Origin of Checkers or Draughts

Many famous men were fond of checkers (draughts) which was introduced into Europe from Egypt about the beginning of the 16th century. From monumental inscriptions it appears that the game was familiar to the egyptians as early as 200 B.C. It's antiquity is attested by Homer in the Odyssey, where reference is made to games in the palace of Ulysses in Ithica: and by Plato who in his dialogs makes frequent mention of it by way of illustration. The oldest know works on checkers (draughts) was published at Valencia, Spain in 1547 by Antonia Torquemado. Famous checker players have been Cicero and many roman emperors:Napoleon; the Duke of Wellington: Federick the Great; Pierre Mallet, engineer ordinary to Louis XIV;Edgar Allen Poe;J.P. Dodd L.L.D;General U.S. Grant who ascribed much of his military success to the mental sharpening derived from checkers, and whose ability to mop up the boys at West Point, is recorded; Garibaldi, the savior of Italy; John Paterson the great mathematician; Andrew Carnegie;Bob Fitzsimmons, boxer, who once met all comers at McGinnity's Tavern in Newark, NJ; Joseph Lanin, once owner of the Boston Red Sox, and Roosevelt Field. Hundreds of celebrities were lovers of the game, such as Frederick Mansfield, Boston Mayor, Jack Dempsey, famous boxer, Joel McRae and Gene Lockhart, movie stars, and hundreds of doctors, lawyers, and members of the learned professions. (From the Roseville Citizen, many years ago.)

What Is The Origin Of Draughts?


Charles C. Walker

(Mr. Walker is Secretary of "The American Checker Federation." Reprinted from "Checkers Magazine" June 1988 issue-Charles C. Walker, Editor.) Part Two

It has been reported that when archaeologist excavated ancient ruins checkered gaming boards and circular pieces made out of Ivory and Jade and Chess pieces of similar materials were found.  According to historians, due to the value of such precious pieces, the sets were split up and sold to various collectors over the years, probably for their monetary value rather than their historical significance. A few duplicates have been simulated and produced, but the original ancient pieces have long since gone out of circulation. Recently while visiting the Egyptian museum in Cairo, Egypt it was interesting to see what historians believe to be one of the primitive game boards for Chess which was found in one of the excavated tombs. The display also contained pieces of varying sizes. however, there were no rules or records left to decipher how the game was actually played. Even more impressive, were the checker board designs that the Eqyptians used to decorate walls, floors, and some outer tomb cases. With their fascination for checker boards and the discovery of two kinds of stones (which could have been used as playing pieces), it is most probably that they were also the original inventors of a primitive form of checkers. The following excerpt is taken from DRAUGHTS-A-MAGICAL GAME and is written by R. A. Kirmani, a well known figure among draught fans in Karachi, Pakistan.

"The game of Draughts has been played in the United Kingdom and the United States for many centuries.

In the latter country, however, it is called Checkers and the rules are a somewhat different.

The Origin of this game dates back to the 4000 B.C. Sir Gardner Wilkinson, in his expedition to Egypt, discovered large inscriptions in the ancient temple of Thebes portraying King RaMeses playing a game of Draughts with a member of his family.

This game is also the fore-runner of Chess, which is actually its developed form.

The invention of Draughts is credited to Shamoon the Magician (Kahin) who was the disciple of Mardooqash, the greatest (Magician) was also his pupil.

It is said Shamoon invented the game through his magic necromancy on the request of the Prime Minister Haman who wanted to keel) King Rameses in the mirth of musical entertainment and in the newly invented game so that he may not be called to account for his misdeeds.

The game of Draughts was also played in India since pre-Mahabharat time. The ancient Indians called it Ashta Pada (8 x 8 64 squares).

How it reached India from Egypt is not known, although there is mention of it in several Sanskrit books."

Even though it is reported that checkered boards and round checker type pieces were found in the ancient excavated tombs of Egypt, it is difficult to assert that these boards and pieces were utilized exclusively for the game of draughts. According to existing records the oldest draughts (checkers) manual was published in 1549. Therefore, for the historiography of draughts we have to rely on the terms used for draughts in other written sources. It appears that in former time~ the terminology for draughts and other board games such as Chess, Backgammon and Morris were all related. Therefore, even though this makes the history more difficult to trace it is a fact that Draughts was played before 1549. For example, the late Dr. Gillian, from Columbus. Ga. carefully removed and showed me a Draughts' book hand writ ten in beautiful English scroll and dedicated to The King of England. It was dated during the 13th century. Frankly, I do not believe it was a forgery.
Unfortunately, that rare and valuable book was not found among his library after his death.
Other sources for verifying the history of checkers may include references made about draughts in literature and the pictorial arts. For example, Voltaire looked down on draughts while Jean Jacques Fousseau was an enthusiastic player; we have a description of the cottage that the Mali Vice~President Daba Diarre had built in his garden for the purpose of draughts playing; and there are numerous reproductions of paintings and cartoons on draughts. Homer, commonly, known as the father of poetry, speaks of the game of draughts in his "ODYSSEY".

It should also be noted that Draughts has developed under different names and rules for each country. However, regardless of whether Draughts is played on a 32 square, 64 square, 100 square, or 144 square board, etc. if there are a set of two distinct pieces for playing, such games have been included in the history of Checkers.
Incidently, having only two kinds of playing pieces provided a definite means of separating the game of Checkers from that of Chess. (artwork by Ray Baker)

The History of Draughts in France

I. ECHE (Game-Piece)

According to Murray, in the Middle Ages the French word echec meant game-piece for any board game. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the word echec meant man and jeu D' eches/jouer aux echecs for tbe game and echiquier for the board.

II. ECHEC --(The Man or Piece)

Echec as a piece or man--usually kept in a gaming-box. The gaming-box consists of two boards with raised borders hinged together, so that when closed they form a box. When opened, they form an inner surface for playing backgammon. One side or the other surface commonly has chess or draughts while the other side is marked for merels-board. The hey-day for the gaming box fell between 1500 and 1700.

III. JEUDES TABLES (Checkerboard)

These factors would indicate that before the 16th century, checkers were camouflaged under the name of (jeu des) tables, namely the fact that the French word dame succeeded the French word table as the name of the man and the probability that jeu des tables still occurred in the 16th century as the name of draughts. But Edward IV (king from 1461 to 1483) bought two foxes and 26 pounds of silver to form two sets of marelles for fox and geese, and maybe the French word merelles refers to other games apart from merels.
Moreover, the French word merelle, just as the French word table, originally meant man for board-game, while draughts was called marro in Spain and marella in Sicily. I think that it is useless to look for draughts in the culture of chivalry; particularly since it appears that chess and backgammon were popular with the knights, merels, next.
Therefore, the question arises whether draughts was a game for the lower classes in the Middle Ages.
In a medieval drawing on draughts, the players do not belong to the nobility, but to the wealthy commoners. Unfortunately, if this is true, it is impossible on the basis of terminology to trace back the date when draughts was introduced into France.

A large part of the following information in this article was extracted from "A History of Draughts" by Arie van der Stoep. Draught players around the world should appreciate Mr. Arie van der Stoep for the painstaking research and dedication he has given to this excellent work.

IV. Accounts and Wills

When someone dies or contracts a marriage on terms, his possessions are carefully registered. Just as a man of the 20th century does, and his forebearers did likewise. Dozens of descriptions from 14th, 15th, and 16th century French estates give a clear idea of what the French meant by tablier (referring to flat gaming boards) in these three centuries.

V. Flat Boards For One Game Only

Flatboard: Possibly a traveling board because of the leather case' in which the folded board could be stored with a pattern of cells as well as its edges are decorated.

a. At the inventory drawn up immediately after his death, King Charles V possessed a board of 64 squares and chess-pieces and also a hinged board with a game pattern on both sides.

b. Jehanle Tailleur(1410) considered his travelier, a board with a game pattern on one side, worth mentioning in his will.

c. Another will--from the widow of Simon des Boland's D' Arras left a one sided board.

d. Henry Oliver' delivered a board with a game pattern on one side (possibly backgammon) to Isabeau of Bavaria, wife of King Charles VI.

e. Joanof Burgundy owned a chess-board, called a tablier, of embroidery in a leather case.

f. The Revue described the Bastille inventory of 1428 as a gaming board, a square piece of wood, to be inlaid with a pattern of cells, and found in the chapel of the castle..

g. From the last will of Jaques Gaulier was found a board of 64 squares.

h. King Louis Xl's wife ordered a flat game board.

i. From Anne of Brittany's inventory, at that time married with King Louis XII of France was a flat board of 64 squares in a green case.

j. In the same year Margaret of Austria had an inventory drawn up of her Mechim possessions, among these were flat boards of 64 squares.

k In 1598 there is a mention of ~lat boards in an inventory from Nerac castle. The same board is now called damier.

VI. Flat Boards For More Than One Game

a. King John II the Good possessed a two sided board for chess and backgammon.

b. John II's son was given a set of playing pieces for a two sided folding board.

c. An inventory of Guillaume de Beaufort's property showed a two-sided board for chess and backgammon used for gambling purposes.

d. King Charles V's estate shows a pearl folding board and three flat boards. Charles VI the Well-Beloved, who succeeded Charles V, ordered more flat boards.

e. Charles's wife had a table built and the queen received a man of ivory, 4 men of horn, and 6 pawns--these were probably used to play Chess.

f. The Duke of Berry, son of Charles V, was given a board and playing pieces that were passed down in a big wooden box that his descendants described in their will more than a century later.

g .In Baux castle a board could be found for playing chess and back-gammon.

h. Margaret of Austria possessed a flat board with squares on one side and an unknown game played to score points on the other side. Margaret had also a board used for playing chess and merels decorated with sheaves of corn.

Even from as early as the Middle Ages game boards (much like our checkerboards of today) were prized possessions and passed from one generation to another as we pass jewelry and land today.

It is believed that the French acquired the word dame probably between 1400 and 1500 A.D.
In 1630 and 1636 lvibnet used the word D~inier for describing a Draughts-Board.
The etymology of the french dame as used in connection with the games of draughts, and of the other related terms, is perfectly clear. The draughts term is merely a derived sense of the ordinary word dame, meaning 'lady'.

Egyptian dameh

Dameh was the name the Eqyptians gave to a board-game that was recovered in old tombs.

Greek demos

Demos was the name of a unit of soldiers (game pieces) in the Greek board-game polis, in which pieces are captured by the interception method---this therefore could not be draughts but probably affected the French terminology.
In France three varieties of draughts were played, (1) the Anglo-French without compulsory captures, (2) MgloFrench with compulsory captures and (3) Polish. The Polish draughts gradually ousted both other games in France.
There is an obvious evolution from a variety of draughts without any obligation to take, to a game of draughts with compulsory captures on the penalty of the huff. A later restriction -is the obligation to take on the penalty of losing the game. This rule was gradually felt to be needed in varieties in which longer combinations are possible as in Straight Checkers or in Polish draughts. In the Anglo-French variety it has never been felt to be necessary.

The Distribution of Draughts in Europe are as follows:
Poland -- (64 squares, 100 squares), Russia (64squares,100squares).
From Russia it spread all over Eastern Europe, it was introduced into Israel by Russian Jewish refugees, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal is described in these countries as a native children's game. If the opponent fails to take, the huff is permitted, (Webmaster-The huff has been abolished) but it is also possible to force the adversary to take. There is a king-take and the long diagonal runs from bottom right to top left. Egypt -- refers to draughts being played in 1792. Also in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Gabon, Guinea, Upper Volta, ~li, Denegal, Ivory Cost, Gambia, Liberia, Mauritania, Niger, Congo1 Togo, Ghana, and Benis, Haiti, Cuba, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, Canada (64 , 100 and 144 squares) games were played as early as 1927.
These 144 cells or squares were not new but were used in medieval India for other board games. The 144 squares are still played in parts of India, Vietnam, Thailand, and Mongolia because of the Russian influence.

The board-games on the tablier...

In the Middle ages the French word Tablier was the name of the board for board-games.
Three different channels of information are available, we only get a picture of the board games the nobility played; because, first inventories were almost exclusively drawn up for noble families, second, medieval literature was especially written for the nobility; and third, the extinct boards are precious and must have belonged to noblemen. It is possible that the games played by the lower classes differed from those played by the nobility.

Flat Boards For One Game Only

I am of the opinion that boards of the type tablier can be interpreted as backgammon boards, and eches refers to a one-sided board of 64 squares for chess and draughts. But this may remain hidden from us~ us, unless a board is found in a museum somewhere in the world and provided that its origin is known and a medieval description would be provided that would mention tablier and eches.
Two authors describe only two types of boards with a pattern of 64 cells before 1500. The first is a flat, unfolding board and the second is a 14th, 15th century board with legs. As no extensive studies have been published, I do not know if medieval boards were used for backgammon or not.

Two Boards of 64 Squares With men

The National Museum Munich preserves a board of 64 cells with 24 men. This board is probably from the 17th century and is mare likely than not Russian. This oaken board inlaid with dark and light green amber squares.
At Nuremberg a 16th Century possibly German board of 64 squares is preserved. The white cells are inlaid with ivory and the brown ones ornamented with burnt-in rosettes. There are twenty-four men, with carved topes that are kept in a carved brown wooden box.

Flat board for more than one game prevailed in the Middle Ages.
The flat, hinged board was the forerunner of the garning-box. These boards were probably used to play backgammon, chess, fox and geese, mereles, and morris.

An International Type 
The flat game board containing 64 cells used to play backgammon~on was the type found in most other European countries.
But all these game boards were very suitable for draughts.

Gaming boxes.

The gaming-box consists of two halves hinged together. When closed, they form a box. When opened, the inside halves provide a backgammon pattern.
The outside surfaces usually show L pattern of 64 cells and a pattern for morris. According to several sources, another game is often found instead of merels.
Gaming boxes date back to the 13th century.
The materials of the medieval game board.

We can only assume that the Arabs being nomads, had textile chess-boards of which no examples have been left In Western Europe, the main material for boards was wood, which explains why only a few medieval game boards have been preserved. Game pieces were usually made of ivory.
Other materials used besides wood in dude metal and softer material. Often' the wood was inlaid with gold, silver and precious stones. These boards were extremely valuable and probably account for none being in existence today. In Medieval times, ones social position could be judged from the value of his gaming board.

The Size-of the Board.

The medieval game-board-board was usually larger and more massive than nowadays consequently, a checker board could be put to a very practical purpose. A nobleman most unchivalrously smashes another noblemen with his game board.

The Repository of the Boards.

The boards being so large, they were difficult to store, which encouraged them to be hung on a wall.
The 64 cells were originated painted black and red, but later were painted black and white to denote good and evil and man representing the playing pieces.
Most of the pieces were made from bone and ivory. The pieces were usually completely covered with motifs, scenes from the Greek mythology or from German folk epics, the bible or chivalrous epics. The only constant feature was 15 were usually colored white and 15 were colored black.
Black and white again were the expressions of life and death, darkness and light, nothingness to the incomprehensible universe.
From medieval times until today, a great deal has changed and yet so very little... 

International Checkers

The game of international checkers (draughts) is played on a 100-square board.
Until the middle of the 18th Century both chess and draughts (checkers) is played on the same board. This situation changed around 1760 when board with 100 squares was introduced, probably in France.
However, not only did the board change, but also the rules of playing underwent important change. While on the 64-square board the "short king" was being played; on the board with 100 squares the "long king" was introduced.
The so-called "short king" moves only one square at a time, while the "long king" moves diagonally any number of squares at a time.
Furthermore, the individual man or checker acquires the power of jumping backwards, but was not allowed to move backwards.
Also, a new rule was introduced to the effect that always the greatest number of men has to be taken, whereas the player had a choice to take the man he wanted when there was an equal number of checkers to be taken: a king is considered equal to a man with regard to jumping or taking men off the board.

In France, where at that time playing checkers , just as it is now, was enormously popular, the board with the 64 squares disappeared in a minimum of time. Shortly afterwards the Netherlands followed the French example and the 64-squared board disappeared. The fact that the Netherlands Draughts Association has approximately 10,000 organized players goes to show how well the 100-square board was accepted.
Before 1900 International contacts were difficult, with the result that in a number of other countries, especially in the English-speaking territories, the board of 64 squares was maintained; consequently, the game of checkers is no international game any more. In addition, in various non English-speaking countries using the 64-square board local changes were made in the rules so that even that board lost its universal laws.
This fact especially has become the greatest handicap for the game of checkers as compared to chess, which is being played all over the world in a universal manner; it is extremely regrettable because the checker game is equal to chess as far as depth, beauty and complexity concerns. The 64-square game is distinguished by strategic positioning, whereas the 100-square game in particular accomplishes stunningly intricate combinations.
The 100 square game is played in such countries as France, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Soviet Union, Switzerland, Haiti, Canada, Australia, the West Indies, Senegal, Monaco, Italy, Morocco, Czechoslovakia, Tunisia and Algeria. It is played also on a more limited scale in Singapore, East and West Germany, Portugal, and the United States seems that in some South-American republics, as for instance in Brazil and Venezuela, 64-square draughts also played. In Canada, a 144-sq. board is popular.

There is a vast knowledge of information on the 64-square board game with the result that strong players, when playing against each other, often draw. Therefore, winning a 64- sq. game usually requires a cook (an unpublished line of play). However, theories of the small board have to become a fully explored field of knowledge. Adventure and the element of surprise is always probable, this is especially true with the 100 squares board game. It possesses shot combinations that are inexhaustible in possibilities.

Through cooperation between the federations representing these two magnificent games and the efforts of the International Checker Hall of Fame checkers could soon receive world recognition for its depth, beauty and brilliance