It was the Saturday after Labor Day, 1955, and to Sal Westerman that meant one thing.
The new "season" would open for the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, of which Sal was the informal leader. The summer break was over (the club broke off its weekly meetings after Memorial Day) and every Saturday from now on, except for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, the "boys" (all of whom were at least 50 years old) would gather at the Beacon Cafe, to enjoy coffee, some of the best baked goods to be found anywhere, and of course comradeship and checkers.
There was a spryness in Sal's step as he left his home for the ten minute walk to the Provident Life Building, where the Beacon Cafe was located. Sal left early so he could arrive first and welcome the boys back.
On reaching the Beacon, he greeted the proprietress, Deana, who was all smiles. "Welcome back, Sal," she said, "great to see you again!"
"How was the soybean crop this year?" Sal asked. Deana closed the Cafe during August so she could go to the family farm in Gackle and help out with the busy harvest season.
"Oh, pretty good," Deana replied, "but it's always nice to get back here and bake treats for my favorite customers. Walnut chocolate chip bars today, you know!"
"Sounds great," Sal said, and just then in came some of the boys: Delmer, Wayne, Sam, and Louie. There were greetings and handshakes all around and wouldn't you know, here came Tom, Ron, Dan, Mike, and even the seldom-seen Frank! That made for a turnout of ten, a really big crowd. Everyone got their coffee and this week they needed two of the big booths in the back of the Cafe.
Now, the tradition was that Sal would bring along a checker problem with which to challenge the boys. If they could solve it, Sal would buy the treats for everyone. If they couldn't win it, the boys would buy for themselves and Sal.
But this time Sal said, "Let's try something different. How about we have a quick single-elimination tournament, half a minute per move, play until someone wins in each match-up, and the overall winner shares the glory by buying the treats?"
Louie thought that the winner, being the winner, maybe shouldn't have to buy, but he went along with the crowd, who thought it would be more fun that way.
The little tournament quickly got under way and within 90 minutes or so, it was all down to Sal and Dan, so this final game would be decisive. They agreed that if it was a draw, they would share the honors and share the cost of the treats.
Now, Sal was the State Champion and favored to win, and he wanted to win, for he was a very generous person and especially wanted to buy for everyone on the first week back after the summer. But he would have to win that "right" over the board.
After some brief play the following very unusual position arose, with Sal to move. He knew he had a chance to win but he only had half a minute to figure out the right play, and it looked really complicated.
Just at the very end of his half minute, when Dan was about to call "time" Sal made his move.
Can you win this one? Do you think Sal found the winning way? You won't have to buy treats (unless maybe you're solving in a group), but you can still claim a little personal glory. See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story.
Play went as follows.
29-25 27-20 25-22 18-25 12-16 9-18 16-19 2-9 19-24 20-27 10-6 1-19---A 11-15 3-10 15-6-13-22-31-24-15-22-29 5-9 29-25 9-14 25-22 White wins.
A---3-19 11-15 makes the same play.
"Nice work, Sal, that was really something else!" Dan said as he offered a handshake of resignation. The boys all cheered. "You get to buy, now!" exclaimed Sam, and Deana, in her usual place behind her counter, couldn't help but smile. Business was good today.
The boys enjoyed another couple of hours of checker fun, staying until near Deana's five o'clock closing time. Then they all said their happy farewells, content to know that they would meet again every Saturday. And you might guess that no one was more content than Sal.
Today's problem and solution was kindly sent to us by Grandmaster problemist Ed Atkinson. He calls it Migratory Harvester, a title very appropriate for our story. Ed notes, "The King on 12 migrates and the King on 11 harvests." We hope you enjoyed our annual return to the Beacon Cafe.
Editor's Note: You might rightly question whether such an unusual position could ever have arisen in play, let alone in a rapid-play game over the board. We can only respond that anything can (and does) happen at the Beacon Cafe!