Nearly everyone knows how to play checkers. A favorite gift to children is a checker set, and it takes little time for a child to catch on to the game. However, though this leads to the impression that it is not a profound activity, the impression is incorrect. To become a master at the game requires the ability to think seriously and an analytical mind.
In the Middle Ages, checkers was deprecated as “chess for ladies,” and this estimate persists in the name of the game in many modern languages-French, jeu des dames; German, damenspiel; Italian, giuoco della dama, etc. The English name “draughts” is probably a reference to the pieces. The American name, checkers, refers to the use of a checkered board.
As with chess, the origin of checkers has been traced to remotest antiquity on evidence that proves nothing but that some board game was then played, advises Geoffrey Mott-Smith, an authority on games. Boards and pieces found in the tombs of the Pharaohs have been ascribed by various writers to chess, checkers, pachisi, mill, etc., and might with equal persuasion be cited to show an ancient origin for Camelot, a proprietary game launched about 25 years ago.
The fact appears to be that many of these board games developed from a primitive game, and that this ancestor also has survived almost unchanged as modern pachisi (parcheesi). Historians place the earliest clear evidence of chess in the 7th Century A. D. the first unmistakable account of checkers is in a Spanish book of 1547 A.D., by Antonio Torquemada. From this book we can conjecture that the game was played some centuries earlier.
The first serious attempt to analyze the strategy of checkers was made by a French mathematician, Pierre Mallet, in a book published in 1668. In 1800, the publication by Joshua Sturges of his Guide to the Game of Draughts launched an unparalleled period of activity by British players and theorists, who discovered and formulated all the basic principles of play.
Other leading writers on checkers were William Payne (1756), J. Drummond (1838) and Andrew Anderson (1844). Also James Lees, Joseph Gould, H.D. Lyman, R.E. Bowen, F.W. Drinkwater, Franke Dunne, Dr. T.J. Brown, J.D. Janvier and F. Tescheleit. Among important contributors to the problem collections of Lyman and Gould were Fred Allen, David Gourlay, W. Leggett, J. Robertson, J. Smith and G. Whitney.
Contemporary writers include Newell W. Banks, Willie Ryan, Tom Wiswell, Ben Boland, Millard Hopper, E.A. Smith, Leonard Hall, Ken Grover and Art Reisman.
Their books are read and studied by thousands all over the world. Championship Chess and Checkers, by Larry Evans and Wiswell. Nearly 1,000 books have been published on checkers in the last 200 years or more.
Today the game is well organized and Wiswell, Walter Hellman, Marion Tinsley, Banks and other masters are constantly on tour or writing books on this old and fascinating hobby.