The Checker Maven

A Saturday in August


It was August, usually one of the hottest months of the year in Bismarck, North Dakota, and 1955 was no exception. Although North Dakota is often rightly thought of as a very cold place, summers, though brief, could be scorching hot, with temperatures above a hundred degrees on some days.

Sal Westerman, the unofficial leader of the Coffee and Cake Checkers Club, usually stayed in town during August. His wife Sylvia always went to Dickinson to spend two or three weeks with her sister, and while she was away Sal would retreat to the relative coolness of his basement to read his checker magazines and do some study from his large checkers library. The Club didn't meet during the summer, and in fact their usual venue, the Beacon Cafe, closed down in August so the proprietress, Deana, could go to Gackle to visit with family and help with the wheat harvest.


On this Saturday the temperature reached 105 degrees in the early afternoon, and Sal didn't plan to leave his basement except if absolutely necessary. There was a bathroom as well as a small refrigerator, and it was just too hot to venture into the upper floors of the house. But by later in the afternoon even the basement was just too hot. Still, there was nowhere else to go. The big floor fan was already at full blast. Nothing to do but stick it out.

Sal had been working from a new problem book that All Checkers Press had just published. Sylvia had given it to him as a birthday gift. It was a nice collection and included problems by two of his checker pen-pals, Brian and Ed.

The heat was starting to make Sal, who after all was in his seventies, a bit sleepy. Then Sal did something that he didn't do very often; he got a beer from the fridge and opened it up. Sal would have the occasional social drink but seldom anything but that. It was the heat, and he wanted something cooling. It was too hot to eat anything, but a cold drink would be nice.


Sipping his beer and working on a few problems, he suddenly became aware that the room was getting darker. Now, the basement wasn't all that large. There was the furnace, of course, a half bath, a lot of storage cabinets, a workbench, an easy chair and an old couch, and a small table in the middle served by a couple of battered kitchen chairs. There were several casement windows on the walls, up near the ceiling. There was an overhead light and a couple of floor lamps.

Now, it was odd. The lights were all on but they didn't seem to be giving off more than a faint glow. Sal looked up at the windows and it was pitch black outside. Was it storming, or had he fallen asleep and it was now well after dark? No, his beer was still cold, in fact ice cold, colder than the old fridge could have ever made it.

Sal thought he had best go upstairs and check around. That's when he got the biggest surprise of all.

There was a wall where the stairway leading upstairs used to be. Not even a new looking wall, but just a continuation of the walls in the rest of the room.

Sal started to be frightened. This just wasn't possible ... was it?


And there was an eerie silence. Not a sound came from outside. Another shock: the electric wall clock had stopped, the second hand no longer sweeping, the time 11:52. Eight minutes until midnight, Sal supposed. But if the electric clock was stopped, how could the electric lights be on, even though only barely?

Now, stay calm, Sal told himself. Sit down at the table, take a few deep breaths.

The table was gone. So were the chairs. In fact everything in the room seemed to be fading away, as if darkness were seeping in and dissolving reality.

The walls were no longer visible, nor were the floor or ceiling. Sal now felt a floating sensation, and then a breeze that turned into a wind that pushed him along in total darkness.


It seemed to go on forever, the wind stronger and stronger, Sal being carried faster and faster. And now along with the darkness he heard an unearthly howling that grew so loud Sal thought his ears would burst.

Suddenly it was over.


Sal was standing in a large room, in front of a long table. Everything in the room was glowing red as if on fire. Seated behind the table were Brian, Ed, and--- Sylvia! After a moment, Sylvia spoke. "You have been called before this tribunal to stand in judgment. How do you plead, guilty, or guilty?"

Sal was in shock. Finally he managed to say, "Have I died? Is this the Last Judgment? But why aren't there ... you know ... angels and ... St. Peter? And Sylvia ... why are you here?"

"Answer the question, mortal. Do you plead guilty, or guilty?" Brian said.

"Yes," added Ed, "you must plead either guilty or guilty. After all, we know you're guilty, don't we?" Ed laughed manically and the others joined in, the laughter swelling and ringing in Sal's ears.

"Guilty of what?" Sal said. "I say, not guilty of ... whatever it is!"

"Not guilty?" said Sylvia. "You must plead either guilty, or guilty! Everyone must obey! Everyone is guilty and everyone is condemned! We do not accept your plea and we find you guilty. You are hereby sentenced to ... "

Sylvia paused and waved her arms at Brian and Ed. "All together now boys, let's hear it ... "

Sal opened his eyes. His head was resting on his new problem book and he was drenched in sweat. Slowly, he raised his head and looked at the electric clock. It was nine o'clock and, glancing at the windows, he saw it was getting dark.

He must have finished all of his beer, as the bottle was empty.


Uh-oh. There were three empty beer bottles on the table. Guilty, or guilty? Everything fell into place and Sal understood.

Sal took one last look at his checkerboard, which had the following position on it.

White to Play and Win


But he shook his head and said to himself, "Too much checkers today. Too much heat. Too much beer. Too much ..." He shook his head again. He had had a terrible dream. "Better just get to bed," he concluded, "and it sure will be nice when Sylvia--- the real-life Sylvia--- gets back home."

Sylvia Westerman

We hope you don't ever have a bad dream like Sal's. We also don't recommend three bottles of beer on an empty stomach, or at all for that matter, especially when solving checker problems. Can you solve the position shown above? Don't let it give you nightmares; you can always click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif


15-10 9-2 12-8 3-12 19-15 26-19 15-24 16-19 24-15 12-16 27-23 20-24 15-19 24-27---A 19-12 27-31---B 12-16 etc. White Wins---C.

A---16-20 loses immediately.

B---27-32 makes no difference.

C---White leaves the man on 10, keeping the Black king on 2 trapped. He then crowns his other piece and uses the two kings to trap the remaining Black king in the double corner. No need to fight through a 3 vs 2 King ending!

Our thanks to Grandmaster problemist Ed Atkinson for sending us this problem, which he calls One Piece Ahead, along with the solution. We also want to point out that to our knowledge, neither Ed nor Brian have never participated in someone's nightmare!

08/20/22 - Category: Fiction -Printer friendly version-
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