Editor's Note: At the Beacon Cafe, it's always 1955. We rejoin our intrepid checkerists now in September of that year. It's the Saturday after Labor Day, and with the summer season at an end, the "boys" (all of them over 50 years of age) return to their Saturday afternoon sessions in the large booth at the back of the cafe, enjoying a few hours of problem solving, skittles games, baked goods, coffee, and good companionship.
Everyone in North Dakota enjoyed summer, brief as it was, and Sal Westerman, the informal leader of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, was no exception. Still, no one could be happier when September rolled around and his club started meeting once again.
Apparently the other members felt the same way, for today there was a big turnout, with Dan, Wayne, Louie, Mike, Delmer, and even Spooler, Tom, and Ron, the latter three of which weren't seen quite as often.
Deana, the proprietress and the best baker anyone had ever met, was smiling broadly. She enjoyed having the "boys" come in on what would otherwise be a slow Saturday afternoon. "Zucchini and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies today," she announced. "Fresh and hot."
There were sounds of approval from the big booth where the "boys" were. "Sal's buying today!" Spooler piped up.
"Okay, Spooler, I'll buy," Sal said, "but only because I'm so pleased with today's turnout." Addressing Deana, he said, "A couple of large plates of cookies and coffee all around, on me!"
"You got it," Deana replied. She had already started stacking plates with her warm, fragrant cookies.
"State championships are in Bismarck this year," Sal added. "Next week, even!"
"Yup, over at the Patterson Hotel," Wayne said. "Usually Fargo or Grand Forks gets the bid, but not this time."
"Is everyone playing?" Louie asked.
There were nods all around. Traveling to Fargo or Grand Forks wasn't always feasible, but having the tournament right there in Bismarck made it just about a must-do event.
"Think you can win it, Sal?" continued Louie.
"I don't know," Sal said. "I pretty much took care of that Steam fellow last spring, but Grossvater up in Minot will likely take it." Gerhardt G. Grossvater was the reigning State Champion, a title he'd held for ten years straight. (Professor Steam was from Fargo--- see previous Checker Maven stories.)
"You might have a shot at it," Ron said. "You haven't played in the tournament for a couple of years and maybe you'll win this time."
"I last played Grossvater in '52 when the tournament was in Minot. He won in the finals. I've never been able to beat him," Sal said.
"Well, tell you what," Wayne said. "I found a problem that your friend Ed from Pennsylvania published in All Checkers Digest quite a while ago and I brought it along. How about you all try it out? It's called 'Head Bumper.' That'll give everyone a little warm-up for next week."
"Lay it out," Sal said. Sal was the one that usually brought along a challenging problem or two, but today he was happy to be on the solving end.
"Okay, here you go," Wayne replied, and set out the following position on a couple of the checkerboards on the booth's table. "See if you can get it in an hour or so while we sample these cookies." Deana had just set two plates of cookies on the table and was refilling everyone's coffee mugs.
"Hey, this is a good one," Sal said. "We're going to need that hour."
Cookies in hand, the boys got to work.
A warm-up problem is good for everyone, even if you're not planning to take on a tough opponent like Gerhardt G. Grossvater. With or without zucchini oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, see how you do, and then click Read More to check your answer and read the rest of our story.
Solution and Conclusion
Wayne let 90 minutes pass by. "There won't be much time for skittles," he said. "How about we just call this one?"
"We've got it!" Sal said. He had been working with Wayne, Dan and Louie. "Take a look."
Sal played out the following moves.
10-7 2-11---A 15-8 3-12 27-23 18-27 31-15 Drawn.
A---Or 3-10 15-6 2-9 27-23 19-26 31-15 Drawn.
"Very nice," Wayne said, "that's it, all right. Good work. Sal, you just might be ready to win it all next week."
Sal didn't look so sure. "We'll see," is all he said, and then continued, "but it's only a little after three o'clock and we can play a few practice games until closing time."
Deana closed the cafe promptly at five, when her boyfriend usually picked her up and took her to dinner. But indeed there was still time for some informal play, and of course more cookies and coffee.
When it came time to head for home, all of the boys were happy. It was great to be back together again for another season of checker fun and companionship.
Our thanks to grandmaster problemist Ed Atkinson, composer of Head Bumper, for providing the problem, solution, and notes. We hope you enjoyed it.