The Checker Maven

March Craziness: A Beacon Cafe Story


It was March, 1955, and in Bismarck, North Dakota, everyone was waiting for the worst of winter to come to an end. March alternated between snow and cold and some balmier weather.

This Saturday was a day with a foreshadowing of spring in the air. The sun was out and the temperature had reached a pleasant 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Sal Westerman had an enjoyable walk just before 1 PM from his home to the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building, where his beloved Coffee and Cake Checker Club was due to have its weekly meeting.


Sal expected a good turnout, as today's activities would be a little different. It was March and this was the week of the big intercollegiate national checker tournament, often referred to as "March Craziness." The nation's attention was focused on this biggest of all college checker tournaments, and the Club was going to listen on the radio to the final, championship match between the University of North Dakota (UND) and the University of Michigan. This year UND had an especially strong team and had managed to snag a rare invite to the tournament. They had been a low seed but, defying all predictions, they had fought their way through to the finale. Of course the odds today were still heavily against them winning the championship, as the Michigan powerhouse was a formidable opponent.

Sal came through the door of the Cafe a few minutes after one and saw that there was already a large group gathered: Dan, Mike, Wayne, Louie the Flash, Tom, Ron, Larry, Delmer, and even Barry and Old Frank, two seldom seen members, were on hand. With Sal, that made eleven, a sort of record attendance which took up both of the large booths in the back. One of the "boys" (all of whom were over 50) had brought along a small radio and had plugged it in to an electrical outlet.

"Come on, Sal!" Ron said. "The match is just getting started!"


"And I've got some nice blueberry bars today!" Deana, the proprietress, announced from her post behind her counter. Deana's baked goods simply had no equal anywhere in the region.

"I guess everyone's buying their own today," Sal observed. Generally Sal would present a checker problem and if the boys could solve it, Sal would buy, otherwise the boys would pick up the tab.

The match indeed had gotten underway. The radio announcer, Van Skulky, was giving the play by play with commentary and analysis from a couple of retired professional players. Van would announce the move on each of the five boards as they were made and would urge listeners at home to follow along on their own checkerboards. Every so often, Van would recap the positions of the pieces.

The boys drank coffee and enjoyed several orders of blueberry bars. Sales were up and Deana was smiling.


The games on the lower boards came to a conclusion ahead of the others. North Dakota won on board five but Michigan won on boards three and four. A little later, board two turned out to be a draw. The score was now 2 1/2 for Michigan and 1 1/2 for North Dakota.

The game on board one was still ongoing. North Dakota needed a win to draw the match, but then they would get the win on tiebreaks, as the rule was that the team with a win on the highest board would prevail in case of a tie score. However Michigan needed only a draw to carry the day.

Russell Gietzman

The top North Dakota player, rated as a Master, was Russell Gietzman. But Michigan's top player, Sy Stinge, was a Grandmaster and she was heavily favored to win.

Sy Stinge

However the game had reached this position, with White (Gietzman, North Dakota) to play.

White to Play and Win


The radio announcer was beside himself with excitement. "This is incredible," he said. "North Dakota has winning chances. Somehow Gietzman has gotten Stinge into a difficult position. What do you think of that, Don?" he said, referring to commentator Don Dinsman.

"It's amazing, Van," Dinsman said. "Here we have a Grandmaster who should have defeated her opponent handily, in a position where she might not even be able to get a draw. But the position isn't easy, and I'm not sure Gietzman will find his way through to a win. If a win is there, it's probably a thin or tricky one. I don't yet see it myself, I just feel it must be there."

"Well, yes, White looks strong all right," said Van, "but Gietzman is using a lot of time and he'll need to choose a move real soon now. "


Sal quickly set up the pieces on one of the boards on the big booth's table according to the announcer's layout. The boys studied it carefully.

White to Play and Win


"Gee Sal, this looks tough," Dan said. "You know Russ personally, do you think he'll find something?"

"Russ is hoping to get picked in the pro draft," Sal said, "and if he wins this one, he'll be a shoo-in. But can he do it? He's good. I think he has a shot at it."


Suddenly the radio announcer spoke out in an excited voice. "Gietzman is making his move! It's ... "

Match wits with the best intercollegiate players of our fictional 1955 season. Do you think Sy will get the draw for her team and snag the national title? Or will Russ carry the day and bring the championship to North Dakota for the first time ever?

See how you might have done, by solving the problem and then clicking on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our little story.20050904-symbol.gif

Solution and Conclusion

Gietzman played 30-26, and knowing what was coming, Sy resigned.


"The crowd is going wild!" Van Skulky shouted. "The championship goes to the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks! Everyone is singing their fight song, 'Stand Up and Cheer,' and that's just what everyone is doing! Unbelievable! It's a day to go down in history!"

The boys listened to the cheers and applause for a few more minutes before Sal switched off the radio. "Well, that was certainly something," he said. "Did you boys understand the move? I have to say it took me a little by surprise but now that I think about it, it makes good sense. We've got a little time yet before closing, so let's look it over.

Sal played it out in the following manner.

White to Play and Win


1. ... 30-26
2. 10x17 22x6
3. 2x9 11-8

18-14 also wins here.

4. 4x11 26-23
5. 19x26 18-14

18-14 and 26-23 could have been played in any order.

6. 9x18 3-8
7. 12x19 8x15
8. 21-25 15-18
9. 5-9 18-22
10. 25-30 7-3
11. 9-14 3-8

White Wins.

"That Gietzman sure is a star," Wayne said and everyone nodded in agreement.


"He could have been State Champ," Sal said, "except that he comes Moorhead, Minnesota, which is just over the state line. But he'll be in the pros by summer. Probably a first round draft pick."

March Craziness had come to a conclusion, and as it was now almost five in the afternoon, so had this week's meeting of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club. But there would be another get-together and more checker fun just a week from today.

The problem is an original, sent to us by frequent contributors Lloyd and "Gosh Josh" Gordon of Toronto. Thanks, Lloyd and Josh!

03/09/24 - Category: Problems -Printer friendly version-
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