In our previous episode, Detroit Doublejumpers captain Marvin J. Mavin drew in the deciding game of the World Series of Checkers, forcing a sudden death playoff on the following day.
Sudden death playoffs were conducted solely between the team captains. That meant that Marvin would be playing a series of five minute games against Los Angeles Leapers captain Hyun-Mi Park. The first player to win a game would bring home the championship.
To put it mildly, the pressure was on, and Hyun-Mi was known to be a deadly opponent at speed checkers. Marvin, on the other hand, was stronger in games with longer time limits. Las Vegas book was a whopping 5 to 1 in favor of Hyun-Mi.
Marvin knew full well that he was the underdog. It was a situation that called for a beer, but there was no chance of that, and anyhow Marvin knew he had to keep a clear head. So in his warm-up prior to the game, he tried chewing gum. When that didn't help, he gargled mouthwash for a full 90 seconds. His coach told him to spit it out and run in place for a while, but that only made Marvin's legs hurt.
Marvin then asked for a cheeseburger and fries, but the coach refused, instead having a plate of carrot sticks sent in from the stadium's kitchens.
Marvin barely had time to scowl before the players were called on the field for the playing of the National Anthem.
After the Anthem and the ceremonial playing of the first move by the Governor of Michigan, Hyun-Mi and Marvin met at the center of the field for handshakes and photographs. Hyun-Mi was, as always, stern and composed, while Marvin did his awkward best, all the while trying not to tremble with what he would never admit was fear.
Then the preliminaries were over and the whistle blew, indicating the start of the game. Just before pressing the clock button, Hyun-Mi looked into Marvin's eyes with her patented steely gaze and sent shivers down Marvin's spine.
The first five games ended in draws. Hyun-Mi had the advantage in most of them, but Marvin managed to hold out, though the effort was exhausting. Hyun-Mi, on the contrary, remained cool and composed, content to just wear Marvin down.
There was a fifteen minute break, and Marvin retreated to the Doublejumper dugout for a few cups of sports drink and a toweling down of his face, neck, and arms.
"She's getting the better of you," Marvin's coach remarked pointedly.
As if I didn't know, Marvin thought, but knew better than to say it out loud. Under the rules, the coach could bring in a pinch checkerist at any time, and Marvin didn't want to suffer the humiliation.
Seemingly reading Marvin's mind, the coach said, "Maybe I should bring in Pete Butterworth to pinch play for you. What do you think?"
"I can do it coach, I really can," Marvin said. "Just give me a chance."
"Okay, one more set of five, after that Butterworth comes in. And don't even think about losing."
The whistle blew and Marvin and Hyun-Mi resumed their match.
Three draws ensued, then a fourth. As the fifth game began, Marvin knew it was his last chance.
Hyun-Mi, for her part, never thought Marvin would last this long. She was the best speed checkerist anywhere, and she should have won during the first two or three games of the first round. Was her confidence shaken, if ever so slightly? No matter. She would never show it. If there was one thing she had learned in North Korea, other than checkers, it was how to hide her emotions.
The players moved rapidly, and after a few minutes the following position was reached.
Marvin felt he actually had a chance, if he could just work it out quickly enough. There was only a minute left on his clock. He would have to make his move while still keeping enough time in reserve to finish out the game. Fifteen seconds at best to find the right move.
Sweat was pouring off him. He was fidgeting in his seat as he always did when things got tough. The seconds ticked by ...
And then he made his move.
What do you think of this position? Marvin has five men vs. four kings, is that the better side to have?
The position is not especially difficult but under intense pressure anything can happen. Give thanks that you're not facing Hyun-Mi, and can take your time to find the solution in the comfort of your own non-North Korean surroundings. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of the story.
Solution and Conclusion
Play continued as below.
6-2---A 18x9 17-13---B 9-5---C 32-27---D 31x24 13-9 5x7 2x27 White Wins.
A---6-1 or 14-9 only draw, and Marvin needs a win.
B---10-6, 10-7, and 32-28 all actually lose.
C---9-14 32-28 (not 32-27!) 14-7 2-20 and White wins a man-up ending. But perhaps this would have been Hyun-Mi's better option considering how little time Marvin had left on his clock.
D---The order of moves is critical.
Marvin had only 10 seconds left on his clock, but the game would be over in just five moves.
"I resign," Hyun-Mi said, and then under her breath added, "Mid el su." She offered her hand, giving Marvin a warm, firm handshake instead of the cold, perfunctory one she had offered at the start of the match. "You played well, Captain Mavin. You are a worthy opponent."
"Uh, gee, thanks, well, you know, you ain't so bad yourself. I mean, that is ..."
But Hyun-Mi had already turned and was making a dignified exit from the playing field.
The Doublejumpers were again the World Champions of Checkers.
Afterwards, in the Doublejumper locker room, the coach brought Marvin a frosty cold can.
"Here, Marvin, your beer."
"Aw, thanks, coach, I never thought you ..." Marvin began, and then, taking a closer look at the can, added, "Hey ... it's non-alcoholic!"
"Rules, my boy, rules," the coach replied, "and don't forget, I want you in top shape for pre-season camp in August."
The Checker Maven thanks master problemist Brian Hinkle for this fine composition.