The Checker Maven

The World's Most Widely Read Checkers and Draughts Publication
Bob Newell, Editor-in-Chief

Published each Saturday morning in Honolulu, Hawai`i

Contests in Progress:

Composing Championship #73

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Beacon Cafe: A Valentine's Day Gift


Valentine's Day was just around the corner, and the Coffee and Cake Checker Club was talking about Valentine's Day gift giving.

The year was 1955 and the place was the Beacon Cafe, on the ground floor of the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota. The Coffee and Cake Checker Club, informally led by Sal Westerman, a kindly elderly gentleman, met at 1 PM sharp on Saturdays from September through May.

Meetings often followed a routine. The members--- Sal called them "the boys" even though all but one of them were at least 50 years old--- would visit a little over coffee. Then Sal would present a checker problem which he had selected during the week. The boys would try to solve it. If they did, Sal would buy them all treats, baked by Deana, the Beacon's proprietress and a baker without equal. If the boys couldn't solve it they'd buy treats for Sal and his wife Sylvia.

Young Blaine

But today young Blaine was in attendance, along with regulars Dan, Wayne, Larry, Mike, and Louie the Flash (that's what everyone called him).

You may recall our holiday story in which young Blaine was being pressured to make a Christmas marriage proposal to Moira, his long-time girlfriend. Blaine did indeed propose, and Moira accepted. It was a joyous holiday season for them, and they agreed upon a June wedding date.

It goes without saying that young Blaine was once again being teased by the rest of the boys. This time it was about what he was going to give his new fiancee for Valentine's Day.


"Come on there, young Blaine, she'd really appreciate a new car, maybe one of those Caddys," Dan said.

"Take it easy on me, guys," young Blaine replied, "I can't afford anything like that. I'm just a junior engineer at the power company. I'll be in hock for months for the engagement ring I got her at Christmas."

"Well, I can tell you if you don't come up with something nice, you'll be in hot water," Wayne said. "I think it's happened to all of us. Don't let it happen to you!"

"If you can't get her a new Caddy, maybe you could get her some more jewelry," Louie the Flash offered.


Deana, stationed as always behind her counter, chimed in, "Girls always like diamonds. Get her diamond earrings or a diamond necklace to match that engagement ring."

"I'm not made of money," Blaine said, "like I told you I'm a junior engineer with a junior engineer's pay. Wouldn't a dozen red roses do the trick?"


"Might be," Sal said, "but only if you take her out for an expensive dinner, like maybe at the Patterson." The Patterson Hotel was an upscale hotel with an upscale restaurant.

"That could work," Deana said, "but you still have to give her something on the side, and please don't say perfume."

Everyone nodded their heads, thinking back to a disastrous experience Sal had once had (see a previous Checker Maven story).


"You know what," Mike said, "offer to take her shopping at A. W. Lucas and buy her anything she wants."

"I hate shopping, young Blaine said. "But Moira loves it."


"See, we've got it all figured out for you," Louie the Flash said. "Invite her down from Minot for the weekend. Put her up in the Patterson, get her roses, take her out for dinner, and the next day take her shopping. She'll love it, and it shouldn't cost you more than ... well, less than a diamond ring, anyhow."

Blaine groaned and tried to change the topic. "Shouldn't we be solving Sal's checker problem instead of spending what little money I have left?"

That got a good laugh from everyone, and Sal said, "Very well then, here we go." He arranged the following position on one of the waiting checkerboards.

White to Play and Win


"Okay, boys," Sal said, "you've got an hour, and after that you'll be buying for sure."


"M & M bars today," Deana told the group. "Great for Valentine's Day."

The boys quickly forgot about teasing Blaine and dug into the checker problem. Meanwhile Sal ambled over to Deana's counter to chat a bit.

"I knew he'd propose," Sal said, "and I knew it would work out."

"It was pretty obvious," Deana replied. "You know how it works. He chased her until she caught him! I'm happy for them both, and I think he gets the message about Valentine's Day."

Sal and Deana both shared a smile and a chuckle.

The Checker Maven won't presume to suggest what you should or shouldn't do for Valentine's Day. That all depends on your own situation and your own preferences. But we do suggest you try out today's problem. Give it a "hearty" try and then with a "flowery" gesture, click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of today's little tale.

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02/10/24 -Printer friendly version-
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You Can't Win 'Em All


You can't win 'em all? No, you can't.

We've all heard the checker maxim "Keep the draw in sight." But we've also heard it said, "You have to take the chances to make the chances."

When we're a piece up, we expect to win. That's another bit of checker wisdom, and it's true--- except sometimes when it isn't. That practical maxim, "You can't win 'em all" might apply, as it does in the position below.

White to Play and Draw


Black is a piece up but White can draw the game with the right play. It's really pretty easy and well within the reach of nearly all players. See how fast you solve it. Call it a personal win if you find the draw. After solving the problem a winning move would be to click on Read More to verify your solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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02/03/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Beginner's Jinx


Pictured in the drawing above is a character named Jinx from The League of Legends, a multiplayer online battle game. No, we didn't know anything about the game or the character either, and with no disrespect intended towards players of the game, that might be just as well. On the fan site we are told this. "A manic and impulsive criminal ... Jinx lives to wreak havoc without care for the consequences."

We hope that there are few if any checker players who are manic and impulsive criminals, much less living to wreak havoc in any manner except across the checkerboard. And indeed today we're going to look at the more commonly known kind of jinx, something that brings bad luck. The following position, from Andrew Banks' quirky book Checker Board Strategy, is referred to by said Mr. Banks as "The Beginner's Jinx" and goes back to William Payne. It's this month's entry in our long running Checker School series.

White to Play, Black to Win


Of course this classic 3x2 ending will present no difficulties for the experienced player, and is covered in many texts. Indeed you may wonder why we even bother to feature it. But we've presented such positions in the past because this ending can be baffling for newer players. The Checker Maven strives to provide a little something for everyone.

So don't jinx yourself. Novices and beginners, see how you do. Experienced players should solve it in seconds. Either way it's good practice, and clicking on Read More won't bring you bad luck but instead will show you one way to win it.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/27/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Revenge! Part I

Portland, Oregon

It was January and the National Checker League season was back in full swing after the holiday break. The Detroit Doublejumpers, a former championship team trying to make a comeback, was in Portland for a three match series with the Portland Paisleys. They would go on to San Franciso, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, and finally Cleveland before beginning a home stand back in Detroit. It was a long road trip, and Marvin J. Mavin, the superstar champion of the Doublejumpers, would be away from his wife, Priscilla, for an extended period. (Recall that, in a previous series of stories, we recounted Marvin and Priscilla's summer wedding and European honeymoon.)

On a Monday the Doublejumpers had just arrived in Portland on a short flight from Seattle, where the Doublejumpers had swept a four match series with the Seattle Switchers. Everyone on the team was feeling good and the mood was upbeat.

Coach Davey Anderson

After a team dinner, carefully overseen by new head coach Davey Anderson to ensure that there would be no imbibing of spirits, something strictly forbidden during active playing dates, everyone retired to their rooms to relax and rest, as they would need to turn out for the team bus just after lunch the following day to go to the Portland Checkerdrome for practice sessions and then their series opener at 6 PM against the Paisleys.

Marvin decided to read the Portland newspaper instead of watching a movie on the room's big screen TV. The newspaper, the Portland Portlandian, had a daily checker column and Marvin enjoyed that even more than the funnies. (On occasion, he was even known to read the news although he didn't make a habit of it, leaving it to Priscilla to catch him up with current events when the Doublejumpers were at home.)

Tonight, Marvin decided to do things in reverse order. He got into his pajamas and bathrobe and read Blondie, Peanuts, Beetle Bailey, and his favorite of all--- Dennis the Menace--- before turning to the checker column. And it was there that he saw the following headline and news story.

Cha Cha Hopkins

"Disgraced Coach Finds Post in Semi-Pro League"

"Charity Chastity Hopkins, commonly known as 'Cha Cha', has taken a position as the Head Coach of the Manasquan Muppets, a semi-pro team in the Jersey Shore League on New Jersey's Atlantic coast. Cha-Cha, who had coached briefly in the majors, was accused of the attempted second degree murder of Marvin J. Mavin, the Captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers. Charges against Cha-Cha were dropped due to a serious case of misgendering, but the NCL Players' Union said they would go on strike again if Cha Cha was made a coach in any NCL or affliate team, from the Majors right on down through the Rookie Leagues.

"Cha Cha was reported as having said, 'I wanted to stay in checkers. I'm a great coach and I have a lot to offer. I took what I could get, but someone of my caliber shouldn't be reduced to this. I blame that miserable maggot, Marvin J. Mavin. It's all his fault and one day I'll get even. He and that skanky wife of his had better watch their backs."

"When asked if she was threatening Marvin or his wife Priscilla, Cha Cha replied, 'It's not a threat, it's more like a promise.'

"NCL officials could not be reached for comment, but one representative who spoke on condition of anonymity said, 'We won't be pursuing this. After that misgendering incident, Cha Cha is pretty much untouchable.'"

The first thing Marvin wondered was why he hadn't been asked to comment. But he guessed that the NCL top brass warned off the press, again because of his misgendering Cha Cha and thereby getting criminal charges against her dropped due to his use of "fightin' words" (recall from previous stories that Marvin had called Cha Cha a "woman" and had failed to ask her for her preferred pronouns).


At the trial, Cha Cha had said she would get even. Now, she had gone public about it. Marvin further wondered if Priscilla had heard about this. Then, as if on cue, the room telephone rang before Marvin even had a chance to look at the checker problem printed below the news article.

Marvin located the phone on a nightstand next to the bed and picked it up.

"Hullo?" he said.

"Marvin, it's Priscilla. Why aren't you answering your cell phone?"

"Uh ... what? Oh yeah, that. I gotta charge the battery but I don't know what I did with the charger and I been busy and stuff so you know ... "

"Okay, stop. Look, dear, I'm still at work, it's been very busy, but I just got a call from one of my researchers."

"Still at work, wow, ain't it kinda late over there?"

A Rust Belt Holdings Property

Priscilla was the CEO of the international conglomerate Rust Belt Holdings and had a very busy work life.

"Never mind it being late, the researcher found an article that appeared in the checker columns of several major newspapers. It's about that woman that attacked you ... "

Marvin chuckled. "Yeah, Cha Cha. I just seen the article in the Portland newspaper. Kinda concerning."

"It sure is."

"Yeah, ain't nobody asked me what I think. It's all about that woman--- uh, I mean that person."

Marvin heard an exasperated sigh as Priscilla went on, "Marvin! She's threatening us! And she's very violent! What are you going to do about it?"

"I dunno. Ain't much to do. I'd just get in trouble again and after that hearing I don't need no more trouble. She ain't going to do nothing anyhow."


"She already tried to kill you once, how can you say that?" Priscilla paused. "Well, if you're not going to do anything, I will. I'm going to get Rust Belt Security to set up monitoring at home, in the office, and in my limo and all of my cars. And I suggest you tell your Coach about this."

At that, Priscilla hung up the phone.

Marvin thought about calling Priscilla back but then realized he first had to find his cell phone and charge it up. Then he thought he'd just get another earful in any event, or even worse, Priscilla might be angry enough not to even take his call.

It took him a good fifteen minutes to find his phone and charger, and by then he decided to call it a night. He didn't even bother with the checker problem the Portland paper had published that day.

Black to Play and Draw


Marvin, as was typical, slept through breakfast and was barely in time for the team bus. Upon arrival at the Checkerdrome, there was a working lunch with the Tactics Coach and then sessions with the Openings Coach and the Endings Coach. Blitz scrimmages followed and practice wound up about 90 minutes ahead of the match with the Paisleys.

The match went well and the Doublejumpers won handily by a score of 7 to 3. It was only when Marvin arrived back at his hotel room and ordered a room service dinner that he thought to look at his phone. The coaching staff didn't permit the team members to take cell phones to the stadium for fear they would be distracted, and most of the team couldn't wait to check for messages once they got off the bus at the hotel. Marvin, however, was not so attached to his phone.


To his utter consternation, his phone showed eighteen missed calls, two voicemails, and ten text messages. Every single one of them from Priscilla. Marvin started through them. Most of them just said "call me" albeit in a more and more exasperated tone. The final voicemail said, "I can't reach you so I tried calling the team office. They refused to put me through. They said your match can't be interrupted and they didn't care that I was the Team Captain's wife. I said I would sue. I asked them if they knew who I was and what a powerful position I held. They wouldn't budge. I've got a mind to call a lawyer and start a suit against your team. But if you don't call me right now I may call a different lawyer. The kind that specializes in divorce settlements."

That was the end of the message.

Needless to say, Marvin called Priscilla's number at once.

She answered at once. "About time," she said curtly. "Didn't you realize how urgent this is?" Then, not giving Marvin a chance to respond, Priscilla went on, "I got an envelope in the mail today. My office mail, no less."


"Uh yeah honey well gee, dontcha get a lot of mail and stuff?"

"Not this kind. It was a small brown envelope, hand lettered with no return address. It made me very suspicious. I called the mail room and chewed them out for not having it checked, and then had security take it off and examine it. And do you know what was in it?"

"Uh ... like ... a bomb or something?"

"No, no, although it's just as bad. You know that news article about Cha Cha and her saying she'd get even. Well, what was in the envelope was a copy of the article with "You're next after him" scrawled across it in red crayon."

"You're next ... like ... you're going to be the next pro-am coach or something? I can't figure ... "

"NO, you idiot, it's a THREAT! Don't you get it? A threat!

"Uh, yeah, you're right. You gonna call the cops?"

"I did. They said they can't do anything. There's no proof that this came from Cha Cha. But of course it did. So as I told you earlier, I have a Rust Belt security detail watching the house, and they'll be driving me wherever I need to go. But you better watch out yourself."

"Sure honey, yeah, whatever you ... "


The windows of Marvin's hotel room shattered as the rocket propelled grenade exploded against them. The phone dropped from Marvin's hand and everything turned black.

To be continued.

Will Marvin ever get to solve that checker problem? You'll have to tune in next month for the second part of this three part story. But you can solve it right now (we hope you haven't experienced any exploding windows) at your leisure. Don't bomb out. Solve the problem and then detonate your mouse on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/20/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Young Bill Salot at the Beacon Cafe: Contest #72


Editor's note: The following story serves as an introduction to Bill Salot's Problem Composing Championship, #72 in the series, which can be found on the contest page.

Winter had closed in on Bismarck, North Dakota. It was January, 1955 (it's always 1955 in these stories), and on a very cold and windy Saturday afternoon, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club had gathered for its weekly meeting.

At just after 1 PM, the usual starting time, several of the regulars were on-hand, occupying the big booth in the back of the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building, the club's long-time regular venue. Wayne and Dan were there, along with Delmer, Louie the Flash, and Mike. Ron and Larry, who were less frequent attendees, had also come out, as Sal Westerman, the club's unofficial leader, had promised something special for this week.

In fact, Sal had just come through the front door of the cafe, along with a companion whom everyone instantly recogized from his frequently appearing photo in All Checkers Digest.

Young Bill Salot

The guest was none other than Young Bill Salot, who was only in his twenties but was already known to be a prolific problem composer, and the sponsor of the problem composing contests which ran every other month in the aforementioned All Checkers Digest.

The contests had been ongoing for quite some time. Young Bill would name a theme and solicit compositions from the best problemists in America, Canada, and beyond. Readers of the magazine would mail in their votes for their favorite problem, and the winning composer would receive a fabulous $100 prize.

Young Bill was on a nationwide lecture tour, discussing the art of problem composition at checker clubs throughout the land, and Sal had asked him to visit Bismarck--- in January, no less, even though Young Bill hailed from much warmer Virginia. Young Bill readily agreed to stop in and present a challenging problem and then give an informal talk about problem composition, even while expressing reservations about Bismarck's winter weather.

Everyone stood to greet Young Bill, who managed to shake hands with all of the "boys" (who were easily twice Young Bill's age), despite Young Bill's shivering and being red-faced from the zero degree outside temperature, not to mention the 20 mile-per-hour wind.

Deana Nagel

Deana, the proprietress of the cafe, came over from behind her counter to also offer Young Bill a cordial greeting. "Welcome to Bismarck," she said, "hope you like our weather!" She gave out a hearty laugh. "Sal tells me you're a fan of hot chocolate, would you like a cup to warm you up?"

Young Bill readily assented, and soon he was seated among the boys in one of the big booths.

After some preliminary chatter about Young Bill's lecture tour, and his highly regarded problem contests, Young Bill took the floor.


"The contest that was just published in All Checkers Digest, has a very special theme. It's called "Deferred Quadruples" and the name speaks for itself. Problems with this theme take a lot of skill to compose, and it's the kind of thing that doesn't come up very often over the board. But solving problems of this type are a great way to improve and train your tactical vision. A little later on, we'll get into some of the nitty-gritty detail, but for now I want you boys to try out a sample problem that isn't part of the contest but nicely illustrates the contest theme."

Young Bill set up the following position on a couple of the checkerboards which were on the booth's tables.

White to Play and Win


"Now, I hear from Sal that you have a tradition about who buys the treats. If you solve the problem, Sal buys for everyone, but if you don't get it, you buy for Sal and his wife--- and for me, too, I hope!"


Everyone chuckled, and Deana, who never missed a trick, announced "I've got chocolate chip bars today!"

Young Bill smiled. "That's quite the incentive, so go to it, boys, and while you do, I'll warm up some more with another cup or two of Deana's great hot chocolate."

Deana hurried over and refilled everyone's coffee mugs and brought Young Bill his hot chocolate while the boys dug into the new checker problem.


Sipping his hot chocolate, Young Bill said quietly to Sal, "You think they'll get it?"

"They're quite good," Sal replied, "and telling them the theme was a huge hint. So I think I'll be buying today."

It was Young Bill's turn to chuckle. "All the same to me," he said. "I'm looking forward to those chocolate chip bars no matter who buys. From what you've told me, I've got a real treat in store."

"How long will you give them to solve it?" Sal asked.

"We'll keep it to about 45 minutes so I have enough time to give my talk," Young Bill replied. "I sure want to get back to the Patterson Hotel before it gets much colder."

"My wife Sylvia and I will host you for dinner at the Patterson's restaurant," Sal said. "A shame you have to leave tomorrow morning. Where do you go from here?"


"Bozeman, Montana," Young Bill said. "I'll be speaking at the Montana State Checker Federation, and I'll get to meet up with that six-year old prodigy, Little Jimmy Loy, who already is making a name for himself. But it's probably just as cold there as it is here. Next time remind me to tour the northern states in the summer!"

You won't have to look for a January 1955 copy of All Checkers Digest to become a solver and a voter in the modern Bill Salot's 72nd contest in his ongoing series; all you need to do is click here to go to the contest page. Try out the three excellent problems found there and be sure to vote for your favorite. Unlike in our story, there are no prizes, but there is certainly plenty of great checker entertainment.

However, first try your luck against the boys and Young Bill with the sample problem above. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our little story.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/13/24 -Printer friendly version-
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A Lot of Work


It's often said, and with good reason, that the road to success is paved with hard work. We've experienced this ourselves and we're sure many of our readers have as well. But the task above is seemingly impossible. It does pay to work smart as well as to work hard.

Now, although we're going to start off the New Year by working you quite hard, the task we're setting is achievable and we hope will prove to be worth your time and trouble.

Have a look at the following position.

Black to Play and Win


Certainly, Black has a small but visible advantage here; the question is, can you turn it into a win? You'll have to put some mental exertion into this one, but there is a way.

Work it out and then work your mouse over to Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/06/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Happy New Year 2024


The New Year is just about upon us. What will you be doing for New Year's Eve?

Will you be out ballroom dancing?


Will you be on a New Year's Eve cruise?


Will you be celebrating at a big New Year's Eve party?


Or, will you be enjoying a quiet evening at home, perhaps solving a checker problem? This one is quite easy and we challenge you to find two solutions.

Black to Play and Win


Whatever your choice, we hope you enjoy. For ourselves, as we've gotten older, New Year's Eve at parties or dances has become less appealing, and with the price of a cruise ... well, we'll probably just stay home. But that's just us. In any event, see how you do with today's checker problem and then click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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12/30/23 -Printer friendly version-
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Marvin and Priscilla's Christmas Trip


It was Marvin and Priscilla's first Christmas together after their marriage the previous summer. Certainly, they had spent many a Christmas in each other's company during their long courtship and engagement, but as a newly married couple, this one was to be special.

Marvin J. Mavin

Marvin J. Mavin was the Captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers in the National Checker League. The Doublejumpers were trying to make a comeback after a disappointing previous season. Priscilla K. Snelson was now the Chief Executive Officer of Rust Belt Holdings, a large multinational conglomerate.

Priscilla K. Snelson

Marvin, upon his marriage, had to give up his old Volkswagen and his downscale apartment in a rather unattractive Detroit neighborhood. He came to live in Priscilla's huge 5,000 square foot condo in an exclusive building in a very posh development.

Marvin and Priscilla had discussed what to do for Christmas. They both agreed that going to Priscilla's parents, who lived in a house twice the size of Priscilla's condo in an even more exclusive area, would not be best, at least not this year. They did not think much of Marvin and certainly didn't approve of their daughter's marriage to him. They did go to the wedding but left before the reception began, and gave them no wedding gift.

Priscilla thought to invite a small handful of her friends--- no more than fifty or so, she insisted--- to have Christmas dinner at her condo; for such affairs she always hired a Michelin starred chef. But surprisingly, Marvin was able to talk her out of it, saying he wanted something more personal and intimate.

Marvin's Mom

Then he suggested spending Christmas with his mother in Ohio. He thought Priscilla would object, but to his delight, she said, "Well, Marvin, we did try a Thanksgiving with my parents, so I suppose it's only fair to spend a Christmas with your mother, even though she and I are ... well, let's just say we have different backgrounds and world views."

Now, Marvin's father had passed on when he was young. He was very close to his mother, who didn't really understand sophisticated things and at times thought Priscilla was a secretary in an office in downtown Detroit. Priscilla had only actually met her a couple of times. Mrs. Mavin wasn't at all the kind of person who would generally be in Priscilla's circle, which ran almost exclusively to the rich, cultured, and worldly.

Mrs. Mavin lived in a small home in a small town in central Ohio. It was a little difficult to get there; from Detroit you had to fly to Columbus and then drive for about 90 minutes. Priscilla thought it must just be easier to drive all the way.

"Not in the limo," said Marvin, upon hearing this. "It would stand out too much in that little town and make my Mom uneasy. We could just take my old--- oh, right, I don't have the Volkswagen any longer."


"We could take the Lexus, that's my cheapest car and there's nothing special about it," Priscilla said.

"Honey, there's probably like one Lexus in that whole town and it's probably an old one."

The discussion went on, and in the end they decided to fly and just get a compact rental car at the Springfield airport.

They left in the afternoon of the second day before Christmas and their trip was uneventful. On arrival at the Columbus airport, Priscilla insisted on driving saying she wanted the experience of piloting a "regular" car.


Marvin's mom, Mrs. Mavin, was waiting on her front porch for their arrival and greeted them effusively with hugs and kisses.

"It's so good to see you again, Priscilla," she said, "it's been since that fancy wedding, I think. How ever you could afford that on a secretary's salary, I'll never know. But it was really nice, though, even though you didn't serve a noodle casserole or zucchini bars."

Priscilla kept a straight face and simply said, "I'm glad you liked it, Mrs. Mavin."

"Now, let me show you to your room," Mrs. Mavin said. "I've fixed up the guest room with my quilts--- I knit them myself, you know--- so that you'll stay warm and cozy.


Mrs. Mavin led the couple up a winding flight of stairs and down a short hallway. "Right here," she said, "and the bathroom is at the other end of the hall. I only have a tiny hot water heater so remember, you can't take long showers! I always like a bath, myself. Now, I'll just leave you two for now. It's already nine o'clock and time for bed."

Mrs. Mavin wandered off to her own room.

Priscilla looked around. "Cozy, indeed," she said, "if cozy means small. And old-fashioned. I can just imagine what the bathroom is like."

"Aw, c'mon Prissy, this is how a lot of people live. It's homey and comfortable and it's what they like."

"You mean what they can afford."

"Prissy, don't be such a ... "

"Classist? I know. I'm just used to more ... never mind. But could you please not call me Prissy?"

"Sorry hon. But look, we're only here until Saturday morning, could you like, kinda go easy and just, you know, bear with it?"

Priscilla nodded silently and headed for the bathroom. A moment later there was a scream. "EEEEEEEK!" It was Priscilla.

Marvin came running. "What is it hon?"

Mrs. Mavin arrived a moment later. "What's wrong, children?" she asked.


Marvin entered the bathroom to find Priscilla standing on top of the toilet, staring into the bathtub with wide-open eyes and a frightened look on her face. "There's a spider in here!" she shrieked.

"Oh, dear," said Mrs. Mavin, "that's just one of G-d's little creatures. Here, I'll just pick him up and put him outside."

"Kill it! It scares me!" cried Priscilla.

"Oh, now, that little spider is as scared of you as you are of him," Mrs. Mavin said gently. She took a washcloth and carefully extracted the spider from the bathtub. "I'll just go downstairs and let him out," she said.

Back in their room a little later, Priscilla said to Marvin, "I'm not so sure this was a good idea."

Marvin, looking a little frustrated, was uncharacteristically gruff in his reply. "Could you just relax? I'm sorry my Mom isn't wealthy and lives in an old house with old plumbing and maybe a couple of spiders. Can you please just deal with it? We don't have to stay at the Ritz all the time. It's my Mom, okay?"


In reply Marvin only got a cold look. "Tell you what," she finally said, "how about we just buy your Mom a brand new house for Christmas. We can afford it, and then everyone will be happy."

"Everyone except her."

"What do you mean? How many people get a new home as a gift?"

"She loves it here. She's lived here for over forty years. You could never get her to leave."

"But ... "

"But nothing. You just don't understand, do you? Money isn't everything. A fancy house isn't everything. A snazzy car isn't everything. You know what's everything? Family, that's what. And it's what Christmas is all about. Celebrating with your family and being happy with what you have, not worrying about what you don't have. But you've been wealthy all your life and you wouldn't understand. I'm going to sleep on the couch in the living room tonight."

Marvin grabbed a bathrobe from his suitcase, and left the bedroom, closing the door behind him.


He made up something of a bed downstairs on the living room couch. But he couldn't get to sleep. After a little while he turned on a light and looked on the coffee table. Sure enough, his mom had a couple of back issues of All Checkers Digest waiting for him there. She must have gone to the library to borrow them specially for his visit.

He leafed through one of them and found an interesting problem that he hadn't seen before.

Black to Play and Draw


But Marvin was still upset and he didn't make any progress. Finally, he fell asleep with the light on. The magazine dropped to the floor, and the sight of Marvin asleep on the couch with the light on was what greeted Mrs. Mavin when she rose early in the morning to make some breakfast and finish preparations for the Christmas holiday meals, starting with tonight's Christmas Eve celebration.

"Marvin, son, why are you sleeping on the couch?" Mrs. Mavin asked.

Marvin stirred briefly and then woke up. "Huh?" he said, his eyes still only half open.

"Why aren't you sleeping with your bride?" There was a touch of concern in Mrs. Mavin's voice but no hint of reproof.

"Oh ... uh. Yeah, like, I was snoring pretty loud, you know." Marvin didn't want to tell his mom about his quarrel with Priscilla over the accommodations.

"I thought as much. Well, I'll just start up some breakfast. Pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, orange juice, and coffee? Or would you rather have a glass of milk? You always loved your milk, you know."


"Mom, that was like 35 years ago. Thanks, coffee will be fine for both of us." He wondered if he dared speak for Priscilla. She liked lattes made with soy milk and probably wouldn't care for Mom's favorite Maxwell House coffee, made the old-fashioned way in a percolator.

Marvin set the dining room table while his mom prepared breakfast. After about half an hour, just as breakfast was ready to be served, Priscilla came down the stairs and into the dining room. She was dressed her satin bathrobe with a heavy argyle sweater over it. Marvin looked up, and despite last night's quarrel, had to laugh. "You look ... I dunno!" he said.

"Save it," Priscilla snapped. "It's so cold in here I can't believe it. Doesn't your mom heat the ... " Priscilla cut off in mid-sentences as Mrs. Mavin entered from the kitchen, carrying steaming plates of eggs, bacon, and pancakes. She too gave Priscilla a surprised look.

"Cold, dear?" Mrs. Mavin asked. "Oh, I'm so sorry, but tell you what, I'll turn the thermostat up to 68 and then you'll be nice and toasty warm."

Priscilla managed a mumbled thank you.

"Please, sit and eat!" Mrs. Mavin urged. "A hearty breakfast is a good way to begin the day! Now, get started and I'll bring out the rest of the food."


Priscilla looked at the heaped platters and said, "Isn't there somewhere I could go for a latte and a croissant? I can't eat all of this heavy, greasy ... "

Marvin, who had held in his displeasure until now, finally said, "Take it or leave it. No place in this town to get croissants and lattes. But if you want I'll gladly drive you back to Columbus and you can just go back home and spend Christmas with your fancy friends and drown in lattes for all I care!"

Priscilla stood up and hissed, "Sounds great to me." She then padded back to the staircase and headed up to the guest room.

Just then Mrs. Mavin returned to the dining room with bowls of fruit and a coffeepot. "I'm sorry, I didn't make hash browns this morning ... where did Priscilla go?" she asked, noticing the empty seat at the table.

"Oh, uh ... she wasn't feeling well. Upset stomach. Probably from eating something bad at the airport yesterday, I guess," Marvin said.

"What a shame," Mrs. Mavin said. "Well, son, you eat up and I'll make Priscilla a nice pot of tea and some oatmeal porridge. That will help settle her stomach."


"Uh, mom, I don't think she actually wants anything right now. It's like, when she's sick, you know, she wants to be home in her own bed. So I might have to drive her back to Columbus. I'll come back right after, though."

"Oh, no, Marvin, if your bride is sick you need to be with her. Such a shame, though. I was so looking forward to having you both here and spending a nice Christmas together. But it's okay. I can go over to the Legion Hall. A lot of the widows go there for the community celebration."

Despite the brave words, Marvin couldn't help but notice a tear in the corner of his mother's eye, and to him it was just heartbreaking.

"I'll be right back, mom," he said, quickly standing up and going double time up the staircase.

He found Priscilla in the guest room just finishing up with repacking her bag.


"You can't do this," Marvin said. "My Mom is so hurt and I can't stand to see it. You need to stop the nonsense right now, go down there and have breakfast, and quit acting like the big-city hotshot. It just isn't right. My mom is simple, sure, but she has a good heart and despite everything, she loves you just as she would her own daughter. That makes up for all the sophistication and culture and money that she doesn't have. More than makes up for it because it's priceless and it's something money can't buy."

Priscilla raised her head from the suitcase and silently gave Marvin a good long stare.

Then she burst into tears.


Marvin went and put his arms around her.

"I've been horrible," she said. "Just horrible. I don't know how you can stand me. You're so right. Your mom's love is precious. I'll go and apologize right now and hope you both can forgive me."

"Don't apologize," Marvin said gently. "Just eat the breakfast. That will make mom happier than anything. And tell her you're feeling better and will be spending Christmas with her after all."

Priscilla wiped her eyes and nodded silently. Then she changed into a blouse and slacks and went down with Marvin to enjoy bacon, eggs, pancakes, juice, and coffee, with not a croissant or latte in sight.

It was going to be a Merry Christmas after all.


It seems like it's become a cliche for Marvin to not get around to solving his checker problem. But you can certainly give it a try, at your leisure, maybe after one of those big breakfasts that Marvin's mom likes to prepare. No matter; solve in the manner and time of your choosing, and then click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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12/23/23 -Printer friendly version-
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Holidays Ahead! A Beacon Cafe Story


The Christmas and New Year's holidays were coming, and this would be the last meeting of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club until after the two week break.

Everyone was gathered in the big booth at the back of the Beacon Cafe, which was situated in the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota. The year was 1955 and the club was informally led by Sal Westerman, a very accomplished but very modest elderly gentleman.

Old Frank

Several of the "boys" (all of whom but one were over 50 years of age) were on hand. Young Blaine had put in an appearance, as well as regulars Dan, Mike, Wayne, Larry, and Louie the Flash. The group was rounded out by Old Frank, who only was seen on occasion.

It was cold, clear, and crisp outside. The temperature at 1 PM, the club's meeting time, was hovering just above zero (Fahrenheit, of course) and would likely drop well below zero by the time the club adjourned just before the cafe closed at 5.

The cafe was gaily decorated for the season and the chatter was about what everyone would be doing over the holidays. Several of the boys were going back to their family farm in various locations around the state, to celebrate with relatives. Young Blaine would spend the holiday with his parents up in Minot. Sal and a couple others would have a quiet holiday at home.

Young Blaine

Now, young Blaine was a busy fellow and only could make it to the club once in a while. Today, he was coming in for some serious but good natured teasing from the older members--- which was everyone else, actually.


"So young Blaine, you finally going to propose to Moira?" Dan asked. Moira was young Blaine's girlfriend of some five years. "I'm sure a big sparkly ring would make a great Christmas gift for her."

"Well, I was actually thinking of maybe a nice bottle of perfume," young Blaine replied, turning a bit red as he did.

"No, no," Sal said, "I tried that one Valentine's Day and trying to choose perfume for a young lady, or a lady of any age for that matter, is just a way to get yourself into hot water. Come now, young Blaine, she's been waiting for how long now? The bird could fly the coop, you know."


"Aw, she wouldn't ... would she?" Blaine said.

"Happened to lots of guys," Old Frank put in. "Why, I remember back in ... "

"Things have changed a bit since the Civil War!" Mike said, and everyone laughed.


But before young Blaine could make a reply, Deana, the proprietess and a championship baker, announced that today she had a special holiday treat, date nut bars with candied fruit. "Kind of a fruit cake except they're bars," she pointed out, and then couldn't help but add, "and you there, young Blaine, listen to a gal who knows the score. You better propose while the proposing's good."

"Well, then," Sal interrupted, adroitly changing the subject, "those bars sound very festive and I'll be sure to take a few home for my wife Sylvia. Of course you boys will be buying because you're not going to solve the problem I brought along today. So much as this discussion is interesting I think we'd best get down to business."

That elicited a chorus of "oh yeah" and "we'll see." But Sal had accomplished his goal. The boys were ready to turn to checkers, likely much to young Blaine's relief.

The long-standing tradition was for Sal to bring along a checker problem; if the boys solved it, Sal bought the treats but if they didn't win it, they would buy for Sal and Sylvia.

"Okay, Sal, put up or ... you know!" Wayne said playfully.

"You're on," Sal replied, and set up the following position on two of the waiting checkerboards.

White to Play and Win


"Hmm," young Blaine said, anxious not to have the conversation revert to his relationship with Moira. But, when presented with a nice checker problem, the boys weren't about to focus on anything else.

Sal, meanwhile, was looking in young Blaine's direction and smiling, if ever so slightly. He could still remember his days of youthful love. There was an intensity to it that was perhaps suitable only for the young. But there was another reason Sal had changed the subject and directed the conversation away from young Blaine. There were some bittersweet memories that at the moment Sal didn't want to revisit, but couldn't help doing.

Sal and Sylvia's Courting Days

He and Sylvia had recently celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary. They were married in 1914. Sal was 28 years old at the time. He had courted Sylvia for a good five years. She had turned 23 and was getting impatient. A young lady of 23, her parents told her, should have been married by now and starting a family.

But Sal was afraid. He was afraid to ask, for fear of being turned down. Until the day he was summoned to the Army, to fight in the Great War, which had just begun.


He was to report in 90 days, and there was no telling when he would be home again--- if ever. It looked like the war would go on for a while, and lives were already being lost. So he scraped together his savings, and went and bought the best ring he could afford. It wasn't much but it would have to do.

Then one evening that week when he and Sylvia had some precious time alone in the parlor of Sylvia's home, where she lived with her parents, all in practically a single breath he told Sylvia of his being called to go to war and then instantly bent a knee and asked her to marry him.


Sylvia looked into Sal's eyes and wept. Finally she said, "Sal, I don't know what to say. I've been waiting so long for you to ask me I was on the verge of telling you we would have to break off our relationship. In fact, I was prepared to do that tonight."

Sal's expression turned from nervous to crestfallen. "So," he said, "you won't accept?"

"You're asking me to marry you and at the same time telling me perhaps I'll become a young widow. Five years of courting, why couldn't you ask me before it came to this?"

Sal didn't respond, didn't know how to respond. Silent, he stayed on one knee, waiting for Sylvia to say more.

"We don't even have time to get married," she said. "You leave so soon." She paused. "I have to think about this. Give me a day or two, would you?"

Sal stood. His voice trembling, he said, "Of course. Whatever you wish." But his heart was about to break.

"I think you had better go now," Sylvia said. "Come back in two nights and I'll give you my decision. Don't get in touch with me or my parents until then."


Sal nodded his head and quietly made his way to the front door. It was a long, cold walk home, but not as long as the ensuing two days would be.

When the 2nd evening came, Sal, his heart skipping beats, willing himself not to shake, made his way back to Sylvia's. She answered the door herself.


"Come in, Sal," she said quietly. She walked with Sal into the parlor and pointed to the sofa. "Have a seat," she said. Sal sat as directed but Sylvia made no move to join him. Instead, she stood in the middle of the room with her arms crossed over her chest.

"I've decided to accept," she said. Sal started to smile and looked as if to speak, but Sylvia didn't give him the opportunity. "I've discussed this with my parents," she went on, 'and they agreed, but they and I are imposing a condition."

"Anything, dear, anything," Sal said but Sylvia had already gone on.

"You must marry me before you report for duty," she said. "That doesn't give us much time, and we'll only be able to have a small wedding with just a few guests and a reception here at the house. We'll go for the marriage license tomorrow."

Then she smiled. "Now, where's the ring?"


They were married just a few days before Sal went off to boot camp. Sal didn't return until the war was over. But he did return.

Sal's reverie was interrupted by young Blaine. "You look like you're somewhere else, Sal," young Blaine said. "But look, we've solved this one."

Sal looked at the clock. An hour had passed. "Show me," Sal said.

We can't say if you're in a situation in which you're thinking of proposing to a girl- or boyfriend over the holidays; we suspect that would apply to a rather small number of our readers. But perhaps some of you can recall a past year, whether near or distant in time, when that was the case. No matter. There's a nice sparkly checker problem for you to try. Young Blaine seems to have the solution in hand, and we "propose" that you see if you can match the boys on this one. It's a bit long and a bit difficult but we're sure you can "engage" with it, and then click on Read More to check up on your "proposed" solution and read the conclusion of our story.20050904-symbol.gif

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12/16/23 -Printer friendly version-
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Three Kings


The photo above is of the Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It's a fitting header for today's Checker School column in which we present not just one but two problems involving three kings. Not ancient kings perhaps, but kings that figure prominently in instructive endgames.

The following pair of positions appeared in Andrew Banks' eclectic book Checker Board Strategy, which has been the basis of many recent Checker School columns.

The first one is really easy and is sort of a speedy warm-up. It's an illustration of finding a way to draw when a piece down. (Mr. Banks points out, however, that this position couldn't have arisen had not White blundered into it. Well, as they say, anything can and does happen in over the board play.)

Black to Play and Draw


The second one will be easy for the experts and good practice for the improving player. Winning three kings against two baffles many a novice, and even a surprising number of players above the novice level.

White to Play and Win


Give these problems a royal effort, and after you've put on the crowning touches, click on Read More to verify your solutions.20050904-symbol.gif

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12/09/23 -Printer friendly version-
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The Checker Maven is produced at editorial offices in Honolulu, Hawai`i, as a completely non-commercial public service from which no profit is obtained or sought. Original material is Copyright 2004-2024 Avi Gobbler Publishing. Other material is the property of the respective owners. Information presented on this site is offered as-is, at no cost, and bears no express or implied warranty as to accuracy or usability. You agree that you use such information entirely at your own risk. No liabilities of any kind under any legal theory whatsoever are accepted. The Checker Maven is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Bob Newell, Sr.

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Numbered Board and Notation

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Richard Pask Publications

Reisman: Checkers Made Easy

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Bob Murray's School Presentation

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PDN collections

Oldbury: MoveOver

Reinfeld: How to Win

Ginsberg: Principles of Strategy