Checkers is played all across the world and is also known as English draughts, American checkers, straight checkers or, in Israel, damka, which is a form of the board game draughts.
Unlike international draughts, it is played on an eight-by-eight square board (with sixty-four total squares) and twelve pieces on each side.
The pieces move and capture diagonally. They may only move forward until they reach the opposite end of the board, when they are “crowned” or “kinged” and may move and capture both backward and forward.
As in all draughts variants, English draughts is played by two people, on opposite sides of a playing board, alternating moves. Traditionally, the pieces are either black, red, or white. The opponent’s pieces are captured by jumping over them.
The Rules of Checkers
Pieces were traditionally made of wood, now many are made of plastic, though other materials may be used. Pieces are typically flat and cylindrical. They are invariably split into one darker and one lighter colour. Traditionally, these colours are white and red, but black and red are common in the United States, and light and dark stained wooden pieces are supplied with more expensive sets.
There are two classes of pieces: “men” and “kings”. Kings are differentiated as consisting of two normal pieces of the same colour – stacked one on top of the other. Often indentations are added to the pieces to aid stacking.
Each player starts with twelve pieces on the dark spaces of the three rows closest to that person’s own side (as shown in the diagram). The row closest to each player is called the “crown head” or “kings row”. The player with the darker coloured pieces moves first.
There are two ways to move a piece. A basic move involves sliding a piece one space diagonally forwards to an adjacent unoccupied dark square. A jump is a move from a square diagonally adjacent to one of the opponent’s pieces to an empty square directly on the opposite side of the opponent’s square, thus “jumping directly over” the square containing the opponent’s piece.
An uncrowned piece may only jump diagonally forwards, while kings may also jump diagonally backwards. A piece that is jumped is captured and removed from the board. Multiple-jump moves are possible if when the jumping piece lands, there is another immediate piece that can be jumped; even if the jump is in a different direction.
Whenever a player has the option to jump, that person must jump (even if it’s to the jumping player’s disadvantage; for example, a player can choose to allow one of his men to get captured to set up capturing two or more of his/her opponent’s men). When multiple-option jumping moves are available, with the one piece in different directions or multiple pieces that can make various jumping moves, the player may choose which piece to jump with and which jumping option or sequence of jumps to make. The jumping sequence chosen does not necessarily have to be the one that would have resulted in the most captures; however, one must make all available captures in the chosen sequence.
If a player’s piece moves into the kings row on the opposing player’s side of the board, that piece is said to be “crowned” (or “kinged” in the U.S version), becoming a “king” and gaining the ability to move both forwards and backwards. If a player’s piece jumps into the kings row, the current move terminates; having just been crowned, the piece cannot continue on by jumping back out (as in a multiple jump), until the next move.
A piece is normally “crowned” by placing a second piece on top of it; some sets have pieces with a crown moulded, engraved or painted on one side, allowing the player to simply turn the piece over or to place the crown-side up on the crowned piece, further differentiating Kings from ordinary pieces.
A player wins a game of checkers by capturing all of the opposing player’s pieces, or by leaving the opposing player with no legal moves. The game ends in a draw, if neither side can force a win.
Checkers Tournament Rules
In tournament English draughts, a variation called ‘three-move restriction’ is preferred. The first three moves are drawn at random from a set of accepted openings. Two games are played with the chosen opening, each player having a turn at either side. This tends to reduce the number of draws and can make for more exciting matches.
Three-move restriction has been played in the United States championship since 1934. A two-move restriction was used from 1900 until 1934 in the United States, and in the British Isles until the 1950s. Before 1900, championships were played without restriction: this style is called ‘go-as-you-please’.
One rule of long standing that has fallen out of favour is the ‘huffing’ rule. In this variation, jumping is not mandatory, but if a player does not take their jump (either deliberately or by failing to see it), the piece that could have made the jump is “blown” or “huffed”, and removed from the board. After huffing the offending piece, the opponent then takes their turn as normal. Huffing has been abolished by both the American Checker Federation and the English Draughts Association.
Two common rule variants, not recognised by player associations, include: capturing with a king precedes capturing with a regular piece. (In such a case, any available capture can be made at the player’s choice), and, a piece which in the current move has become a king can then in the same move go on to capture other pieces.