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 #75

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Marvin's Vacation


"We're going on vacation," Priscilla announced one evening at dinner. Priscilla and Marvin were dining at home in Priscilla's enormous upscale condo, in the family dining room (as opposed to the much larger formal dining room). Dinner was rack of lamb with a mint sprig garnish, as prepared by Prisilla's personal chef.


Priscilla, as Chief Executive Officer of the Detroit based multinational, Rust Belt Holdings, and the daughter of very wealthy parents, appreciated--- and could afford--- an elegant lifestyle. Her husband, Marvin J. Mavin, a superstar professional checker player who was Captain of the National Checker League team the Detroit Doublejumpers, was much more of a simple guy, but since his marriage to Priscilla his lifestyle had changed quite a lot.

"Vacation? You're really gonna take time off?" Marvin said, knowing that Priscilla rarely took more than a day or so off work except on very special occasions.


"Yes, I am," Prisiclla said, "but the point here is that you are going to take time off. And by that I mean time away from checkers. This is going to be a one hundred percent no-checkers vacation. No tournaments. No exhibitions. No games in coffee shops. No internet play. No checker magazines. No checkers, period, in any form whatsoever."

Marvin put down his knife and fork and rested his hands on the edge of the table. "I don't get it, honey, what's the idea?"

"The idea, husband of mine, is that you've had enough checker stress. You've had all that trouble with the league and you just got back from that long, punitive tour they made you do. Besides, next month is training camp and they're going to be very hard on you."


"Aw, it ain't no big deal or nothing ... "

"Then what would you consider a 'big deal'?"

Recall in our previous stories that Marvin had gotten into a dispute during the National Checker League Championship Playoffs. He had been in trouble with the League as well as his team, and there was some doubt if he would remain as team Captain. But an agreement was worked out. Marvin paid a large fine to the League and another to the team. He then spent a month touring and doing exhibitions, starting in Canada and ending up in Texas, traveling only by bus or train and staying only in 2-star or 1-star motels. The tour was indeed as much a punishment as it was a public relations event.


"I dunno."

"Well, it doesn't matter. We're going to spend seven days on a private island. I've rented one off the coast of Belize."

"Bel--- what? I ain't never heard of that one."


"It's a country on the northern part of South America. Everyone knows that ... well almost everyone. The island has a nice villa and a staff that lives on a nearby island and comes over every day. Except for a couple of guards, at night we'll have the island to ourselves, and it's only $30,000 a night so it's very affordable. The whole trip won't even cost one percent of my annual bonus, and that includes the use of my private jet."

"Sounds kinda rich to me and anyhoo what's there to do?"


"Swim, snorkel, paddle a canoe around the island, lots of things, and you know, spend time together for a change. And NO checkers. Read a good book. Read Shakespeare or Chaucer and take in something cultural. Try your hand at cooking. Or play tennis ... there is a nice clay court on the island."

"Yeah, I 'spose ... sure, we can spend some time together and stuff, but can't I at least take a few issues of All Checkers Digest?"


"No, you may not, and there will be no further discussion. We leave day after tomorrow. I'll have the butler pack for you and he'll make sure you don't sneak any of those magazines into your luggage."

The next evening Priscilla's personal attendant, Rebecca, packed for Priscilla while the butler, Randolph, packed for Marvin. When the bag was packed, Priscilla personally inspected it for "contraband" as she called it, and told Randolph to immediately lock it in the trunk of Priscilla's Rolls Royce limo. So in the morning they were off for the airport--- after Priscilla also inspected Marvin's carry-on backpack.


The flight was uneventful, if a bit long, but Priscilla's Gulfstream jet was very comfortable. Marvin, who was additionally forbidden to take along a laptop, tablet, or even a smartphone for fear it might contain a checker app, watched a couple of superhero movies. Later he picked up a newspaper. He turned to the sports section and what did he see but this.

White to Play and Win


But Priscilla, ever alert, snatched away the newspaper, saying, "Oh, no you don't." She ripped out the checker column, tore it to shreds, and then handed back the paper. "Okay, you can read it now, and no more funny business," she proclaimed. "Or would you like to borrow my Riverside Chaucer instead, and improve your checker obsessed mind a little?"


A taxi took them from the airport in Belize to the harbor, where a chartered boat was waiting to take them to the private resort on Happiness Island. They were greeted on arrival by a small staff who promised them the best in service and announced that a late dinner of Belizian specialties was prepared and waiting.

The first couple of days went well. It was almost like a second honeymoon. Marvin and Priscilla swam, paddled, and relaxed together. There was no television reception in the villa although there was a selection of English language movies and a radio that could pick up the news on the AM band. The food, of course, was top quality with fresh fruit at all meals, the best of everthing as prepared by a top chef, and a well stocked bar that even had Marvin's favorite brands of beer.

The staff came and went every morning and evening with only a security guard on the island at night.

However after the third day Marvin, well, started to get a little antsy. Oh, he was having a great time and all, but the total ban on checkers was just a little too much. He didn't dare bring it up to Priscilla as he knew any attempt at negotiation would be quickly cut short.


But then Marvin came up with a plan.

The staff were very accomodating and helpful, and if the couple needed anything, like extra toiletries or the like, they had it sent over at once, even if it had to be gotten by helicopter from the mainland (for an extra charge, of course). So one afternoon while Priscilla was sunning in a lounger out on the grounds, Marvin went up to one of the housekeepers, Celia, and said, "Celia, I need your help."


"Yes senor, I am happy to help. What may I do for you?"

"Uh, well, it's like this ... lemme just cut to the chase ... can you get me a copy of All Checkers Digest? Any copy will do. Any edition."

Celia smiled, "Oh, yes, Senor Marvin, we have many of All Checkers Digest in our staff residence on the neighbor island. I will radio Danilo to send over several of them when he comes here tonight for his security watch."

Marvin smiled and patted Celia on the shoulder, then slipped her a hundred dollar American banknote. "Thank you, thank you!" he said, "but there's one more thing."

"Yes, Mr. Marvin?"

"Can you like ... you know ... make sure Priscilla doesn't know anything about it?"

"Oh, it is a big secret, eh?" Celia said. "Do not worry, Mr. Marvin, we will keep your secret. Especially if you are also generous with Danilo."


Marvin cheerfully gave Celia another hundred and then walked away whistling a happy little tune.

That evening after dinner while Priscilla was looking for a nice romantic Hallmark movie to watch with Marvin, Danilo arrived. Marvin met him outside of the villa and Dnailo slipped him an envelope. "It is what you wanted, senor," he said, "but please be careful with it." Marvin thanked him and quietly took the envelope into the guest bedroom, where he put it between the mattress and box spring of the king-sized bed. Tomorrow, when Priscilla was again sunning herself outside, Marvin would finally get to read All Checkers Digest and spend at least an hour or so on his beloved checkers.


They watched "Roses, Romance, and Red Sunsets" and Priscilla pronounced it a wonderful movie while Marvin simply said, "Yes dear, wonderful."

The next afternoon came around and as had become her regular practice, Priscilla went out to sun herself while Marvin said he would take a short rest inside in the air-conditioning. A few minutes later he was in the guest bedroom eagerly opening the envelope Danilo had given him the previous evening.

He pulled out the contents and in the envelope was ...


... an edition of Chaucer's Book of the Duchess.

"What the ... " he exclaimed, and then, carrying the book, went looking for Celia.

He found her in the kitchen cleaning up from lunch.

"Celia, why did I get this instead of All Checkers Digest like you promised me? I gave you and Danilo a nice tip and everything ... "

Celia blushed a little but still smiled. "Oh, Senor Marvin, I am so sorry to have deceived you but it is what Senora Priscilla wanted."

"What do you mean?"


"Senora Priscilla said to me that you may try to 'pull a trick' as she called it, and that this was what I was supposed to do. She gave me that book and said that if you asked for your checker magazines I was to give you the book instead. And tell her that you asked, too. So I did as Senora commanded."

"But you told me ... I mean ... "

"Oh Senor, yes, you did, and you were very generous too, but Senora Priscilla gave us each one thousand American dollars and said we could also keep anything you gave us. And she told us you would give us much less than she did so we must listen to her, and that is what we did. Please do not be angry with me or Danilo."

"Angry? No ... aw, forget it. I shoulda known."


Marvin left the kitchen. When Priscilla came in from sunbathing, she gave Marvin an odd smile but didn't say a single word.

It seems to happen often in these stories; Marvin finds an interesting checker problem but doesn't get to solve it. Would you enjoy a checker-free vacation? Marvin seems to have had no choice. But you do, of course, and we hope you'll choose to solve today's problem. After you're done you can choose to click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/20/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Above we see an old-fashioned chimney sweep. There is a lot of lore surrounding "sweeps" including their often worn uniform of top hat and tails; we'll leave it to you to find out more if you're so inclined. But today, in Bill Salot's 75th Problem Composing Contest, we'll look at sweeps of the checker variety: Big problems with big action wherein pieces are swept off the board. This one will be a real challenger and we urge you to check out the contest page and vote for the one you like best.

As an introduction and to whet your interest, here's a problem called The Magnificent Seven, an 8x9 composition by the late Roy Little. It tied for second in Contest 38 in April 2018.

White to Play and Win


See what you can do with Mr. Little's teaser, and then click on Read More to see the solution before moving on to the contest page.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/13/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Gosh Josh at Ditzy World

"Gosh Josh" Gordon

"Gosh Josh" Gordon had played out a full season with the Double-A Erie Eliminators, a minor league farm club owned by Marvin J. Mavin's major league team, the Detroit Doublejumpers. (See our previous story in which Marvin visited Ganonoque, Ontario, and recruited Josh for professional play.)

Gosh Josh had had a good year. He started out as a substitute, as might be expected for a newcomer to high-level professional play, but he quickly got a fifth-board starting position and by the end of the season he had made it to third board. There was talk that he would be moved up to a AAA farm club in the fall. The Erie Eliminators made it to the playoffs in its league but lost in the finals even though Josh won all but one of his games.

So during the summer Gosh Josh was sent out with a few other team members to play in a summer league. In Josh's case, he was placed with a group of players in Orlando, Florida, on a summer team known as the Orlando Outcasts. They were to play other teams around the state of Florida, and they would also do teaching and exhibitions.

Ditzy World

One of the big events Gosh Josh was scheduled for was a very big simultaneous exhibition. The simul was to take place inside one of Orlando's big theme parks, Ditzy World. There was a $100 entry fee for each challenger, and Ditzy World further insisted that all the players pay a day's admission to the theme park, a rather expensive proposition which garnered criticism from the media that the Ditzy Company was being overly greedy. At approximately $200 a person that made the cost of playing in the simul come to around $300.

Gosh Josh was a bit nervous. It was true that all of his opponents--- 40 of them--- would be amateurs, but the level of amateur play in Central Florida was very high. Josh might be an accomplished up and coming pro, but trying to win forty games at the same time would be a true challenge.


The day of the simul arrived. Gosh Josh arrived at Ditzy World and to his great surprise he too was required to buy an entry ticket. Josh reluctantly pulled out his credit card and paid, hoping the team's stingy accountants would reimburse him.

Josh arrived at the site of the simul, a relatively large room with long tables set up at the front of the room in a square arrangement open at the corners, with ten checkerboards per table. There were rows of seats in the rest of the room.

Cathy Kenney

The organizer of the simul turned out to be high level a Ditzy Company employee, Cathy Kenney. She explained the setup to Josh. "We made an arrangement with your team management," she said. "We'd provide the room for only $1,000 if we could sell tickets to spectators. Naturally there's a lot of interest in an exhibition such as this. We can get $100 per ticket and that's in addition to the park admission fee."

"Why did I have to pay the park fee?" Josh asked.

"Business, my boy, business. No one gets into Ditzy World without paying. Just how it is. Ditzy World isn't a charity, you know."

"I thought it was a family oriented ..."

"Oh yes, that too, sure it is. Well look, the audience and players are starting to arrive, you ready to put on a good exhibition?"

Josh thought for a long moment, and then replied, "Sure, I can do that. Under one condition."

"What's that, my boy, what are you talking about, hurry up now, we need to get going here ... "


"It will cost you a thousand dollars," Josh said. "A thousand bucks and I'll put on a good show."

"Now look here son ... "

"A thousand bucks or I walk straight out the door," Josh said, and then added, "and I also get a refund of my park admission."

"You can't walk out! It's a breach of contract!" Ms. Kenney replied. "We'll sue!"

"I never signed a contract. I never even spoke with anyone at Ditzy World."

"We'll still sue! You better play, boy, and you better play well, or else we'll ... "


Josh smiled. "Business, my girl, business. I'm not running a charity here."

Josh headed for the door. But by now all the audience seats were filled and so were all the players' seats. Josh figured there were a hundred spectators and forty players. At $100 each, that was $4,000 just for the simul and around $28,000 in park admission fees. With the room fee Ditzy World was pulling in $33,000. And Josh knew Ms. Kenney had those figures well in mind.

"Okay, okay!" Ms. Kenney said. "We'll pay you $1,000! Just don't walk out on us!"

Josh turned back to Ms. Kenney. "In advance," he said, "and in cash. And don't forget the park admission fee."

"But we never refund ... oh, whatever."


Ms. Kenney was furious but she took her wallet from her handbag and counted out twelve $100 bills and gave them to Josh. It appeared to be just a small amount of the money in the woman's wallet. "Okay, you little punk, now play," she said.

Josh grinned and walked into the middle of the array of tables, ready to play.

The games began. As the participants all had to be amateurs, the competition generally wasn't too near Josh's professional level. But the Orlando area boasted some very talented playerss. So while Josh was able to win the first 37 out of 40 games without undue difficulty, he had to fight for a win on the 38th and concede a draw on the 39th.

Bob Fernastus

The 40th board was another matter. The player was none other than Bob Fernastus, who could have easily turned pro in his day but decided to continue his career an insurance salesman instead. (We met Bob quite a few years ago in a Checker Maven story, when he played our young friend Tommy Wagner in the Uncle Ben's Porch series.)

Mr. Fernastus had a very strong position, and Josh, now on his last game, knew it. He also saw Ms. Kenney watching from a corner of the room with a scowl on her face. What was that all about? Josh wondered.

But no matter. He had to focus on his game or it could end up being a loss. Josh was on move with Black and he faced the position shown below.

Black to Play and Draw


Josh knew he couldn't hope for a win. The question was, could he pull off a draw? He'd sure hate to lose his last game.

Then Josh had an idea. It might work or it might not but it seemed to be the only chance.

Josh made his move.

How would you do against a player as good as Bob Fernastus? Can you find the draw in the postition above? Of course you don't have the pressure of playing at Ditzy World against a large group of players, and you didn't have to pay a hefty admission and participation fee. Give it a try and then, most appropriately, mouse onto Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/06/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Sal's 4th of July

Sal Westerman

Sal Westerman of Bismarck, North Dakota, loved the 4th of July and July 4th, 1955 would be no exception. Sal was a true patriot; he had served in the Army in the Pacific Theater in World War Two and had always believed in what America stood for.

Sal was also the unofficial leader of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, which met weekly except in the summer. So Sal was really missing his Saturday afternoons with his checker friends. But fortunately, the big 4th of July picnic was coming up. There was a rotating July 4th checker tournament, but this year it would be in Fargo rather than in Bismarck.


Instead, the picnic organizers had asked Sal to man a checker booth. Sal was the reigning state champion, and the idea would be to pay fifty cents to play Sal with the money all going to charity. A draw would win a small prize and a win against Sal would win a larger prize. Sal readily agreed and committed to three one hour sessions, the first one when the picnic opened at noon, another at 2 PM, and a final one at 4 PM.

There would be a parade through downtown in the morning, but Sal opted to skip the parade and go and get set up at the site of the festivities. His wife Sylvia would take in the parade with a couple of her girlfriends and then meet up with Sal during his breaks between sessions.


The picnic was set up in an open field just north of the town. Workers had come before daylight to get everything set up. There was a main tent, cook tents and booths, a performance stage, and even a first-aid tent. Sal was directed to a small tent with a couple of chairs, a table with a checkerboard, and a field cot so Sal could rest during his breaks if he so desired.

Arriving at the Checker Tent, Sal noticed a big sign with a yellow background and bright red letters that announced:


Take on State Checker Champ Sal Westerman!
Are you good enough to win?

Sal chuckled. He never thought of himself as anything special, even though he was now a titled Master. For him, checkers was fun and he wanted it to be fun for everyone else, too.


Sal got himself a hot dog and a soft drink and settled in. Just before noon, Sylvia dropped by and said, "I'll be going to the quilting bee, but I just wanted to wish your opponents luck. They'll be the ones needing it, not you!" They both laughed and Sylvia left the tent just as the first player arrived.

There was a steady stream and at times a long waiting line. Challengers were men and women and boys and girls of all ages, but in the first hour Sal managed to win every game. The cash box was filling up with money for charity and Sal was feeling good about it. The players were all good sports and didn't mind losing to someone of Sal's caliber.

Boris Goonan

Sal rested for a little while but by two o'clock there was another long line. In the second hour Sal won all but one game. One of the top Hughes Middle School players, Boris Goonan, got a draw and received a hearty handshake and a $1 gift card donated by the A. W. Lucas Department Store.


Sal was pretty tired after the second hour and did lie down on the cot for a while. Sylvia brought him some corn on the cob and a lemonade. The quilting bee had concluded and she was going to have an iced tea with her friends and maybe play a few rounds in the canasta tent.

At four o'clock another line greeted Sal, at least as long as earlier in the day. Sal was again able to win all of his games, until the organizer dropped by at five minutes to five and said, "Next game is the last game. Sorry folks." There were still a half dozen people in line and a few groans of disappointment, a couple of them saying they wished they had lined up earlier in the day.


The organizer ushered in the last player. To Sal's surprise it was what appeared to be a girl aged six or so, accompanied by her mother. "Right in there," the mother said, pointing to the cash box. The girl reached out and dropped two quarters into the box, giggling as they clinked.

"I'm Rene," the mother said, "and this is my daughter, Natasha. She loves checkers and plays all the time with her brother Boris and his friends."

"Boris, isn't he the fellow who got a draw with me this afternoon?"

Rene smiled proudly. "Yes, he is. It really made his day, too."

Sal smiled back. "Well, then," he said, addressing Natasha directly, "are you ready?"

Natasha giggled again and shook her head in a 'yes' gesture. She sat down on the chair on the side of the checkerboard opposite Sal.

"You need a pillow to sit on," Sal said. "Grab one from the cot."


Rene took a pillow in one hand, lifted Natasha with the other, placed the pillow on the chair, and set Natasha back down.

"Much better," Sal said. "Now young lady, good luck to you." He reached out a hand.

"Shake hands with Mr. Westerman," Rene gently prodded.

Natasha shook hands shyly and then the game began.

Sal thought it would be a fairly quick game, but he still played carefully as underestimating an opponent is always a mistake, and appearances can be deceiving.

In this case, appearances certainly were deceiving. Natasha matched Sal move for move, hewing to the best lines of play and not making any sort of slip that Sal might take advantage of.

Now Sal, at over 70 years of age and after hours of play with dozens and dozens of opponents, was quite tired, although you would never catch him using that as an excuse. But was Sal perhaps not at the top of his form? In any event the following position was reached. Natasha had the Black pieces and it was her move.

Black to Play, What Result?


Suddenly Natasha stood up from her chair, clapped her hands together gleefully, and exclaimed, "Mommy, Mommy, look!" With another giggle she made her move.

What's going on here? What move do you think Natasha made, and how do you think things are going to turn out? What move would you have made? Work things out and then click on Read More to see what happens as we present the rest of the story.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/29/24 -Printer friendly version-
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State Fair: Part 2


All play halted as everyone either dove to the floor or fled the tent. Mortimer thought at once of Sheila and hurried to her seat. He practically tackled her to the ground when he reached her. "You okay, honey?" he asked.

It took a moment for Sheila to recover her wits. By then the tent had largely emptied. "I'm fine, you?"

"Yeah, but, uh ... what happened? Is that guy ... you know ..."

"I'm pretty sure Mr. Pace is dead, yes. He was shot," Sheila said.

"I heard a noise and then I saw him fall off his chair," replied Mortimer.


A couple of State Fair security guards had arrived. One of them addressed Sheila and Mortimer. "Everyone out until we secure the area, please."

"You sure that's a good idea?" Sheila asked. "You're asking the shooter, if he's still here, to disappear into the crowd?" Sheila was certain that had already happened, but this was really poor procedure.

The burlier of the two guards wasn't pleased. "Look ma'am, I said 'out' and I won't tell you again."


Sheila showed her FBI identification.

"Oh ... I see ... well, the Des Moines cops will be here in a minute ... you can work with them, Agent."

Sheila didn't bother to point out that she was a lab tech and not a Special Agent.

Mortimer sat by as Sheila began an examination of the site. She only had a few minutes before the local police arrived. The security guards, having already chased everyone out of the tent, stationed themselves on either side of the entrance.

Two Des Moines police officers arrived. "What's going on here?" the larger of the two bellowed, addressing no one in particular. His name tag read "Hulme."

The other officer, clearly the junior of the two both in size and rank, stood next to his partner with his arms folded and his legs in a wide stance, obviously making an effort to look important. Whereas his companion was tall and wide, he was short and relatively thin. His name tag said "Schreiber."

One of the security guards thought fit to answer. "Someone's been shot," he offered. "Up there." He gestured to the playing area at the far end of the tent.

"Yeah, we know that," Hulme said. "But where's everybody? There's nobody in here but ... hey ... YOU over there, what do you think you're doing?" This was clearly aimed at Sheila, who was hovering over Bob Pace's body, making notes in a little notebook.


Sheila straightened up as Officer Hulme approached. "FBI," she repeated for his benefit, once again holding up her ID.

"FBI? You guys ain't got jurisdiction, unless you're takin' over ... hey, that don't make no sense. And you don't look like no Special Agent neither."

"I'm not," Sheila replied, "I work in the Denver crime lab. I'm making observations before a bunch of ... well ... others ... contaminate the crime site."

Hulme lifted his cap and scratched his head. "Well, I s'pose, but look here Miss, when our people get here you give 'em that there little book a yours, and then you skeddadle, got it?"

"Yes, officer," Sheila replied, and bent back down again, continuing to make notes.

Hulme looked over at Mortimer, but before he could say anything, Sheila said, "It's okay, he's my assistant."

"You FBI too?" Hulme asked Mortimer.

"Uh ... well ... no. I'm a detective, you know, like Sherlock ... "

"Didn't know the FBI called 'em detectives. Well, whatever, we just gotta secure the site till the rest get here. Chief ain't gonna like it that them hicks they hired let everyone take off, though."


Mortimer quietly pulled out his cell phone. Well, not his fault if he didn't get to finish his sentence and allow as he was after all an amateur detective, although he certainly could claim to have worked on a case with the FBI in the past. Okay, not exactly with the FBI, but it was good enough.

Well, then, he might as well do some detecting. He turned on his camera and walked around the playing area, taking photos of all the checkerboards. Hmm ... interesting position on this one ...

White to Play and Draw


Nah, he didn't have time for that. Maybe later.

Actually he wasn't sure what he was looking for, but he just took pictures of everything. The floor of the tent, the walls, anything he could think of.


By the time the Des Moines Crime Scene Unit arrived, perhaps 20 minutes later, he had taken photos of virtually everything. And it was a good thing, because the Police Chief, who was now on site of what would undoubtedly be a high profile crime, and who was trailed closely by the media, wasn't happy to see Mortimer and Sheila inside the tent. Office Hulme explained the FBI connection but that made Chief Easton even less happy.

"This is OUR jurisdiction," he roared at Sheila, who was just putting away her notebook. "You ain't got NO right to be here unless I invite you! And I ain't invited you neither, so get on outta here now afore I call the Des Moines Field Office and raise a ruckus!"

Sheila, not thinking it wise to say she was actually from Denver, motioned to Marvin. "Let's do as the Chief asks, Marvin," she said, "right now."

"Hey, Chief," spoke up Officer Hulme, "they been takin' notes and photos and so on ... mebbe they oughta give 'em to you?"

"Nobody asked you fer advice, Hulme!" the Chief thundered. "I don't need their gol dang FBI notes! My own crew's here now and they'll do just fine without any fancy help from the Feds, no thank you!"


Marvin and Sheila quickly exited. Once outside, Sheila said as they walked away, "It's amateur hour in there. First security lets everyone leave, then the local cops let us prowl around, then the chief doesn't want to see what we found--- even though we really shouldn't have been looking. I was hoping to help, but strictly speaking the local police are in charge. One phone call and I could maybe change that, but let them figure it out for themselves."

Mortimer gave Sheila a certain look. Sheila paused walking for a moment. "Mortimer, really?"

"Yeah, it's an interesting case, you've got to admit."

Sheila sighed. "Actually, it is. But we could get in trouble if we poke our noses in."

"Poke our noses in? No, 'course not!" Marvin smiled.

"I don't like that smile," Sheila said, "we've been there and done that and nearly got ourselves killed by that serial murderer."

"Yeah, the Checker Murderer. Great case. Hey, you made a lot of notes and I took a lot of pictures. Let's just, you know, kind of ... go over them? The Fair's going to be shut down for sure after this and it would cost a lot to change our flight ... what else is there to do in Des Moines, anyhow?"


Sheila sighed again. "Not much," she said. "We won't even get to watch the corn shucking contest, and that would have been the thrill of the week. Okay, let's get a rideshare back to the motel and we'll see what we can piece together."

(to be continued)

Mortimer was too busy to dig into the "interesting" position he saw on one of the checkerboards, but hopefully you have a little time. It's really quite intriguing. Don't just say something corny like "Aw shucks!" but instead give the problem a try. There's a kernel of enjoyment and instruction in there. When you're ready to see the solution, just click on Read More for full details.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/22/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Marvin on Tour

Marvin J. Mavin

It was June, and Marvin J. Mavin, the superstar Captain of the World Champion Detroit Doublejumpers, was on a summer publicity tour.

Now, recall that Marvin had gotten himself into hot water with both his team and the National Checker League (NCL) over a dispute during the semifinals in the previous season's playoffs. It was quite controversial and after hearing all sides of the issue, the NCL had given Marvin a one week suspension, to be served at the opening of the coming season. They also hit him with a $100,000 fine and ordered him to do the NCL equivalent of community service.

His team's anger had subsided and he was left in place as Team Captain. However the team fined him a further $100,000 and put a warning in his personnel record.


So, Marvin was on tour, by order of the NCL. It wasn't all bad although it was very long and tiring, and as a kind of punishment or penance, the NCL's order stipulated that he was to travel only by bus or train, not by air, and that he couldn't stay in any lodging rated higher than 2 stars by the AAA. His tour took him through the central states and provinces, starting in Manitoba and making his way down through North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma and then various stops in Texas before he would eventually finish up in El Paso.

He was currently scheduled to appear in Wacko, Texas. Wacko was a small town of about 10,000 but it was the home of the Wacko Woozies, an amateur checker team that perennially took the Orange County championship and was always a contender for the Texas "Champion of Counties" title.


Marvin arrived at the Wacko Train Depot at midday. He was greeted by a big turnout with a lot of fanfare. The newly elected Mayor, Cloudy Summer, gave a short speech (at least it was her idea of short). The Captain of the Woozies, Danny Dan Daniels, gave a little talk of his own, and then sprung something of a surprise.

Danny Dan Daniels

"Here in the great state of Texas, we do things the Texas way. And that means big. Why Texas is so big that ... "

Danny went on to tell a couple of Texas jokes, neither of which Marvin really got. Then Danny continued, "In fact, in Texas, we play Texas checkers. Why, another Texan, Willie Whatsis, done gone and invented it. We play it on a 20 by 20 board with would ya believe, 90 pieces per side. That there is one big game. Maybe you'd like give 'er a whirl, Marvin?"


Down below the podium, a couple of workers whisked off the covering of a large table to reveal a Texas Checkerboard, fully four feet square.

"Uh, you know, Danny, actually ... "

"Aw, can't blame ya, son, it's a tough game and a game does kinda take a while with all them pieces. And dang if near all the time, it ain't nuthin but a draw."

Danny shook his head wistfully and then said, "Anyhoo, you ain't here for that. What you are here fer, is to give a simul ... Texas style. And by Texas style, I mean ... "

"Big," Marvin piped up. "Yeah, Texas style is big. I got it, Danny."

"Durn if that city boy don't catch on fast!" Danny said, and the crowd laughed. "Well, then, a Texas style simul is you against a hunnert of the town's best!"


"A hundred?" Marvin said. "That's a lot of ... "

"What, ain'tcha up to it?" Danny asked. "There's a lotta folks here just waitin' fer a chance ta play ya. 'Course iffn ya wanna be yeller an' back out, why, that's up ta you."

"I'll do it," Marvin said. He didn't look happy but he felt like he had been painted into a corner with no other way out.


The crowd cheered and yelled. "Let's go!" Danny said. "Over to the auditorium! And there's Texas bar-bee-koo for everyone after the simul's over!"

Sure, Marvin thought, with a hundred players it'll be over around noon tomorrow. Even a game of Texas Checkers wouldn't take that long. Well, his thoughts went on, maybe if I play fast enough I'll get to have dinner before the sun comes up in the morning.


Marvin, led by Danny and followed by the big crowd, went over to the auditorium, which turned out to be an enormous service club dance hall.

"Yup," Danny said, "we do that there line dancin' on Saturday nights. You ever done that, Marvy? Ah, 'course ya ain't. You don't look like a line dancin' kind a feller."


Marvin didn't reply. The only dancing he ever did was ballroom dancing with his wife Priscilla, and he didn't do it very well. Priscilla also dragged him off to the ballet from time to time.

The hall was set up with indeed a hundred numbered tables arranged in a huge circle. Townsfolk were quickly taking their places as Danny remarked, "Now looky here, Marvy, these folks paid real good for a place in the simul. We done charged 'em a hunnert bucks each. Real good fundraiser for the team, ya know? But seein' as how they paid all a that there money, you give 'em a real good show, ya hear me?"

Marvin nooded his head, all the while wondering just how good a show he'd be able to put on with so many contestants.

Willie Whatsis

The chief referee turned out to be Willie Whatsis himself. Willie quickly went over the rules for the competition, after which an air horn sounded and play began.

With such a large number of players, there was bound to be a mix of skill levels. It took less than an hour for Marvin to win fifty of the games, and another hour to win thirty more. In the third hour, Marvin won ten games. That left ten to play against opponents who obviously were skilled checkerists.

Marvin won five more in the fourth hour. That made the score 95-0-0. A little more play scored him three more wins and one draw. This changed the score to 98-0-1 but there was one game left and Marvin thought he could get at least a draw and maybe a win. The opponent was a very strong player who went by the name of Southpaw Steve. Steve was not only good at checkers, but was reputed to be the best bull rider in the county. Of course Marvin didn't know that.

Southpaw Steve

Danny came over to Marvin and whispered to him, "Marvie, I said give 'em a good show. You done wiped most of 'em out, now you gotta let the local folk go home with one win anyhoo. You gotta lose this last one, okay?"

"What?" Marvin said, rather loudly, but Danny whispered, "Keep your voice down, boy, you gotta make it look fair and square even if'n it ain't. Get it over with an' then get yorsef some a that there Texas bar-bee-koo."

Despite Danny's admonition to keep quiet, Marvin almost said something, but then just shook his head and changed his mind. Throw a game? That would be the day. He just couldn't see why a dishonest win would be of any value to the local boys, and if word ever got out, Marvin would be in even deeper trouble with the NCL. It could very well be a career ending event.

It was Marvin's move and the position was as follows.

Black to Play, What Result?


Marvin made a decision.

And then he made his move.

What would you do? You're in a big simul and you've done really well, but the organizer asks you to lose the last game on purpose, and there will be consequences if you do and consequences if you don't? Fortunately you don't have to make such a decision, you just need to try to solve today's problem and then click on Read More to see the solution. You'll have to provide your own bar-bee-koo, though!20050904-symbol.gif

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06/15/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Get It Right the First Time


We've always liked those World War Two inspirational posters which urged American citizens to do their all and give their best in support of the war effort. The poster above warns of the dangers of aiding the enemy through carelessness and emphasizing the need to get things right the first time.

That surely applies to our game of checkers, where carelessness can indeed cede the day to our opponent, and we may have one and only one opportunity to "get it right" and find a win or a draw.

In the following situation, Black has one and only one move to draw. He has to get it right the first time as there won't be a second chance.

Black to Play and Draw


The position is more of a practical exercise than a contest-grade problem, but we think it's worthy of study. Will you get it right on your first try, or will it take a couple of tries? Unlike in an over the board contest, you can try as many times as you wish, and when you're ready, one try at clicking your mouse on Read More will bring you to the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/08/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Seeing Stars


"Seeing stars" can have several meanings. If you're out in the country, far from city lights, on a clear evening "seeing stars" means taking in a magnificent heavenly display of millions of stars, covering the sky in brilliant beauty. On the other hand, if you accidentally bump your head on a hard, fixed object, you'll be "seeing stars" in a much different and decidely less pleasant way.


In today's problem, shown below, you'll be "seeing stars" --- star moves, that is. Recall that a "star" move is one that is essential to either win or hold the draw. It's the one and only correct move, and it's annotated with an asterisk, or star. The terms of the problem are "Black to play and draw" but actually star moves--- a number of them--- appear on both sides as Black and White both navigate through a finely balanced position.

Black to Play and Draw


We wouldn't call this an exciting or elegant problem but it certainly is practical and didactic. Be a star and solve it, then click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/01/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Bye For Now

It was May, 1955, and the last Saturday before Memorial Day weekend. In Bismarck, North Dakota, the weather was still on the cooler side with lows around 40F and highs around 60F. But this Saturday was bright and sunny, and Sal Westerman, the unofficial leader of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, planned to enjoy it to the fullest.

His club met every Saturday afternoon at 1 PM at the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building near downtown Bismarck. But, as was common practice in Bismarck, the club didn't meet during the summer months, as everyone wanted to enjoy the outdoors, tend to their yards, and maybe even go on vacation. So from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, there were no get-togethers.

Deana Nagel

The final session of the season was something of a bittersweet occasion. There was always a good turnout. Lots of skittles, a checker problem or two, plenty of checker chatter, and great coffee and treats provided by the Cafe's proprietess, Deana Nagel, who was one of the best bakers in central North Dakota.

On hand today were Wayne, Delmer, Larry, Louie the Flash, Dan, young Blaine, and even Tom, Ron, and Old Frank. With Sal that made ten and they filled both large booths in the back of the Cafe. Talk was at first about what they'd do over the summer. Wayne was going to work on the family farm; Louie was going to spend time with the latest in his long series of short-lived romantic interests, and so on. Sal said he would be visiting his cousin Maurice in Jamestown for a checker festival being put on by that city.


But when Deana announced from her station behind her counter that the strawberry bars were hot and fresh, everyone knew it was time to turn to the first order of business.

Every week Sal brought along a checker problem. Sometimes it was from All Checkers Digest, sometimes from his checker pen pals, and sometimes from other sources, but the premise was always the same. The "boys" as Sal called the club members (all of whom but Blaine were over 50) would try to solve the problem. If they did, Sal would buy the treats. If they couldn't, they would buy their own plus some for Sal, including an extra for him to take home to his wife Sylvia.

"Ready, boys?" Sal asked.

"Sure are, what have you got for us?" Dan said.

Sal laid out the following position on one checkerboard in each booth.

White to Play and Win


"There you go," he said, "and seeing as it's about 1:30, how about I give you, say, 45 minutes?"

The boys, who thought Sal was only going to give them half an hour, eagerly agreed and set to work as Deana came around and refilled their coffee mugs.

Sal spent the next little while talking with Deana. Other than the checker club, the Cafe was pretty quiet on a Saturday afternoon. Deana told Sal that she had recently broken up with Clyde, her boyfriend, and was looking forward to spending August on the family farm in Gackle, North Dakota. "It'll do me good," she said, "and help me get over that two-timing you know what."


Deana always closed down in August to help out with the harvest at home. But Sal was sad to hear about her breakup. She had been with Clyde for a couple of years and was actually thinking about marriage, when she learned he had a girlfriend on the side in Valley City. But then Deana mentioned a big baking competition in Fargo and smiled again, saying, "I'm going to win!"

"I'm sure you are," said Sal, "but hey, it's time to see how the boys did."

Sal went back over to the big booths. "Time's up, boys. Did you get it?"

"We did," Ron said, "and here's how it's done."

Fortunately, the end of the season for the Coffee and Cake Checker Club doesn't mean the end of the season for The Checker Maven, even though we too won't return to the Beacon Cafe for a few months. However, Sal will be around during the summer months with more checker stories and problems. For now, though, compete with the "boys" and see how you do with today's problem. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of our little story.20050904-symbol.gif

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05/25/24 -Printer friendly version-
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State Fair: Part 1


"The Iowa State Fair? Seriously?"

"Aw, c'mon Sheila, we both could use a vacation, and it would be a lot of fun."


The speaker was Mortimer Holmes, and Sheila Larkspur, his fiancee, was listening without a lot of enthusiasm. It had been about two years since the events of "The Checker Murders" (as told in previous Checker Maven columns and in the book "Mr. Darcy Plays Draughts"). Mortimer was close to finishing his Ph.D. while Sheila had completed grad school and was now a full-time lab tech for the FBI in Denver. For the past little while they had been sharing an apartment in suburban Littleton. They had yet to set a wedding date; it would probably be after Mortimer finished his doctorate in six months or so.


"You really want to go, Mort?" Sheila's expression had softened. It was so hard to say 'no' to Mortimer when he really wanted something, and in turn he never refused her anything.

"It would be fun. There would be rides, and all sorts of great food ... and of course there's the checker tournament."

Sheila smiled. "Of course. You planning to win it?"

Mortimer had been playing at the school club, but he had no illusions. "No, I don't expect to win. The competition is stiff. But I can play in one of the lower classes and still have a good time. And it would be a nice change from summer in Denver."


"Right. Flat landscapes. Waving fields of corn. Lots of flying bugs. Blue Ribbon Beer. The sun bearing down."

Mortimer couldn't hide his look of disappointment.

"But let's do it! I know how much you want to, and I'm game. As long as you agree to Thanksgiving with my parents."

Mortimer hesitated, if only briefly. Sheila's parents were fine, but that brother of hers, Stan, who talked about football 24 hours a day and referred to Mortimer as "the useless wimp" ... oh well. "Done!" he said. "I'll book the tickets."

# # #

There was a direct flight to Des Moines, Iowa, where the Iowa State Fair would take place on the eponymous Fairgrounds. Mortimer, knowing Sheila wouldn't care for his favorite hotel chain, Motel 9, had reserved a room at the much more upscale Diplomacy Suites. It cost about twice as much but at least there was a great breakfast buffet, and they would only be staying a few days.

The morning after their arrival the couple took a rideshare over to the Fairgrounds. Even though it was only the first day of the Fair, there was a large crowd on hand. Mortimer made sure to sign up for the checker tournament right away. He glanced at the list of players, and noticed some big names in the Master's Division. It was going to be very interesting. The tournament would begin tomorrow morning and run most of the day.


But today they would enjoy the Fair. Mortimer took Sheila on at least half a dozen rides, including the Ferris Wheel, and stole a kiss when their car reached the top. They feasted on roast corn, watermelon and BBQ beef, and Sheila even asked for some cotton candy.

Back at the hotel Sheila allowed as she had had a much better time than she'd ever expected.

"Tomorrow's the tournament, though," said Mortimer. "I hope you won't be bored."

"Oh, no, I'll watch for a while and then maybe wander around. You said the tournament's double elimination? Then I won't have to ... "

"Aw, honey, don't say it. You won't have to wait long because I'll get knocked out pretty fast, right?"

Sheila smiled. "Never said that!"

# # #

The next day was bright and sunny, and Mortimer and Sheila were at the Fairgrounds at opening time, 9 AM. The tournament would start at 10 AM sharp. Mortimer checked in while Sheila found a seat in a row of chairs close to the playing area.


The tournament was taking place inside a large tent. There were five divisions: Masters, Expert, and classes A through C. Eight players were signed up for the Masters, a dozen for Expert, around two dozen in Class A, and three or four dozen each in Classes B and C, making for nearly 120 players in all. In Iowa, checkers was often serious business. Mortimer would be playing in Class C.

In the Masters, two players were about even odds as the favorites. Sam Stecher was a top amateur player from Dubuque, and Bob Pace of Des Moines was just as highly regarded. It would probably all come down to them.

The tournament began on the dot of ten. There was quite a crowd of spectators. Sheila found the whole thing a lot more engaging than she had expected. Mortimer won his first round game, then lost in the second round, but won again in the third and fourth. Sheila realized he was doing a lot better than he had ever expected, although it would just take one more loss to put him out of the tournament.

There was a break for lunch after the fifth round. Mortimer had won again.


Mortimer and Sheila had a couple of corn dogs and sodas.

Returning to play, Mortimer won in the sixth round and drew in the seventh. He was only one draw away from elimination, but he had made it much farther than he had ever expected.

In the eighth round, the following position came up. His opponent, a fellow from Lindyville named Danny Ziegler, was on move with White. Mortimer wasn't optimistic about making it to the ninth round.

White to Play and Win


Meanwhile, the other, smaller divisions were wrapping up. Sam Stecher and Bob Pace were the only ones left standing in the Masters, and so far they had played three draws against each other. The rules stated that with only two players with equal scores left, they would play until someone won a game, thereby taking the title.


Mortimer's opponent Danny was taking his time, looking for a move that might bring the game to a finish. Mortimer was looking over at Sam and Bob as they played for the Blue Ribbon. That's when it happened.


There was a sharp cracking sound. Bob Pace tumbled back in his seat, his mouth agape, and then slumped to the ground.

There were screams from the crowd and many of them started to flee the tent in a panicked rush. But Sam Stecher just sat, looking with disbelief at Bob Pace's body, blood pooling from the bullet wound in the center of his forehead.

Someone shouted for a doctor, but Bob was already beyond help.

To be continued.

Our original concept, a series of columns on checkers at various State Fairs around the U.S., took a change in direction. The real Iowa State Fair has had a checker tournament for quite a number of years. We wrote to the organizer asking for details to form the basis of our first article, but we never heard back. (We don't seem to have much luck getting Iowans to respond to our requests.) So instead we launched into a purely fictious account of happenings at a purely fictitious Iowa State Fair. It was a great opportunity to reintroduce Mortimer and Sheila in another serialized story. We hope you enjoy it.

But before we move on, what do you think? Would Danny have beaten Mortimer in the position shown above? See if you can figure it out and hopefully you won't be distracted by untoward events such as in our story. When you're ready, shoot your mouse onto Read More to see the answers.20050904-symbol.gif

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The Checker Maven is produced at editorial offices in Honolulu, Hawai`i, as a completely non-commercial public service from which no profit is obtained or sought. Original material is Copyright 2004-2024 Avi Gobbler Publishing. Other material is the property of the respective owners. Information presented on this site is offered as-is, at no cost, and bears no express or implied warranty as to accuracy or usability. You agree that you use such information entirely at your own risk. No liabilities of any kind under any legal theory whatsoever are accepted. The Checker Maven is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Bob Newell, Sr.

MAVEN, n.:

An expert or connoisseur, often self-proclaimed.


Numbered Board and Notation

Book Reviews

Game Site Reviews

Program Reviews

A Mind Sport for the Common Man

Learning Checkers

The Unknown Derek Oldbury

Rediscovering Checkers

Regulation Checker Sets

Marvin's World


Richard Pask Publications

Reisman: Checkers Made Easy

Clapham Commons Draughts Book

Grover/Wiswell: Let's Play Checkers

Bob Murray's School Presentation

Jim Loy Publications

PDN collections

Oldbury: MoveOver

Reinfeld: How to Win

Ginsberg: Principles of Strategy