In May, Marvin J. Mavin had once again led the Detroit Doublejumpers to another World Series of Checkers Championship, defeating the Los Angeles Leapers over the course of seven hard-fought matches.
June and July were off months; training camp didn't take place until August. Marvin and his financee, Priscilla, usually took separate vacations in June and a vacation together in July.
This year Marvin decided to go to Maine. It would be just about the start of the height of the lobster season, and there would also be fresh fish caught in cold Atlantic waters, of course with a nice crisp beer (or two) as an accompaniment.
It was quite a drive from Detroit to Lubeck, Maine, especially in Marvin's very old Volkswagen Beetle. He took his time and after two overnight stays, checked into Cohill's Inn, a well-known pub with several rustic rooms to rent.
Marvin spent a day or two exploring the town, trying to remain incognito, as even remote Lubeck had its checker fans, and the town had an amateur team appropriately named the Lubeck Lobsters, who competed in a league in eastern Maine.
Of course, a star such as Marvin couldn't help but eventually be noticed. However, though Maine folk are very friendly, they do respect a person's privacy, so Marvin didn't have to do a lot more than sign a few autographs, shake a few hands, and pose for some selfies.
About a week into his visit, Marvin was enjoying some local brews in the Lubeck Tavern. He had gotten to talking with a few of the lobster fisherman and raised a couple of glasses with them. Well, maybe more than just a couple. But fishermen rise early and by about 11 o'clock the tavern was empty except for Marvin and the bartender. Closing time wasn't until one AM but the bartender looked tired so Marvin called for one last beer before going back to his lodgings.
He must have taken his time with his beer, for as he drained the last of it he looked up at the tavern's old grandfather clock and saw that it was exactly midnight. He was going to get up to leave but all of a sudden he noticed a large, middle-aged, ruddy-looking man sitting opposite him at his table.
"Where did you come from?" Marvin said, startled by the man's sudden appearance.
"Where did I come from?" the man replied in a voice that was shaky and distant. "What do you mean, where did I come from! Don't you know me? Everybody around here knows The Great Murray! John Murray, that's me, and they call me The Great Murray because of how well I play checkers. The best in Eastern Maine. Maybe the best in all of Maine. Might even be the best in the world only haven't quite got the title yet."
"But," he continued, "I'm going to get there, and I'll start by beating you. Yes, you're some kind of hot-shot professional but I'm not scared, no sir I am not, because you're nothing compared to The Great Murray."
Suddenly there was a rustic old checkerboard on the table. Murray set it up and quickly made a move with the Black pieces. "Now there, your turn, so play."
Marvin, still startled, replied, "Hey, look, whoever you are, it's kinda late and I've had a couple of ... well a few ... quite a few ... anyhow I want to get to bed, so look, why don'tcha come back another night."
"Play, I said!" Murray banged a fist on the table. "Play if you'd like to get to bed in one piece tonight!"
"Aw, c'mon now ... "
Now the fist was inches from Marvin's face. Marvin looked over at the bar, but the bartender was nowhere to be seen.
A sudden shiver went through Marvin's body. Without even meaning to, he reached out his hand and made a move.
The game went on, Murray glowering all the time. Once or twice Marvin made as if to get up and leave, and on each occasion Murray said, "You may not leave unless you resign the game!"
Eventually the play led to the following position.
"Ha ha ha," Murray laughed, "you shall lose now. And you know what shall happen then? I will spread the word far and wide that The Great Murray beat this so-called professional champion, and you shall see if any pro team wants you after that. You shall die poor lying in the gutter because tonight is when your career ends."
Marvin heard these words, stunned. But something must have gotten through to him, because all at once, he sat up straight and said, "Now wait a minute there pal, just who do you think you are? Great Murray? You ain't great anything, 'cept maybe a Great Windbag! Now take this, you old blowhard!"
Marvin looked down at the checkerboard and made his move.
Is The Great Murray all that great? Is he the equal of Marvin J. Mavin? Are you up to Murray's challenge? See how you do with the position above and then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion to our story.
The game continued as follows.
10-7*---A 11-15---B 6-10 15-19 10-15 19-23 15-18 23-27 12-8 4x11 2-6 9x2 18-15 11x18 20-24 2x11 24x8 13-17 8-11 17-22 11-15 22-26 15-18 26-31 18-23 White Wins.
A---6-1? 9-14* 12-8 14x7 8x15 7-11 15x8 4x11 1-6 11-15 Drawn.
B---26-23 12-8 11-15 6-10 4x11 10x26 White Wins.
"So there! So much for The Great Murray! Yeah, you play okay, but you don't cut it with me!"
Suddenly Marvin realized that no one was there, and there was no checkerboard on the table. The bartender was standing over Marvin and said, "You've been talking to yourself for the past half hour, moving your hands around like you're crazy or something. No more beer for you. Go back to wherever you're staying. We're closed, okay?"
Marvin looked around again. There was just an empty beer glass, the empty tavern, and the darkness of the night outside the tavern door. "What ... what happened to that big guy? The one that called himself The Great Murray? The one I just beat ... "
The bartender guffawed. "The Great Murray? You mean that old mean drunk that got thrown out of here dozens of times? Passed on a good ten years ago."
"But then ... "
"Off with you!" the bartender said. "No more questions! Go sleep it off!"
Marvin, still baffled, pushed his chair back, stood, and made his wobbly way back to his room at the Cohill.
Our thanks to grandmaster problem composer Brian Hinkle for this excellent problem, solution, and notes.