Interesting facts about checkers

Checkers or draughts is the name of several different board games.

All of these games are similar. In every kind of checkers, the other player’s pieces can be taken by being “jumped” over.

“Checkers” is the American name. In British English, and in various other English-speaking nations, these games are called “draughts.”

The name ‘draughts’ derives from the verb to draw or to move, whereas ‘checkers’ derives from the checkered board which the game is played on.

In most non-English languages (except those that acquired the game from English speakers), draughts is called dame, dames, damas, or a similar term that refers to ladies. The pieces are usually called men, stones, “peón” (pawn) or a similar term – men promoted to kings are called dames or ladies. In these languages, the queen in chess or in card games is usually called by the same term as the kings in draughts. A case in point includes the Greek terminology, in which draughts is called “ντάμα” (dama), which is also one term for the queen in chess.

Historians now believe that the oldest form of checkers was played around 3,000 BC. It was found by archeologists in an ancient city called Ur in Iraq.

In the British Museum are specimens of ancient Egyptian checkerboards, found with their pieces in burial chambers, and the game was played by the pharaoh Hatshepsut.

Plato mentioned a game, πεττεία or petteia, as being of Egyptian origin, and Homer also mentions it. The method of capture was placing two pieces on either side of the opponent’s piece. It was said to have been played during the Trojan War.

The Romans played a derivation of petteia called latrunculi, or the game of the Little Soldiers. The pieces, and sporadically the game itself, were called calculi (pebbles).

An Arabic game called Quirkat or al-qirq, with similar play to modern draughts, was played on a 5×5 board. It is mentioned in the 10th-century work Kitab al-Aghani. Al qirq was also the name for the game that is now called nine men’s morris. Al qirq was brought to Spain by the Moors, where it became known as Alquerque, the Spanish derivation of the Arabic name. The rules are given in the 13th-century book Libro de los juegos. In about 1100, probably in the south of France, the game of Alquerque was adapted using backgammon pieces on a chessboard. Each piece was called a “fers”, the same name as the chess queen, as the move of the two pieces was the same at the time.

The rule of crowning was used by the 13th century, as it is mentioned in the Philippe Mouskés’s Chronique in 1243 when the game was known as Fierges, the name used for the chess queen (derived from the Persian ferz, meaning royal counsellor or vizier). The pieces became known as “dames” when that name was also adopted for the chess queen. The rule forcing players to take whenever possible was introduced in France in around 1535, at which point the game became known as Jeu forcé, identical to modern English draughts. The game without forced capture became known as Le jeu plaisant de dames, the precursor of international
draughts.

About the 12th century AD an early form of the game was adapted to the 64-square chessboard, and by the 16th century the rule compelling capture had been added, producing a game essentially the same as modern checkers.

As early as the mid 1500s, books were written on the game and in 1756, an English mathematician wrote a treatise on draughts.

The game steadily rose in popularity as the years went by. 1847 was an important year in the history of checkers when the first championship award was given.

Later, game enthusiasts noticed that certain openings gave advantage to one side. And so, to begin the game in a random manner, two move restrictions were developed for expert players. In modern tournament checkers three move restrictions are prescribed.

Arthur Samuel then created a computerized Checkers program in 1952, which helped turn Checkers into the global phenomenon it is today.

In 2007, the game was “solved” by a team of researchers from the University of Alberta (in Canada) led by Jonathan Schaeffer.

The most people playing checkers simultaneously is 540 at an event organized by the People Helping People Agency (USA) in Reno, Nevada, USA, on 8 February 2014. The record was achieved at the conclusion of the annual sales convention for the PHP Agency in Reno, Nevada, that featured guest speakers and awards.

The largest draughts (checkers) tournament consists of 574 people and was achieved by Stadt Trebbin (Germany) in Trebbin, Brandenburg, Germany, on 14 June 2013.

Walter Hellman (USA) won a record eight world titles in Checkers between 1948 and 1975. Hellman held the championship title for two stretches – between 1948 and 1955, and then from 1963 until his death in 1975.

The youngest winner of a world title is Patricia Breen of Co Carlow, Republic of Ireland, who won the Women’s World Draughts Championship at Weston-super-Mare, Somerset on 1 Apr 1993, aged 16.

On 26 April 1998, Ronald Suki King, of Barbados, played 385 simultaneous games of checkers at the Houston International Festival, Houston, Texas, USA. King donned rollerskates to move back and forth between his 385 opponents.

The most people playing checkers underwater is 88 at an event organised by Normunds Pakulis (Latvia) in Riga, Latvia, on 21 May 2011.

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