Since I discussed chess last week, I figure it would be sensible to make the jump (pun intended) to Checkers, or Draughts as the British call it. While I’m sure I must have played checkers in my youth, and it’s a simpler game than chess, I can’t actually remember all the rules. It’s played on the same kind of board as chess, but only the black squares are used, and jumping over the other player’s checkers removes them from play. If a piece gets all the way across the board, it is crowned as a king, and gains the ability to move backwards as well as forwards. Incidentally, Ruth Plumly Thompson was very fond of the phrase “King, King, Double-King,” which she used a few times in the Oz books and as the title of a non-Oz story. I’m not entirely sure what it actually means, though, and Google isn’t of much help. As far as I can tell, a “double king” is just another name for a king, which is crowned by putting another checker on top of it, making a double piece.
The generally accepted ancestor of checkers is a game known as Qirkat, which is thought to have originated in the Middle East. The first mention of it is from the tenth century, but similar boards have been found in ancient Egyptian temples. It is played similarly to checkers, but the board is quite different. The Moors brought qirkat to Spain, where the name of the game with definite article attached (al-qirkat) became “Alquerque,” now the more common name.
The economical idea of playing the game on a chessboard seems to have originated in France around 1100, and crowning might have first come into play in the thirteenth century.
I also feel I should say a bit about Chinese Checkers, which actually has a quite misleading name. It’s not checkers, despite the fact that the pieces can jump over others. In fact, even this part isn’t that similar, as the jumped-over pieces are not removed from play. It also isn’t Chinese, although it’s apparently gained a certain level of popularity in China. It was actually derived from a game called Halma, invented in the late nineteenth century by a thoracic surgeon at Harvard Medical School.
A German variation was called Stern-Halma (“Star-Halma”) because of its star-shaped board, and it’s this game that was introduced in the United States in the twentieth century. The Pressman company, which manufactured and marketed the American version, wanted a more exotic name and called it “Hop Ching Checkers,” which later became just “Chinese Checkers.” I guess it’s the same sort of faux-Chinese posturing that brought us fortune cookies.