The Standard Laws of Checkers

You may print this and show it to others. But, this article will eventually be part of a book that I am writing. So, please do not distribute it widely.

Checkers is the only game that I know of, in which the official laws do not tell you how to play the game. They assume that you already know quite a bit about the game. The following was a letter (of mine) to the editor of the Keystone Checker Review:

Dear Editor,

I was amused to see that someone had found a missing rule. There are more missing rules than there are rules. "The Standard Laws of Checkers," as supplied by ACF, do not tell us to use an 8x8 board, or even that the pieces move diagonally. But they do tell us how our pieces must be manufactured (turned, not molded). Here are the rules, with my comments in brackets "[]". This will be part of a book that I'm writing. Feel free to use it in KCR.

The Standard Laws of Checkers, with [comments by Jim Loy]

[Checkers is a board game played between two players, who alternate moves. The player who cannot move, because he has no pieces, or because all of his pieces are blocked, loses the game. Players can resign or agree to draws.]

1. The Official Checker Board to be used in National Tournaments and Official Matches shall be of GREEN & BUFF, two inch squares. The board shall be placed for playing so that the GREEN Double Corners are on the right-hand side of the players.

[The board is square, with sixty-four smaller squares, arranged in an 8x8 grid. The smaller squares are alternately light and dark colored, in the famous "checker-board" pattern. The game of checkers is played on the dark (black or green) squares. In diagrams in most books, the pieces rest on the white squares, for readability. Buff is a kind of tan color.]

[Each player has a dark square on his far left and a light square on his far right. The double-corner, mentioned but not defined in the rules, is the distinctive pair of dark squares in the near right corner.]

2. The Official Checkers to be used in National Tournaments and Official Matches shall be turned and round, and of RED & WHITE in color, and of a diameter of not less than one and one quarter inches, nor more than one and one half inches. The pieces shall be placed on the Green squares.

[The pieces are indeed Red and White, and are called Black and White in most books. In some modern publications, they are called Red and White. Sets bought in stores may be other colors. Black and Red pieces are still called Black (or Red) and White, so that you can read the books. The pieces are of cylindrical shape, much wider than they are tall. Tournament pieces are smooth, and have no designs (crowns or concentric circles) on them.]

[The starting position is with each player having twelve pieces, on the twelve dark squares closest to his edge of the board. Once again, notice that in checker diagrams, the pieces are placed on the light colored squares, for readability. On a real board they are on the dark squares.]

[You can make only one move per turn. You must move. If you cannot move, you lose. The pieces (not kings) move one square, diagonally, forward. Kings can move diagonally, forward or backward. A piece can only move to a vacant square. You capture an opponent's piece by jumping over it, diagonally, to the adjacent vacant square. A king can jump diagonally, forward or backward. A piece, which is not a king, can only jump diagonally forward. You can make a multiple jump, with one piece only, by jumping to empty square to empty square. You can only jump one piece, with any given jump. But you can jump several pieces, with a move of several jumps. You remove the jumped pieces from the board. You cannot jump your own piece. You cannot jump the same piece twice, in the same move. As will be mentioned in rule 8, jumps must be completed. If you can jump, you must. And, a multiple jump must be completed. You cannot stop part way through a multiple jump. If you have a choice of jumps, you can choose among them, regardless of whether some of them are multiple, or not.]

[Note: In the above paragraph, the term "piece" often includes "king." A piece, whether it is a king or not, can jump a king.]

[As will be shown in rule 9, when a piece reaches the last row (the King Row), it becomes a King. A second checker is place on top of that one. A piece that has just kinged, cannot continue jumping pieces, until the next move.]

3.At the beginning of a contest the players shall toss for colors. The first move is made by the player having the RED (called BLACK in text books) pieces. Thereafter, the players shall alternate in leading of with RED in each succeeding opening balloted.

[The rules mention balloted openings. In "Three-Move-Restriction" (the most common form of checkers in tournaments), the first three moves (two for red, and one for white) are chosen at random, from a list of accepted three-move openings. This is done with a special deck of cards. After shuffling, one player chooses a card. On the back is a number, one through six. The card is replaced into the deck, the deck is re-shuffled, and another card is chosen. On the front of this card, is a numbered list of five or six openings. The opening chosen is the one with the chosen number from the first card. You will play both sides (Red and White) of that opening.]

[In a match, players often do not alternate colors. Instead, a player often follows this scheme: Red-White-White-Red-Red-White... or vice versa. This is done so that one player will not always be the first to play Red (or White) for every ballotted opening.]

4. At the end of five minutes (if the move has not previously been made) "Time" must be called in a distinct manner by the person appointed for that purpose; and if the move is not completed at the end of another minute, the game shall be adjudged as lost through improper delay. When either player is deaf or partially deaf, a card on which the word "Time" is printed in large letters shall be placed or laid on the playing table when it is his time to move.

[Checker tournaments now use clocks, as in chess. The time control is usually faster than that used in chess games. Consult a chess rule book, or a chess player, concerning how to use a clock. Briefly: The clock has two clocks. Your clock runs when it is your turn to move. When you make your move, you press your button, which stops your clock and starts your opponent's clock. You have a given amount of time, to make a certain number of moves. If you fail to make enough moves in the given time, you lose by time forfeit (improper delay). There are secondary time controls, after you have made the correct number of moves.] [There is a red flag on the clock. When it falls, at 6:00, and you have not made enough moves, you have exceeded the time control.]

[The rules don't mention recording your moves. The use of clocks may make recording of moves necessary, as a record of the number of moves made. The numbered board, on the left, will help you record and read moves. Moves are written as from-to (as 11-15 means from 11 to 15). A multiple jump is recorded as just two numbers, unless that pair of numbers is ambiguous, then the intervening squares are shown (2-11-18, for example). Once again, notice that in checker diagrams, the pieces are placed on the light colored squares, for readability. On a real board they are on the dark squares.]

5.When there are two or more ways to "jump", five minutes shall be allowed for the move. When there is only one way to "jump", time shall be called at the end of one minute; and if the move is not completed at the end of another minute the game shall be adjudged as lost through improper delay.

6. At the beginning of a game each player shall be entitled to arrange his own or his opponent's pieces properly on the squares. After the game has opened (a move has been made), if either player should touch or arrange any piece, without giving intimation, he shall be cautioned for the first offense, and shall forfeit the game for any subsequent offense of this kind. If the person whose turn it is to play touches one of his own playable pieces, he must either play it or forfeit the game.

7. If any part of a playable piece be played over an angle of the square on which it is stationed, the play must be completed in that direction. Inadvertently removing, touching or disturbing from its position a piece that is not playable, while in the act of "jumping" or making an intended move does not constitute a move, and the piece or pieces shall be placed back in position and the game is continued.

8. The "Huff" or "Blow" is hereby abolished. All "jumps" must be completed, and all "jumped" pieces must be removed from the board.

[The huff was an old rule, which dealt with a player who failed to jump, when he had the opportunity to jump. His opponent had the options of (1) forcing him to take back his non-jump and forcing him to jump, (2) letting the non-jump move stand, or (3) removing, from the board, one of the pieces which could have jumped. This third option, was the "huff." After doing that, the player then made his own move. The rules have gone from this severe penalty, to the current no penalty.]

9. When a single piece reaches the crown-head of the board by reason of a move, or as the completion of a "jump", it becomes a king; and that completes the move, or "jump". The piece then must be crowned by the opponent by placing a piece on top of it. If the opponent neglects to do so and makes a play, then any such play shall be put back until the piece that should have been crowned is crowned. "Time" does not start on the player whose piece should have been crowned until the piece is crowned.

[I've never heard the king-row called "crown-head." I take it, from the last part of this law, that when using a clock, your move is done when you remove your hand from the piece that you just kinged. The crowning of it, is part of your opponent's move.]

10. A King, once crowned, can move in any direction as the limits of the board permit. A King can "jump" in any direction one or more pieces, as the limits of the board permit. When a piece is not available for crowning, one must be furnished by the Referee.

[The phrase "any direction" means diagonally forward or backward. The phrase "as the limits of the board permit" merely means that you can't jump off the board. As I said in my comments concerning rule #2, a king can only jump diagonally over one adjacent piece at a time, in any of the four diagonal directions. Of course, multiple jumps are possible.]

11. A Draw is declared when neither player can force a win. When one side appears stronger than the other and the player with what appears to be the weaker side requests the Referee for a Count on moves, then, if the Referee so decides, the stronger party is required to complete the win or show to the satisfaction of the Referee at least an "increased" (instead of the old wording "decided") advantage over his opponent within forty of his own moves, these to be counted from the point at which notice was given by the Referee; failing in which he must relinquish the game as a draw.

[This forty-move draw rule requires some checkers expertise, on the part of the Referee. He must determine if a player has increased his advantage. There is no "triple-repetition" rule. So, a player may repeat the position, twenty times (or a hundred times, if the Referee has not been called in). Normally, the players are reasonable enough to agree to a draw, in such a case. There seems to be a loop-hole, in this rule. Technically, a player who does not have any advantage, can refuse to agree to a draw. The player with the stronger position cannot request a 40-move count, at least not according to this law. So, we could have a repetitious game, that lasts forever. Reasonable people would agree to the draw, or apply the 40-move draw rule, anyway.] [Personally, I think we need a "triple repetition rule," as in chess.]

12. After an opening is balloted, neither player shall leave the board without permission of the Referee. If permission is granted his opponent may accompany him, or the Referee may designate a person to accompany him. "Time" shall be deducted accordingly from the player whose turn it is to move.

[I have no clue how this "time" deduction works, with or without clocks.]

13. Anything that may tend either to annoy or distract the attention of an opponent is strictly forbidden, such as making signs or sounds, pointing or hovering over the board, either with the hands or the head, or unnecessarily delaying to move a piece touched. Any principal so acting, after having been warned of the consequences, and requested to desist, shall forfeit the game.

[Rule 13 is a catch-all rule to deal with odd-ball situations. Nearly all games and sports have such a rule. In baseball a player is "forbidden to make a travesty of the game." But maybe my opponent's good moves are very annoying, and should be out-lawed.]

14. Players shall be allowed to smoke during the conduct of a game but care must be exercised not to blow smoke across the board, lest it annoy an opponent. If a player is thus annoyed, he may object to his opponent's smoking, in which case neither player shall be allowed to smoke.

15. Any spectator giving warning either by signs or sound or remark on any of the games, whether playing or pending, shall be ordered from the room during the contest. Play shall be discontinued until such offending party retires. Spectators shall not be allowed to smoke or talk near the playing boards.