's defense team put forth the argument that Marvin employed "fightin' words" and therefore Cha Cha's assault on Marvin was justified.
A hearing was scheduled in Dallas Superior Court and Marvin was subpoenaed to appear. The NCL Player's Union decided to provide counsel as NCL management declined to do so citing "conflict of interest."
Unfortunately for Marvin, the powerful Looking To Be Offended (LTBO) lobby filed a brief as an amicus curae, or friend of the court. But they were no friend of Marvin, who had encountered them before (see earlier stories).
LTBO supported Cha Cha's "fightin' words" claim. In their brief, they noted (as did Cha Cha's defense team) that Marvin had used the expression "mano a mano" (in reference to their one on one match) after which he called Cha Cha a "woman." They argued that mentioning gender was well known to be outside the politically correct spectrum and that in so doing Marvin provoked Cha Cha with "fightin' words."
In due course, Marvin was called to the witness stand. He didn't hear the order to step forward, having been preoccupied with a checker problem in All Checkers Digest.
"I told you to leave that magazine in the car," his lawyer, Greta Gumption, hissed. "Now get up and go to the witness stand before you're held in contempt!"
Marvin reluctantly put down his magazine and obeyed.
After being sworn in, the defense lawyer, Ms. Susie Saucer, asked Marvin a few preliminary questions about his occupation, marital status, on so on.
"Yes, I'm married," Marvin said. "Priscilla Snelson is my wife."
"Really, you're married? she said. "The way you look, I never would have guessed you would have found anyone who would take you. And by the way, you should say "spouse" as the word 'wife' is gender biased. But, anyhoo, describe the so-called assault in your own words."
"Well," Marvin said, "we had this here match, mano a mano, you know, like ... "
"Mano a mano?" Saucer interrupted. "Are you saying that Ms. Hopkins is a man?"
"I ain't saying nothing," Marvin replied. "It's just like, an expression, you know ... "
"A very offensive expression," Saucer said. "But please continue."
"So then Cha Cha ... "
"Her name is Ms. Hopkins."
"Yeah right, I know, so then she says she didn't like what I said and ..."
"You knew she didn't like what you said but you said it anyway?"
"Uh yeah but that was like before she told me and how was I supposed to know?"
"You should have asked. Go on."
"So I says okay then mano a womano ... "
"So you did call her a woman."
"Well, ain't she? I mean maybe she don't look much like one ..."
Saucer threw her hands up in the air. "Your Honor," she said, turning to the judge, "look at this ... person. And having heard what he has to say, I ask again for summary dismisal."
"Hey wait a minute," Marvin said. "You ain't heard the rest. Like how she called me a maggot and said I was dog food ..."
"The witness will remain silent," the judge intoned. "Prosecutor, this certainly seems like a case of fightin' words. Calling someone a woman. Criticizing her appearance. Not honoring her wishes. Why, I'll bet this so-called victim never even asked Ms. Hopkins for her preferred pronouns."
"Your Honor," the prosecutor said, "attempted second degree murder is a very serious charge and Mr. Mavin was nearly killed by Ms. Hopkins. Surely this should at least be argued in front of a jury."
"I don't think so," the judge said. "Defense, approach the bench. Witness, you are dismissed."
Marvin went back to his seat next to his lawyer. "You really botched it," she said, and then fell silent.
Meanwhile Cha Cha's defense team was conferring with the judge. The LTBO lawyer joined in. After a few minutes, there was a nod of agreement all around and the meeting dispersed.
The judge cleared his throat and then announced, "The defense has agreed to a plea of guilty to a charge of misdemeanor assault with a sentence of three days, which has already been met with time served. Ms. Hopkins, you are free to go. Case closed." So saying the judge rapped his gavel and the courtroom began to clear.
Cha Cha came over to Marvin and said quietly, "And you thought you had won, you little worm. Well, Charity Chastity Hopkins isn't done with you yet. I'd watch my back if I were you."
"Are you threatening my client?" Marvin's lawyer said, but it was more a squeak than a statement.
"Figure it out for yourself, weakling." Cha Cha walked off to join her defense team, whose members were talking about going for drinks to celebrate.
"Next time, and I hope there isn't a next time," Marvin's lawyer said, "do as you're told and listen instead of messing around with checker problems. And for heaven's sake, ask people for their preferred pronouns. That's what people do in the 21st century. If you don't, people get away with murder. Or at least attempted murder."
Marvin shook his head. "Just don't get it," he muttered as he made his way back to the parking garage.
Since (at least we hope) you're not in court, you can feel free to solve the problem that Marvin unfortunately had to set aside. See how it goes and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]