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

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Composing Championship #72

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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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08/19/23 -Printer friendly version-
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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

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08/12/23 -Printer friendly version-
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Sal's Big Tournament


Sal was looking forward to his trip to Las Vegas all summer, and the time had come. He and his wife, Sylvia, would fly from Bismarck down to Denver and then catch another plane to Las Vegas. It was expensive but they decided to splurge instead of spending a couple of days on the bus or the train.


While Sylvia was looking forward to shopping and shows, and perhaps a few pulls on the slot machines, Sal was going to play in the 1955 North American Checker Tournament. Given that he was the reigning North Dakota state champion, he qualified for the Masters Division. That would likely mean he'd have a couple of matches with Grandmasters and the odds were definitely against his winning the Division. But Sal was fine with that. He just wanted to play and enjoy the experience.

The plane trip took the better part of a Saturday, giving Sal just a little time before play began on Sunday afternoon. There would be one round on Sunday, two on Monday through Wednesday, and one on Thursday morning, or eight rounds in all. It was a long tournament and it always attracted several thousand players. There were over 200 registered for the Masters Division alone.


Sal and Sylvia had time on Saturday to enjoy one of the famous Las Vegas buffets. They hadn't planned on a show as it just seemed like too much. After dinner, Sylvia tried the slot machines while Sal went back to their hotel room to study a few opening lines in final preparation for the tournament.

The couple had a light lunch the next day and then Sal signed in at the tournament hall. It was quite a sight, with over a thousand checkerboards set up around the vast auditorium. The Masters would play in a segregated area at the front of the hall, with seating set up for spectators behind the velvet ropes and golden stanchions.

English Grandmaster Barrington Bennington

Play began. Sal was matched with a highly rated English grandmaster in the first round, and Sal lost one and drew one. He was pretty happy with his results and later told Sylvia so. She in turn had won $100 (a lot of money in 1955) at the slots, and decided to go shopping at a fancy boutique.

The tournament was "Swiss System" meaning winners play winners and losers play losers. Sal had an easier time of it on Monday and won all four of his games. On Tuesday he had tougher opponents and won three and drew one. It got even tougher from there. On Wednesday he won two and drew two. But he went into the final round on Thursday with nine wins, only one loss, and four draws. That gave him 22 out of a possible 28 points and he found himself in 4th place, with one master and two grandmasters ahead of him with 24, 26, and 26 points respectively.

Sal didn't have a chance for first place. But he did have a chance at 3rd place. Mostly, though, he didn't want to get knocked out of 4th place. He really needed to win both of his games to get 3rd, and that wouldn't be easy, as he was matched up against Bob "Newboy" Bertollin, a Master from Chicago who was very close to achieving Grandmaster.

Bob "Newboy" Bertollin

Sylvia, having done enough shopping and seen enough shows, decided to buy a ticket for the gallery and watch the final games. That pleased Sal no end and he felt he would play better with her supporting him.

And indeed, in the first game, that's what happened. Sal played brilliantly against Newboy, and perhaps Newboy didn't take Sal seriously enough--- but Sal won the game.

Newboy was pretty shocked, but he was a good sportsman and congratulated Sal in a sincere manner. He did, however, tell Sal that he was determined to win the next game. That's fine, Sal thought, I'm just as determined.

The game was very hard fought, and Newboy held an advantage. It finally came down to the following position.

White to Play and Draw


Sal wasn't going to win, and he knew it. But a draw would get him a tie with Newboy for third through fourth place, and $375 in prize money, a huge amount that would pay for the trip to Las Vegas and then some.

Sal thought for quite a little while. Finally, taking a look at his clock and realizing he had to make a move ... he did.

How would you do against that very talented player who everyone calls "Newboy"? Can you find the draw that would win Sal the prize money? (Alas, you won't get any prize money from us, but you'll certainly feel good about finding the solution.) Give it a go and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of today's story.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/22/23 -Printer friendly version-
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Marvin's Month of June

Private Jet

For her honeymoon with Marvin, Priscilla spared nothing. She chartered a private jet to take her and Marvin on a direct polar-route flight from Detroit to Bastia on the island of Corsica. She booked the best suite at Casa Reale, Bastia's top (and most expensive) hotel. She arranged for a limousine and a driver for the extent of their one-week stay. She made sure they had reservations at a series of the finest restaurants. Not a single thing was left to chance.

Hotel Suite

You'll recall from our previous story that there had been some doubt in Marvin's mind whether or not the wedding would even take place. This was after he refused to cut his dreadlocks and stormed off in a huff. Fortunately everything worked out in the end. The ceremony and reception took place and soon afterwards Priscilla and Martin were comfortably seated in the Gulfstream jet that would take them to their destination. Flying time was around 10 hours and they would arrive the following afternoon. The jet of course was outfitted with sleeper couches.


Priscilla and Marvin were both tired from the celebrations. They had a nightcap--- Priscilla chose white wine and unsurprisingly Marvin had a beer--- and then slept for a few hours until the steward gently woke them to serve breakfast.


Soon, they landed in Bastia and quickly cleared customs and immigration. The limo awaited them and whisked them off to their hotel. The couple settled in and then took a leisurely stroll around the town, taking in its unique architecture and interesting sights.


They decided on an early dinner (at least by Corsican standards) and went to one of the restaurants on Priscilla's list, Nova. They had a marvelous meal and Priscilla even persuaded Marvin to try some French wine. Marvin pronounced it excellent and allowed that was almost as good as American beer. At that, Priscilla frowned, but only slightly and only for a moment. She was on her honeymoon, after all.

Everything was fine until the check was paid and they were on their way out to their waiting limousine. It was just outside the restaurant that Marvin saw a poster on a lamp-pole.


"Come on, Marvin, the limo's waiting," Priscilla said.

"Just a sec, honey, I want to read this poster. Hey ... uh ... you can like, read French, right? I can kinda make this out but well ... anyhoo ... "

Priscilla walked over and took a look. "Uh, sweetheart, you needn't worry about this poster," she said, but Marvin looked quite unconvinced.

"Aw, Prissy, it's about a checker tournament, ain't it? I can figger out that much. With a big prize and stuff. I wanna play. I ain't never played in this here Corsica before."

"Marvin, it's an open tournament. That means there will be a lot of amateurs present and it wouldn't be fair for you to play. And a 5,000 Euro prize fund is no big deal. You make more than that in just one game with your pro team. Besides, it would take four days out of our honeymoon. And ... could you not call me 'Prissy'?"

"Yeah but ... c'mon, it's only four days and ... "

Priscilla cut in. "Marvin, what is this trip called?"

"Whaddya mean? It's, like, Corsica, right? Like I was sayin' ... "

"Yes, Marvin, but why are we in Corsica?"

"'Cause you like it?"


"Because it's our honeymoon, Marvin. And what do newlyweds do on their honeymoon? They spend time together. One spouse doesn't go off and play all day for four days in a checker tournament while the other spouse does ... I don't know what."

"Hey, but you can catch up on your work and stuff ... "

"I took the week off. I told the C-suite at Rust Belt that I don't want to hear from them even if headquarters burns down and all our affiliates fold. I was not to be disturbed because it's my honeymoon, the only one I've ever had and, I hope, the only one I ever will have. Do you realize what a commitment I've made? And you want to take four days to play checkers when that's already what you do for a living as a professional, day in and day out?"

"But I'll be there with you after the games finish, right?"

Priscilla threw her hands up in the air. "Marvin, just get in the limo, will you?"


There was an eerie silence all the way back to the hotel and all the way up to their suite. Priscilla then busied herself watching a French news channel while Marvin pulled out a copy of the latest issue of All Checkers Digest. But as usual when he and Priscilla had a dispute, he couldn't focus, even though the following position should have held his interest. It was a problem by that Grandmaster Problemist, Ed from Pennsylvania.

White to Play and Win


The truth was, Marvin was a good guy and he truly loved Priscilla. It was just that he was a relatively simple guy and didn't always see things in, shall we say, a nuanced manner, and that led to misundertstandings and mistakes, sometimes pretty big ones.

"Aw, heck," Marvin said aloud to himself. He went into the other room where Priscilla was stationed on a couch, looking rather angry and upset.

"Hey, Priscilla," Marvin began, "you're right. I ain't gonna play in no checker tournament. I'm gonna spend the whole week with my lady love. There ain't nobody else anywhere like you, and I'm gonna give you all my time."

Priscilla turned off the TV and looked up quizzically at Marvin. "You sure?" she asked. "You really mean all of that?"

"Course I do," he said.

Priscilla's expression warmed into a broad smile. "Thank you, dear. We're going to have a wonderful week."

"Hey, but, you think like ... you know, the two of us, not just me ... maybe we could sorta drop by the tournamant site and say hi to the players, you know, just real quick?"

Priscilla started to frown but quickly resumed her happy expression. "Sure, honey, we can do that. But enough talk."


Priscilla took Marvin's hand and pulled him onto the couch next to her, and we must end our story here lest we intrude into Priscilla and Marvin's private life.

It seems that recently Marvin is constantly teased with an interesting problem that he doesn't get to solve for one reason or another, and if by chance you too are on your honeymoon, as much as we love checkers we definitely don't recommend doing checker problems! However that stricture will likely apply to very few readers, so do work out the solution at your leisure and then click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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Sal Visits Dickinson


Sal Westerman knew it was inevitable. The day had to come when he couldn't put it off any longer. He would have to go to Dickinson with his wife Sylvia to visit her sister Phoebe.

Sal had on a number of occasions been able to get away with driving Sylvia to Dickinson, where he would stay just long enough for an unpleasant dinner and then drive home, even though it would be pretty late when he got back to Bismarck. A week or two later he'd go back out to pick Sylvia up and bring her home.

It was more difficult when Phoebe came to Bismarck to visit Sylvia. Fortunately this was only a couple of times a year, and Sal could escape to the library or to the Beacon Cafe to get at least some relief.


However, it was summer. Sal's club, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, wouldn't meet again at the Beacon until after Labor Day, and Sylvia had told Sal that this time he had to stay in Dickinson for nine days, from Friday night through the week to the following Sunday morning.

There was one bright spot. It would be the week of the Western North Dakota Summer Checkers Tournament, a fairly important event which would draw some of the top players from North and South Dakota, Montana, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and even a few from Minnesota. The tournament was hosted each year in a different city or town in the western part of the state, and this time it would be in Dickinson.


Now, regular readers know from previous stories that Phoebe and Sal didn't get along. Phoebe thought Sal was wasting time on checkers, when he could be doing useful things like painting the house, cleaning the basement, or at the very least washing the windows (inside and out, of course).

The day came and Sal and Sylvia made the several hour drive to Dickinson. On their arrival, Phoebe greeted them in her driveway, gave Sylvia a big hug, and then pointedly looked at Sal and said, "I hope you've come prepared."

Sal, thinking Phoebe was (surprisingly) referring to the tournament, which started on Monday, replied, "Yes, I've been preparing ... "


Phoebe gave him a quizzical look. "Preparing? What's to prepare? My house needs to be painted, there's some cranky plumbing to fix or replace, and my furnace needs to be cleaned out. You already know how to do those things and you've got more than a week to get them done. Even a lazy fellow could finish that little bit of work in a week."

"Paint your house? I don't think ... "

"Well, you'll need to scrape the old paint first. But you can get it all done in a couple of days. Leaves you lots of time for the other work. You can start first thing in the morning. I'll let you have off this afternoon seeing as how I'm feeling kind of in a good mood now that Sylvia's here."

"Phoebe, look, I can work on a few things over the weekend, but on Monday I'm playing in the big checker tournament and I'll be busy right through Friday."

"Oh, I think I read about that in the paper. Bunch of silliness if you ask me. Grown men pushing those checkers around when they should be doing an honest day's work. Well, forget that, there'll be no tournament for you."

Sal looked over at Sylvia. Sylvia mouthed silently, "I'll take care of it."


Sal was up early on Saturday morning. He started in on the plumbing as he wanted to get that done while the shops were open. He did get everything fixed up by evening, although Phoebe and Sylvia had dinner without him, Phoebe pronouncing him a slow worker who could eat cold leftovers later.


On Sunday Sal took on the furnace cleaning. It was hard and dirty work, but he got that done in time for dinner with the ladies, although Phoebe accused him of rushing and probably doing a shoddy job.

Tournament registration was on Monday at eight. Sal had breakfast at seven and got ready to depart.

"Where do you think you're going?" Phoebe asked, as Sal headed for the door. "You've got to start on house painting today. No more easy jobs for you, you'd better get that scraper working right now or you won't get done by dinner."

"Sal's too old for that kind of work," Sylvia said.

"Too old? He's only 74. Plenty of men ... "

"No, Phoebe," Sylvia replied, and the discussion went on as Sal slipped out the door and drove off as fast as he could.


Sal had a great time on the opening day of the tournament. He saw many old checker friends from around the region, and managed to win all 8 of his games, as there were two rounds in the morning and two in the afternoon.

Of course on his return to Phoebe's she gave him quite a cold reception.

"Sylvia tells me you'll be wasting away your days all week."

"Yes, the tournament runs through Friday ... "


"Then when do you propose to paint the house? That will only leave you Saturday and the likes of you can't work fast enough to do it in one day. Well, maybe you can work evenings. It's light until almost 10 in June. I can see Sylvia won't be able to talk any sense into you, so maybe that's the answer."

"No, Phoebe, I need to rest up for the next day's games."

"Rest? You rest all day sitting in front of those little pieces of wood, acting like a child ... "

"I'm sorry, Phoebe, I can't paint the house. I fixed the plumbing and cleaned the furnace for you. Now please let me play in my tournament."

Jimmy Loyal

It went on that way all week. Friday rolled around. There were just three rounds that day, and when the results were in, Sal had tied for first with Jimmy Loyal, the Montana champion.

So there would be a fourth round, a playoff between Sal and Jimmy. The first game ended in a draw. As they prepared to play the second game, the referee pointed out that if this game should end in a draw, the two players would split first and second prizes. First prize was $100 and second prize, $50. (Remember it was 1955 and that was a lot of money.)

The last game was hard-fought and went as follows.

1. 10-15 22-18
2. 15x22 25x18
3. 11-15 18x11
4. 8x15 29-25
5. 4-8 25-22
6. 8-11 23-19
7. 6-10 22-17
8. 9-14 26-22
9. 5-9 17-13
10. 14-18 13x6
11. 18x25 21-17
12. 2x9 30x21
13. 9-13 17-14
14. 10x17 21x14
15. 13-17 19x10
16. 17-22 24-20
17. 22-25 28-24
18. 25-29 27-23
19. 29-25 31-26
20. 11-15 23-19
21. 7-11 ...
BLACK (Jimmy)
White to Play and Win


Jimmy, not realizing he had made a mistake, looked pretty confident. Sal's clock was running low. Sal was sure there something in the position but had to find it fast. Should he play by instinct, or risk losing on time and take a little longer to think things over?

Sal went with instinct, and made his move.

In today's story, Sal is under all sorts of pressure. He's had to deal with Phoebe, and he's got a chance for first place in the tournament but not much time to find the win. Fortunately, there's no pressure for you (at least we don't think so), and you can solve this one at your leisure (unless you have a house to paint). Can you also figure out what move Jimmy should have made?

When you're ready, click on Read More for the solution and the conclusion of our story.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/24/23 -Printer friendly version-
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The Big Day


It was three weeks since Marvin J. Mavin had angrily left Priscilla K. Snelson's condo. Three weeks with no contact at all, not even a single text message, let alone a phone call or in-person meeting.

Marvin was the superstar captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers in the National Checker League, and Priscilla was his fiancee. She was the CEO of Rust Belt Holdings, a major international conglomerate. They were something of an unlikely pair, but they had been seeing each other for quite a few years.

Marvin J. Mavin

The cause of Marvin's rapid exodus was Priscilla's demand that he cut his trademark dreadlocks prior to their upcoming wedding. Upcoming? It was only two days away.

After their fight, Marvin wasn't sure what would happen. As the days wore on, he was less and less sure, until finally he didn't know if the wedding was on or off. He asked a few of his friends, those who had received invitations, and they said that they hadn't heard from Priscilla about a change in plans or a cancellation.


Many events at which Marvin was supposed to be present had come and gone. Or at least the dates had come and gone. There was Priscilla's dress fitting. There was the cake tasting. There was the meeting with the Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, who was a personal friend of Priscilla's and was slated to officiate. And so on.

With the checker season over (the Doublejumpers didn't make the playoffs this year), and with some while until training camp began in August, Marvin had time on his hands, and he spent too much of it drinking beer at home or at a series of local dive bars. Truth have it, he was despondent. He thought he had driven Priscilla away once and for all. Although there had been a couple of close calls in the past, they had always resolved their difficulties. This time, Marvin wasn't sure.


The next day came. It was the day of the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner. Marvin considered giving Priscilla a call, but then he ended up back at the bar around noon and, well, overindulged. He made his way home in a haze, fell asleep, and didn't awaken until 11 PM. If there had been a rehearsal and a dinner, he had missed them both.

He checked his phone. No messages from Priscilla. Nothing from her parents or his mother, either. This wasn't looking good, and Marvin, still feeling the effects of the afternoon, went back to bed.

It must have been in the middle of the night that Marvin made a decision.


He got up at around eight on Saturday morning. It was wedding day--- if there were to be a wedding. He had his doubts but decided to carry out his plan.

After a couple of cups of coffee, Marvin got in his old Volkswagen and drove to Twirly Tuxedos and Gaudy Gowns, determined to rent a tux for the wedding. He was going to show up at the Country Club. If the wedding was still on, great. If not, well, the Country Club had a great bar and he figured in a tux he would be welcome ... at least if Priscilla hadn't cancelled the associate membership she had gotten for him a little while back.

At Twirly Tuxedos, Marvin was received with the usual sneer by one of the staff named Stanley.


"Uh, yeah, Stan, I need like a, you know, tux, for a wedding."

"Sir, kindly address me as Stanley, if you please."

"Okay there, Stanley, but look I ain't got a lot of time."

"You're Mr. Mavin, are you not? I can tell by the way you ... well, are you or are you not Mr. Mavin?"

"Yup. The very same."


"There is a tux reserved for you, Mr. Mavin. It was reserved some while ago. I believe it suitable for a wedding, at least for someone a bit more refined in appearance than ... never mind. The tux rental, however, has yet to be paid. There is a note from Ms. Snelson that states that the wearer is to pay the bill."

Marvin reflected. What did this mean? He wasn't sure. "Okay, yeah, Stanley, how much?"

"A wedding tux of this caliber and quality rents for a bit of a higher price. It will be $1,000 plus tax and tip, plus a refundable $2000 deposit as a guarantee against damage."

"Two thousand deposit? How come?"

"We, shall you say, ask for a larger guarantee from ... certain classes of our clientele."

"Well, whatever, I ain't got much time." He pulled out his duct tape wallet and passed over a credit card.

Stanley ran the card. "I've added the customary 25% gratuity," he said.


"Gratuity? For what? You ain't done nothing."

"I did your fitting."

"Really? When?"

"Ahead of time."

"How can you ... oh forget it." Marvin signed the slip, took the tux, and hurried home to change. By the time he arrived it was close to noon and the wedding was at three. Maybe.

Now, Marvin wasn't quite adept at the various operations necessary for the donning of a tuxedo. He had a lot of trouble with the buttons and studs, particularly the cuffs, and when it came to tying the bow tie it was hopeless. He finally just made a shoelace bow and left it at that. Time was running short. It was already a few minutes after two.

He thought it best if he didn't drive his old Volkswagen to the Country Club. A taxi would be a better idea.

The trouble was, taxis didn't really like to come into Marvin's neighborhood, or at least not cabs from the better companies. The same was true for services such as Unter and Drop.

When it was two-thirty and no cab had come despite quite a few phone calls, Marvin had no choice but to drive his VW.


The last thing he needed was to get stopped for speeding, but he went as fast as he could and even pushed his luck a little. He pulled up to the Country Club parking lot at ten minutes to three.

As he expected, the attendant gave his car a long, hard look. The attendant, resplendent in Country Club livery, came over to Marvin's already-open window and pointed an immaculately white-gloved finger at him.

"You sure you're in the right place, pal? You don't look like it. Now if I was you I'd just turn yourself around and drive on out of here before one of our members catches something from that car of yours."

"Hey, man, I'm here for a wedding, can'tcha see there here tux I got on?" Marvin replied.

The attendant took a closer look. "Yep, it's a tux, all right, although the bow tie looks like some kid tied it. So exactly whose wedding are you here for?"


"It's my wedding. Well, at least I think it is. If there is a wedding."

"Your wedding? Now that's pretty funny. Best one I've heard all day. And you don't exactly sound sure. But there is a wedding here today. If you're on the level, you'll know whose wedding. So, tell me. Whose wedding?"

"I told you, mine. Marvin J. Mavin. The Mavin wedding."

"Sorry, wrong answer. So make tracks before I call security."

Marvin thought for a quick instant. It was now five to three. "No ... no ... it would be under her name ... the Snelson wedding! Priscilla Snelson!"

The attendant straightened up. "Yep, that's the one. So show me your invitation."

"I'm the groom and I don't need no steenkin' invitation!"

Now the attendant took off his cap and scratched his head, then replaced his cap. "Okay, whatever, I'll let the wedding people deal with it." He then lifted the gate to the parking lot.


Marvin, in his haste, almost stalled out the VW. "Look here," he said, "park this for me. I ain't got no more time. Priscilla will give you a nice tip."

Marvin got out of his car and ran toward the main building with the attendant shouting behing him, "I'm not the valet! I'll have this thing towed!" But Marvin paid him no heed.

He raced across the lawn and into the clubhouse. "The wedding ... where?" he asked a young woman on the desk staff, also impeccably dressed in Country Club livery.

"Out on the lawn," she replied. "But you can't just ... "

Marvin was already through the back door.

And there, quite a sight greated him.


There must have been two thousand people present, in dozens of long rows of chairs flanking a wide central aisle lined with large, colorful flower bouquets in elegant golden stands. At the front of the very long aisle stood the Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, several maids of honor, a few men dressed in white tuxedos and ... Priscilla.

She was dressed in her hand-crafted Italian wedding gown, with a long train and a headress. Her makeup was perfect and her hair was piled in exquisite curls on top of her head. White lilies studded the hairdo.

She was standing with one hand on her left hip, with her right hand holding a watch, which she was closely regarding.


It was exactly one minute before three. Marvin started the long walk up to the front of the assemblage, his eyes popping and scarcely able to breathe. Could this all be real?

Yes. It was real, and he knew it the moment he reached the front and stood next to Priscilla.

"It's about time. I didn't know if you were going to show, and despite everything I wasn't about to call off the wedding. About twenty minutes ago I had the police dispatched to your apartment, to your favorite bar, and some of your other haunts. They were going to bring you here in handcuffs if they had to. You're lucky you showed up on your own and spared yourself the ignomy."


"But just look at you," she went on. "You're wearing a black tux, not a white one."

"Stanley rented me this one," Marvin interjected.

"Quiet. Don't speak. I will deal with Stanley in due course. Now, your bow tie is a disgrace. It looks like a child tied it."

"I heard that before ... "

"I said not to speak! I'm not finished! Worst of all, you never cut your dreadlocks!"

Priscilla paused, as if thinking. "Well, the wedding must go on. But we'll talk about all of this afterwards."

She turned to the front. "Justice, we're ready to begin."


Marvin stood in silence while the Justice said a few words about the occasion.

"Now, please join hands," he said to Marvin and Priscilla.

"I hope you at least washed your hands," Priscilla whispered. "No doubt you drove that filthy junkheap of yours."

Marvin took Priscilla's hands in his without replying.

"Marvin, repeat after me ... "

Marvin said his vows, and then Priscilla said hers.

"I now pronounce you spouse and spouse," the Justice concluded.

"Ain't it supposed to be man and wife?" Marvin asked out loud.

There was a murmur from the assembled crowd.

"No, Marvin, it's not. Join the 21st century," Priscilla said. Turning around to face the audience, she and Marvin walked hand in hand down the aisle. Cheers and applause rose and swelled to a crescendo.


The reception and wedding dinner and dance were held in the clubhouse, and went off without further difficulty and only a few minor disputes. When it was time to cut the wedding cake, waiters rolled out an enormous three tier cake, and to Marvin's delight, there was also a special sheet cake with the following design piped on it with red, green, yellow, and white icing.


"Hey," Marvin said, a wide grin spreading across his face, "White to play and win, right? Now, I think if you just ... "

"Later, Marvin," Priscilla said. "I'm so glad you like the cake but the checker problem really does have to wait."

"Aw, gee, Prissy ... "

Priscilla interrupted. "It's our wedding day so I'll let you get away with calling me 'Prissy'--- once. Now focus, Marvin, and not on the checker problem." Marvin, though looking a bit disappointed, proceeded gamely with his part in the festivities.


When the celebrations were finally coming to an end, Marvin and Priscilla went outside amidst another round of cheers to Priscilla's waiting limousine.

"Hey, what about my car?" Marvin asked.

"Oh, the Club had it towed. You won't need that old thing any longer."


"Hey I want my car back ... "

"No time. The limo is taking us to the airport. I've chartered a private jet to take us on our honeymoon."

"What honeymoon?"

"The one we agreed on. Well, the one I agreed on at least, while you were acting so childish about your dreadlocks ... which you managed to keep despite everything. But in any case, we're going to Corsica. I've managed a week off work."


"But I ain't packed or nothing."

"Don't worry, I've taken care of everything ... spouse." Priscilla gave Marvin a warm smile.

Marvin, charmed, smiled back. "Okay ... wife," he said.

"Um, Marvin? Remember? 21st century?" Priscilla paused. "Oh, the heck with it," she said, and pulled Marvin close as the limo sped off.

White to Play and Win


There seems to be a pattern to it. Marvin gets a glimpse of an interesting checker problem but doesn't get to solve it. However you, our reader, can solve it at your leisure (unless perhaps you're reading this column at your own wedding, something we don't recommend). It's another great composition from Grandmaster Composer Brian Hinkle; it's certainly not "a piece of cake" but it's quite something. Try it out and then marry your mouse to Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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06/10/23 -Printer friendly version-
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Season's End


The Coffee and Cake Checker Club was in session at the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building, in Bismarck, North Dakota. It was May 21, 1955 (it's always 1955 at the Beacon Cafe), the last Saturday before the Memorial Day weekend, and that meant it was the last time the club would meet before its summer break, which lasted until after Labor Day weekend in September.

Sal Westerman

At just after one o'clock, there was already a great turnout. Of course Sal, the unofficial leader, had arrived on time, and also on hand were regulars Tom, Wayne, Dan, Louie the Flash, Sam, and Mike, as well as less frequent attendees such as Ron, Kevin (a.k.a. "Spooler") and Blaine, who at age twenty five was the only member under fifty years old.

Deana Nagel

There were so many attendees that they took up two large booths in the back of the cafe, and Deana, the proprietess of the Beacon, couldn't have been happier. A good turnout meant good sales, and she didn't hesitate to announce that fresh Mixed Berry Bars were on hand in quantity to go along with large quantities of North Dakota style coffee (brewed traditionally with four scoops of coffee grounds per gallon of water).


A lot of the chatter was about plans for the summer. Sal was going to Las Vegas to play in a major tournament, the North American Classic, a high caliber event which would feature both amateur and professional players. Dan and Wayne were going to play a couple of weekend tournaments in Minneapolis. And of course several of the others would play in the big tournament at the North Dakota State Fair up in Minot, North Dakota.


It would be a busy summer, but Sal always missed his Saturday afternoon club meetings and by the time September rolled around, he would hardly be able to wait to get together with the "boys" once again.

Still, there was the rest of this afternoon to enjoy. The coffee was good, the companionship even better, and it didn't take long for those "boys" to ask Sal what he had for them in the way of a challenging checker problem.

"I have one from an old magazine," Sal said. "It's by a fellow named John Tonks. I've never heard of the gentleman, but it's a clever problem."

"Well there, Sal," Louie said, "you might just be buying for quite the crowd today." Louie was referring to the tradition that if the "boys" could solve Sal's problem, Sal would buy for all of them, while if they couldn't solve it, they would treat Sal. It wasn't quite a balanced arrangement, but Sal was a generous sort and just enjoyed the fun and competitive spirit of it all.

Sal needed to set up two checkerboards, one at each of the booths that the club was occupying.

White to Play and Draw


"How about 30 minutes, boys?" Sal asked.

"Aw, c'mon Sal, give us an hour, willya?" Blaine piped up.

"Okay, then," Sal replied, "but not a minute longer!"

As Deana refilled everyone's coffee mugs, the "boys" dug into the problem and soon North Dakota checker chatter filled the air.

We too are always wistful about saying good-bye to the Beacon Cafe for the summer, but we'll be sure to follow Sal as he goes on vacation and then plays in that big Vegas tournament. Meanwhile, though, play along with the "boys" and try to solve today's problem. When you're ready click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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05/27/23 -Printer friendly version-
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Marvin Takes A Stand

Priscilla K. Snelson

"Marvin, dear, I've made out your action list for you, and I suggest you read it over carefully, as there are many things you're going to have to get done in a relatively short amount of time."

Priscilla Snelson, the CEO of the international conglomerate Rust Belt Holdings, and the fiancee of superstar checkerist Marvin J. Mavin, Captain of the World Champion Detroit Doublejumpers in the National Checker League, was addressing Marvin. As was typical for a Saturday afternoon when the Doublejumpers didn't have a match to play, and weren't on a road trip, Marvin was visiting Priscilla at her highly upscale condo, 6,000 square feet of the ultimate in luxury.

They were in Priscilla's living room, and she had just handed Marvin a sheaf of stapled papers, made up of perhaps 10 sheets, densely printed on both sides.


Marvin, having little choice, accepted the sheaf from Priscilla and started to leaf through it. On each page about 15 items were listed, showing dates, locations, names of participants, and the nature of the "action items" as Priscilla had titled them.

"Gee, hon, there's like, I don't know, a bajillion things here, and I ain't gonna remember like hardly nothing ... "

"That's why you have a list, Marvin, so you can refer to it and not miss something important. And there aren't a bajillion action items. In fact there are only two hundred and thirty. There are twice that many on my list. Oh, by the way, don't bother to tell me how busy you are, as I'm just as busy if not more so, and I certainly won't use that for an excuse."

"Yeah but the World Series is coming up and stuff."

"The Doublejumpers won't be in the World Series this year. Your team won't make Divisional Champs. You had too many top players retire and your management didn't recruit as well as they should have. A lot of fans are upset. No, this year the Cleveland Cutters are going to knock you out. Just as well, as you'll be very busy with our wedding."


Marvin, listening to this, felt his heart sink. He knew it was true; the Doublejumpers just weren't as good as they were in previous years. But to hear it from Priscilla, and to have her say it in such an unfeeling manner, hurt Marvin's feelings.

But Marvin didn't say anything and instead started looking at the list. "Lemme see ... cake tasting ... shoe fitting ... dress fitting ... hey Prissy, what's this about a dress fitting? I sure ain't going to wear no dress!"

"Oh, Marvin, that's my dress fitting, and you need to be there. And don't call me Prissy!"

"Why? You're the one wearing the dress ... "


"That's my handmade Italian gown. It's $100,000 and it has to be adjusted for a perfect fit. Of course you'll want to be there to see how it turned out."

Marvin kept reading. "Makeup evaluation ... that's for you right?"

"It's for both of us."


"Well, of course. You'll want to look your best, and the right makeup will bring out all your good features. It will be subtle, naturally. I've hired a makeup artist who works with top film stars."

"Uh, whatever." Marvin was starting to wonder what he had gotten himself into. Reading along, he came to another item that really got his attention. "What's up with 'hair styling'?" he asked.


"Oh, that. You aren't going to like it, I'm afraid, but it's just how it is. You'll have to have your dreadlocks cut off, and you'll need a completely new hairstyle. I know your hair is kind of a trademark, but you simply can't appear that way at our wedding. Anyhow, you'll get used to the new style and you'll be very happy at how it makes you look. I've selected the close-cropped military look for you."

Marvin J. Mavin

Marvin breathed in and breathed out. Then he put the action list on the coffee table and stood up. "Now look, Prissy, I can do a lotta things. I can listen to you tell me how bad my team is, even though you kinda really hurt my feelings. I can go and see that fancy dress with you. I can get shoes and taste cakes and even put up with makeup and all that stuff. But I will not cut my hair. No sir, no ma'am, I ain't gonna do that! My hair is the real me. My fans know me by my hair and I just won't won't won't won't won't cut it!"

Priscilla put her hands on her hips. Her face turned white as a sheet.

Oh boy, thought Marvin, here it comes.


"You will have your hair cut and styled in a presentable and dignified manner. You will not look like a bum off the street at our wedding. There will be no further discussion of this. You will do as you're told, is that clear?"

Marvin hesitated a moment. "Yeah, Prissy, it's clear. Clear like the sky in a Michigan snowstorm." Marvin hesitated again. Then, without another word, he left the condo.


Four hours later, in a dive bar near his apartment, Marvin, after more beers than he should have had, started to wonder if he had made a huge mistake. He was trying to distract himself with a checker problem, but it wasn't working. He couldn't focus and the beer wasn't the only reason.

White to Play and Draw


Sighing, he paid his tab, picked up his checker magazine, and went back to his apartment to sleep it off. He had no idea what tomorrow might bring, and he really didn't want to find out.

With the wedding just a month away, what will be the outcome? Should we caption this, "Priscilla to play, what result?" Or have we just encountered a situation of "Marvin to play and lose"? Stay tuned to this website for our next installment.

Was Priscilla too hard on Marvin? Was Marvin too stubborn? These are difficult questions, and we suggest for the moment that you just stick with checkers and try to solve the problem that Marvin simply couldn't concentrate on. See if you can find the correct play, and then click on Read More to view the solution. Would that life's problems be solved with just a mouse click!20050904-symbol.gif

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05/20/23 -Printer friendly version-
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Marvin J. Mavin: Tax Day


April 15, the normal due date for income tax returns in the United States, falls on the day of publication of this column. However, being a Saturday, returns won't be due until the next business day, or Tuesday, April 18 (Monday, April 17, 2023 is a holiday in Washington, D.C.).

Marvin J. Mavin, the superstar captain of the champion Detroit Doublejumpers in the National Checker League, had yet to file his taxes, and his fiancee, Priscilla Snelson, wasn't pleased or amused.

Priscilla was the CEO of Rust Belt Holdings, a Detroit based multinational conglomerate, and a team of Certified Public Accountants completed her income tax filings every year. She had a compensation package which ran to about $5 million a year base pay, which doubled with bonuses and stock options, and strived to pay the minimum amount of tax, hence the highly qualified team of experts in her hire.


Marvin was visiting at Priscilla's condo that Saturday afternoon, and of course he was fully occupied solving checker problems in the latest issue of All Checkers Digest. Or at least trying to solve them, as Priscilla was definitely on Marvin's case about his not filing his income taxes as yet.

"Marvin, you make fully half as much money as I do, with your $5 million a year 10 year contract with the Doublejumpers. Why don't you have your own team of accountants? Or just hire mine, they'd be glad to help."

"Yeah, for about $50,000 they would. I don't need those guys."


"They're not all guys. They're about half women, and very talented, and you do need them. In fact I've already ... "

"Aw, Prissy, geez. I just use good old LightningTax, you know, on line, and for like a hundred and fifty bucks everything gets done in half an hour and then I can get back to my magazine. See, look, here's one by that guy Ed in Pennsylvania that I'm working on."

White to Play and Win


Priscilla walked over to the Italian leather couch where Marvin was sitting, pulled his magazine out of his hands, and threw in onto the quartz crystal coffee table. "You pay probably twenty times the tax you ought to pay. And don't call me Prissy!"

"Aw, honey, like, I ain't got nothing to deduct. My paychecks go into that there Blackguard account and they put some in my checking, and it's sorta real easy. I don't need to worry about nothing."


"Sure. You own a beat up old Volkswagen, you rent a grungy apartment in a terrible neighborhood, you don't have any investments other than that one Blackguard index fund, which by the way I set up for you, and ... you earn a great deal but you just don't care about your money!"

"Yeah, 'cept, I, like, you know, got enough and stuff and I don't need nothing."

"Well, let me tell you, fiance of mine, when we get married your attitude will be a big liability because then we'll have to deal with joint filing, and things are going to change. Big time. I won't let you waste our money like you're doing now. Do I make myself clear?"

"Ah, yeah sure, whatever you say." Marvin reached for his magazine but Priscilla pulled it off the table and tossed it across the room.

Sylvia Yang

"Now, Marvin, you will be doing your taxes right now. As I was starting to say earlier, I've made arrangements for you. Sylvia Yang is coming here and she'll arrive momentarily. She's a senior partner at FatFingers, the accounting firm I use. You'll treat her with respect and deference and you'll do exactly what she tells you to do, immediately and with no argument or discussion."

"Right now? But you didn't tell me nothing about that and I was busy with my magazine. There's that real good problem ... "

"You'll have a really bad problem if you don't listen."

Marvin, through long experience, knew when arguing would just make things worse, and at that moment, the intercom sounded. It was the doorman of Priscilla's condo building.

"Ms. Snelson, there is a Ms. Yang to see you."


Priscilla pressed a button on the intercom. "Thank you, Jackson, please send her up."

A few minutes later there was a knock on the door. Priscilla pulled the door open an in swept a woman dressed smartly in business attire, carrying a leather briefcase with gold hasps. She went immediately to the conference room (Priscilla had a very upscale condo), sat at the table, took a laptop from the briefcase and started it up.

"Mr. Mavin?" she called. "Over here, please, we must start at once."

Marvin slowly got up from the couch, took a longing glance at the checker magazine lying in disorder in the corner of the living room, and entered Priscilla's conference room.


"I'm Senior Partner Yang," the woman said. "Don't bother attempting to shake hands, there is no time to waste on pleasantries."

"Uh, okay, yeah ... "

"Sit down, Mr. Mavin. The first thing I need from you is a retainer check, and you'll need to sign our retainer agreement. I think $25,000 will be sufficient to start, and we'll bill you for the balance later on. So if you would kindly get out your checkbook ... "

"Uh, I ain't got it with me."

Ms. Yang gave Marvin a deprecating glance. "Oh, really? You're that unprepared? All right then, we'll take a credit card for a three percent upcharge. You do have a credit card, don't you?"

Marvin shrugged his shoulders and got out his 10 year old duct-tape wallet. He had a feeling that the next few hours wouldn't be very pleasant.


It seems to happen often. Poor Marvin doesn't get to solve an interesting checker problem, and instead needs to follow Priscilla's directions. Or else.

Now, you may not have a $5 million per year 10 year contract with a professional checker team (or do you?), but you can work on today's problem at your leisure. That's something, at least!

When you're ready, you can click on Read More to see the solution. We promise not to bore you with the details of Marvin's afternoon as Senior Partner Yang from FatFingers completes his income tax returns. Suffice it to say that a fun day was not had by all. Or at least not by Marvin.20050904-symbol.gif

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04/15/23 -Printer friendly version-
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It's April Once Again: A Beacon Cafe Story


This had never happened before, not in all the years that Sal Westerman had been running the Coffee and Cake Checker Club.

Regular readers will be familiar with our setting; a version of Bismarck, North Dakota, where it's eternally 1955, and in the Provident Life Building near downtown Bismarck, we find the Beacon Cafe. The proprietress is Deana Nagle, and she's one of the top bakers in the Prairie states. The cafe is open from 7 AM until 5 PM Monday through Saturday (except in August), and from September through May, the big booths in the back are occupied by the Coffee and Cake Checker Club on Saturday afternoons.

There were a dozen or more members of the club, all but one of them over fifty years of age. Everything was kind of informal, of course, and depending on the weather, the time of year, and so on, attendance would range from four or five to as many as twelve.


Not this Saturday afternoon. Sal had arrived at 1 PM and was the first one to come through the cafe's front door and greet Deana. But ... he was also the only one. It was now 2 PM and Sal was in the big booth in back all by himself.

Sal thought back as he nursed his second cup of coffee. Once, he recalled, it was just him, Dan, and Wayne--- three of them. But never less than that and certainly never just Sal.

Deana Nagel

He looked over at Deana, stationed as usual behind her counter, and smiled wistfully. "I think I'm it for today," he said.

"Well, Sal," Deana replied, "do remember what day it is."

Sal let out a bit of a sigh. "Of course," he said, "it's the first Saturday in April, isn't it?"

"It is."

About three years ago, in a previous Beacon Cafe story, we explained about the first Saturday of April and how in Bismarck, it was an unwritten law that if you were a homeowner, you would rake up your yard to get it ready for spring. It didn't matter if there was snow still on the ground, or if it was raining or even snowing. You raked up your yard because that's what you're supposed to do. Failure to comply was the next best thing to a criminal offense.

Sal hadn't even thought about it. Being older, he engaged the services of a nice, enterprising young fellow who took care of yard work for him.


But the rest of the club members thought that doing it yourself was more meritorious and that hiring it out was something like cheating. Sure, Sal thought, they didn't get the raking done in the morning and had to work into the afternoon. That was it. In other years, they had finished earlier, or at least several of them had, and had been able to make it to the club. Today, though, most likely under the watchful eyes of their wives, they were being held to account for performance of this traditional task, and there would be no checkers until the raking was done, all of the dead grass and debris bundled into bags, the tools cleaned and stored, and a subsequent wash-up and change of clothing accomplished.

Sal sighed once more. He thought that at least Louie the Flash, who wasn't married, might have showed up, but perhaps his latest girlfriend was also making him toe the line. And young Blaine, the only member under fifty years old, was likely in Minot helping his parents with the raking (a similar April raking rule held sway throughout most of North Dakota).

"Hey Sal, cheer up, I've got lemon bars today. I know you like those," Deana said.

Sal actually hated lemon bars. His frown must have been visible, because Deana smiled and quickly said, "Hey, I'm just April fooling you. Actually I have apple crumble. Would you like one?"


"Sure would," he replied, "and can you refill my coffee? I think I'll stick around just a little longer."

Sal thought maybe he could read the checker news in this month's issue of the State checker magazine, the Roughrider Checker Bulletin. Sal enjoyed his dish of apple crumble--- Deana had added a scoop of vanilla ice cream and it was delicious--- and had just finished reading about a tournament in Williston, when in came Louie the Flash and Mike!

Louie the Flash

"Hey, you look pretty lonely back there!" Mike said. "We know it's already after 3 PM but we can still spend an hour together, and I'm sure you have a problem for us."

Sal couldn't hide his big smile. It would be a good Saturday after all. "Done raking?" he asked.


"Yeah," Louie said. "My girlfriend Judy said she wouldn't keep company with a guy that can't even rake his yard when he was supposed to, so I had to get on it. But then about halfway through I went back inside and told her I can't keep company with a girl who keeps a guy away from his checker friends. So we split up on the spot and here I am."

"I ran late this year," Mike said, "but I'm all done, and the wife let me loose for a little while."


"Well then, there's just time enough for this one. It's in the Roughrider magazine. I haven't looked at it yet so how about we all solve it together?"

Deana brought over two mugs of coffee and a couple more dishes of apple crumble. "Here you are boys, better late than never!"

Sal referred to his magazine and laid out this position on one of the checkerboards.

White to Play and Draw


"Let's get started," Sal said. "See if we can solve it in an hour."

Apple crumble, often locally called krumkake is certaily delicious. Unfortunately we can't supply that for you. But you can enjoy the checker problem that Sal and the "boys" are working on. Find the right moves and then don't let your mouse be lonely--- click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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04/01/23 -Printer friendly version-
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