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The Alquerque Family

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Draughts is a very ancient game indeed, the origins of which, like Chess, aren't completely clear. However, early forms of Alquerque, its venerable ancestor, have been found in Egypt dating at least as early as 600BC. Alquerque boards can be seen carved into the stone slabs which form the roof of the great temple at Kurna, Egypt, which was built in 1400BC (of course, they might have been carved at any point since). The game of Alquerque was played like Draughts on a 5 x 5 point board with the pieces starting in a non-symmetrical pattern. The game clearly had staying power - it is mentioned under the name of Quirkat in the Arabic work Kitab-al Aghani, the author of which died in 976 AD. Quirkat was first brought to Europe by the Moors during their invasion of Spain. It was recorded as Alquerque (Spanish form of El-Quirkat) in the Alfonso X Manuscript which was written between 1251 - 1282 at the command of Alfonso X, King of Leon and Castile.

The image shows a modern commercial version of the game owned by the author.
The Madagascan game of Fanorona is a descendant of Alquerque. It seems to have been invented around 1680 AD and is still played today.
Board shown is a modern German version from the author's collection.

Sometime later, around 1100, possibly in the South of France, somebody decided to play Alquerque on a Chess board instead of the standard Alquerque board. The game was played with 12 pieces on each side and was called Fierges or Ferses at first although this changed to Dames later. The game did not force a player to take enemy pieces when the opportunity presented itself.

The compulsory rule forcing a player to take whenever possible was introduced in France around 1535, the resulting new game being called Jeu Force. At this point the old game without huffing became known as Le Jeu Plaisant De Dames or Plaisant for short. The first book written on the game was published in Valencia, Spain in 1547 and now resides in the Royal Library of Madrid. Jeu Force is the game played in England today under the name of Draughts and the game was taken to America and called Checkers. The first book in English about it was written in 1756 by William Payne, a mathematician from London.
The board to the left was made around the turn of the century. It is of a common design being able to fold in half to form a box containing the the pieces, when the board is stored. An English Draughts board is on the outside and a Backgammon board is marqueted within. From the author's parent's collection.

Draughts is known by different names around the world:

USA - Checkers
Spain and Italy - Dama
France - Le Jeu de Dames
Poland - Warcaby
Germany - das Damenspiel

Most of the rest of Western Europe took to playing a different development of Le Jeu Plaisant De Dames which appeared in Paris in 1727 and which is now the internationally recognised game of Polish Draughts or Continental Draughts. This game is superior in complexity to English draughts by virtue of the fact that it is played on a board ten squares by ten squares and that capturing moves have an extended scope.  It isn't believed to have been invented in Poland at all and they apparently know it as 'French Draughts' there!  Polish Draughts was probably the name given in order to make it sound slightly different to West European ears in the same way as for Chinese Checkers and Russian Billiards.

Left: The Mongolian team International Draughts practicing while they wait at the 4th Mind Sports Olympiad at Alexandra Palace, London, August, 2000.


 

Some areas of South East Asia go one better and play on a board of twelve by twelve squares and 24 pieces each side.  The Canadian Draughts variant is also played upon a board this size.

SriLankanDraughts.jpg (72712 bytes)

Above is a typical Sri Lankan board with the requisite 144 squares

DraughtsAnurad.jpg (110347 bytes)

And here are a couple of Sri Lankans playing on a home made board in Anuradhapura.  They have found some light and dark stones to use as pieces.

 

Where to buy

Masters Traditional Games sell a Giant Draughts set for the garden and/or public entertainment as well as quality 8 x 8 and 10 x 10 draughts sets.

 

Rules

Free rules for some variants of the game can be found at Masters Traditional Games.

 

Links

Jeu de dames - FFJD - Fédération Française A French website on the main draughts game of today.

European Draughts Federation

In Holland, they play a game called Frisian Draughts in which they capture both orthogonally and diagnonally.  Dambond Fres Spiel is in Dutch.

Graham Kendall has written a page of research material on Checkers.

 

 

 

 

Email to jm at tradgames.org.uk

Copyright © 1997 - now by James Masters.