The Checker Maven

Return to the Beacon

Beacon Cafe

It was Saturday, September 10, 1955, the first Saturday after Labor Day. And that meant just one thing to Sal Westerman, long time resident of Bismarck, North Dakota.

The Coffee and Cake Checker Club would resume its afternoon meetings at the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building.

Sal was the unofficial leader of the club, which met every Saturday from just after Labor Day to just before Memorial Day, after which there would be a summer break.

Sal loved his club and really missed it during the summer. Although he knew that summers in North Dakota were short, and most club and school activities of any kind were put on hold, still he missed his gatherings with "the boys" as he called his club companions--- all but one of whom were over 50 years of age.

Deana Nagel

He loved the venue, too. The Beacon Cafe was owned and operated by Deana Nagel, a championship baker who always gave the boys a warm welcome and let them occupy the large booths in the rear from 1 PM, just after the lunch rush (lunch in Bismarck was taken at noon without exception), until closing time at 5 PM. There was always plenty of coffee and the greatest baked treats anywhere, all at fair prices.

The tradition was that Sal would bring along a checker problem and the boys would try to solve it. If they got it, Sal bought the treats but if they didn't, they had to buy their own and something for Sal too, and often a couple of extras for him to take home to his wife, Sylvia.

As was usual for what Sal called "opening day" there was a great turnout. Besides Sal, there was Wayne, Delmer, Sam, Dan, Louie the Flash, Tom, Kevin (a.k.a. "Spooler"), Ron, young Blaine, and even Old Frank, who wasn't seen all that often, and was actually younger than Sal.


After some prelimary chatter about how the summer had gone, and a few stories from Sal about that big tournament in Las Vegas, the boys were ready to get down to it.

"Let's see what you've got," Tom said.

Sal smiled. "Okay, you asked for it. I've got a different one this time. It's from the Galt Evening Reporter."

"The what?" Wayne asked.

Morris Gordon

"The Galt Evening Reporter," Sal replied. "It's a little town in southern Ontario. They have a checker column written by Morris Gordon and he has a setting that he said comes from an actual game he played at the local checker club. Morris and I met in a younger day when I played a tournament in Toronto, and we've stayed in touch on and off over the years. He wrote to me just last week saying as how your club will never get this one, as it's championship material."

The boys groaned in unison. "You're sure making it hard on us, Sal!" Louie the Flash said. But he smiled as he said it.

The large turnout occupied two booths, so Sal set up a board in each booth with the following position

Black to Play and Win


As if to spur everyone on, Deana announced from behind her counter, "Chocolate almond nut bars today! Fresh and warm!"


Surely the boys heard her, as there were some sounds of contentment. But they were already deeply immersed in studying the position.


An hour passed. It was 2:30 PM. Sal called "Time!" and everyone looked up.

"We didn't get it," Wayne announced from the table on the left.

"Neither did we," said Dan, who was at the table on the right.

"Well then, boys, let me show you!" said Sal.

This one indeed isn't easy. You will either see it, or you won't. It's a lot of fun, though, and well worth your time. See how you do and click on Read More to see the solution. You'll have to provide your own chocolate almond nut bars, though.20050904-symbol.gif

Solution and Conclusion

Black to Play and Win


Sal demonstrated the following play.

1. 6-9 13x6
2. 11-16 20x2
3. 27-23 14x7
4. 23x14 17x10

KingsRow now sees the win.

5. 5-9 30-26
6. 9-14 26-22
7. 24-27 31x15

Brilliant. Black now moves his one advanced piece.

8. 14-18 22-17

Whte's pieces will pile up and nothing can be done about it as long as Black leaves the piece on 1.

9. 18-23 17-14
10. 23-26 28-24
11. 26-31 24-20
12. 31-27 20-16
13. 27-23 16-11
14. 23-26 21-17
15. 26-23 14-9
16. 23-26 9-5
17. 26-23 17-14
18. 23-26 14-9
19. 26-23

Black Wins.

"Nice one!" said Louie the Flash. Meanwhile, Deana had arrived with trays of bars, paid for by Old Frank. She returned to provide coffee mug refills.

Old Frank

The boys enjoyed skittles games and checker talk until just up to closing time, after which they said their farewells and departed. Sal, knowing that many Saturday afternoons of checker companionship lay ahead, went home with a smile.

Today's problem setting comes from regular contributors Lloyd and Josh Gordon of Toronto, who based it on an actual game played between the two of them. Morris Gordon was Lloyd's grandfather. The photo above is most definitely not of the historical Morris, and we don't know if Morris was a checker player, although we wouldn't be surprised if he was.

09/09/23 - Category: Fiction -Printer friendly version-
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