The origins of draughts - from ancient to modern times

Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, Leo Tolstoy, Fryderyk Chopin, and Napoleon Bonaparte are just some great figures who devoted their free time to playing draughts or checkers. Where does this unique game come from?

The origins of draughts - from ancient to modern times

The history of draughts goes back not hundreds but thousands of years! Find out how one of the oldest board games in the world was created and why it still captivates even the most outstanding minds today.

"Checkers" and "Draughts" are two names that represent a group of strategic board games. They have one rule in common: the player captures the opponent's pieces by "jumping over" them. "Checkers" is an American name, and "Draughts" comes from Great Britain and is used in many English-speaking countries.

Checkers has a fascinating and rich history, the origins of which can be traced back to…


Ancient Egypt. This is where it all (probably) began

Until today, researchers do not fully agree as to the specific date and place where draughts originated. We may never solve this riddle! Although their actual age is uncertain, we can assume that checkers are as old as civilization. Sounds impressive, doesn't it?

Ancient Egypt was the cradle of board games; we can consider them the basis for modern checkers. Let's use our imagination and go back to at least 2700 B.C. to the Old Kingdom and the Age of the Pyramid Builder.

Thanks to archaeological excavations, we know that a board game called Senet was played back then.

The Egyptians believed that it was created by Thoth - the god of wisdom and the creator of writing (hieroglyphs).

Checkers stones were also found at that time. Currently, the British Museum in London displays ancient Egyptian checkers boards found in burial chambers by archaeologists.

Other theories about the origin of draughts

  • Before the already mentioned excavations were discovered, people had believed that checkers originated in the Alquerque game, which entertained Egyptians around 1400 B.C. The rules of the Alquerque game (played on a 5x5 board) are very similar to the checkers rules known today. The game was also mentioned under the name El - Quirkat in the Arabic book of songs, Kitab al-Aghani, around 950 AD.

  • We can also find information about the origin of checkers in Greek mythology. During the siege of Troy, Palamedes invented the game Patteia, which the Romans turned into the game of brigands - Latrunculi. Many researchers associate the ancient Roman game of Latruncula with modern draughts.

  • There is also archaeological evidence that before 1400 B.C., a game similar to today's checkers was played in the ancient city-state of Ur (Iraqi territory). The board found there resembles a present-day checkerboard. 

We cannot say unequivocally whether only one of these sources or the opposite, all of them contributed to the creation of modern draughts. However, we know one thing for sure: this board game has an incredibly long history!

The Middle Ages: checkers entered European salons

Before modern checkers evolved from ancient stories, many improvements and changes had been made to this game. The entire process of transforming the draughts to the version we know today took a long time.

The fact is that before checkers took the name "checkers", the Egyptian version of the game had gained enormous popularity. We know that plenty of people played it, and this form of entertainment was commonly cherished, which is why it remained unchanged for thousands of years.

Not until 1100, after the long heyday of the Egyptian game Alquerque, did a man of French origin decide that it was worth adapting it to play on a chessboard. In addition, he reached a decision to increase the number of pieces in the game from 5 to 12! These were the game's first and most significant changes in hundreds of years. The modified version of Alquerque was named Ferses

Checkers in the works of classic writers

Plato, Homer, and Boccaccio - all have one thing in common: they mentioned the game of checkers in their works!

Some went to sleep, some played cards, and others still played checkers. Dijon sat down to checkers

- wrote Giovanni Boccaccio in the Decameron dated 1350-1353. The game of checkers was also mentioned by the popular Spanish writer Antonio de Torquemada (in the mid-16th century).

The first checkers books we know of were written and published in the territory that belongs to Spain today. Although no copy has survived, we know from indirect sources that the first written publication about checkers was brought out in Spanish in 1547 by Antonio de Torquemada.

The oldest preserved work about checkers dates back to 1591 and is kept in the National Library in Madrid. It was created by Pedro Ruiz Montero, called "El Andaluz" - Andalusian.

The first official rules of draughts

As we already know, around the middle of the 16th century, people had access to books on draughts, and information about this game was broadly shared.

However, it was not until the 1750s that the English mathematician, William Payne, defined the official rules of the game of draughts, which he published in the book "An Introduction to the Game of Draughts" in 1756.

Since then, the game has been known in the United States as Checkers and in the United Kingdom as Draughts.

The official rules of the game and its nomenclature made the draughts famous and renowned. Soon after, in 1840, the first World Championship in English Draughts took place! Along with the professionalization of the games, more attention has been paid to tactics and strategy.

More than one kind of checkers

Today, there is more than one type of checkers game worldwide. There are, among others, Brazilian Checkers (Brazilian Draughts), American Checkers (straight checkers), American Pool Checkers, Russian (Russian Shashki), and Canadian (144-square checkers).

Undoubtedly, the 100-square checkers (International Draughts) are the most popular type of this board game. Their unique history is worth highlighting!

History of International Draughts

There are assumptions that checkers on a 10x10 board were played in the Netherlands as early as the 14th-15th centuries. The Dutch linguist Arie van der Stoep proves in his publications that the 100-square checkerboard was widely known in the 17th century. Still, there was a certain difference: each player had only 15 stones (pawns) to start.

At the beginning of the 18th century, checkers began to be commonly played in France, placing pieces on the first four rows on each side.

Draughts Board

The French called this game
"le jeu de dames à la polonaise", which can be loosely translated as "checkers based on the Polish model". Where did such a name come from, since today we call them more often international or simply 100-square?

One of the legends says that the creator of this type of checkers was a Polish officer and nobleman, Franciszek Żubr. The acclaimed mathematician, Charles Marie de La Condamine, wrote about this event, claiming that Polish checkers, invented by a foreigner, "Pole", were played in 1723 in a Parisian cafe.

However, researchers propose a different etymology for the term "Polish checkers". The word "Polish" ("poolse" in Dutch) was then synonym with something strange or funny. Since the Dutch played checkers with 15 stones so far, the game with 20 stones was… strange for them.

  • Creating this variation of the game of checkers is confirmed by the first written publication, "Coups de parties de Dames de la Polonaise", by Laclef, published in 1740 in France.
  • Since then, more works on the subject have appeared, including "Traite du Jeu de Dames" by the famous French chess player Andre D. Philidor and "Essai sur le jeu de Dames" by French C. Manoury in 1770.
  • Interestingly, in the second edition of his book in 1787, C. Manoury proposed a way of writing down notation and positions in Polish draughts that is still valid today.


Important dates in the history of contemporary draughts

  • The first World Championship in International Draughts (100-square) took place in 1885 - Dr. A. Dussaut from France won the world champion title.

  • Until World War II, the competition for the ‘’crown’’ was fought between the Dutch and the French.

  • 1947 - the establishment of FMJD (Fédération Mondiale du Jeu de Dames, World Draughts Federation). It was founded in 1947 by four Federations: France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland.

  • Since 1948, the World Draughts Federation has organized the championships every two years (the FMJD mentioned above).

  • The women's world championship started much later, in 1973 - the first world champion was Elena Michałowskaya, from Russia.

Other official World Checkers Championships under the auspices of FMJD began in 1985 - Brazilian, in 1993 - Russian, and in 2014 - Turkish. Constantly, the most modern history of checkers is taking place in front of our eyes - champions and enthusiasts are creating it!



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