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Draughts History

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Draughts or checkers as it is known in the USA is a very familiar game to most people so it may be surprising to learn that the game of draughts (from which giant draughts originates) has it’s origins in antiquity and has been played by people since at least 1400 BC.


Draughts was invented at some time around 1000 AD in the South of France. However the game of draughts dates back to long before the Middle Ages and has an interesting and chequered (!) history.


The rules of draughts were based on the earlier game of Alquerque, an Arabic game called Quirkat, which was bought to Spain by the Moors at sometime between 711 and 1492 during the Moorish invasions. This form of draughts dates back as far as the fourteenth century BC at least and was played in Ancient Egypt, before spreading across the Arabic world over the course of the years (along with chess and backgammon) . An alquerque board was found carved into the roofing slabs of the temple of Kurna Thebes on the western side of the Nile which was built between 1366 – 1333 BC. This was similar to the giant draughts versions we see now.


This game was played to the same rules as draughts with the only difference being the board which was laid out as a series of triangles with holes for pegs - more like a solitaire board than a chess or giant draughts board. The rules of alquerque have been documented in a tenth century Arabic work the Kitb Al Aghni and also are mentioned in the Book of Games written between 1251 and 1282 AD during the reign of King Alfonzo of Castile.


The game of draughts, as we know it, first made an appearance in Europe at some time around 1000 AD in the South of France. This Mediaeval draughts game, called Fierges was played on a chess board but the rules of this early game were basically the rules of Alquerque and would have been recognised by a draughts player of today. This heralded the age of the more compact version of draughts and the giant draughts that we can see is more consistent to the size of Alquerque.


Each player had 12 draughts pieces which were known as “fers” or “fierges” La Fierge was the name given to the queen in medieval chess so the name of this early draughts game translates as Queens. The fers had the chess queens’ power of movement, namely one square diagonally in any direction. Of course this is irrespective of the size of the board, and is both relevant in conventional sized draughts and giant draughts


In the game of Fierges, as in Draughts, all pieces were allowed to jump over an enemy piece onto an adjacent square landing on a vacant square immediately beyond.

If the capturing piece could make more than one short leap in the same turn of play multiple captures were permitted. At some time the game of draughts was modified and kings were added to give Draughts an extra dimension.. The chronicle of Philippe Mouskat (1243AD) refers to a “King of Fierges”, indicating that by the 13th century a fers could be promoted to a king.


Over the course of the years the queen piece in chess became known as a dame (lady) and so the game of draughts became known as Le Jeu de Dames or the Game of Ladies. Draughts, both the standard 8 x 8 version and giant draughts is still actually called Jeu de Dames in France today.


In this early version of draughts, there was no compulsion to capture a piece at risk, another similarity to chess, so the player could refuse to capture enemy pieces for tactical reasons.


However in about 1535 AD a compulsory capture of an enemy piece was introduced to draughts and an attacking piece that missed this opportunity paid the penalty by being “ huffed” and removed from the board. This is a distinctive feature of the modern game of draughts although “huffing” was actually a feature of alquerque which for some reason had been largely ignored in the development of early draughts.


This new game was called Jeu Force (strong game) to distinguish it from the older version without the compulsory capture rule, which then became known as Jeu Plaisant de Dames (literally, nice game of ladies!)


English draughts and American checkers is based upon the 16th century Jeu Force game, however some European countries continued to play draughts based upon the Jeu Plaisant game.


This difference in the rules of draughts led to what is now called International or Polish Checkers which is played slightly differently to traditional draughts or checkers .International checkers is also played on a 10 x 10 board instead of the traditional 8 x 8 board (the giant draught version is substantially bigger!). However despite the popularity of International checkers, most Western European countries play the familiar game of draughts with the 8 x 8 board (not giant draughts) that we are all familiar with.


It is unknown exactly when draughts first became popular in Britain but the first book about draughts to be written in English was by William Payne in 1756 who wrote which was the first of many books to be written about Draughts in the 18th century. Since then Draughts – in both 8x8 and giant draughts version has continued to remain a popular game that can be played and enjoyed at many levels by just about everyone.