Sal's 4th of July

Sal Westerman

Sal Westerman of Bismarck, North Dakota, loved the 4th of July and July 4th, 1955 would be no exception. Sal was a true patriot; he had served in the Army in the Pacific Theater in World War Two and had always believed in what America stood for.

Sal was also the unofficial leader of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, which met weekly except in the summer. So Sal was really missing his Saturday afternoons with his checker friends. But fortunately, the big 4th of July picnic was coming up. There was a rotating July 4th checker tournament, but this year it would be in Fargo rather than in Bismarck.


Instead, the picnic organizers had asked Sal to man a checker booth. Sal was the reigning state champion, and the idea would be to pay fifty cents to play Sal with the money all going to charity. A draw would win a small prize and a win against Sal would win a larger prize. Sal readily agreed and committed to three one hour sessions, the first one when the picnic opened at noon, another at 2 PM, and a final one at 4 PM.

There would be a parade through downtown in the morning, but Sal opted to skip the parade and go and get set up at the site of the festivities. His wife Sylvia would take in the parade with a couple of her girlfriends and then meet up with Sal during his breaks between sessions.


The picnic was set up in an open field just north of the town. Workers had come before daylight to get everything set up. There was a main tent, cook tents and booths, a performance stage, and even a first-aid tent. Sal was directed to a small tent with a couple of chairs, a table with a checkerboard, and a field cot so Sal could rest during his breaks if he so desired.

Arriving at the Checker Tent, Sal noticed a big sign with a yellow background and bright red letters that announced:


Take on State Checker Champ Sal Westerman!
Are you good enough to win?

Sal chuckled. He never thought of himself as anything special, even though he was now a titled Master. For him, checkers was fun and he wanted it to be fun for everyone else, too.


Sal got himself a hot dog and a soft drink and settled in. Just before noon, Sylvia dropped by and said, "I'll be going to the quilting bee, but I just wanted to wish your opponents luck. They'll be the ones needing it, not you!" They both laughed and Sylvia left the tent just as the first player arrived.

There was a steady stream and at times a long waiting line. Challengers were men and women and boys and girls of all ages, but in the first hour Sal managed to win every game. The cash box was filling up with money for charity and Sal was feeling good about it. The players were all good sports and didn't mind losing to someone of Sal's caliber.

Boris Goonan

Sal rested for a little while but by two o'clock there was another long line. In the second hour Sal won all but one game. One of the top Hughes Middle School players, Boris Goonan, got a draw and received a hearty handshake and a $1 gift card donated by the A. W. Lucas Department Store.


Sal was pretty tired after the second hour and did lie down on the cot for a while. Sylvia brought him some corn on the cob and a lemonade. The quilting bee had concluded and she was going to have an iced tea with her friends and maybe play a few rounds in the canasta tent.

At four o'clock another line greeted Sal, at least as long as earlier in the day. Sal was again able to win all of his games, until the organizer dropped by at five minutes to five and said, "Next game is the last game. Sorry folks." There were still a half dozen people in line and a few groans of disappointment, a couple of them saying they wished they had lined up earlier in the day.


The organizer ushered in the last player. To Sal's surprise it was what appeared to be a girl aged six or so, accompanied by her mother. "Right in there," the mother said, pointing to the cash box. The girl reached out and dropped two quarters into the box, giggling as they clinked.

"I'm Rene," the mother said, "and this is my daughter, Natasha. She loves checkers and plays all the time with her brother Boris and his friends."

"Boris, isn't he the fellow who got a draw with me this afternoon?"

Rene smiled proudly. "Yes, he is. It really made his day, too."

Sal smiled back. "Well, then," he said, addressing Natasha directly, "are you ready?"

Natasha giggled again and shook her head in a 'yes' gesture. She sat down on the chair on the side of the checkerboard opposite Sal.

"You need a pillow to sit on," Sal said. "Grab one from the cot."


Rene took a pillow in one hand, lifted Natasha with the other, placed the pillow on the chair, and set Natasha back down.

"Much better," Sal said. "Now young lady, good luck to you." He reached out a hand.

"Shake hands with Mr. Westerman," Rene gently prodded.

Natasha shook hands shyly and then the game began.

Sal thought it would be a fairly quick game, but he still played carefully as underestimating an opponent is always a mistake, and appearances can be deceiving.

In this case, appearances certainly were deceiving. Natasha matched Sal move for move, hewing to the best lines of play and not making any sort of slip that Sal might take advantage of.

Now Sal, at over 70 years of age and after hours of play with dozens and dozens of opponents, was quite tired, although you would never catch him using that as an excuse. But was Sal perhaps not at the top of his form? In any event the following position was reached. Natasha had the Black pieces and it was her move.

Black to Play, What Result?


Suddenly Natasha stood up from her chair, clapped her hands together gleefully, and exclaimed, "Mommy, Mommy, look!" With another giggle she made her move.

What's going on here? What move do you think Natasha made, and how do you think things are going to turn out? What move would you have made? Work things out and then click on Read More to see what happens as we present the rest of the story.20050904-symbol.gif

Solution and Conclusion

Natasha's move was 22-18 and the following play took place.

1. 22-18 19-16
2. 18-15 16-12
3. 14-10 12-8
4. 10-7 8-12
5. 15-11 12-16
6. 27-32 16-12
7. 32-28 24-19
8. 28-32 12-16
9. 32-27 16-12
10. 7-3 12-16
11. 27-23 16x7
12. 23x16 20x11
13. 3x10 ...

Black Wins.

Sal said, "Well done! Natasha, you've beaten me." Sal offered another handshake and again Natasha shook hands shyly.

Rene was beaming. "I didn't tell you, she beats Boris and his Middle School teammates all the time, even though she's only in Grade School," Rene said.

"She'll be the next champion and sooner than later," Sal said. "Congratulations, Natasha!"


Marty, the organizer, had arrived and then presented Natasha with the big first prize, the A. W. Lucas $10 gift certificate. "I'll be sure we make special mention of this when Mayor Lips does the acknowledgements before the fireworks," he said.

Rene and Natasha left to go get some food. Meanwhile Marty said, "Do you feel bad about losing to a little girl?" he asked.

"Bad?" Sal said. "Why not a bit. I feel great! We made good money for charity, everyone had a lot of fun, and we discovered the next champion. The day couldn't possibly have been better."

"You're a true sportsman, Sal," Marty said. "Thanks so much for being here today."

At that point Sylvia walked in. "The word is getting around," she said playfully. "The champ has been dethroned!"

"Let's go eat," Sal said, "even dethroned champs get hungry."

Everyone enjoyed the after-dinner music performances, and the fireworks show was spectacular as always. A wonderful 4th of July was had by all.


Today's position is attributed to James Smith in 1888 but has likely appeared in many places and the actual origin may be uncertain.

06/29/24 - Category: Fiction -Printer friendly version-
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