Thanksgiving was coming soon, and after today, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club would only have one more Saturday afternoon meeting before the 1955 Thanksgiving break.
That break wasn't very long--- only one Saturday session would be missed, on Thanksgiving weekend--- but Sal Westerman loved his checkers and loved his little club. He had become a sort of minor celebrity around Bismarck, North Dakota after winning the North Dakota State Checker Championship last month, but he didn't care about fame. More important to him was the camaraderie and companionship he shared with the "boys" of the Club (all of whom were over 50).
It was a crisp and clear afternoon with temperatures in the low 30s and a bit of a wind starting to come up. Sal was the first one to arrive at the Beacon Cafe, where the club met.
"Going back to Gackle for the holiday?" he asked of Deana Nagel, who was the Cafe's proprietess and one of the best bakers anywhere around.
"Yep," Deana replied. "Closing for five days. A little vacation for me." Deana was a hard worker, keeping the Cafe open every day but Sunday and getting up early to make the delicious baked goods that everyone craved.
"What's fresh for today?" Sal said.
"Cranberry muffins," Deana said. "You and the boys are going to have a real treat."
Just then, Wayne, Dan, Tom, and Delmer arrived. "Ron and Larry can't make it today," Wayne said. "I ran into both of them at the hardware store. Ron's got to fix his furnace and Larry has a backed-up kitchen sink."
"Well, there's still the five of us," Sal said, "and I know one of you will be buying those cranberry muffins that Deana has."
"You mean you, don't you?" Dan said with a smile. "We might just beat whatever problem you're going to show us. You might be State Champ but you can still buy us muffins and coffee."
"We shall see!" Sal replied, smiling back. "Take a look at this. It's from Ed in Pennsylvania."
The boys weren't smiling any longer. Ed, one of Sal's checker pen pals, was a grandmaster problem composer, and his creations were always a challenge.
Sal set up the following position on one of the checkerboards.
"How about I give you ... oh ... 30 minutes?" he said.
"Aw, Sal, how about an hour?" said Tom.
"45 minutes and not a second more," Sal answered.
With a quick glance at the clock, the boys started to work on the problem.
Cranberry muffins as a pre-Thanksgiving treat, with a hot cup of coffee to go with them? Sounds pretty good. Well, you'll have to supply your own muffins (and coffee) but the problem is there for you to enjoy. Do the best you can and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story.
Solution and Conclusion
While the boys were puzzling over the problem, Deana put together a tray of muffins and refilled everyone's coffee a couple of times. Sal quietly paid. "On me today," he said. "Just for fun."
45 minutes went by, and Sal called "time."
"We didn't get it," Dan said. "We tried, but we couldn't solve it. So we'll buy after you show us the solution."
Sal played out the following moves and variations.
30-26 21-25 26-22 10-15 3-8---1 14-10---2 8-11 15x8 22x6 White Wins.
1--- Not 3-7 15-19 leading to a clearance and a draw.
2---25-30 8-12 18-25 9-11 White Wins.
"Nice!" said Wayne. "Very nice indeed. I'm surprised we didn't get it. It's actually one of Ed's easier ones, if you can call any of his problems easy."
Dan went up to Deana at her counter, his wallet out. "No need," said Deana, "Sal already took care of it. He's a nice guy."
"Sure is," said Dan, and then, turning to Sal, continued, "You didn't have to pay ... we were supposed to."
"Oh, just a little treat," Sal said. "Just for fun."
"Hey, now that's a real champion," Delmer said. "Thanks, Sal!"
Everyone added their thanks to Delmer's, and the boys all played skittles until it was closing time.
"See you all next week," said Sal as he made for the exit. It had been another great afternoon with his checker friends.
Thanks to Ed Atkinson for his nice problem, which he calls Corralled. Numbered notes are by your Editor.