Checkers is one of the oldest board games in the world. It is uncertain how old the game is, though scholars widely assume that checkers predates chess. Like chess, it is a game of two players in which both sides attempt to eliminate the other's game pieces.
There are many variations of the game. There are also many names for checkers. In England and other parts of the world, it is known as Draughts.
The different names and varieties can cause confusion. American checkers is the same game as English Draughts. The distinguishing characteristic of the game is that it is played on a board that is 8 squares long and 8 squares wide.
International checkers rivals American checkers in popularity. The international version differs from the American version in the size of the board. It has more than a third more spaces, 100 compared to 64 in the American game. This is because it uses a 10 by 10 board.
The Game Board
As mentioned, the game board varies from one version to the other. The board is divided into two kinds of spaces. There are the dark spaces, usually black, and the light spaces, usually red.
Playing pieces are placed only on the dark spaces. Each game begins with players placing their pieces on either side of the board. Placement follows a standard pattern for each game.
There are three lines of pieces. Because they are placed in two rows on the black squares, the two rows are slightly offset.
The Playing Pieces
Playing pieces in checkers are referred to as "men". Other names include checkers or draughts, though I will refer to playing pieces as men for the remainder of this article to avoid confusion.
Men move diagonally. Men only move one space forward at a time. These pieces cannot move backwards. Therefore, any given move, any given piece can move in one of two directions: forward left or forward right.
There are two exceptions to this rule.
Jumping An Opponent
One, if one of the opponent's men is on the black space directly in front of one of a player's men, that piece can "jump" the opponent's man.
This means that the man does not land in the diagonal space adjacent to the space it occupies, but lands instead on the diagonal space directly adjacent to the space occupied by the opponent's piece. In other words, the man moves two spaces forward in a diagonal pattern. The second space must be unoccupied for this to occur.
Jumping the man of an opponent is how enemy playing pieces are removed. If a men is jumped, that playing piece is removed from the board.
If an opponent's pieces are arranged in a pattern that will allow it, a player may jump as many enemy men as possible before one's turn is over. In this way, a player may eliminate two or more opponent playing pieces in one move. This is fairly rare and usually does not happen against an experienced player.
If one of a player's men is able to make it to the other side of the board, it is said to have moved to King's Row. When this happens, that man is declared a king.
The newly dubbed king playing piece is then "crowned". To crown a playing piece, one of the men already removed from the game board must be stacked on the successful men. This makes it appear two high to distinguish it from other playing pieces.
When a playing piece is crowned, it may now move either forwards or backwards in any diagonal direction. This is a distinct advantage for a player, because it makes that piece much more dangerous offensively. It becomes the centerpiece for that player's strategy.
International Checkers bestows one extra ability on a king. The king not only can move in any direction, either backwards or forwards, but that playing pieces can move as many spaces in any one direction that it chooses.
In this way, the Flying King is similar in movement to a Bishop in Chess. The only stipulation is that, when jumping opponent playing pieces, the Flying King can only eliminate one opponent's man at a time. It can remove multiple pieces in a turn, if it follows the same rules of successive jumps that other playing pieces follow, jumping them one at a time if those pieces are arrayed in such a vulnerable position.
The Flying King is not allowed in American Checkers.
Winning At Checkers
There are two ways a player may win at Checkers.
One is complete annihilation. You must eliminate all of an opponent's playing pieces.
Second is when one player loses the ability to move a playing piece. This happens when one player's final playing pieces are hemmed in, while the opponent's playing pieces are arranged for defense in depth. At this point, the game is over.
Alternate Versions of Checkers
The two main versions of Checkers have been mentioned. There are many other versions played around the world. The relative ease of learning the game makes it accessible to players of all ages. The simplicity of the game pieces, which allow for people to play with something as simply as buttons or bottle caps, makes the game playable for people in all parts of the world.
This game is a combination of American and International Checkers. Like American Checkers, the game is played on an 8x8 game board. Like International Checkers, the Flying King rule is in effect.
Pool Checkers and Spanish Pool Checkers
This version is played like Brazilian Checkers, except for one rule involving flying kings. In this version, if you have two potential moves for a Flying King, a player may choose the sequence which ends with the least number of opponents eliminated. All possible jumps must be made, though. This allows for the player to fore go extra eliminations for a potentially greater advantage later.
Pool Checkers is played mainly in the American deep south.
In Spanish Pool Checkers, "pool" rules are in effect. Also, a king must make the move which jumps the most kings in play. This game is played in former Spanish colonies found in North Africa and South America.
This game is played like American Checkers. The difference is the size of the board, which is 12 by 12 spaces large. With 144 usable game spaces, Canadian Checkers greatly increases the number of pieces used. Each side starts with 30 men.
Instead of moving diagonally, men move either forwards or side to side. The flying king rule is in effect, though these pieces move like a Rook would in Chess. This game is played in certain parts of the Middle East, specifically Turkey, Syria and Lebanon.
This game is played much like Brazilian Checkers. The difference is that, if a man reaches king's row by jumping another piece, it must move backwards as a king and not a man. This game is played in Russia, as well as by Russian immigrants to Israel.
This game has more alternate rules than all others. Men are not allowed to jump kings in this game. Also, men cannot jump backwards, which is much like standard American Checkers.
Italian Checkers has the strictest rules regarding multiple jumps by kings. One must take the most jumps available. Also, in the event of a tie in the number of vulnerable pieces, the king must eliminate the most kings on the other side. If there are more sequences open, the king must use the one which starts with an opponent's king.