1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Draughts

DRAUGHTS (from A.S. dragan, to draw), a game played with pieces (or “men”) called draughtsmen on a board marked in squares of two alternate colours. The game is called Checkers in America, and is known to the French as Les Dames and to the Germans as Damenspiel. Though the game is not mentioned in the Complete Gamester, nor the Académie de jeux, and is styled a “modern invention” by Strutt, yet a somewhat similar game was known to the Egyptians, some of the pieces used having been found in tombs at least as old as 1600 B.C., and part of Anect Hat-Shepsa’s board and some of her men are to be seen in the Egyptian gallery of the British Museum. An Egyptian vase also shows a lion and an antelope playing at draughts, with five men each, the lion making the winning move and seizing the bag or purse that contains the stakes. Plato ascribes the invention of the game of πεσσοί, or draughts, to Thoth, the Egyptian Hermes Trismegistus, and Homer represents Penelope’s suitors as playing it (Odyss. i. 107). In one form of the game as played by the Greeks there were 25 squares, and each player had 5 men which were probably moved along the lines. In another there were 4 men and 16 squares with a “sacred enclosure,” a square of the same size as the others, marked in the exact centre and bisected by one of the horizontal lines, which was known as the “sacred line.” From the incident in the game of a piece hemmed in on this line by a rival piece having to be pushed forward as a last resort, arose the phrase “to move the man from the sacred line” as synonymous with being hard pressed. This and other phrases based on incidents in the game testify to the vogue the game enjoyed in ancient Greece. The Roman game of Latrunculi was similar, but there were officers (kings in modern draughts) as well as men. When a player’s pieces were all hemmed in he was stale-mated, to use a chess phrase (ad incitas redactus est), and lost the game. Other explanations of this phrase are, however, given (see Les Jeux des anciens, by Becq de Fouquières). The fullest account of the Roman game is to be found in the De laude Pisonis, written by an anonymous contemporary of Nero (see Calpurnius, Titus). Unfortunately the texts are full of obscurities, so that it is difficult to make any definite statements as to how the game was played.

As early as the 11th century some form of the game was practised by the Norsemen, for in the Icelandic saga of Grettir the Strong the board and men are mentioned more than once.

The history of the modern forms of the game starts with El Ingenio o juego de marro, de punto o damas, published by Torquemada at Valencia in 1547. Another Spaniard, Juan Garcia Canalejas, is said to have published in 1610 the first edition of his work, a better-known edition of which appeared in 1650. The third Spanish classic, that of Joseph Carlos Garcez, was printed in Madrid in 1684. It is noteworthy that in an illustration in Garcez’s book the pieces depicted resemble somewhat some of those used by the Egyptians, and are not unlike the pawns used in chess.

In 1668 Pierre Mallet had published the first French work on the game, and elementary though his knowledge of the game seems to have been, even in comparison with that of Canalejas or Garcez, the historical notes, rules and instructions which he gave, served as a basis for many later works. Mallet wrote on Le Jeu de dames à la française, which was almost identical with the modern English game. The old French game is, however, no longer practised in France, having been superseded by Le Jeu de dames à la polonaise. Manoury gives reasons for believing that the latter game originated in Paris about 1727.

About 1736 a famous player named Laclef published the first book on Polish draughts, but the first important book on the game is Manoury’s Jeu de dames à la polonaise, in the production of which it is said that the author had the assistance of Diderot and other encyclopédistes. This book, which appeared in 1787, was to the new game all that Mallet’s was to the old French game, and until the appearance of Poirson Prugneaux’s Encyclopédie du jeu de dames in 1855 it remained the standard authority on so-called Polish draughts. The Polish game early attained popularity in Holland, and in 1785 the standard Dutch work, Ephraim van Embden’s Verhandeling over het Damspel, was produced. In German-speaking countries the progress of the new game was slower, and the works produced in the first half of the 19th century generally treat of the older game as well as the Polish game. This is also the case with Petroff’s book published in St Petersburg in 1827; and similarly Zongono’s, which dates from 1832, deals with the new game and with the older Italian game.

In 1694 Hyde wrote Historia dami ludi seu latrinculorum, in which he tried to prove the identity of draughts with ludus latrinculorum. This work is historical and descriptive, but contains nothing concerning the game as played in Great Britain. The authentic history of draughts in England commences with William Payne’s Introduction to the Game of Draughts, the dedication of which was written by Samuel Johnson. Payne’s games and problems were incorporated in a much more important work, namely Sturges’s Guide to the Game of Draughts, which appeared in 1800 and has gone through a score of editions. About this time the game was much practised in both England and Scotland, but the first important production of the Scottish school was Drummond’s Scottish Draught Player, the first part of which dates from 1838, additional volumes appearing in 1851-1853 and 1861. In 1852 Andrew Anderson published his Game of Draughts Simplified. A first edition had appeared in 1848, but the later print is the important one, as it standardized the laws of the game, fixed the nomenclature of the openings, introduced a better arrangement of the play, and, since Anderson was one of the finest players of the game, excelled in accuracy. In Anderson’s time little was known about the openings commencing with any move other than 11-15, and it was not until more than thirty years later that the other openings received more adequate recognition. This was done in Robertson’s Guide to the Game of Draughts, and perhaps better in Lees’ Guide (1892).

Andrew Anderson was the first recognized British champion player of the game. He and Wyllie, better known as “the herd laddie,” contested five matches for the honour, Anderson winning four to Wyllie’s one. After his victory in 1847 Anderson retired from match play and the title fell to Wyllie, who made the game his profession and travelled all over the English-speaking world to play it. In 1872 he successfully defended his position against Martins, the English champion, and in 1874 against W. R. Barker, the American champion, but two years later he was beaten by Yates, a young American. On the latter’s retirement from the game, the championship lapsed to Wyllie, who held it successfully until his defeat by Ferrie, the Scottish champion, in 1894. Two years later Ferrie was beaten in his turn by Richard Jordan of Edinburgh, who had just gained the Scottish championship; and the new holder defeated Stewart, who challenged him in 1897, and successfully defended his title against C. F. Barker, the American champion, to meet whom he visited Boston in 1900 and played a drawn match.

In 1884 the first international match between England and Scotland took place, and resulted in so decisive a victory for the northerners that the contest was not renewed for ten years. The matches played in 1894 and 1899 also went strongly in favour of the Scots, but in 1903 the Englishmen gained their first victory.

In 1905 a British team visited America and defeated a side representing the United States.

The tournament for the Scottish championship has been held annually in Glasgow since 1893. The number and skill of the Scottish players have given this tournament its pre-eminence; but if the levelling up of the standards of play in Scotland and England continues, the competition which is held biennially by the English Draughts Association is likely to rank as a serious rival to the Glasgow tourney.

Britannica Draughts 1.jpg

The English Game.—Draughts as played now in English-speaking countries is a game for two persons with a board and twenty-four men—twelve white and twelve black—which at starting are placed as follows: the black men on the squares numbered 1 to 12, and the white men on the squares numbered 21 to 32 on the diagram below. In printed diagrams the men are usually shown on the white squares for the sake of clearness, but in actual play the black squares are generally used now. In playing on the black squares the board must be placed with a black square in the left-hand corner. The game is played by moving a man forward, one square at a time except when making a capture, along the diagonals to the right or left. Thus a white man placed on square 18 in the diagram can move to 15 or 14. Each player moves alternately, black always moving first. If a player touch a piece he must move that piece and no other. If the piece cannot be moved, or if it is not the player’s turn to move, he forfeits the game. As soon as a man reaches one of the squares farthest from his side of the board, he is “crowned” by having one of the unused or captured men of his own colour placed on him, and becomes a “king.” A king has the power of moving and taking backwards as well as forwards.

If a man is on the square adjacent to an opponent’s man, and there is an unoccupied square beyond, the unprotected man must be captured and removed from the board. Thus, if there is a white man on square 18, and a black man on square 14, square 9 being vacant, and white having to move, he jumps over 14 and remains on square 9, and the man on 14 is taken up.

If two or more men are so placed that one square intervenes between each they may all be taken at one move. Thus if white having to move has a man on 28, and black men on 24, 16 and 8, the intermediate squares and square 3 being vacant, white could move from 28 to 3, touching 19 and 12 en route, and take the men on 24, 16, and 8; but if there is a piece on 7 and square 10 is vacant, the piece on 7 cannot be captured, for becoming a king ends the move.

It is compulsory to take if possible. If a player can take a man (or a series of men) but makes a move that does not capture (or does not capture all that is possible), his adversary may allow the move to stand, or he may have the move retracted and compel the player to take, or he may allow the move to stand and remove the piece, that neglected to capture from the board (called “huffing”). “Huff and move” go together, i.e. the player who huffs then makes his move. When one player has lost all his pieces, or has all those left on the board blocked, he loses the game.

The game is drawn when neither of the players has sufficient advantage in force or position to enable him to win.

The losing game, or “first off the board,” is a form of draughts not much practised now by expert draught players. The player wins who gets all his pieces taken first. There is no “huffing”; a player who can take must do so.

Draughts Openings.—As there are seven possible first moves, with seven possible replies to each, or forty-nine in all, there is an abundant variety of openings; but as two of these (9-14, 21-17 and 10-14, 21-17) are obviously unsound, the number is really reduced to forty-seven. Much difference of opinion exists regarding the relative strength of the various openings. It was at one time generally held that for the black side 11-15 was the best opening move.

Towards the end of the 19th century this view became much modified, and though 11-15 still remained the favourite, it was recognized that 10-15, 9-14 and 11-16 were little, if at all, inferior; 10-14 and 12-16 were rightly rated as weaker than the four moves named above, whilst 9-13, the favourite of the “unscientific” player, was found to be weakest of all.

The white replies to 11-15 have gone through many vicissitudes. The seven possible moves have each at different times figured as the general favourite. Thus 24-19, which analysis proved to be the weakest of the seven, was at one period described by the title of “Wyllie’s Invincible.” In course of time it came to be regarded as decidedly weak, and its name was altered to the less pretentious title of “Second Double Corner.” In the Scottish Tournament of 1894 this opening was played between Ferrie and Stewart, and the latter won the game with white, introducing new play which has stood the test of analysis, and so rehabilitating the opening in public favour. The 21-17 reply to 11-15 was introduced by Wyllie, who was so successful with it that it became known as the “Switcher.” This opening perhaps lacks the solid strength of some of the others, but it so abounds in traps as to be well worthy of its name. The other five replies to 11-15, namely 24-20, 23-19, 23-18, 22-18 and 22-17, are productive of games which give equal chances to both sides.

The favourite replies to 10-15 are 23-18, 22-18 and 21-17, but they do not appear to be appreciably stronger than the others, with the possible exception of 24-20.

In response to 11-16, 23-18 is held to give white a trifling advantage, but it is more apparent than real. With the exception of 23-19, which is weak, the other replies are of equal strength, and are only slightly, if at all, inferior to the more popular 23-18. 9-14 is most frequently encountered by 22-18, but all white’s replies are good, except of course 21-17 which loses a man, and 23-18 which weakens the centre of white’s position.

Against 10-14 the most popular move is 22-17, which gives white an advantage. Next in strength come 22-18 and 24-19. 23-18 is weak.

The strongest reply to 12-16 is 24-20. The others, except 23-19, which is weak, give no initial advantage to either side.

As already mentioned, 9-13 is black’s weakest opening move, both 22-18 and 24-19 giving white a distinct advantage. Nevertheless 9-13 is a favourite début with certain expert players, especially when playing with inferior opponents.

The term “opening” is frequently applied in a more restricted sense than that used above. When practically all games started with 11-15 it was convenient to assign names to the more popular lines of play. Thus 11-15, 23-19, 8-11, 22-17, if followed by 11-16, was called the “Glasgow”; if followed by 9-13, 17-14, the “Laird and Lady”; if by 3-8, the “Alma.”

The variety possible in the opening is a fair reply to the objection sometimes heard that the game does not afford sufficient scope for variation. As a matter of fact a practically unlimited number of different games might be played on any one opening.

The three following games are typical examples of the play arising from three of the most frequently played openings:—

Game No. 1.—“Ayrshire Lassie” Opening.

a 11-15 25-18 10-15 22-17 b 15-18 24-6 
a 24-20 3-8  23-19 13-22 24-20 2-9 
8-11 26-22 6-10 26-17 18-27 17-10
28-24 5-9  {c & d} 27-23 11-16 31-24 8-11
9-13 30-26 9-14 20-11 16-23 Drawn.
22-18 1-5  18-9  7-16 20-16 R. Jordan.
15-22 32-28 5-14 29-25 12-19  

a. 11-15, 24-20 forms the “Ayrshire Lassie” opening, so named by Wyllie. It is generally held to admit of unusual scope for the display of critical and brilliant combinations.

b. 16-20, 25-22, 20-27, 31-24, 8-11, 17-13, 2-6, 21-17, 14-21, 22-17, 21-25, 17-14, 10-17, 19-1. Drawn. R. Jordan.


26-23 28-19 20-16 7-11 14-10 15-10
9-14 2-6  6-10 19-24 26-23 23-18
18-9  20-11 16-11 11-18 10-7  10-15
5-14 8-24 10-15 24-27 4-8  20-16
29-25 27-20 11-7  18-15 7-3  15-22
11-16 10-15 14-18 27-31 8-12 16-7 
20-11 31-26 7-3  22-18 3-7  Drawn.
7-16 15-19 18-23 31-27 27-24 A. B. Scott.
24-20 23-16 3-7  18-14 7-11 v.
15-24 12-19 23-30 30-26 24-20 R. Jordan.


19-16 7-10 23-19 11-15 16-11 25-30
12-19 6-1  15-24 27-24 18-25 20-16
22-17 9-14 28-19 22-25 17-14 Drawn.
15-22 26-23 8-11 29-22 10-17 R. Jordan.
24-6  11-15 19-16 14-18 21-14  

Game No. 2.—“Kelso-Cross” Opening.

a 10-15 8-12 13-22 5-9  14-18 22-25
a 23-18 25-21 26-17 20-16 17-14 29-22
12-16 1-6  d 19-26 2-7  10-17 17-26
21-17 32-27 30-23 24-19 21-14 5-1 
9-13 12-16 15-22 15-24 6-10 26-30
17-14 27-23 24-19 23-19 14-9  1-5 
16-19 7-10 9-14 24-27 10-14 30-26
24-20 14-7  19-12 31-24 19-15 5-9 
6-9  3-10 11-15 9-13 14-17 26-23
b 27-24 c 22-17 28-24 24-20 9-5  Drawn.
          R. Jordan.

a. These two moves form the “Kelso-Cross” opening.

b. 27-23 is also a strong line for white to adopt.

c. 30-25, 4-8, 18-14, 9-27, 22-18, 15-22, 24-15, 11-18, 20-4, 27-32, 26-17, 13-22, 4-8, 22-26, and black appears to have a winning advantage. R. Jordan.

d. Taking the piece on 18 first seems to lose, thus:—

15-22 e 9-13 13-17 6-9  5-14  
24-8  17-14 23-18 14-10 10-7  White
4-11 10-17 17-21 9-14 2-6  wins.
31-27 21-14 28-24 18-9  7-2  Dallas.

e. 2-7, 27-24, 22-26, 23-18, 26-31, 18-15, 11-18, 20-2, 9-13, 2-9, 5-14, 24-19, 13-22, 30-26. White wins.

Game No. 3.—“Dundee” Opening.

12-16 11-15 c 8-12 4-8  9-14 1-26
24-20 20-11 17-13 18-15 26-22 31-22
8-12 7-16 5-9  2-7  14-17 19-23
28-24 24-20 22-18 30-26 21-14 13-9 
9-14 b 16-19 15-22 10-14 18-23 12-19
22-17 23-16 25-18 29-25 27-18 9-6 
3-8  12-19 14-23 14-18 6-10 7-11
a 26-22 20-16 27-18 32-27 15-6  Drawn.
          R. Jordan.

a. This move is the favourite at this point on account of its “trappiness,” but 25-22 is probably stronger, thus: 25-22, 16-19, 24-15, 11-25, 29-22, 8-11, 17-13, 11-16, 20-11, 7-16, and white can with advantage continue by 27-24, 22-17, 23-19 or 22-18.

b. 15-19, 20-11, 8-15, 23-16, 12-19, 17-13, 5-9, 30-26, 4-8, 27-23, 8-12, 23-16, 12-19, 31-27, 1-5, 27-23, 19-24, 32-27, 24-31, 22-17. White wins. C. F. Barker.

c 8-11 27-18 15-18 14-10 24-27 7-10
16-7  15-22 14-10 19-24 31-24 27-31
2-11 25-18 6-15 10-7  16-20 10-26
22-18 10-15 17-14 18-23 3-7  31-22
14-23 18-14 11-16 7-3  20-27 30-25
Drawn. R. Stewart v. R. Jordan.

Problem No. 1 is the simplest form of that known to draughts-players as the “First Position.” It is of more frequent occurrence in actual play than any other end-game, and is, besides, typical of a class of draughts problems which may be described as analytical, in contradistinction to “strokes.”

Problem No. 1, by Wm. Payne.
Britannica Draughts 2.jpg
White to move and win.


27-32 18-15 15-11 11-15 28-32 19-24
28-24 2-28-24 12-16 19-24 27-31 White
23-18 32-28 28-32 32-28 15-19 wins.
3-a-24-28 1-24-20 16-19 24-27 31-26  

a. 12-16 same as Var. I. at 5th move.

Var. I.

24-27 18-15 19-16 28-32 8-12 15-11
15-18 b 16-20 18-23 8-12 23-18 White
12-16 15-18 16-11 32-27 12-8  wins.
28-32 24-19 23-19 12-8  18-15  
27-24 32-28 11-8  27-23 8-12  

b. 24-28 same as Var. II. at 1st move.

Var. II. 12-16, 15-11, 16-19, 32-27, 28-32, 27-31, 32-28, 11-16, 19-23, 16-19. White wins.

Var. III. 24-19, 32-28, c 19-16, 28-24, 16-11, 24-20, 11-8, 18-15. White wins.

c. 12-16, 28-32, 19-24 or 16-20, same as Var. II. at 5th and 9th moves respectively. White wins.

Problem No. 2.
Britannica Draughts 3.jpg
White to move and win.

Problem No. 2 is a fine example of another class of problems, namely, “strokes.” It is formed from the “Paisley” opening, thus:—

11-16 22-17 11-16 26-19 9-13 15-10
24-19 9-13 25-21 4-8  25-22 a 2-7 
8-11 17-14 6-9  29-25 7-11  
28-24 10-17 23-18 13-17 19-15  
16-20 21-14 16-23 31-26 12-16  

a. This forms the position on the diagram. The solution is as follows:—

27-23 7-14 18-9  14-23 26-3 
20-27 9-6  5-14 21-7  27-31
14-9  1-10 23-18 3-10 3-7 

White wins. Jacques and Campbell.

Other Varieties.—The forms of draughts practised on the European continent differ in some respects from the English variety, chiefly in respect of the power assigned to a man after “crowning.” The game of Polish Draughts is played in France, Holland, Belgium and Poland, where it has entirely superseded Le Jeu de dames à la française. It is played on a board of 100 squares with 20 men a side. The men move and capture as in English draughts, except that in capturing they move either forward or backward. A crowned man becomes a queen, and can move any number of squares along the diagonal. In her capture she takes any unguarded man or queen in any diagonal she commands, leaping over the captured man or queen and remaining on any unoccupied square she chooses of the same diagonal, beyond the piece taken. But if there is another unguarded man she is bound to choose the diagonal on which it can be taken. For example (using an English draught-board) place a queen on square 29 and adverse men at squares 22, 16, 24, 14. The queen is bound to move from 29 to 11, 20, 27, and having made the captures to remain at 9 or 5, whichever she prefers. The capturing queen or man must take all the adverse pieces that are en prise, or that become so by the uncovering of any square from which a piece has been removed during the capture, e.g. white queen at square 7, black at squares 10, 18, 19, 22 and 27, the queen captures at 10, 22, 27 and 19, and the piece at 22 being now removed, she must go to 15, take the man at 18, and stay at 22, 25 or 29. In consequence of the intricacy of some of these moves, it is customary to remove every captured piece as it is taken. If a man arrives at a crowning square when taking, and he can still continue to take, he must do so, and not stay on the crowning square as at draughts. Passing a crowning square in taking does not entitle him to be made a queen. In capturing, the player must choose the direction by which he can take the greatest number of men or queens, or he may be huffed. Numerical power is the criterion, e.g. three men must be taken in preference to two queens. If the numbers are equal and one force comprises more queens than the other, the player may take whichever lot he chooses. This form of draughts, played on a board of 144 squares with 30 men a side, is extensively practised by British soldiers in India.

The German Damenspiel is Polish draughts played on a board of the same size and with the same number of men as in the English game. It is sometimes called Minor Polish draughts, and is practised in Germany and Russia.

The Italian game differs from the English in two important particulars—a man may not take a king, and when a player has the option of capturing pieces in more than one way he must take in the manner which captures most pieces. There is a difference too in the placing of the board, the black square in the corner of the board being at the player’s right hand, but until a king is obtained the differences from the English system are unimportant in practice.

In Spanish draughts the board is set as for the Italian game. The men move as in English draughts, but, in capturing, the largest possible number of pieces must be taken, and the king has the same powers as in the Polish game. The game does not differ essentially from the English game until a king is obtained, and many games from Spanish works will be found incorporated in English books. Sometimes the game is played with 11 men and a king, or 10 men and 2 kings a side, instead of the regulation 12 men.

Turkish draughts differs widely from all other modern varieties of the game. It is played on a board of 64 squares, all of which are used in play. Each player has 16 pieces, which are not placed on the two back rows of squares, as in chess, but on the second and third back rows. The pieces do not move diagonally as in other forms of the game, but straight forward or to the right or left horizontally. The king has the same command of a horizontal or vertical row of squares that the queen in Polish draughts has over a diagonal. Capturing is compulsory, and the greatest possible number of pieces must be taken, captured pieces being removed one at a time as taken.

Authorities.—Falkener’s Games Ancient and Oriental; Lees’ Guide to the Game of Draughts; Drummond’s Scottish Draught Players (Kear’s reprint); Gould’s Memorable Matches and Book of Problems, &c. The Draughts World is the principal magazine devoted to the game. In Dunne’s Draught Players’ Guide and Companion a section is devoted to the non-English varieties.  (J. M. M. D.; R. J.)