1500 jaar dammen  


 We play checkers or draughts* for 1500 years. At least…

 In these 1500 years groups did not only invent their own words but also their own draughts rules and tools.

Sultan Ratrout from Jordan made a survey of varieties that are played today.

As for example the board with hundred squares for what is called "International Draughts" today.




Internationaal dammen




When and where was this 10x10 squares board devised?


 Perhaps in The Netherlands, in the second half of the 16th century, let us say about 1575. But we don't know for sure. In the 16th century, Holland conducted a lot of trade with other countries. Perhaps a merchant from abroad brought the game to Holland when he visited Amsterdam by sailing vessel of by horse coach.


Draughts with 2x15 pieces


 Until about 1650 the Dutch played with 2x15 pieces. With this initial position:



The rules


 The rules were the same as today.

 With one exception: if you did not take, your opponent took the guilty piece and huffed it. At this 18th c. drawing you see how the huff was applied: White takes a black piece from the board, huffing it. The Huff has been introduced in the first half of the 15th century of earlier.

 In the 18th c., the French word for piece was dame. In French, to take a piece from the board and huff it was called Souffler la dame. This expression had a second sense: 'To run away with a married woman'. And this is what happens here: the player with the black pieces looses both a piece and his wife! For the coach is waiting.

 A funny practice, this huffing? In the past, draughts players had stranger customs...



  You see the effect of the huff rule below: combining is impossible!  




The two 10x10 diagrams are taken from a game played in the Dutch competition for teams 2014-2015. In the diagram left Johan Capelle (draughts club 020) just played 22. 49-43. His opponent was Anatoli Gantwarg (draughts club Van Stigt Thans). Black combined: (24-30, 13-19, 16x7, 7-11).

 See the diagram in the middle now. Three hundred years ago, White would have refused to take 16x7. Then Black would have taken piece 16, the guilty piece, would have huffed it, and is lost. According to our rules, it is White who is losing the game. For he is obliged to take 16x7, and is faded away by (20-24) 29x9 (18x49) 7x18 (49x4) B+.

 The 8x8 diagram is a composition by William Strickland (England, 1849-1887). White wins as follows: 1. 12-8 3x12 2. 14-9 5x14 3. 13-9 6x13 4. 15x6 2x9 5. 17x3 26x17 6. 21x5. The huff rule prevented a combination like this to be executed in a real game. For Black takes 3x12 and 5x14 but refuses the capture 6x13. His piece on square 6 is huffed, but he wins one piece. Strickland, who played 20 games simultaneously blind (1881) was one of Britain's strongest draughts players.


 It might be clear: the rule of the huff made combinations impossible. For this reason the rule was not applied in problems.

 In 10x10 games the rule was abolished about 1900, in English draughts much later. Only then draughts had been blossomed into a real combinational game!

 The huff did not only harm the game: a player could use the rule as a tactical weapon.



From 2x15 to 2x20 pieces


 About 1650, some Dutchmen started to play draughts with 2x20 pieces. Many of their colleagues could not stand this, and therefore they called the "new" game Pools draughts. In that time the Dutch word Pools, meaning Polish, was a term of abuse. So, Polish draughts meant something like 'to play stupid draughts'.





Polish draughts exported to France


 In 1668, the French draughts player Pierre Mallet wrote a draughts book. He knew the varieties played in for example Spain, Turkey and Italy, all three played at the 64 squares board. The rules were different. Draughts in his native country France looked like Italian draughts. He knew nothing about draughts in The Netherlands,

 Not long after the publication in his book, between 1670 and 1685, the French got acquaintend with Dutch draughts at 100 squares. At the painting left below, the grandsons of king Louis xiv played draughts in their grandfather's palace in Versailles.

 Right below an enlargement of the board: it counts 100 squares.





A French inquiry into the origin of International Draughts


 We know much more about the past than our ancestors, and these ancestors knew more than their forefathers, etcetera. About 1785, that is more than 200 years ago, the Frenchman Manoury made inquiries into the origin of draughts at 100 squares. Manoury, owner of a coffee house in Paris, wrote two draughts books.

 Below two drawings of the coffee house, one made about 1772 and the other in the early 19th century.



Information on the drawing

Jacques F.R. Treton de Vaujuas (Fr.) (1756-...) "Interior of café Manoury" [Musée Carnevalet, Paris]

It is supposed that Manoury is the man standing in the middle right, receiving a visitor

This visitor (with hat and walking stick) should be the famous draughts player Blonde (1741-1819)



Information on the drawing

Drawing entitled "Café Manoury". According to a source from 1852 the two players are Clérambault and Blonde.

(Frontispiece in "Deux cents nouveau problèmes récréatifs du jeu de dames à la polonaise" by Laurent Commard, 1823).


Results of the French 18th century inquiry

 In his second book (1787) Manoury gave an account of his inquiry into the origin of Polish Draughts. His conclusion: draughts at 100 squares originates from Paris about 1723.

 We with our knowledge know this cannot be true. In a great number of books and on a great number of sites on board games however the French fabrication is presented as historical truth. All these sources appeal to the English historian of board games Harold Murry, who took in a authoritive book (1952) Manoury's legend as reliable.





Lange dam en korte dam





Where does the king in International Draughts come from?


 The world counts dozens of different draughts varieties. At a chequered or unchequered board with a different number of squares or at a lined board with a different size. At the site www.alldraughts.com or www.fmjd.org you can play all kinds of draughts games.

 Some varieties are played with a short king, other ones with a long king. English draughts for example is played with a short king. The short king takes as the pieces in International Draughts.

 The world evolves from simple to complex. The human being for instance first counted with his fingers, then with an abacus and today with a computer. Because a game with a short king is less complicated than a game with a long king, we assume that games with a short king are the older ones.

 Draughts with a short king has been played for at least 1500 year, we think. And draughts with a long king? We don't know. To make matters easier, we assume the long king was invented about 1000 AD.

 In Russia, The Netherlands and Spain, among others, draughts is played with a long king. Probably Spain owes its long king to the Moors, who conquered Spain. The Moors never were Russia or in Holland. Where does the long king in Russia and Holland come from? No idea.

 Click here for more information about the long king.





Dammen op het kleine bord



  About 1575, the Dutch made the transfer from the chess board with its 64 squares ─draughts players call this the small board─ to the board with 100 squares. Draughts players call it the big board.



Draughts on the small board


 If the Dutchmen played draughts in the Middle Ages, for instance in the 14th century, they used a lined board. About this lined board later. First something about the small board.

 About 1350, not later, more likely sooner, draughts players in some European country made the transfer from that lined board onto the small board. We don't know in which country. The small board was used by chess players, and therefore it was not needed to develop a new kind of board.

 When the transfer was made, draughts was played with the free take, i.e. it was allowed to take but it was not obliged. As said before, in the first half of the 15th century or earlier the huff was introduced, a small step to the obligation to take.

 Draughts with the free take and with the obligation to take have been played together for many ages. In 1605 for instance an Englishman made a difference between draughts with free take and draughts with the huff. In his draughts book from 1668 the Frenchman Pierre Mallet grumbled at draughts with free taking, which was a childish game in his eyes.

 Was he right? It is not convincingly. For if draughts with the huff was so much captivating, why did it last then many ages before the variety with free taking disappeared?

 We don't know when the variety with the free capture became obsolete.

 We understand why this Pierre Mallet agitated against draughts with the free capture, when we know that he was an advocate of obliged taking, included the obligation to take the most. For then draughts gets a new dimension, it becomes a game that combines combination and strategy.

 In 1668, Mallet did not know the 100 squares board. But it did not last long ere it was introduced in France. In the second half of the 18th century, the rule of taking the most is applied in problems. We know this from two draughts books that were published in France in 1770 and 1787, and from a Dutch draughts book from 1785.


Draughts in Italy, France, England and Spain


 In the late Middle Ages, let us assume from the middle of the 14th century, draughts players in Italy, France and England used the small board with the short king. The Middle Ages are the time between 500 AD and 1500 AD. The game in Italy survives as Italian Draughts, in England as English Draughts. Italian Draughts and English Draughts are played with the same rules, with one exception. In France the medieval game disappeared, it has been superseded by Polish Draughts.

 In medieval Spain, draughts was played like in Italy, France and England. With one great difference: the king was long.

 English Draughts was exported to America, judging by the name* in the 17th century and without the huff.



Playing couple

About 1470, a French manuscript was published about the unhappy young Irish royal princess Isolde, who was given in marriage to the ancient

English king. Tristan, a handsome knight from her age, was ordered to bring her to England by boat.

You will understand what happened: the two fall in love. But the story is no Hollywood movie where the two lovers live happily ever after, their fate is tragic. The couple is playing at the chess board. But are they playing chess or draughts? You see chess pieces in a draughts position. You can easily

play draughts with the 2x16 chess pieces, for at the small board you need only 2x12 pieces. In sum we have to do with a draughts picture.











Dammen op het kleine bord





Checkered and unchequered boards


 You see three draughts boards with the pieces in the initial position.

 The first diagram is the medieval lined board. The pieces and kings follow the lines and move and take diagonally als well as orthogonally (rectangularly). The piece can move both forwards and sideways. And so the king.

 Imagine that a 14th century player decides to make the transfer from the lined board to the chess board. The chess board is chequered, .i.e. it counts dark and light squares. He put the 2x12 pieces spontaneously on the squares of one colour, in this case the light squares. Why? Because the diagonals forced him to make this choice. And in this way diagonal draughts came into being, as International Draughts.

 In Turkey and in the Middle East draughts players use the board top right for an orthogonal game: the pieces move and take forwards and sideways. And so does the king.

 Also orthogonal draughts came into being when draughts players made the transfer from the lined board to the board with 64 squares. But why did one country develop diagonal draughts and another orthogonal draughts?

 The evolution of the chess board explains this difference. The early chess board was unchequered, all squares had one colour. But chequerring the board decreased the number of mistakes, for instance by placing the bishop at the wrong diagonal.

 The development of the chess board is responsible for the birth of diagonal and orthogonal draughts. Here chess was played at the chequered board, there at the unchequered board. Where the board was chequered, draughts became a diagonal game. Where the board was unchequered, draughts became an orthogonal game.






Dammen op het lijnenbord




The lined board


 The illumination below is taken from a Spanish manuscript on board games written and illustrated in 1283 for king Alfonso of Castile and León. What you see is the draughts board from the past. The game was played with 2x12 pieces. At the drawing you see the initial position. Around the board highly places men from the royal court




Draughts on the lined board


 This is what the draughts board looked like before draughts players introduced the small board (the 8x8 chess board) in the late Middle Ages. This happened not later than the middle of the 14th century.

 Changing the rules was not necessary, so we may assume that draughts at the lined board and draughts at the chequered board were played with the same rules. Draughts at the lined board is more exiting however, for both players are easily going for kings.

 In Italy, France and England, and probably in some other European countries, where exactly we don't know, draughts at the lined board was played with the short king. Originally also in Spain. We can deduce this from the name for draughts at the lined board, which was identical in Italy, France, England and Spain.


The role of the Moors


 In Spain, however, players made the transfer to draughts with the long king. Before 1000 AD? After 1000 AD? We don't know. This long king seems a present of the Moors, who played draughts at the lined board with a long king. If the Moors invented the long king or borrowed it from another civilization is unknown.

 The Moors had a name of their own for draughts at the lined board: alquerque.

 In the literature about board games and at dozens of sites you can read that alquerque was played without promotion and with the obligation to take. This seems untenable, read futher.


What we know (almost) for sure


 We know the board for the most ancient way of playing draughts now, just like the number of pieces and the rules. It was played at a lined board with 2x12 pieces. The pieces were obliged to move in forward direction or sideways, and they took by jumping. Taking was free. The king was short.

 The first name we know was Latin. That name goes back to 600 AD. On account of this name was may assume that draughts about 600 AD was played in a region in the sphere of influence of the Roman culture. This we almost know for sure.

 Click here* for more information about the language.


Draughts before 600 AD


 The information about draughts before 600 AD is scarce. For the first traces we are dependent on archaeological finds of the lined board, i.e. the alquerque board carved into stone. Archaeologists date such a board between 0 and 500 AD. Therefore it is allowed to say: scientific research tells us that the first traces of draughts go back to the period 0-500 AD.





Fabrications about the origin of draughts




 In books and on the net you will find all kinds of impossible stories stories about the history of draughts


An impossible story: draughts is born in ancient times


 On internet all kinds of tall stories about the birth of draughts can be found.

 One site says: draughts is 5.000 years old, a second: draughts is 3.000 years old, and a third one: draughts has been played for thousands of years. None of these stories deals about the question how draughts has come into being. These are fabrications, stories without any research, and for this reason the level is very disappointing.

 Are there reliable sites? Yes, see http://www.mindsports.nl/index.php/on-the-evolution-of-draughts-variants/history, made by the Dutchmen Christian Freeling and Ed van Zon. But they are two boffins, who don't take the role of the language into account when discussing the rules of alquerque, so that they cannot decide whether alquerque is a game with promotion or not.





More fabricated stories:


Draughts originates from chess




Draughts originates from chess


 Also the level of three historical stories invented by chess historians is heavily disappointing. Their message is identical: draughts originated from chess.

 These proposals are the result of an anachronistic assumption, a notorious pitfall for historians. The vision on the cultural position of chess and draughts was developed between 1850 and 1915, a period when chess was a socially more valued game than draughts ─ just like in our days. This induced chess historians to the assumption that chess had always been an important board game and that draughts had always been a game in the background. And with this assumption they fell in a pitfall, a pitfall that they never left.

 For this reason the present history of chess shows us the shocking picture of a science disseminating a vision that was developed at least one century ago, a science in stagnation.




Story number 1: draughts was invented by accident


 The first story was made up in the second half of the 19th century by the Dutch-German chess historian Antonius van der Linde (1833-1897) [1874 II:394]. Draughts was invented by accident, he tells us. A chess player had put some chess queens on his board, and all of a sudden he invented draughts. Where and when is unknown.




< Antonius van der Linde














Story number 2: draughts has been invented for simple souls


 In the early 20th century, his American colleague (1831-1904) [1905:93-4] came up with a second story. Do you know why draughts was invented?, he asked his readers. There was a country inhabited by a lot of noddies. They were eager to play chess, but alas, chess is too difficult for noddies. Then a chess player invented draughts, so that these unhappy people could inhale the odour of chess. And see, the noddies could play this simplified chess. We call this simpliefied chess draughts.

 The man could not tell his readers in which country all these simple people lived, and when draughts has been invented. As an American he knew America best of all countries; we may assume this country full of noddies he had in mind was America.


< Willard Fiske




 David Parlett

Govert Westerveld

Story number 3: draughts = alquerque + chess


 The first two stories are forgotten. One story remained: "Draughts came into being when it occurred to someone to give the pieces in alquerque the right to promote to chess queen. Draughts is a junction of alquerque and chess". This claim was defended by nine investigators: the Russians M.K. Gonjajew (1886) and D.I. Sargin (1890), the English W.S. Branch (1911-1912), Harold J.R. Murray 1916, 1952), Robert C. Bell (1969) and David Parlett (1999), the Dutchmen Wendel Kruijswijk (1966) and Gerhard Bakker (1992), and the Spanish Dutchman Govert Westerveld (1997-20...).

 Harold Murray introduced the language as an argument, asking attention for the vocabulary of chess and draughts players, which is partially equal. "Look to French, where the queen in chess and the king in draughts are both called dame. And there are many more examples. Originaally they are all chess words, borrowed by draughts players. This proves how heavily chess influenced upon draughts". And in this way Murray gave his hypothesis a scientific touch.

 What Murray did was explicating the origin of some words. However, the origin of a word is not so easy to account for, it demands a thorough and sometimes long-term inquiry into the language in a specific time. It is a subdivision of historical linguistics that is called Etymology, a scientific field with roots in the 19th century.

 But Murray did not know this field, as little as the eight other investigators. For this reason this third story is built on quicksand. The claim that chess influenced upon draughts is not more than a gratuitous assumption.

















         Harold Murray
















          Wendel Kruijswijk

































The necessary inquiries were made by the author of this site since 1975. He has given an answer on several questions.

• Is ir right that the medieval draughts piece* was named after the chess queen? The answer: no, it is not right.

• Is ir right that the 16th century draughts piece* was named after the chess queen? The answer: no, it is not right.

• Is it right that the present draugths piece* was named after the chess pawn? The answer: no, it is not right.

• Is it right that the chess queen was named by a famous female person*? The answer: no, it is not right.

• Is it right that was named after the name of the chess queen? The answer is: no, it is not right





Influence from Draughts on Chess




1. Influence from Draughts on Chess in France in the 1740's


Murray may have underestimated the difficulties of linguistic research, he was a serious investigator, who dug up an impressive quantity of unknown source material for the history of board games. Therefore it is remarkable that he missed what the French chess champion Philidor said about the chess players of his time: they were strongly influenced by draughts players. But let us first see who Philidor was.

 François-André Danican Philidor (1726-1795), son of a bandmaster performing at the Royal Chapel at the court of king Louis XIV, studied law, but developed into a musician. When he was only eleven years old, he composed a motet. Paris lay at his feet because of his operas and admired him for his blindfold chess. In his days a player was really blindfolded, see the picture. In 1744, his blindfolded simultaneous display of two games was enthusiastically received [Keessen & Stoep 1982:37], but long before him Italians played three games [Keessen & Stoep 1982:72]. Only in Londen 1783, Philidor played three simultaneous blindfold games, what can only be performed by an outstanding player. From about 1747 until his death, a period of half a century, says Harry Golombek [1976:118], Philidor was Europe's strongest chess player.




 In 18th century France a prosperous and civilized man did not only play chess, he played draughts too. Without draughts he would not have survived when he stranded in Holland, in 1745. He escorted a harpsichordist. But the young man died, leaving Philidor without means of support. Philidor saved himself by playing draughts for a stake in coffee houses of Amsterdam and Rotterdam [Keessen & Stoep 1982:37]. Why did not he play chess? Because chess was an unknown game in Holland. Without his draughts skills world's best chess player would have starved to death on a shabby Dutch attic, it is really ironic.

 That Philidor was a keen draughts players is also affirmed by the fragments from games and the compositions recorded by contemporaries in Manoury's coffee house.













Philidor played 1...41-47? His opponent caught his king:  2. 17-11 47x16 3. 40-34 16x30 4. 25x13.


Black's last move 1...19-24? lead to a lost: 2. 36-31 24x42 3. 44-39 48x34 4. 28-23 34x36 5. 8-3 36x9 6. 3x3.


White wins: 1. 28-23 19x37 2. 42x22 25x23 3. 39-34 17x28 4. 38-32 28x37 5. 34-29 23x34 6. 24-20 15x24 7. 44-40 35x44 8. 50x6+

White wins: 1. 29-24 30x28 2. 21-17 12x21 3. 26x17 8x48 4. 20-14 6x17 5. 39-33 48x9 6. 33x4+.




 Considering the time, these combinations are on a good level. Nevertheless Philidor cannot have been a first-rate draughts player, for he failed playing a blindfold draughts game ˗ although there might be reasons for the supposition that blindfold draughts is more difficult than blindfold chess, see Keessen & Stoep 1982:92-93.

 Philidor was an innovator, renewing chess. He broke the common strategy to attack with the main pieces with disregard of the pawn, on the contrary emphasizing the strategic value of the pawn, using pawns to control the centre of the board. These pawns were a serried line, a chain, they should support each other. The player has them march as a closed group, covered in the back by the bishops in particular. An isolated and an undeveloped pawn become weak. His often quoted one-liner: "Pawns are the soul of chess".

 Philidor was a man was many gifts. One of them was his ability to unfold his ideas in a clear way in a book [Silbermann & Unzicker 1977 I:51-53; Golombek 1976:120-121; Eales 1985:115]. When this was published, in 1749, he was only 23 years old.



 In this book, he complained about the influence from draughts on chess. “Many a gentleman, even chess masters, are confusing chess with draughts, both in France and in Germany: they don’t do any effort to catch the enemy king in a mating web but try to have their pawns promoted to win by brute force”, he grumbled [Stoep 2007:100-101]. As a child of his time, Philidor was not able to resist the spirit of his age, the 1740’s. In 1785, the Amsterdam draughts player Ephraim van Emden published a model game. The pieces are a serried line, a chain, marching as a closed group, supporting each other, for an isolated or undeveloped piece can become weak [Stoep 2007:99].

 What Philidor did was transferring this strategy to chess. Antonius van der Linde [1874 II:400]: "Das Damespiel drang geistig mit Philidor selbst in's Schachspiel ein": by Philidor, draughts penetrated into the soul of chess. For a human being is unable to extricate from himself, is cannot shirk out of the ides of his time, a Philidor neither.

 As said, it is remarkable that Murray advocated the influence from chess on draughts but maintained silence about Philidor's complaints about the influence from draughts on chess. And what tells a tale, maintained silence about van der Linde's words, like all his colleagues. Is that science?




 2. Influence from Draughts on Chess in late medieval Spain


 The name of the new chess queen that was introduced in the late Middle Ages, was not the result of long considerations but the result of a spontaneous every day word creation. Such a spontaneous creation can impossibly go hand in hand with the creation of a new queen as the result of long-lasting experiments. For this reason we we have to face the possibility that this new chess queen too is a spontaneous product. And then we might think of the example of the long king in Spanish draughts.

 A self-evident condition is, that in Spain in that time draughts was a well-known game. Chess historians, however, always took it for granted that chess has always been a popular board game and draughts a minor game, so that they excluded any influence from draughts on chess. But the research made by the author of this site revealed the opposite: chess has for ages been a seldom played game whereas draughts was a major game. See for the (linguistic) proofs the continuation.





The popularity of Draughts




 1. Medieval France


 The current French name for draughts is (jeu de) dames*, a word from the 14th century. The game name dames replaced the older game name (jeu de) merelles.

 Merelles* meant draughts, morris and hopscotch. However, the linguists who gathered the French lexis missed the sense draughts, an omission that had great consequences for our view on the social status of draughts and morris in the Middle Ages.

 The fact is that the game name merelles had a companion: the piece name merel. We may assume that this name merel meant piece for draughts, piece for morris and piece for hopscotch.

 Between the 11th and 15th century, the word merel was quite often used by writers of literature. But seldom in its literal sense. The word was used metaphorical, i.e. in expressions. These expressions were built on the move of a piece in a board game. A piece had to be moved well-considered, if not it went wrong.

 And something else went wrong. As said, the linguists who described the game name merelles missed the meaning draughts, and they consequently interpreted the merel*expressions as references to morris. And historians of board games adopted their conclusions.

 "Between the 11th and the 15th century morris enjoyed a great popularity", these historians concluded. However, this conclusion is wrong. A linguistic analyses of the word merel* tells us that the expressions referred to draughts. And this leads us to this conclusion:

 Between the 11th century (or earlier) and the 15th century, draughts has been a game that was very popular in all strata of the French society.


 The medieval French culture influenced upon the cultures of surrounding countries. This allows us the supposition that in the Middle Ages draughts has been very popular in Italy, Spain, England, Germany and The Netherlands also. But only English material sustains this, see further. Owing to a lack of information th supposition is unjustified for the other mentioned countries, how reasonable it may be.