The Checker Maven

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

Solution and Conclusion


After about 45 minutes had passed, Dan spoke up. "We've got it, Sal!" he said, and demonstrated the following solution.

9-6* 2x9 13x6 1x10 15x6 7-11---B 6-2 26-23 2-6 23x16 6-10 14-18 10-15 to a draw.

A---The order of the jumps is immaterial.

B---White is not out of the woods quite yet, and must execute a clever maneuver.

"That was a nice one, Sal," said Wayne, "and the bars you'll buy for us will be even nicer!" But Sal had already visited Deana's counter and two big trays of berry bars were on their way to the "boys."

There were still a couple of hours left until closing time at the Beacon, and that afternoon many a game of skittles was played, along with still more coffee and berry bars. Finally, it was time to go, and amid wishes for a safe and happy summer, everyone went on their way. It was always a bittersweet moment, but summers in North Dakota go by quickly and before too long, the booths in the back of the Beacon Cafe would be once again filled with checker friendship.


05/27/23 - Category: Fiction -Printer friendly version-
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