Learn How to Play Checkers

There's more to checkers than meets the eye

a set up checker board

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Checkers is actually the American version of an internationally popular game called Draughts (pronounced "drafts") which has a number of different variants. The game is incredibly old and has a fascinating history. It has also been the focus of several inventive computer programmers interested in artificial intelligence. Fortunately, learning how to play checkers doesn't require an understanding of AI, just a sharp mind and a willingness to learn.

How to Play Standard American Checkers

While rules vary from country to country, these rules apply to American Checkers, a game that is played at every level by both children and adults.

The Spruce / Catherine Song 

Game Basics

Checkers is played by two players. Each player begins the game with 12 colored discs. (Typically, one set of pieces is black and the other red.) Each player places his or her pieces on the 12 dark squares closest to him or her. Black moves first. Players then alternate moves.

The board consists of 64 squares, alternating between 32 dark and 32 light squares. It is positioned so that each player has a light square on the right side corner closest to him or her.

A player wins the game when the opponent cannot make a move. In most cases, this is because all of the opponent's pieces have been captured, but it could also be because all of his pieces are blocked in.

Rules of the Game

  • Move Only on Dark Squares

    Moves are allowed only on the dark squares, so pieces always move diagonally. Single pieces are always limited to forward moves (toward the opponent).

    person moving a white checker
    ​The Spruce / Margot Cavin
  • Move Only One Square at a Time

    A piece making a non-capturing move (not involving a jump) may move only one square.

    person moving a brown checker piece
    ​The Spruce / Margot Cavin
  • Capture Pieces With Jumps

    A piece making a capturing move (a jump) leaps over one of the opponent's pieces, landing in a straight diagonal line on the other side. Only one piece may be captured in a single jump; however, multiple jumps are allowed during a single turn.

    a person jumping another checker piece
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin
  • Remove Captured Pieces

    When a piece is captured, it is removed from the board.

    person removing a captured piece from the board
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin 
  • Jumps (or Captures) Must Be Made

    If a player is able to make a capture, there is no option; the jump must be made. If more than one capture is available, the player is free to choose whichever he or she prefers.

    person making a capture move
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin
  • How Pieces Become Kings

    When a piece reaches the furthest row from the player who controls that piece, it is crowned and becomes a king. One of the pieces which had been captured is placed on top of the king so that it is twice as high as a single piece.

    a doubled checker piece
    ​The Spruce / Margot Cavin
  • How Kings Move

    Kings are limited to moving diagonally but may move both forward and backward. (Remember that single pieces, i.e. non-kings, are always limited to forward moves.)

    a kinged checker piece
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin
  • Moving Kings vs. Single Pieces

    Kings may combine jumps in several directions, forward and backward, on the same turn. Single pieces may shift direction diagonally during a multiple capture turn, but must always jump forward (toward the opponent).

    a king checker piece jumping another checker piece
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

The History of Checkers

The first Checkers-like playing board was discovered by archaeologists in a dig in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) in the city of Ur. Carbon dating showed the board to be from about 3000 BCE, or more than 5000 years old.

While the rules of Mesopotamian Checkers are unknown, historians do know the rules of an ancient Egyptian Checkers game called Alquerque. This game may have originated about 1400 BCE, and was popular until the Middle Ages.

In 1100 CE, a new version of Checkers, Fierges, was invented by a Frenchman. This version, played on a chess board, was generally played by women (much as Mah Jong is played today).

Around 1500, the first books were written about the game which was now called Draughts. In 1847, the first Draughts and Checkers championships were played with formal awards given. Changes were made to the rules because advanced players gained an advantage by playing first. More tweaks to the rules helped make the game more consistent across locations and playing situations.

Computers, AI, and Checkers

Like chess, checkers has always been interesting to computer programmers because it is a game of mathematical possibilities. The very first computer program built to play Checkers was created in 1952 by programmer Arthur L. Samuel. Since then, many more advanced and complex Checkers programs have been developed; some have defeated even very advanced players.

1952 was a landmark year in the colorful history of checkers as Arthur L. Samuel created the first Checkers program that was used by a computer. Gradually, these game programs were improved as computer speed and capacities increased. Today, computer programs rely more on database information that shows every possible move combinations when 10 pieces remain on the board and less on strategies. Checkers has entered practically every home through the Internet and has played to a draw and sometimes, even defeated the best players. Checkers continues to be as popular as ever and people all over the world play different versions of the game to entertain themselves, strengthen their powers of logic or simply enjoy quality time playing a good game at home with the family.