The Checker Maven

Beacon Cafe: Turkey or Prime Rib?


It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The year was 1955 and the place was the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Sal Westerman

At just after one in the afternoon, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club had started its weekly meeting. The club, nominally led by Sal Westerman, had a number of checker enthusiasts as members, all but one of whom were over the age of 50.

The club meet each Saturday from just after Labor Day to just before Memorial Day, except for holidays such as Thanksgiving weekend.

Louie the Flash

The "boys" as Sal called them, were all enjoying their coffee. Dan, Sam, Delmer, Wayne, Tom, and Louie the Flash were on hand today. But instead of being deep into a checker discussion, they were talking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. A rather pointed debate was going on about what you should eat on Thanksgiving.


"Turkey, what else?" Dan said, and there were a number of nods of agreement. But Sal was espousing a contrary point of view.

"Now, boys," he said, "I certainly can't argue against the great American tradition of turkey, with lots of stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and so on, not to mention pumpkin pie for dessert."

Credit: azerbaijan_stockers

As if on cue, Deana, the Beacon's proprietess, called out from behind her serving counter, "Pumpkin spice bars today, boys!"

There were smiles all around as Sal continued, "But my wife Sylvia allows as how she's a little tired of turkey after so many years, and wants to make prime rib instead. She says it's 'festive and celebratory' as she puts it, and 'a nice change from the ordinary.'"


"I like that idea," Deana said. "Are you having a lot of company? With a big crowd, a large turkey is probably a better choice, but for smaller groups a nice three rib roast might be just the thing."

"It's just us this year," Sal said. "Our daughter can't make it up from Washington D.C., and Sylvia's sister Phoebe is going down to Utah to visit with their other sister." Sal almost expressed his relief at Phoebe's being elsewhere, but held back at the last minute. He and Phoebe didn't exactly hit it off.


"Well, then, there you go," said Deana. "A three rib roast will make a great dinner and lots of roast beef sandwiches during the coming week."

A few of the boys said, "I don't know" or words to that effect, but the discussion finally ended with Sal saying, "Thanks, Deana. In any case you can imagine I didn't want to argue with Sylvia, especially after she kind of implied that if I want a turkey I can cook it myself."

Everyone had a good laugh, after which Wayne asked Sal what he had in mind for today's checker problem.

"Here's what I've got for you," Sal said.

The tradition was that Sal would bring along a checker problem for the boys to solve. If they got it, Sal bought the treats but if they couldn't solve it, the boys bought their own plus some for Sal--- and Sylvia.

Sal laid out the following position. "Here you go, boys. It's already one-thirty so let's keep it to no more than half an hour."

White to Play and Win


The boys all nodded their assent and were soon deep into contemplation.

Our Checker Maven staff do sometimes have prime rib at Thanksgiving, but to support tradition, we serve traditional stuffing, even if pan baked, prepared according to a recipe that is at least 150 years old. What do you have for Thanksgiving? Do you stick with traditional turkey or do you serve something completely different? We'd love to hear from you.

Of course first you should tackle today's problem. We promise you it's not a turkey and you won't have any beef about it. See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

Solution and Conclusion


30 minutes passed quickly. At a little after 2 PM, Sal called "time."

"No luck today," said Louie the Flash, "we just couldn't solve it."

Sal smiled. "Let me show you how it's done."

Sal demonstrated the following play.

22-17 16-19---1 18-14 19-24 32-28 6-9 28x19 9x18 13-9 5x14 12-8 3x12 19-16 12x19 26-23 19x26 31x6 2x9 17x3 White wins with the move.

1---Lloyd Gordon wrote to point out that 7-11 is actually Black's best move here, though it still loses. After the quite natural 16-19, other White moves such as 32-28 will also win in addition to 18-14.

"Very nice," Louie the Flash said. "Tell you what, I'll buy for everyone." The boys smiled and expressed thanks as Louie went over to Deana's counter to pick up a tray of pumpkin bars. Then, with coffee refills in hand, everyone was ready for another couple of hours of skittles, checker talk, and just plain checker fun.

Just before five o'clock closing time, the boys wished each other and Deana a Happy Thanksgiving. They'd be back in two weeks after having enjoyed the holiday in whatever manner they each chose, be it turkey, prime rib, or anything else.

We've so often said that Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday. It's at heart American, and even better than that, regardless of your race, creed, color, or any other identifier, who can quarrel with the idea of being thankful for what we have?

The Checker Maven wishes all of our readers a Happy Thanksgiving!


Today's problem was from notes by Derek Oldbury on a game he played against Marion Tinsley.

11/18/23 - Category: Fiction -Printer friendly version-
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