The Checker Maven

April in Bismarck


The year was 1955 and it was the first Saturday of April. In the city of Bismarck, North Dakota, that day had special meaning.

No, it didn't have anything to do with April Fool's Day, which only fell on Saturday once in a while. It had to do with raking up your yard after the winter season.

It was practically an unwritten law. On the first Saturday of April, you raked up your yard. Period. It didn't matter if there were still some lingering piles of snow, or even that it was likely to still keep snowing during April. You raked up your yard, and if you didn't, you'd get glares and stares from your neighbors, who were out there doing their duty while you were ...

... playing checkers at the Beacon Cafe?


Yes, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, led by Sal Westerman, met every Saturday afternoon from September to May at the Beacon Cafe, where they enjoyed a few hours of checker fun and the outstanding baked goods produced by the proprietor, Deana.

Now, Sylvia, Sal's wife of some 45 years, understood. She knew that Sal was 70 and not up to a lot of yard work, so she hired it out to Ted, an enterprising young man in their neighborhood. But it wasn't so simple for the rest of the boys--- Sal referred to the other club members as 'the boys' even though they were all over 50 themselves.

Young Ted

So when Sal made his way to the big booth in the back of the cafe, where the 'boys' always gathered, there was no one present except Wayne and Dan.

"Raked our yard this morning," they both explained, in more or less the same words. "Got up early to get 'er done. Too bad the others are stuck doing it this afternoon."

Of course, the idea of not raking your yard on this appointed day would never occur to any of them. In Bismarck, that was unthinkable.

"Well, okay," Sal said, with a sigh of resignation. "Less treats for the losers to buy, I suppose."


Deana, who missed nothing that went on in her cafe, called over from her counter, "Too bad, I have peanut butter bars today. Really good."

Sal smiled. "I'm sure they are, and in a little while Wayne and Dan are going to buy me one."

"We'll see about that," Dan said. "And hey, did you rake your yard this morning?"

"You know Sylvia hires young Ted to do that."

"Ah, cop out. Anyone who doesn't rake their yard ought to buy treats for those who did, don't you agree, Wayne?"

Wayne nodded. "Sure do. But let's see what Sal has for us today."

"Something from Brian," Sal said, "and he says it's very instructive."

"That's another way of saying 'hard', right?" Dan said.

Brian was Sal's St. Louis checker pen-pal, and his checker problems always puzzled and pleased. But they were seldom easy.

Sal set up the position on one of the checkerboards on the booth's table. "Here you go. Fifteen minutes ought to do it."

White to Play and Win


"Fifteen minutes! No way!" Wayne complained. "An hour, for sure!"

"Half an hour," Sal said, "and that's final." He crossed his arms over his chest and feigned a severe look.

But the boys were already deep in contemplation.

Peanut butter bars sound good, and you can have one if you can solve the problem (or if you've raked up your yard). When you're done, rake your
mouse over Read More to see the solution.null


Thirty minutes passed quickly but just as Sal was about to call 'time' Wayne said he had it.

"Here's how it goes," he said, "it's kind of involved." Wayne then demonstrated the following solution.

21-17*---A 9-13---B 17-22 6-10---C 4-8---D 3-12 22-18---E 13-17 18-14 10-15 14-21 15-19 21-17 19-24 17-22 24-27 22-18 27-32 18-23 32-28 23-19 28-32 20-16 and White wins by First Position.

A---The tempting early pitch allows Black to pitch right back and draw: 4-8? 3-12 21-17 12-16* 20-11 6-10 17-13 9-14 13-9 10-15 9-18 15-22, a classic draw by O. H. Richmond published many times over, including here in the Checker Maven in back in 2005.

B---6-10 4-8---F 3-12 17-13 9-14 13-9 14-18 9-6 10-14 6-9* 14-17 9-14 18-23 14-21 wins by First Position.

C---6-9 20-16 9-14 16-12 14-17 22-18 17-21 18-22 3-7 4-8 7-10 8-11 10-14 22-26* 14-18 26-30 18-23 11-15 23-27 15-18 27-32 12-8 and White Wins by holding the two Black pieces with just one king.

D---22-18 also wins: 13-17 4-8* 3-12 18-14, same as trunk.

E---This is a new unpublished 2x3 man-down win according to Jim Loy’s Aurora database.

F---17-13 also wins: 9-14 13-9 14-17 4-8* 3-12 9-14, same as trunk.

"Very fine," Sal said, "you got it and I'm happy to buy."

"Two bars," Wayne said.

"Yes, two," Dan added.

"Wait a minute now ..." Sal replied, but then Wayne said, "One bar for us getting the problem, and one bar for you not raking up your yard."

Wayne smiled, but all the same, he seemed serious.

Sal frowned, then smiled. "I concede," he said. "Two bars it is."

Sal and the boys enjoyed their treats and played some skittles until about four o'clock, after which they all headed home to their already raked yards.


This excellent problem was composed by regular contributor Brian Hinkle, who also provided the solution and notes. Many thanks!

04/25/20 - Category: Fiction -Printer friendly version-
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