It was the big day. This Saturday, the North Dakota Open would take place with the winner declared the North Dakota State Checker Champion. This year, 1955, the tournament was taking place in the famed Silver Ballroom of the Patterson Hotel in Bismarck.
Sal Westerman and the "boys," all of whom were at least 50 years old, wouldn't be meeting at the Beacon Cafe this afternoon, as several of them, including Sal, were competing in the tournament.
The format was simple. The tournament would use the "Swiss" system with three rounds in the morning and two in the afternoon. Players with equal tournament scores would be matched against one another. Play was divided into the Championship Division and the Minor Division.
Gerhardt G. Grossvater of Minot was the defending champion and the favorite to win. Other top seeds were Professor Don Steam from Fargo, Danny Dan Daniels from Dickinson, and Bismarck's own Sal Westerman. But there were numerous other strong players and upsets were known to happen.
There was an air of excitement in the ballroom as the early rounds were played. One by one, the lesser players were defeated by the greater. Professor Steam, however, was upset by a player from Beulah, Pawel Patschpawkoski, who was now in the top four along with Danny Dan, Sal, and Gerhardt.
At the lunch break, Sal and a couple of the boys, Delmer and Wayne, went downstairs to the Rainbow Bar for a quick burger.
"What do you think your chances are, Sal?" asked Delmer.
"I don't know. I play Danny Dan and I think I have good chances. My record against him is almost all wins. And I don't think this Pawel fellow, good as he must be, can take out Gerhardt. That would leave me to play Gerhardt in the final round, which has never worked out for me."
"Come on, Sal," said Wayne. "You'll do it this time for sure."
But Sal didn't look so confident. The boys finished their lunches and went back upstairs a few minutes before the final rounds were to begin.
Sal was right. He won against Danny Dan, but the game was a close one. Gerhardt easily disposed of Pawel.
It was four o'clock and time for the final round. Gerhardt and Sal, the only players with a perfect score of four points so far, would once again play for the title.
Gerhardt was certainly polite enough, though he had just a bit of a swagger about him. Perhaps, as many-time State Champion, he felt he had earned it. For his part, Sal looked a little worried. Gerhardt was more than just good. He held his own in national tournaments, let alone in North Dakota.
The game began. Spectators thronged around the playing area. This was the game of the year, the one that would crown the Champion.
Sal gained a little confidence as play went on. Gerhardt, on the other hand, seemed frustrated at not being able to force a quick advantage.
The game took some odd twists and turns. Numerous kings were crowned but still the game stayed close. Finally Sal went a piece up, having four kings and a man to Gerhardt's three kings and a man. Could this be Sal's moment?
But the win, if any, looked tough. Gerhardt, having made a move, looked over at Sal, extended a hand, and said, "Draw?"
Sal was surprised by this. Gerhardt played games to the very end, almost never resigning and seldom even offering a draw unless the position had no play whatsoever left in it. Did this mean, Sal wondered, that Gerhardt might actually be in a loss and was bluffing?
"Thank you, but let's play it out," Sal replied.
"You won't take a draw against the great Gerhardt G. Grossvater, someone against whom who have a lifetime score of zero?" Gerhardt replied.
Now the crowd murmured. Gerhardt was known to have something of an ego, but this was a bit much.
"Quiet on the floor!" Referee Julian Jaegerlitz called out. Sal, for his part, did not reply. He thought for a minute or two, and then simply said, "Here," as he made his move.
Can you win this one? For Sal, his first ever State Championship hangs in the balance, but for our readers, there's no pressure, just the enjoyment of solving a fine problem (it's by Brian Hinkle). See you how do and then click on Read More to see the solution.
Play continued as follows.
32-27*---A, 1 21-25 22-18 25-22 18-15 22-18 15-10 18-14 10-6 2x9 20-16 12x19 27-23 19x26 31x22. White Wins.
A---22-18? 13-17* 18-15 17-14 32-27 14-18 15-10 18-14 Drawn.
1---32-28 also only draws---Ed.
"You were supposed to play 22-18, not 32-27!" Gerhardt exclaimed. "This is ... ungerecht!"
"Why is it unjust?" Sal asked. "I made a better move and I was fortunate to win. Thank you for the game." Sal extended his hand.
Gerhardt reluctantly shook it. "It is not right," he went on. "I am the real champion. You are just ... "
" ... the new champion," Sal said, and the big crowd began to cheer and applaud. Everyone gathered around to clap Sal on the back and shake his hand. Deana, the proprietress of the Beacon Cafe, gave him a big hug, as did Sal's wife Sylvia.
Then there were the awards ceremony, radio and newspaper interviews, and the winners' dinner. It was late by the time Sal was ready to go home, but he shook hands with his friends one more time. "See you next Saturday at the Beacon," he said with a smile.
Today's problem, solution, and notes were by Brian Hinkle. He calls his creation On the Edge which is a fitting title for both his composition and our story. Thank you, Brian!