The Checker Maven

Valentine's Day at the Beacon Cafe


Editor's Note: This column is dedicated to the memory of Sol Wezelman of Bismarck, North Dakota, who passed away at the age of 101 on January 23, 2020. May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.

It was Saturday, the 12th of February, 1955, and the weather in Bismarck, North Dakota was damp and windy with solid gray skies. But no one was complaining; the temperature had risen to nearly 40 degrees, a real break in what had been a very cold winter.

Sal Westerman

Sal Westerman made his way to the Beacon Cafe just before one o'clock, the starting time for the Saturday sessions of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club. There was something bothering him, though he couldn't put his finger on just quite what it was.

Certainly, the damp weather was hard on him; he was getting older, having just turned seventy the previous year, but that wasn't it. There were plenty of damp days, and this feeling was different, more mental than physical.

Well, some checkers with the boys of the club (all of whom were themselves over fifty, some substantially so) would lighten his mood. It always did. And then there were Deana's coffee and baked goods. Deana ran the Beacon and no one but no one could make the kind of treats she did.

There was a good turnout today. Delmer, Dan, Wayne, Louie, Mike and even Larry had shown up and were gathered in the big booth in back, playing skittles when Sal arrived.

Larry South

Sal got himself a mug of coffee and sat down next to Delmer, who immediately asked, "What have you got for us today, Sal? I'm ready for you to buy us some of Deana's bars."

Sal chuckled. "You wish," he said, and then, turning toward Deana's counter, he asked, "What's fresh today, Deana?"

"Something extra special," she said, smiling. "Cherry Valentine bars, for Valentine's Day."


Sal winced and drew in a breath. That was what was on his mind!

"You okay, Sal?" Wayne asked. "You look a little pale."

"Fine, just fine," Sal said. "Everything's fine." But it wasn't. Sal had completely forgotten that Valentine's Day was Monday, and he hadn't gotten a thing to give to his wife, Sylvia. The stores would all be closed by the time he left the Beacon and nothing was open on Sunday. What was he to do?

Sylvia Westerman

As if on cue, Deana said, "What did you get for Sylvia this year, Sal?"

"Uh, well, I ..."

"Don't tell me you forgot!" Deana continued.

The boys exchanged furtive glances but none of them said anything.

"Oh no, I ... well, drat it all!" Sal exclaimed. "What can I do now?"

"You could slip out and get something," Louie suggested. "We'll just play a little checkers until you get back. Of course you'll buy us some bars first, right?"

Sal gave Louie a skeptical look. "Don't think so," he said. "But here. I got this one from Ed." Ed was a top-rank problemist who lived in Pennsylvania, and was one of Sal's checker pen pals.

Sal quickly set up one of the checkerboards. "Here it is," he said. "You boys have until I get back to figure it out. I'm going to pop over to A.W. Lucas and get something for Sylvia. But I won't be long ... so Deana, keep those bars handy. The boys will be buying me one soon!"

With that, Sal put on his coat and exited. The boys watched him hurry off, headed for 4th and Broadway.


"Looks kind of tough," Delmer said, looking down at the checkerboard. "Let's hope Sal has trouble finding the right gift and it takes him a little while."

White to Play and Draw


There's a lesson here, and we hope you won't wait until the last minute to get something for your special Valentine. Don't wait to solve today's problem, either, if you want to get one of Deana's delicious cherry bars. Put your heart into it, make the right moves, and then click Read More to see the solution, notes, and the rest of our story.null


Problem, solution, and notes are by master problem composer Ed Atkinson.

10-7---A 9-13---B 7-3 13-22 3-7 11-16---C 7-11 15-8 24-19 Drawn.

A---10-6---D loses by 15-10 6-1 11-15 17-13 23-19 Black wins.

B---23-19 24-20 9-13 7-3 13-22 3-7 19-16 2-6 11-9 20-25 Drawn.

C---11-8 7-11 Draw.

D---There are other ways to win against 10-6 but the line given is short and neat.

This problem might appeal to a wide range of solvers, since the solution is short, yet gave pause to three ACF Experts. The unusual ideas challenge the human brain.

Sal didn't return until nearly three o'clock.

"Hey, Sal, where's your package?" Delmer asked. "Didn't you buy anything for Sylvia in all that time?"

"Ah, I couldn't find anything, and the department store was packed," he replied. "So I just got her a ten dollar gift certificate."

Deana, who never missed anything, said, "Ten dollars! That's a lot of money! Guess you think it'll make up for not buying here a real present, huh?"

All the boys laughed, that is, all except Sal "Now look," he said, "I tried ..."

"We tried too," Wayne said, "and we didn't succeed either. So show us how to play this one."

Sal, momentarily distracted, played out the solution and a couple of variations. "Ed called this one Rare Encounter because it has some unusual ideas in it."

"It's sure a good one," Larry said. "Okay, then, I'll buy today." He went up to the counter and placed his order for Cherry Valentine Bars and coffees all around.

In a few minutes Deana brought over a big tray laden with goodies. "Enjoy it," she said, looking directly at Sal, "because you'll be eating crow come Monday!"

This time even Sal joined in the laughter, for he knew that Sylvia would appreciate his gift, all the more so when she found he had cut almost two hours out of his afternoon at the Beacon.

A little later it was time for everyone to return home before dinner. It was still windy and damp but Sal didn't care, as there was no longer anything weighing on his mind. Let Valentine’s Day come. He was ready, and he was going to enjoy it.


02/08/20 - Category: Fiction -Printer friendly version-
You can email the Webmaster with comments on this article.