The Checker Maven

Engagement Party: A Marvin J. Mavin Story


In our previous two stories, we told about Priscilla's ultimatum to Marvin, who did indeed go with Priscilla to Sparkly Exclusives to buy her an engagement ring that ran to just under $200,000 after adding in sales tax. Marvin had tried to negotiate but Priscilla told him that was gauche and made him pay full asking price, to the great delight of the tuxedo-clad salesman.


While the wedding date wouldn't be set for some little while, as Priscilla wanted to plan a very lavish affair with hundreds and hundreds of guests, Priscilla's C-suite colleagues, delighted that she had finally become engaged, wanted to throw an engagement party in her honor. They booked it for a Friday evening at Excelsior Estates, a swank country club in the Detroit suburbs where the very wealthy met to play golf on a choice of three pro-caliber 18-hole golf courses, squash in the squash racquets complex, tennis on the four outdoor and six indoor courts, or checkers in the koa-paneled Draughts Room.


It was the kind of affair Marvin would gladly have skipped, but Priscilla said they were going and that was the end of the discussion. Or rather, there wasn't even a discussion in the first place. Furthermore, Marvin would attend in black tie formal wear.

It was only while they were in Priscilla's limo, on the way to the venue, that Priscilla dropped the real bomb.

Marvin was fidgeting with his bow tie, trying to create a little space in the tight collar of his white ruffled shirt, when Priscilla said, "You know, dear, that Excelsior has a draughts room."

Marvin's face brightened a little. "Drafts room? You mean, like, they have German beer on tap and stuff?"


Priscilla gently but firmly slapped Marvin's hand away from his collar. "Draughts as in checkers, Marvin. You know, the game you play so well?"

Marvin started to say something but Priscilla continued, "Some of my colleagues at Rust Belt play in the Executive Egotist League, you know, and they are quite good."

"Oh yeah, really? I don't know about that. Good, huh?"

"Yes, and you'll have your chance to find out just how good they really are."

Marvin suddenly looked wary. "Whaddya mean?"

"You'll be giving a simultaneous exhibition tonight as part of the festivities. You'll play 16 top executives from Rust Belt."

"Oh no I'm not ... I ain't gonna be some kinda show monkey ... "

"Yes you are, and not only that, there is one of them whom you have to let win." Priscilla reached into her purse and pulled out a small slip of paper. "Here, memorize this name. It's the executive you must let win. You can go ahead and win the other fifteen games, but the man on the list is very important and we have to stroke his ego a little."

Now, Marvin was an unusual character, but if he took anything seriously, it was winning. After a quick glance at the paper he said, "Frobtads von Glulx, President, Rust Belt Holdings. Uh, Prissy honey, I ain't gonna do that. If you wanna make me play, I'll do that for you even if I don't like it much. But lose on purpose? Not gonna happen."

"Marvin, I know you and I know how you feel about your checkers. But this will really help me a lot, okay? And it's all just for fun. Frobtads will figure out you let him win, but he'll still have something to boast about. Got it?"

When Marvin didn't reply, Priscilla simply said, "Good."


Marvin and Priscilla were greeted at the ornate clubhouse entrance with much fanfare, and inside a string quartet was playing. The hors d'oeuvres were of the best quality and very plentiful. French champagne was on offer but when Marvin asked one of the servers for a can of beer, he was treated to a snooty look and told, "Monsieur, in this club we drink French champagnes and grand cru wines and only the best single malt Scotches. But if you'd like some Vichy sparkling water ... "

There were the inevitable toasts and wishes for the couple's future happiness. Marvin, who had no patience for slowly sipping expensive imported French beverages, drank uncharacteristically little, although he did find the Shrimp Dijon and Lobster Alsace hors d'oeuvres to his taste.

Then it was time for the simul. Everyone adjourned to the Draughts room, where still more champagne was served. Marvin was introduced to the players, who ranged from Alexander Antagony, Senior Vice President of Hostile Acquisitions, to Zumba Zelarkey, Vice President of Recreational Restructuring, and of course President Frobtads Glulx.

Frobtads Glulx

The games began. Marvin found that the players weren't all that bad for amateurs. While he easily and quickly won twelve games, three more took a little longer and wouldn't you know it, the last game was with none other than Frobtads Glulx, and it was quite tight.

The following unusual position arose, with Marvin to play.

White to Play and Win


It was interesting indeed. Marvin saw pretty quickly that there was a move that would definitely give him a win. However, he saw others that would put Frobtads in a winning position, and given that the Rust Belt President was quite a decent player, he would probably find the right play.


It was a dilemma. Should Marvin do as Prisilla asked, and let Frobtads have a win? Or should he do as he always did, which was always to seize victory when it was within his grasp? That was how he became a top professional player: By never compromising and never settling for less than the best he could do.

"Frobby, old boy," Marvin said, "you've played really well."

Frobtads smiled, even though no one ever but ever dared to call him "Frobby." He said, "Yes, I do think I have, and I'm about to hand you your only loss in this simul."

Marvin straightened up in his chair. "Now wait a minute there Frobster ... "

"President Frobtads," came the reply, "and there's no need for you to be a poor sport just because you're going to lose a game."

Marvin had had enough. "Lose? To you? Yeah, you're good but you ain't good enough to beat ole Marvin J. Mavin."

And Marvin made his move.

Can you find the winning play? Do you dare find the winning play? Luckily, no one's telling you to throw the game, so go ahead and work out the winning moves, after which you can click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of our story.20050904-symbol.gif


The game continued as follows.

White to Play and Win


10-7---1 15-24 14-10 21-14 23-19 30-16---A 7-2 14-7 2-27 White Wins.

A---24-6 7-2 30-23 2-27 White wins.

1---All other White moves lose---Ed.

Frobtads frowned. Finally, almost reluctantly, he offered his hand to Marvin. "Uh, good game," he said, but he was gritting his teeth. "I was sure I was going to win."

"Yeah, I know, Priscilla told me I had to let you win but that just ain't something I ever do, you know, throw a game because somebody is a big shot or whatever."



Priscilla's shout pierced the room, causing all heads to turn, after which Frobtads said, "Priscilla? Is this true? Did you really tell your fiance to throw the game?"

Priscilla's voice changed from a roar to a tremble. "Sir, you see, well I just thought ... "

"You just thought?" Frobtads interrupted. "You thought?" He paused and let out a deep breath. "You know, if Rust Belt Holdings wasn't a company that valued dishonesty in the name of profit and advancement, I would fire you! Consider yourself lucky, young lady, and meanwhile, this party is over!" He harrumphed a few times and muttered something about lack of gratitude, but Priscilla had already grabbed Marvin by his suit jacket collar and dragged him out of the room.


There wasn't much said between Marvin and Priscilla on the limo ride back from the Excelsior Estates. In fact the only words spoken were that of Priscilla telling the driver to drive to Marvin's address.

As the car pulled up to the curb, Priscilla removed her engagement ring and handed it to Marvin. "It's off," she said, her face tight. "Our engagement is off."

Marvin looked shocked. It took him a moment to recover but he at last said, "Aw, Prissy, what am I gonna do ... "

"Out!" Priscilla hissed. Reaching across Marvin to open the car door, she gave him a shove. "Out!"

Standing in front of his building, watching the limo speed off, Marvin completed his sentence. " ... with this ring?"


Our thanks to Grandmaster problem composer Ed Atkinson for this fine problem, which he titles Pandora's Box. It's a fitting title for both the problem itself and its role in our story.

03/12/22 - Category: Fiction -Printer friendly version-
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