Contests in Progress:
This week The Checker Maven celebrates its 19th publication anniversary, and as we've said every year for some little while, we never expected to get this far, and we wouldn't have without our many loyal readers. We have no timetable and no prediction for how long our column will continue. It depends a lot on your aging editor's health and eyesight, neither of which are the best. All we can do is repeat that we'll go on as long as we reasonably can.
This anniversary we turn to someone whom we see as something of a role model, Bill Salot, who at above 90 years of age is still as active and productive as many who are many decades younger. We present one of Bill's best problems, about which noted problemist Brian Hinkle had the following to say.
"Roy Little and I decided to solve Bill's masterpiece The Clincher together by discussing it over the phone. We worked on it together, off and on, for about two months. I finally came up with the winning theme and shared my solution with Roy and he quickly agreed that I was correct."
This problem first appeared in Elam's Checker Board, April 1962, Page 5260, Scorpion Club Column, where it was called Traveling Man.
Tom Wiswell included it in his The Science of Checkers and Draughts, 1973, Page 46, where he renamed it The Clincher.
Mr. Salot notes, and Mr. Hinkle confirms, "Brian Hinkle took days to solve it."
Obviously this one isn't easy, but please join us in celebrating our anniversary by trying this one out. We're sure you'll like it, and you can always click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
This column will appear on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, 2023. We hope you've had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Perhaps you were off on Friday and are enjoying a four-day weekend. Maybe you participated in the crazy shopping day known as "Black Friday" when, it is said, the ledger sheets of merchants turn from loss (red) into profit (black).
However, and even if you are celebrating, it's a weekend that can always use a good checker problem and maybe you have a little extra leisure time to take one on. We often turn to Tom Wiswell for a holiday problem, so here's a position we think you'll really enjoy.
Mr. Wiswell calls this one "The Gold Brick" and informs us as to its origin.
" ... White has just played 19-16 which allows Black a fine win. XXXX would have drawn, but many experts have walked into this inviting trap ... which originated from some analysis by the author (Mr. Wiswell) and Monte Schleifer."
We've redacted the move that White should have played and leave that as an exercise for the reader.
Try to solve this one. Maybe coffee and slice of pumpkin pie can be your reward once you win it ... or even if you don't, since you can always see the solution by clicking on Read More.[Read More]
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.[Read More]
Throwing pitches is a big part of the game of baseball. The heart of the sport is the battle between the pitcher and the batter, and a good pitcher (considering modern baseball contracts) is worth literally many times his or her weight in gold. (180 pounds of gold at the time of writing is valued at about US $5 million.)
Pitches are also a big part of the game of checkers. Pitching a piece, while on the surface a loss of material, can result in a winning situation some moves later--- if it's a good pitch and doesn't let the opponent hit a home run and win the game.
Contest 71, in Bill Salot's superb long running series of checker problem composition contests, involves pitches. The four contest problems can be found here. Be sure to check them out and vote for the one you like best.
As an introduction to the theme, here's an example by noted player, writer, analyst, and problemist Jim Loy. It's an excellent problem which Jim created independently. Unfortunately it didn't qualify for the contest as it had previously been discovered and published with colors reversed by T. Riley, as Problem 513 in Horsfall's Problem Book, 1909.
Will this problem throw you a curveball or be a sinker? We hope it's just a fastball that you can hit out of the park. Take a swing at it and then connect your mouse with Read More to see the solution. After that, go on to the contest page.[Read More]
In Simon and Garfunkel's famous song, Mrs. Robinson, there are the famous lyrics
"When you've got to choose
Every way you look at it you lose."
Seems like something that might often apply to our game of checkers, but do the lyrics apply to the following position?
Well, not quite every way you look at it. There's one and only one way to draw in this position. Can you find it? This is not really a speed problem but neither is it too difficult; perhaps it's on the edge between "easy" and "medium." In any case don't be like Mrs. Robinson. Choose but don't lose, then click on Read More to check your solution.[Read More]
Recall from our last story that Tommy Wagner, an aspiring young checker player at a high school in central Florida, had made it onto the Varsity Checker Team. But, alas, it was the second team.
Following his initial disappointment at not making first team, Tommy, under the tutelage of kindly old Uncle Ben, a retired professional checker player who wasn't really Tommy's uncle, played out the season with determination and patience. And so it was when fall came around, with the graduation of some top first team players, there were vacancies.
The head coach, Coach Schann, immediately promoted the two top second team players. That left one vacancy, and Coach was frank about not being sure whether Duwayne Zigley, who played fourth board on second team, or Tommy, who played third board, should get the nod and move up to fifth board on the first team.
"We're going to have a playoff," Coach announced. "Four pairs of games over the course of two afternoons. High score gets the position. In case of a tie, preference goes to Tommy, who is currently on a higher board."
At first Tommy thought this was a little unfair. Hadn't Tommy played a higher board than Duwayne the previous year? Still, Tommy knew he and Zigley were very close in skill, and Tommy didn't dare question Coach. Also, Duwayne had been been doing a lot of training with his own private coach, another retired professional named Ginsberg. So Tommy accepted that he would have to earn his promotion over the board.
The match took place and sure enough, Duwayne and Tommy played even; the first seven games were draws! Tommy had Black in the eighth game and only needed a draw to squeak by and make it to first team.
The game played out to the following position with Tommy to move. He was in a little bit of a situation but all he needed to do was find the draw.
The thing was, Tommy had gotten nervous. His next move would make or break his bid for first team, and he knew it. Furthermore, his clock was running down and he had to make a decision quickly.
Finally, Tommy made his move.
This is not a difficult problem at all, and well within the reach of a player of Tommy's caliber. Can you match wits with Tommy--- and Duwayne? You likely don't have a promotion at stake, so enjoy the problem and then click on Read More to see the rest of the story, the solution, and many examples of this theme.[Read More]
Things had seemingly returned to normal in the National Checker League after the near-disastrous player's strike just before the start of the season. Fortunately, as described in our previous Marvin J. Mavin story, the strike came to a negotiated end afer Marvin defeated Charity Chastity "Cha Cha" Hopkins in a one on one match intended to settle the terms of the strike. At the conclusion of the match, Cha Cha, in a rage, assaulted Marvin and ended up being jailed on a charge of attempted second degree murder. Marvin missed the first two weeks of the season while recovering from a broken collarbone and injuries to his throat and neck.
However, not much could keep Marvin away from the checkerboard, and he was soon back in action.
But, alas, everything isn't always simple. Cha Cha, despite bail being set at $1 million, obained her release and immediately mounted a defense and had her lawyer file for summary dismissal of all charges based on Texas law which accounted for "fightin' words." Cha Cha's defense team put forth the argument that Marvin employed "fightin' words" and therefore Cha Cha's assault on Marvin was justified.
A hearing was scheduled in Dallas Superior Court and Marvin was subpoenaed to appear. The NCL Player's Union decided to provide counsel as NCL management declined to do so citing "conflict of interest."
Unfortunately for Marvin, the powerful Looking To Be Offended (LTBO) lobby filed a brief as an amicus curae, or friend of the court. But they were no friend of Marvin, who had encountered them before (see earlier stories).
LTBO supported Cha Cha's "fightin' words" claim. In their brief, they noted (as did Cha Cha's defense team) that Marvin had used the expression "mano a mano" (in reference to their one on one match) after which he called Cha Cha a "woman." They argued that mentioning gender was well known to be outside the politically correct spectrum and that in so doing Marvin provoked Cha Cha with "fightin' words."
In due course, Marvin was called to the witness stand. He didn't hear the order to step forward, having been preoccupied with a checker problem in All Checkers Digest.
"I told you to leave that magazine in the car," his lawyer, Greta Gumption, hissed. "Now get up and go to the witness stand before you're held in contempt!"
Marvin reluctantly put down his magazine and obeyed.
After being sworn in, the defense lawyer, Ms. Susie Saucer, asked Marvin a few preliminary questions about his occupation, marital status, on so on.
"Yes, I'm married," Marvin said. "Priscilla Snelson is my wife."
"Really, you're married? she said. "The way you look, I never would have guessed you would have found anyone who would take you. And by the way, you should say "spouse" as the word 'wife' is gender biased. But, anyhoo, describe the so-called assault in your own words."
"Well," Marvin said, "we had this here match, mano a mano, you know, like ... "
"Mano a mano?" Saucer interrupted. "Are you saying that Ms. Hopkins is a man?"
"I ain't saying nothing," Marvin replied. "It's just like, an expression, you know ... "
"A very offensive expression," Saucer said. "But please continue."
"So then Cha Cha ... "
"Her name is Ms. Hopkins."
"Yeah right, I know, so then she says she didn't like what I said and ..."
"You knew she didn't like what you said but you said it anyway?"
"Uh yeah but that was like before she told me and how was I supposed to know?"
"You should have asked. Go on."
"So I says okay then mano a womano ... "
"So you did call her a woman."
"Well, ain't she? I mean maybe she don't look much like one ..."
Saucer threw her hands up in the air. "Your Honor," she said, turning to the judge, "look at this ... person. And having heard what he has to say, I ask again for summary dismisal."
"Hey wait a minute," Marvin said. "You ain't heard the rest. Like how she called me a maggot and said I was dog food ..."
"The witness will remain silent," the judge intoned. "Prosecutor, this certainly seems like a case of fightin' words. Calling someone a woman. Criticizing her appearance. Not honoring her wishes. Why, I'll bet this so-called victim never even asked Ms. Hopkins for her preferred pronouns."
"Your Honor," the prosecutor said, "attempted second degree murder is a very serious charge and Mr. Mavin was nearly killed by Ms. Hopkins. Surely this should at least be argued in front of a jury."
"I don't think so," the judge said. "Defense, approach the bench. Witness, you are dismissed."
Marvin went back to his seat next to his lawyer. "You really botched it," she said, and then fell silent.
Meanwhile Cha Cha's defense team was conferring with the judge. The LTBO lawyer joined in. After a few minutes, there was a nod of agreement all around and the meeting dispersed.
The judge cleared his throat and then announced, "The defense has agreed to a plea of guilty to a charge of misdemeanor assault with a sentence of three days, which has already been met with time served. Ms. Hopkins, you are free to go. Case closed." So saying the judge rapped his gavel and the courtroom began to clear.
Cha Cha came over to Marvin and said quietly, "And you thought you had won, you little worm. Well, Charity Chastity Hopkins isn't done with you yet. I'd watch my back if I were you."
"Are you threatening my client?" Marvin's lawyer said, but it was more a squeak than a statement.
"Figure it out for yourself, weakling." Cha Cha walked off to join her defense team, whose members were talking about going for drinks to celebrate.
"Next time, and I hope there isn't a next time," Marvin's lawyer said, "do as you're told and listen instead of messing around with checker problems. And for heaven's sake, ask people for their preferred pronouns. That's what people do in the 21st century. If you don't, people get away with murder. Or at least attempted murder."
Marvin shook his head. "Just don't get it," he muttered as he made his way back to the parking garage.
Since (at least we hope) you're not in court, you can feel free to solve the problem that Marvin unfortunately had to set aside. See how it goes and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
It was a fine fall afternoon on a Saturday in October, 1955. The place was Bismarck, North Dakota, and for Sal Westerman, that meant an afternoon visit to the Beacon Cafe, where his Coffee and Cake Checker Club met weekly between Labor Day and Memorial Day.
Sal left home around 12:45 PM in order to arrive by the nominal 1 PM start time. He enjoyed the walk in the brisk autumn air under a cloudless blue prairie sky. However, something was troubling him--- an unusual situation for one of his beloved Saturday club days.
He had gotten a letter early the previous week from a certain Simon S. Sinistra, postmarked Washington, D.C. The letter said that Mr. Sinistra was coming to Bismarck for a couple of weeks as a representative of the Department of Agriculture to lend help to the North Dakota department of the same name. The letter said that he understood things were "not well run" in Bismarck and that Washington would provide Federal "guidance" to "improve" things.
That would have been enough in and of itself, but then Mr. Sinistra went on to say that he had read about the Coffee and Cake Checker Club in All Checkers Digest, and, as he himself was a member of the District of Columbia Federal Employees' Checker Association, he was looking forward to visiting the Coffee and Cake Club to give them guidance on how to run a proper checker association.
"As a small-time club in a small-time podunk town in a small-time podunk state in a small-time podunk region of the country, undoubtedly you will be grateful for my advice and will follow it without question. You should be most appreciative that I kindly am providing my services without a fee, as I understand North Dakota to be a poor state, limited not only in culture and sophistication, but in material resources" Mr. Sinistra had said in his letter.
Sal found himself hoping that this Sinistra fellow wouldn't show his face at the Beacon. But he supposed he had to be prepared for the worst.
Now, the "boys" who made up the club--- all but one of them over the age of 50--- indeed were an unsophisticated lot, not schooled in the ways of big city culture. But they were honest, hard-working, and decent. They loved their country and they took care of their families. Most of them were Sunday churchgoers. In short, they were old-fashioned, upright, loyal, patriotic, and caring. They were also, as it turned out, quite good checker players.
What they didn't have was a lot of tolerance for pretension, snobbery, and condescension.
Sal arrived at the Beacon at just before one o'clock, greeted Deana, the proprietress (who was a championship baker) and said hello to the "boys" who had already arrived. There was Dan, Wayne, Mike, Larry, and Louie the Flash. Soon afterwards Tom and Ron came in, making a group of eight along with Sal. It was a nice turnout.
They all visited for a few minutes over coffee before Wayne asked the inevitable question. "What have you got for us today, Sal?"
The tradition was that Sal brought along a checker problem and if the boys could solve it, Sal would buy treats for the crowd. If they couldn't solve it, the boys would buy their own treats and some for Sal, including an extra serving or two for Sal to take home to his wife, Sylvia.
"Here's one from Ed in Pennsylvania," Sal said. Ed was one of Sal's checker pen pals and was a grandmaster problem composer. Sal went ahead and set up the problem on two different checkerboards in the big booths at the back of the cafe.
As per usual, Deana, never missing a marketing opportunity, announced, "Rhubarb crumble today, with vanilla ice cream!"
But just as she finished her announcement and the boys started to settle down to tackle the problem, the door to the cafe slammed open and in came a figure dressed in an expensive black suit. The man looked around the cafe and frowned. But before he could speak, Deana said, "Hey, pal, take it easy with that door! You break it you pay for it!"
"Are you addressing me in that tone of voice?" the man said. "Do you, a menial cafe worker, dare threaten a representative of the United States Government?"
"You better watch yourself, bud ... " Deana began, but Sal stood up and said, "Mr. Sinistra, I presume? Welcome to the Coffee and Cake Checker Club. I'm Sal Westerman, the organizer."
"Not today you aren't," Sinistra said. "I'm here to show you how it's done outside of Podunk. I'll be in charge today. Now, I suppose we'll have to make do with meeting here, but it will be the last time you gather in a sordid cafe. Surely there are better places, even in this cow town. Mr. Westerman, you are assigned to locate suitable meeting space. I will expect this to be accomplished no later than Tuesday. Do I make myself clear, or are you all as stupid as I'd expect?"
"Hey, careful what you say! Besides, we like it here!" said Dan. "We don't need another place. The food is good, the coffee is good, and it's friendly--- like us. There's rhubarb crumble today, you should try it."
"Rhubarb? Are you serious?" He looked over at Deana. "I imagine you run this ... place?"
Deana, slowly turning red, nodded.
"Well, where are the French pastries? The croissants? The Viennese tortes? At our club in Washington, we have only the best. Speaking of which, I'd like a cappucino with extra foam, two sugar cubes on the side. Cane sugar, please, not beet sugar, which I understand is common around here."
"You can have a cup of coffee, pal," Deana said, "if you pay in advance." Her tone had become quite unfriendly.
"Put it on my tab," Sinistra replied as he strode to the back of the cafe. "Now, what is this?" he asked, looking at the checkerboards.
"We always start out with a problem that I provide," Sal began to explain, "and then ... "
"Not any longer," Sinistra said, and then he picked up the checkerboards one by one and shook the pieces off of them. The boys grumbled but Sinistra went on, "We usually start with a lecture on technique by a qualified individual, such as myself. But I think the first thing we need to do is lay down the new rules for the this club." He turned to the serving counter, "And where's my coffee?" he demanded.
"Where's your ten cents?" Deana replied curtly.
Sinistra glared. "Do these yokels pay in advance?" he asked. "The answer had better be 'yes' or I'll bring the wrath of government down on this pitiful little cafe."
Deana stood up straight. "That's it," she said. She came around from the back of her counter. "You're leaving. Now. And you're banned. You're trespassed. You ever come back here the "podunk" police will throw you in our "podunk" jail. And as for the wrath of goverment or whatever nonsense you're spouting, I know my rights. This is my cafe and we do things my way."
"And this is our club and we do things our way," Louie the Flash said.
All the boys were now also standing, making a wall in front of Sinistra. "It would be best if you listened to Deana," Sal said gently. "She's right. The Beacon Cafe is not the place for you, and the Coffee and Cake Checker Club is not the place for you, either. I'm sorry. But this isn't Washington D.C."
"And thank heaven for that!" Tom exclaimed.
Sinistra looked as if he were about to say something, but then simply turned on his heels and went to the door. He made sure to slam it on the way out.
"Dan, can you check that door for me?" Deana asked. "I wouldn't at all mind having that puffed up city boy run in for vandalism.
Dan checked the door carefully. "No damage, Deana," he said, "more's the pity."
"Boys, time's a wasting!" Sal said. "I'll set up today's problem again and you can see how it goes."
Everyone gave their quick assent, and soon the boys were deep into contemplation. Sal gave them an hour, allowing enough time for things to settle down.
"Got it!" Dan exclaimed after the hour had passed, adding, "Wonder if that big shot could have done it?"
We certainly hope no one like Mr. Sinistra will ever make an appearance in your favorite checker venue. Now, we actually don't know if Mr. Sinistra could have solved today's problem; the question is, can you? Give it a whirl and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
"Sorry about that" is a phrase that is often said when one isn't all that sorry about--- whatever "that" is. In the photo above, you would think whoever rammed the boat through the wall will be pretty darn sorry when they get the bill for repairs, if they aren't truly sorry already.
"Sorry about that" is sometimes said in our game of checkers, when a player wins a game that the opponent was hoping to win or at least draw themselves. Here's an example.
Black is hoping for a outside chance at a draw given the bridge position. As White, can you spoil it? The problem is very much on the easier side and probably qualifies as a "speed problem" but it still takes a bit of vision. Try it out. Don't just say "sorry about that." In any event, clicking on Read More will reveal the snappy solution.[Read More]
"Oh no" was a song sung by a group called Marina and the Diamonds back in 2010. We must admit that no one in the Checker Maven offices has either heard of the song, or the group, for that matter. However the song contains the following timeless lyrics:
Oh! Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no, oh!
In checkers, some of us tend to say "Oh no!" when we see a problem like the one below, with the dreaded label "Black to Play, White to Win." But nevertheless we've selected it as this month's Checker School entry. It's rather a challenge and is attributed to a Mr. E. A. Jones of Australia, date unknown but certainly prior to 1945, when it appeared in Andrew J. Banks' eclectic book, Checker Board Strategy.
Can you solve this one or will you just say "Oh no!" or even "Da-da-da-da-da-da-dum"? No matter; clicking on Read More yields an "Oh yes!" about showing you the solution.[Read More]