The Checker Maven

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

Solution and Conclusion

Play continued as follows.

24 19*---A 15-24 28-19 14-17 21-14 10-17 9-6* 2-9 19-16* 12-26 31-6.


A---Corrects Colossus against Oldbury, Casual (Freestyle), 1992, colors reversed: 31-26---B 15-18* 32-27 10-15* 24-20 7-11*---C 28-24, 12-16* Black Wins.

B ---Not 24-20 15-19* 23-16 12-19 20-16 10-15 Black Wins.

C---Corrects Oldbury, colors reversed, 15-19, Drawn.


"You're good," Newboy said as he shook hands with Sal amidst the pop of flashbulbs from the newsmedia. "Actually, you're very good. I only got half a point from you and we share third and fourth!"

"Thank you," said Sal, "it was a pleasure to play you. I hope we'll meet again one day."

"I have no doubt we will," said Newboy, "no doubt at all."

Sal went over to the gallery where Sylvia greeted him with a big smile and a warm hug. "Congratulations, Sal, this has been quite the vacation!"

"It surely has, dear. It surely has. I never expected to do this well in such a competitive tournament."

"Oh, I don't know," said Sylvia, "I had confidence in you all along, and I wasn't wrong, was I?"

Sal just smiled and gave Sylvia another hug.

Sal and Sylvia would spend one more day in Las Vegas to further enjoy the food, the sights, and the shows. On Saturday, they'd go back home to North Dakota. And there would be only six more weeks until Sal's beloved Coffee and Cake Checker Club would resume weekly meetings at the Beacon Cafe.


Yes, we cheated a little here. The problem position from Sal's game mirrors the theme of Bill Salot's Problem Composing Contest #69, as featured in last week's column. It's Old Days by Jim Loy, provided and annotated by Bill. It won 2nd place in Contest #58 a little over a year ago. We hope you enjoyed this week's column, and if you did, it's all the more reason to head over to the Contest Page to see four more problems with a similar theme.

07/22/23 - Category: Fiction -Printer friendly version-
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