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 #72

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Beacon Cafe: I'm Here To Help You


It was a fine fall afternoon on a Saturday in October, 1955. The place was Bismarck, North Dakota, and for Sal Westerman, that meant an afternoon visit to the Beacon Cafe, where his Coffee and Cake Checker Club met weekly between Labor Day and Memorial Day.

Sal left home around 12:45 PM in order to arrive by the nominal 1 PM start time. He enjoyed the walk in the brisk autumn air under a cloudless blue prairie sky. However, something was troubling him--- an unusual situation for one of his beloved Saturday club days.


He had gotten a letter early the previous week from a certain Simon S. Sinistra, postmarked Washington, D.C. The letter said that Mr. Sinistra was coming to Bismarck for a couple of weeks as a representative of the Department of Agriculture to lend help to the North Dakota department of the same name. The letter said that he understood things were "not well run" in Bismarck and that Washington would provide Federal "guidance" to "improve" things.

That would have been enough in and of itself, but then Mr. Sinistra went on to say that he had read about the Coffee and Cake Checker Club in All Checkers Digest, and, as he himself was a member of the District of Columbia Federal Employees' Checker Association, he was looking forward to visiting the Coffee and Cake Club to give them guidance on how to run a proper checker association.


"As a small-time club in a small-time podunk town in a small-time podunk state in a small-time podunk region of the country, undoubtedly you will be grateful for my advice and will follow it without question. You should be most appreciative that I kindly am providing my services without a fee, as I understand North Dakota to be a poor state, limited not only in culture and sophistication, but in material resources" Mr. Sinistra had said in his letter.

Sal found himself hoping that this Sinistra fellow wouldn't show his face at the Beacon. But he supposed he had to be prepared for the worst.

Now, the "boys" who made up the club--- all but one of them over the age of 50--- indeed were an unsophisticated lot, not schooled in the ways of big city culture. But they were honest, hard-working, and decent. They loved their country and they took care of their families. Most of them were Sunday churchgoers. In short, they were old-fashioned, upright, loyal, patriotic, and caring. They were also, as it turned out, quite good checker players.


What they didn't have was a lot of tolerance for pretension, snobbery, and condescension.

Sal arrived at the Beacon at just before one o'clock, greeted Deana, the proprietress (who was a championship baker) and said hello to the "boys" who had already arrived. There was Dan, Wayne, Mike, Larry, and Louie the Flash. Soon afterwards Tom and Ron came in, making a group of eight along with Sal. It was a nice turnout.

They all visited for a few minutes over coffee before Wayne asked the inevitable question. "What have you got for us today, Sal?"

The tradition was that Sal brought along a checker problem and if the boys could solve it, Sal would buy treats for the crowd. If they couldn't solve it, the boys would buy their own treats and some for Sal, including an extra serving or two for Sal to take home to his wife, Sylvia.

"Here's one from Ed in Pennsylvania," Sal said. Ed was one of Sal's checker pen pals and was a grandmaster problem composer. Sal went ahead and set up the problem on two different checkerboards in the big booths at the back of the cafe.

White to Play and Win


As per usual, Deana, never missing a marketing opportunity, announced, "Rhubarb crumble today, with vanilla ice cream!"


But just as she finished her announcement and the boys started to settle down to tackle the problem, the door to the cafe slammed open and in came a figure dressed in an expensive black suit. The man looked around the cafe and frowned. But before he could speak, Deana said, "Hey, pal, take it easy with that door! You break it you pay for it!"

Simon S. Sinistra

"Are you addressing me in that tone of voice?" the man said. "Do you, a menial cafe worker, dare threaten a representative of the United States Government?"

"You better watch yourself, bud ... " Deana began, but Sal stood up and said, "Mr. Sinistra, I presume? Welcome to the Coffee and Cake Checker Club. I'm Sal Westerman, the organizer."

"Not today you aren't," Sinistra said. "I'm here to show you how it's done outside of Podunk. I'll be in charge today. Now, I suppose we'll have to make do with meeting here, but it will be the last time you gather in a sordid cafe. Surely there are better places, even in this cow town. Mr. Westerman, you are assigned to locate suitable meeting space. I will expect this to be accomplished no later than Tuesday. Do I make myself clear, or are you all as stupid as I'd expect?"


"Hey, careful what you say! Besides, we like it here!" said Dan. "We don't need another place. The food is good, the coffee is good, and it's friendly--- like us. There's rhubarb crumble today, you should try it."

"Rhubarb? Are you serious?" He looked over at Deana. "I imagine you run this ... place?"

Deana, slowly turning red, nodded.

"Well, where are the French pastries? The croissants? The Viennese tortes? At our club in Washington, we have only the best. Speaking of which, I'd like a cappucino with extra foam, two sugar cubes on the side. Cane sugar, please, not beet sugar, which I understand is common around here."


"You can have a cup of coffee, pal," Deana said, "if you pay in advance." Her tone had become quite unfriendly.

"Put it on my tab," Sinistra replied as he strode to the back of the cafe. "Now, what is this?" he asked, looking at the checkerboards.

"We always start out with a problem that I provide," Sal began to explain, "and then ... "

"Not any longer," Sinistra said, and then he picked up the checkerboards one by one and shook the pieces off of them. The boys grumbled but Sinistra went on, "We usually start with a lecture on technique by a qualified individual, such as myself. But I think the first thing we need to do is lay down the new rules for the this club." He turned to the serving counter, "And where's my coffee?" he demanded.


"Where's your ten cents?" Deana replied curtly.

Sinistra glared. "Do these yokels pay in advance?" he asked. "The answer had better be 'yes' or I'll bring the wrath of government down on this pitiful little cafe."

Deana stood up straight. "That's it," she said. She came around from the back of her counter. "You're leaving. Now. And you're banned. You're trespassed. You ever come back here the "podunk" police will throw you in our "podunk" jail. And as for the wrath of goverment or whatever nonsense you're spouting, I know my rights. This is my cafe and we do things my way."

"And this is our club and we do things our way," Louie the Flash said.

All the boys were now also standing, making a wall in front of Sinistra. "It would be best if you listened to Deana," Sal said gently. "She's right. The Beacon Cafe is not the place for you, and the Coffee and Cake Checker Club is not the place for you, either. I'm sorry. But this isn't Washington D.C."

"And thank heaven for that!" Tom exclaimed.

Sinistra looked as if he were about to say something, but then simply turned on his heels and went to the door. He made sure to slam it on the way out.


"Dan, can you check that door for me?" Deana asked. "I wouldn't at all mind having that puffed up city boy run in for vandalism.

Dan checked the door carefully. "No damage, Deana," he said, "more's the pity."

"Boys, time's a wasting!" Sal said. "I'll set up today's problem again and you can see how it goes."

Everyone gave their quick assent, and soon the boys were deep into contemplation. Sal gave them an hour, allowing enough time for things to settle down.

"Got it!" Dan exclaimed after the hour had passed, adding, "Wonder if that big shot could have done it?"

We certainly hope no one like Mr. Sinistra will ever make an appearance in your favorite checker venue. Now, we actually don't know if Mr. Sinistra could have solved today's problem; the question is, can you? Give it a whirl and then click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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Sorry About That


"Sorry about that" is a phrase that is often said when one isn't all that sorry about--- whatever "that" is. In the photo above, you would think whoever rammed the boat through the wall will be pretty darn sorry when they get the bill for repairs, if they aren't truly sorry already.

"Sorry about that" is sometimes said in our game of checkers, when a player wins a game that the opponent was hoping to win or at least draw themselves. Here's an example.

White to Play and Win


Black is hoping for a outside chance at a draw given the bridge position. As White, can you spoil it? The problem is very much on the easier side and probably qualifies as a "speed problem" but it still takes a bit of vision. Try it out. Don't just say "sorry about that." In any event, clicking on Read More will reveal the snappy solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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Oh No!


"Oh no" was a song sung by a group called Marina and the Diamonds back in 2010. We must admit that no one in the Checker Maven offices has either heard of the song, or the group, for that matter. However the song contains the following timeless lyrics:

Da-da-dum, da-da-dum
Da-da-dum, da-da-dum
Da-da-dum, da-da-dum
Oh! Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no, oh!

In checkers, some of us tend to say "Oh no!" when we see a problem like the one below, with the dreaded label "Black to Play, White to Win." But nevertheless we've selected it as this month's Checker School entry. It's rather a challenge and is attributed to a Mr. E. A. Jones of Australia, date unknown but certainly prior to 1945, when it appeared in Andrew J. Banks' eclectic book, Checker Board Strategy.

Black to Play, White to Win


Can you solve this one or will you just say "Oh no!" or even "Da-da-da-da-da-da-dum"? No matter; clicking on Read More yields an "Oh yes!" about showing you the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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The Showdown: A Marvin J. Mavin Story


After the debacle at the Detroit Doublejumpers training camp (see our previous Marvin J. Mavin story), and the subsequent strike by the Doublejumper team, the rest of the National Checker League joined in in a sympathy strike, and they were soon joined by other checker leagues the world around.

Jimmy Huffer

NPL Player's Union President Jimmy Huffer told the media, "We will not stand idly by while the players we represent are abused. We expect that so-called coach to be fired, and the players be given compensation for psychological damage which may have a profound negative effect on their careers. We think $10 million per player is about right."

Charity Chastity Hopkins

"That coach" was Charity Chastity Hopkins, also known to her great dislike as Cha Cha, who had attempted to institute Marine boot camp style disclipline into the Doublejumpers summer training camp. The Doublejumpers' previous season hadn't gone well, and their management wanted a big shakeup. They got one, but not the one for which they hoped.

But they stood their ground, and the management of the other teams stood with them. It was a total impasse. Opening Day came and went, with no checker matches being played. Would the season be completely called off, causing untold financial loss across the country, not to mention great disappointment to the nation's millions of checker fans?

There weren't even negotiations taking place. Days passed and the strike wore on. But then there was a breakthrough.


A checker columnist for a small newspaper in Tularosa, New Mexico, wrote that he'd like to see Marvin J. Mavin take on Cha Cha in a checkers match, and if Marvin won, Cha Cha would be dismissed. If Cha Cha won, she would remain as head coach, and while it was suggested that she tone things down a little, either way the strike would come to an end.

The idea somehow gained national attention, and although both NCL management and the NCL Player's Union didn't like it very much, there was a lot of pressure. Even politicians got involved and the President of the United States himself was heard to say, "They need to get on with it. What's a nation without checkers?"


So the match was arranged. Cha Cha pressed for a two part match which would mix martial arts and checkers, but that didn't gain any traction, as everyone knew that Cha Cha would give Marvin such a beating he wouldn't be able to complete the second part of the match.


Finally the day came. It was to be a single match played in the Dallas Checkerdrome in front of a sellout crowd of 50,000 checker fans.

In the dugout, Marvin's teammates warned him not to shake hands with Cha Cha. "She'll have you on the ground in seconds," they warned. "Probably even break your wrist, or worse."

"I ain't scared," Marvin replied, but nonetheless, when they met at mid-field, Marvin bowed instead of offering a hand.

"So, we meet, like, you know, mano a mano," he said, grinning.

Cha Cha gave him a look as if she didn't believe her ears. "Mano a mano?" she screamed. "Listen here, Captain Dog Breath, I'm not a mano in case you haven't noticed!"

"Coulda fooled me," Marvin muttered, careful not to be heard. Then aloud he said, "Okay, mano a womano, you like that better?"

"Leave gender out of this!" Cha Cha shouted back. "You better say 'one on one' loud enough for me to HEAR you, and you better say it right NOW!"

"Ma'am, yes ma'am!" Marvin replied, but the note of sarcasm in his voice couldn't be missed. Of course, Marvin had noted there were six very large referees standing in a circle around the two players, ready to intervene if things got out of hand.

Ritchie Bandwidth

The head referee, Ritchie Bandwidth, stepped forward. "People, let's just play checkers, okay? Now, the match is one game. If a draw, a second game, and so on until there is a winner, no matter how long it might go. Take your seats and begin."

"Prepare to die, maggot!" Cha Cha hissed.

Now, there was no doubt Cha Cha was a top player. While in the Marines, she had won the Armed Forces Individual Championship for four years in a row, and then on her re-enlistment, she coached the Marines to four consecutive team championships. When she left the service, she decided on a professional coaching career instead of one as a player. Her severe methods were not appreciated by her teams, but she got results, at least until she reached the NCL and encountered the Doublejumpers.


Marvin and Cha Cha played five draws over a period of about three hours. The fans were getting impatient for a result and loud boos accompanied the announcement of the last two draws.

The sixth game, though, was different, and looked like it might produce a result.

It was Marvin's move in the following position, and he thought he had some chances.

White to Play, What Result?


"You're dead meat, Captain Dog Food," Cha Cha said in a stage whisper. "And wait until we get back to training. You'll suffer like you've never suffered before. I'll beat you to a bloody pulp. I'll break both your arms and both your legs. No sleep, no food until every last ounce of insubordination is knocked out of you. It'll be so bad you'll quit because you can't take it any more, and good riddance, too, as you crawl away in agony ... "

"Stuff it," Marvin said, as he reached out and made his move.

Can you defeat Cha Cha and end the strike--- on terms favorable to the players? There's a lot at stake here so the pressure's on. Try your best and remember that Cha Cha can't get to you, wherever you might be. When you're ready click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.20050904-symbol.gif

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Contest 70: Pawns Beat Kings


Although we have never been much for checker variants, there is an entertaining game called "Fox and Hounds." It can be played on a checkerboard. The fox has to escape the hounds and the hounds have to trap the fox. This is, in turn a variant of the old "Fox and Geese" game with similar rules but played on a board similar to that of Nine Men's Morris.


What does this have to do with us? Well, in the 70th iteration of Bill Salot's amazing Checker Problem Composing contests, the theme is "Pawns Beat Kings" and is in many way reminiscent of Fox and Hounds. Can the uncrowned men (hounds) defeat the powerful King (fox)?

There are three great problems on the contest page. Please try them out and then be sure to cast your vote for the one you like best. Meanwhile, here's an example of the theme. It's called Optical Illusion No. 81 and the composer is none other than Bill Salot himself--- at the age of 16! It was published in Elam's Checker Board on January 21, 1946.

White to Play and Draw


You don't need to defeat the mighty King; a draw will do. But can you manage it? Don't be a goose; try to outfox the opposition! When you're done, click on Read More to see the solution. Then, head on over to the contest page.20050904-symbol.gif

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Return to the Beacon

Beacon Cafe

It was Saturday, September 10, 1955, the first Saturday after Labor Day. And that meant just one thing to Sal Westerman, long time resident of Bismarck, North Dakota.

The Coffee and Cake Checker Club would resume its afternoon meetings at the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building.

Sal was the unofficial leader of the club, which met every Saturday from just after Labor Day to just before Memorial Day, after which there would be a summer break.

Sal loved his club and really missed it during the summer. Although he knew that summers in North Dakota were short, and most club and school activities of any kind were put on hold, still he missed his gatherings with "the boys" as he called his club companions--- all but one of whom were over 50 years of age.

Deana Nagel

He loved the venue, too. The Beacon Cafe was owned and operated by Deana Nagel, a championship baker who always gave the boys a warm welcome and let them occupy the large booths in the rear from 1 PM, just after the lunch rush (lunch in Bismarck was taken at noon without exception), until closing time at 5 PM. There was always plenty of coffee and the greatest baked treats anywhere, all at fair prices.

The tradition was that Sal would bring along a checker problem and the boys would try to solve it. If they got it, Sal bought the treats but if they didn't, they had to buy their own and something for Sal too, and often a couple of extras for him to take home to his wife, Sylvia.

As was usual for what Sal called "opening day" there was a great turnout. Besides Sal, there was Wayne, Delmer, Sam, Dan, Louie the Flash, Tom, Kevin (a.k.a. "Spooler"), Ron, young Blaine, and even Old Frank, who wasn't seen all that often, and was actually younger than Sal.


After some prelimary chatter about how the summer had gone, and a few stories from Sal about that big tournament in Las Vegas, the boys were ready to get down to it.

"Let's see what you've got," Tom said.

Sal smiled. "Okay, you asked for it. I've got a different one this time. It's from the Galt Evening Reporter."

"The what?" Wayne asked.

Morris Gordon

"The Galt Evening Reporter," Sal replied. "It's a little town in southern Ontario. They have a checker column written by Morris Gordon and he has a setting that he said comes from an actual game he played at the local checker club. Morris and I met in a younger day when I played a tournament in Toronto, and we've stayed in touch on and off over the years. He wrote to me just last week saying as how your club will never get this one, as it's championship material."

The boys groaned in unison. "You're sure making it hard on us, Sal!" Louie the Flash said. But he smiled as he said it.

The large turnout occupied two booths, so Sal set up a board in each booth with the following position

Black to Play and Win


As if to spur everyone on, Deana announced from behind her counter, "Chocolate almond nut bars today! Fresh and warm!"


Surely the boys heard her, as there were some sounds of contentment. But they were already deeply immersed in studying the position.


An hour passed. It was 2:30 PM. Sal called "Time!" and everyone looked up.

"We didn't get it," Wayne announced from the table on the left.

"Neither did we," said Dan, who was at the table on the right.

"Well then, boys, let me show you!" said Sal.

This one indeed isn't easy. You will either see it, or you won't. It's a lot of fun, though, and well worth your time. See how you do and click on Read More to see the solution. You'll have to provide your own chocolate almond nut bars, though.20050904-symbol.gif

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Labor Day 2023


In the United States and Canada, Labor Day, a day to honor the worker, takes place on the first Monday of September. (In most of the world, it's on May 1 and goes under various names.) The Checker Maven has always respected workers of every category and we believe there is no work, no matter what it may be, that doesn't deserve recognition and appreciation when it is done honestly and with good intent. Hats off to the workers of the United States and Canada!

This Labor Day we turn to a great American problemist of yesteryear, Charles Hefter. His composition is simultaneously practical and elegant. Tommie Wiswell said it may be one of Mr. Hefter's best.

White to Play and Draw


To paraphrase a great modern day American problemist, Brian Hinkle, "Forces are even; it should be easy, right?" Actually, we rate it as moderate in difficulty, just right for a little Labor Day amusement in-between the picnics and the parades.

"Work" it out and then "work" your mouse over to Read More to view the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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Checker School: All Kings


The picture above shows the Battle of Kings Mountain from the American Revolution. It was a common thing back in the day for battles to involve locations named for kings, be fought under kings, and at times even fought by the kings themselves. A battle of kings is certainly common in our game of checkers, and in this month's Checker School column, we look at a massive battle of five kings against four.

That would seem to be simple, wouldn't it? After all, the side with five kings has greater forces and ought to win. But it may (or likely may not) surprise you to know that many untrained checker players have trouble with two kings defeating one, and absolutely no idea what to do with three kings against two, let alone the larger arrays of four against three or five against four. You have to know what you're doing and in the larger settings patience and technique make up the order of the day.

Here's a five against four situation. Are you up to winning it?

White to Play and Win


Give this position a royal effort and then click on Read More to see one possible solution and some additional commentary.20050904-symbol.gif

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Marvin's Training Camp: 2023

Au Train, Michigan
Traditional Doublejumper Training Camp Site

It was August and time for training camp. Prior to the start of each checker season, the Detroit Doublejumpers, along with all of the teams in the National Checker League, conducted pre-season training camp.

This was an especially big thing for the Doublejumpers. Having been world champions for several years running, in the previous season they hadn't even made it into the playoffs.


There were a number of reasons. A couple of key players had retired, and Doublejumper management hadn't done well at recruiting. The General Manager ended up getting fired, as did the Head Coach, and it was a close call for the Assistant Head Coach, the Openings Coach, the Endgame Coach, and the Tactics Coach.

Charity Chastity Hopkins

The new Doublejumper Head Coach was a woman named Charity Chastity Hopkins, a descendant of the infamous checker pedant of the late 19th century, Harvey L. Hopkins. She had a reputation for being tough and strict. The press referred to her as "Cha Cha Hopkins," much to her dismay. But no one called her that to her face. Ms. Hopkins was an accomplished kick boxer and a black belt in karate in addition to a well-known checker coach.

There had been a few changes in the Doublejumper lineup, but Cha Cha was determined to bring the team back to their old glory and she would do so by any means necessary, including physical intimidation.

Training usually took place at a resort near the appropriately named town of Au Train, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. But not this year.


Cha Cha had located an old military barracks and had it cleaned out and outfitted. When team members assembled in Grand Rapids for their usual charter flight to Au Train, instead they were greeted by a school bus. They were told to stow their own luggage and board the bus.

It was a long ride to the barracks. All the players thought they were going to Au Train. The coaches on board didn't tell them otherwise, and in fact barely spoke. Cha Cha was not present on the bus.


The players arrived at the barracks late at night. Before they even had a chance to look around and realize where they were, Cha Cha had boarded the bus and yelled, "You have one minute to get off my bus and line up at attention on the yellow footprints!"

Sure enough, taking a page out of military boot camp, Cha Cha had had a yellow footprints painted in front of the barracks.

Marvin J. Mavin

The team looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. The team captain and hero of these stories, Marvin J. Mavin, shrugged his shoulders along with the rest. There were a few mumbles but everyone left the bus.

"Faster, faster!" Cha Cha shouted. "On the footprints NOW!"

The ten players moved toward the footprints at an uncertain pace.

"I said MOVE IT!" Cha Cha screamed.

Marvin, as Captain, turned to her and said, "Hey, look here Coach, this ain't no way to ... "


There was a blur of motion and before he could say another word Marvin was flat on his back on the concrete with Cha Cha's boot bearing down on his chest.

"You got a problem obeying orders, Mister?" Cha Cha said. "Well you better get over it. I don't care if you're Captain. Right now you're something that a dog chewed and spit out, do I make myself clear?"

"I ... " Marvin began, having trouble catching his breath.

"You'll address me as 'Ma'am' whenever you open that mouth of yours. Now, did I or did I not make myself clear?"


Marvin, who had watch Full Metal Jacket some years ago, had the presence of mind to reply, "Ma'am, yes ma'am."

"Now LINE UP!"

Cha Cha stepped back. Marvin rolled over, coughing, and stumbled to his feet. He joined the others at the yellow line.

"Stand at attention!"

It was the beginning of the team's worst nightmare. After being held at attention until they were all weary, they were made to carry their luggage into the barracks where two long rows of beds were set up dormitory style. By then it was two o'clock in the morning.


But the team didn't get to sleep late. At five o'clock reveille sounded over loudspeakers in the room.

"Up and at it!" Cha Cha commanded from the dormitory door. "Problem practice in three minutes. Beds made and assemble in the practice room in two!"

The weary team quickly did as they had been told and took seats in a room across the hall which had a sign that said "PRACTICE."

In a moment Cha Cha entered. "Who gave you permission to be seated?" she said loudly. "Stand up!"

The players got out of their seats.


After Cha Cha had eyed everyone to ensure they were in the proper stance, she commanded, "Team, be seated!"

"Now," she continued, "we will start every day in this room. You will assemble here at 5:05 AM sharp, with beds made to military standard and stand at attention until I arrive and instruct you to take your seats. You will then solve a checker problem. You will have five minutes. If you solve the problem you may proceed to the mess hall where you will be allowed up to ten minutes for breakfast. If you fail to solve the problem, you will instead do ten minutes of push-ups. Do you understand?"

A weak chorus of "Ma'am, yes ma'am" ensued.

"I can't HEAR you!"

The team responded more loudly.

"I still can't HEAR you!"

This time the team shouted.

"That's better." Cha Cha turned on a projector and the following problem appeared on a screen at the front of the room.

White to Play and Win


"Write your solution on the sheet of paper in front of you. Team, BEGIN!"

Marvin, as well as the rest of the team, sat there befuddled. What was going on here? These were top professionals, a couple of them with multi-million dollar contracts. Did Cha Cha really think this method of training was going to work?

But Marvin was hungry and didn't want to do push-ups, so he tackled the problem.

"Lemme see ... " he muttered, "if you ..."

"NO TALKING! You there, Captain Dog Food, you will solve the problem silently!"

"Ma'am, yes ma'am," Marvin said, as loudly as he could.

Fortunately you can solve this problem without the stress of a drill instructor shouting at you. You WILL try it. You WILL click on Read More to see the solution!20050904-symbol.gif

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Sal and Sylvia's Anniversary


Sal and Sylvia's wedding anniversary was coming up in a couple of days, and Sal still didn't know what to give her as an anniversary gift.

It was 1955 and the place was Bismarck, North Dakota. Sal Westerman was an elderly retired gentleman who was the unofficial leader of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, which met every Saturday from Labor Day to Memorial Day at the Beacon Cafe. But this was August and the club was on summer break.

Sal and Sylvia had a great summer. They traveled to Las Vegas, where Sal played in the North American Checker Tournament, and Sylvia enjoyed shopping and shows. They visited relatives around North Dakota, and spent some time at the lake cottage they rented every year for a couple of weeks.

August always left Sal anxious for the coming of Labor Day and a new season of Club meetings, but it also left him anxious about his anniversary. It was just so hard to know what to get for Sylvia.


Of course he planned a nice dinner at the upscale restaurant in the Patterson Hotel. On the day itself, he'd be sure to call the florist and have a dozen roses delivered right to the house. But what to get for a gift?

For past occasions such as Valentine's Day and previous anniversaries, he had given perfume, items for Sylvia's needlework, face creams, and all sorts of other things. He even gave a gift certificate once, but somehow that hadn't seemed very personal.


At breakfast, the morning of the day prior to their anniversary, Sylvia poured some coffee and sat down across from Sal at their kitchen table.

"We've been together for many years," she began, "and I know you. You're fretting about an anniversary gift."

Sal thought to deny it, but fooling Sylvia just wasn't possible. They knew each other too well.

"I suppose so," he said. "I want to get you something nice, but I just never seem to come up with very many ideas. More perfume? More face cream? A new sewing machine? I just don't know."

Sylvia leaned forward and crossed her arms on the table. "How about this, Sal? We don't give each other any gifts this year. Oh, sure, if you want to go to the Patterson for dinner, that's wonderful, but no gifts, no flowers, okay? That will take the pressure off of both of us. You know I usually get you a checker book, but you have so many of them I'm afraid I'd just end up buying you a duplicate like I did last year. How about we make it easy on ourselves?"

"I suppose so," Sal said, "but somehow it just doesn't feel right."


"Try it, okay?" Sylvia said. "You can always buy something for me later on if you still think you must. Now please stop fretting and spend some time enjoying your new checker magazine instead of rummaging through the Sears Roebuck catalog." A copy of the latest edition of All Checkers Digest had come in the mail the previous day and Sal hadn't even looked at it yet, something that Sylvia couldn't have failed to notice.

all checkers digest

After they had finished breakfast, Sylvia went off to her sewing circle and Sal retreated into his den. The new magazine was full of great games and problems, and even photos from the North American Checker Tournament. Sal was thrilled to see his own photo included! But then his attention turned to the following problem.

White to Play and Win


However, fate intervened. Sal realized if he didn't get going, he would be late for a doctor's appointment, and that was a bit of a sore point. Sylvia had been after him to get his annual checkup, and Sal had kept putting it off. Finally Sylvia made an appointment for him, and Sal knew he had better show up.

He didn't realize what he was in for. Sylvia apparently had told the doctor to give Sal "the works" and it was the most thorough exam Sal could ever remember having. He was even sent over to St. Alexius Hospital for x-rays and blood work. "You'll get the results tomorrow," the doctor told him. "We'll call you."

That was all the doctor said, and it left Sal a little uneasy.

Of course he told Sylvia all about it, and she only said that she was happy that Sal had kept his appointment.

The next day came, and it was anniversary day. Sal still hadn't gotten back to his checker problem. He seemed to have substituted worry about all the medical tests for worry about a gift for Sylvia. For her part, Sylvia didn't say anything further.


Finally in mid-afternoon the phone rang. It was the doctor. Sal rushed to the phone.

"Well, Sal," the doctor said, "I'm happy to say that all your tests showed normal and you're in good health for someone of your age. I'll see you again in a year."

Sal thanked the doctor and hung up. He related the news to Sylvia, who simply smiled and said, "Wonderful news, dear."

Dinner reservations were at 6:30. Sal and Sylvia both dressed in their Sunday best and even called for a taxi to take them to the Patterson. But Sylvia noticed that Sal was still a bit uneasy.


It wasn't until the shrimp cocktails were served that Sal admitted that he still felt it was a bit wrong for him not to give Sylvia a gift.

Sylvia reached across the table and took Sal's hand in hers. "Sal, dear, you've missed something important."

"What's that?" Sal asked.

"You're in good health. The doctor told you so this morning. I'm doing well, too. So we have the greatest gift of all, one that we've had for so many years. We have the gift of each other." She squeezed Sal's hand and continued to hold it.


Was that a tiny tear in the corner of Sal's eye? Sal didn't say anything in reply. He just put his other hand over their two joined hands and held on.20050904-symbol.gif

We can hardly imagine a nicer anniversary for Sal and Sylvia. Not surprisingly, Sal forgot all about checkers for the moment. That leaves it to you, our reader, to solve that problem from All Checkers Digest on his behalf. It's quite a good one. See what you can do and then click on Read More to reveal the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

[Read More]
08/12/23 -Printer friendly version-
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