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Guide to Playing Checkers

Before the 21st century, parlor games were primarily home-based competitions. Games like checkers provided families and friends with something fun to pass the time.

These days, you can play checkers online. The internet gives you the opportunity to play against a computer or other people you’ve never even met. This is especially helpful if you can’t find someone to play you in person.

But, before you can do any of that, you need to know how to play checkers.

That’s what we going to show you in our game guide below. We explain the objective, how to start a game, checkers rules, some strategy and variants, and much more.

Introduction to Checkers

Instructions for checkers aren’t overly complicated. Let’s start with the basics.

We’re using the name checkers, but you might also refer to it as draughts. Checkers is the Americanized version, while draughts is the English version.

The idea for both games is the same. You can view them as a battlefield game.

  • The battle site = the board
  • The “men” = single checkers
  • The “kings” = double-stacked checkers
  • Home row = the row closest to you
  • King’s row = the row closest to your opponent

The objective of checkers is to dominate the battlefield. You want to capture all your opponent’s pieces so you’re the last one standing.

Let’s say you’re playing with black checkers, and you’re battling the red side. The war is won when you’ve captured all the red soldiers, and nothing but your black checkers remain in play.

Setting Up the Checkerboard

A basic game of checkers plays on an 8 x 8 board with alternating color squares. Red and black are perhaps the most common in the United States, but black and white boards are also easy to find.

Regardless of the specific colors, the checkers are placed on the darkest squares (typically black). The opposite color is always on the bottom right as you face the board.

So, if you have red and black squares, red is in the bottom right corner for each opponent. Then 12 checkers are positioned on the black spots. The setup will cover three rows, with four “men” on each row.

You will know you set your checkerboard up correctly when both you and your opponent have an empty light-colored square in the bottom right corner.

How to setup a checkerboard.

How to Play Checkers

With your board setup, you now need to determine who will go first. This is simple to do.

  • Flip a coin to decide who will play the black (or darkest) checkers.
  • The player with the black (or darkest color) checkers goes first.

Now you know how to start a game of checkers.

Moving Your Checkers Pieces

You and your opponent will take turns moving your checkers pieces. The black checkers goes first, then red, and so on and so forth.

All checkers must move diagonally, from one dark square to the next. The space you move to must be free. You can’t land on or share a space with another checkers piece.

Your “men” – or single layer checkers pieces – can only move in one direction, which is towards king’s row. This is the row closest to your opponent, and where you go to be kinged.

Once kinged, you can move in either direction – towards your opponent or back to you – so long as you follow the other checkers game rules about only moving diagonally and to empty spaces.

Along the way, you’ll want to capture your opponent’s pieces whenever the opportunity presents itself.

How to move your pieces in checkers.

Capturing Your Opponents in Checkers

Capturing your opponents is simple. All you must do is jump over them (diagonally).

However simple, the move isn’t always easy.  There are a few considerations you need to keep in mind before you can capture an opponent.

  • The “men” or single checkers are limited to forward movement. You’re sending them on a mission to reach king’s row.
  • Kings can advance forward or backward if they’re moving diagonally.
  • To capture an opponent, the diagonal space on the opposite side must be open. You can’t jump over an enemy checker and land on another one.

Once you jump over an opponent, you take their piece off the board.

Now, if you have enough space, you can perform more than one jump. You can perform a double, triple, quadruple, etc. jump if the conditions above are met.

The more jumps you can make, the more pieces you can take off the board in one turn. But multiple jumps are tough to make with your men since they can only go in one direction.

Multiple jumps are easier to accomplish when you have kings.

Jumping moves you can make in checkers.

Creating a King in Checkers

Kings are important in checkers because you can move them forwards and back. This helps you to capture more of your opponent’s men, as well as to avoid your own capture.

To convert your men to kings, you need to successfully reach king’s row on the opposite side of the board.

Once you’re there, you’ll declare “crown me” or “king me.” Then your competitor will place one of your previously captured checkers pieces on top of your new royal game piece.

This double stack is how you distinguish the men from kings in checkers.

Men vs. kings in checkers.

But what do you do if you make it to king’s row and your opponent hasn’t captured any of your men along the way? You can use poker chips or coins as replacements.

That’s all there is to a basic game of checkers.

Recap of the Basic Rules for How to Play Checkers

  • The objective of checkers is to clear the board of your opponent’s pieces.
  • All checkers pieces must move diagonally.
  • Single stack checkers or “men” can only move forward.
  • Double stacked checkers or “kings” can move backward or forward.
  • Checkers that reach the opposite side of the board (king’s row) are crowned with a second checker to become kings.
  • To capture your opponents’ men or kings, simply jump over their pieces from one open space to another. Then remove that checkers piece from the board.
  • You can perform multiple jumps and capture multiple opponents in one turn so long as you follow the other checkers rules above for moving and jumping.

Beyond the Basic Rules for Checkers

So far, we’ve discussed the board setup, movement of game pieces, how to turn a man into a king, and how to jump and capture your opponent’s men.

You also know that the point of checkers is to wipe your enemy’s men and kings off the board, so you’re the last one standing.

Those are the basic checkers rules. But there are a couple of additional nuances you should know about before you sit down to play a game.

Forced Capture

The rules of checkers and draughts state that when you have an opportunity to seize an opponent, you must implement a “jump and capture.” You can’t strategize differently or try to line up a better opportunity.

When a capture is on the board, you’ve got no choice. You need to jump and capture your opponent.

Forward Captures

Checkers game rules for American and English versions stick to forward captures only for single checkers (men).

However, international checkers rules and some variants have a “man captures backward” rule. This one twist can make the game more interesting because you won’t run out of moves as quickly.

Flying Kings Rule

The flying kings rule sets American and English checkers apart from International draughts.

In American checkers, men and kings move one space at a time, including with jumps.

But the flying kings rule allows kings to jump over several squares diagonally to make a capture. The only caveat is that kings can’t jump over their own men – the spaces in-between need to be clear.

You now know everything you need to play checkers online, in person, for free, or for real money.

The next step, especially if you want to beat your friends and family, is to learn some strategies for playing checkers.

Simple and Effective Checkers Strategies

If you want to take your game to the next level, you’ll need to dive into and learn some tried and true checkers strategy.

Here are a few pointers to get you started.

Play Offensively

The quickest way to win in checkers is to wipe your opponent off the board. The fewer pieces your opponent has, the fewer kings they can make and the harder it is for them to capture your pieces.

So, be aggressive and line up as many jumps as possible in a single round. Take every opportunity to move toward enemy captures instead of being a defensive player.

How to Prevent King-making

One way to prevent your opponent from adding kings to his army is to keep your home row in place for as long as possible. If your pieces occupy home row, there won’t be space for your opponent.

But just hope that your competitor follows a different checkers strategy, though. Otherwise, you’ll be in the same boat and in for a long game.

Pry Open a Spot-on King’s Row

If the other player follows suit, blocking you from entering their king’s row, there is one tactic you can try.

If you position one of your men on the second row, your opponent will have to jump over and capture you (under the forced capture checkers rule).

You’re sacrificing one of your men, sure. But that might be the only way to start gaining some momentum and leverage over your opponent.

Claim a Different Type of Victory

When you’re successful in maintaining your home row, you have a second way to win in checkers.

Without kings, your opponent has nowhere to go but forward. If you keep your row intact, they’re stuck. And once they’re out of moves, it’s game over.

Group Formation in the Middle

When you first learn how to play checkers, your inclination might be to stick to the sides of the board as a method to protect your men.

However, optimal checkers strategy suggests that you keep your checkers together as much as possible and to dominate the middle of the board.

You’re still protected from captures but have 360-degree access to the enemy.

Checkers Variations Around the World

Playing checkers around the world

We’ve been focusing on American checkers, which is the same as English draughts. Like most games, though, there are plenty of other ways to play it.

Rules for how to play checkers vary depending on location.

Some regions uses different board sizes, or a different number of pieces. Other game rules can vary, too.

There are two primary rules that separate one checkers variation from another.

  • Flying kings
  • Man captures backward

When you learn how to play checkers for beginners, it’s easier to start with American rules. They don’t allow either of these custom rules.

Once you’re proficient, though, it might be fun to move onto different boards and ways to play. New variants will force you to learn new checkers strategies.

Here is an overview of the different checkers variants you can find from all over the world.

Checkers Game Board Size Number of Men Distinction
American Checkers or English Draughts 8 x 8 12 each Forced capture
International Draughts 10 x 10 20 each Flying kings rule, man can capture backward
Canadian Checkers 12 x 12 30 each Same checkers game rules as International
Italian Checkers 8 x 8 12 each Same as American checkers, but men can’t jump kings
Spanish Checkers 8 x 8 12 each Same as American checkers but with flying kings rule
Russian Checkers 8 x 8 12 each Same as Spanish checkers rules
Frisian Checkers (Netherlands) 10 x 10 20 each Checkers move diagonally but capture in all directions
Gothic Checkers (Austria and Germany) 8 x 8 16 each Same as American rules
Turkish Checkers 8 x 8 16 each Orthogonal instead of diagonal moves
Brazilian Checkers 8 x 8 12 each Abides by international draughts rules

These checkers games are distinguished by switching up the board size, player pieces, and adopting one or both rules – flying kings and backward captures.

But this is just the start. There is a seemingly endless list of twists on the game itself.

We put together a shortlist of checkers’ twists that go well beyond the basics. Some games, like Chinese checkers, don’t even resemble American checkers.

Other Ways to Play Checkers Unique Gameplay
Suicide Checkers The opposite rules for checkers, as the winner is the first with all game pieces off the board.
Tiers A game for experienced players, adding triple kings.
Contract Checkers An American version with 14 men instead of 12; the extra two start off the board but enter the game through the open square on the home (king’s) row.
Hexdame International draughts played on a hexagonal shaped board.
Chinese Checkers Unique checkers game rules, played with six different colored marble and on a six-spot star-shaped board.
Checkers to the Max Structured like American checkers or English draughts, but all pieces start off the board.
Oblong Draughts Played on a 6 x 23 board with 27 pieces per player and the flying kings rule in effect.
Rotating Draughts A 10 x 10 game with 20 pieces where the dark pieces move clockwise, and the light pieces move in the opposite direction.
Neue Dame Checkers game rules include stacking and freeing captured pieces.
Cheskers A similar setup to American checkers but a cross between checkers and chess with a flying kings rule.

If you ever get burnt out playing regular checkers, then why not give one of these checkers variants a try?

Not only will some of these be much tougher to play, but there are so many variations of checkers that it’s unlikely you’ll ever get bored playing it.

Where to Play Checkers Online

You can play checkers online. You’ll find no shortage of websites and apps that are either dedicated to checkers or that include checkers in with their other skill games like backgammon and chess.

Here are a couple of websites we think are worth checking out.

  • 24/7 Checkers – Set your difficulty and play checkers against the computer. This game tracks how fast you beat the computer, so that you can try to beat it faster the next time.
  • Game Table – You can play with either one or two players. The one player mode is against the computer and the two-player mode is against a friend using the same computer.
  • Play Ok – Play checkers against other people from around the world.

What’s neat about these websites is that they have different settings you can adjust to alter the difficulty of the games you play.

For example, you have the obvious settings; easy, medium, and hard.

But you can also turn on or off forced jumps, as well as a guide that will help you figure out where to move your pieces to next.

It doesn’t matter if you’re learning how to play checkers for the first time, or if you’re a veteran. You can adjust the game for your skill level.

Now, these are only three options for where to play checkers online. With a Google search, or a search inside your mobile app store, you can find tons more.

Unfortunately, though, none of them will allow you to play checkers for real money.

Real Money Gambling Alternatives to Checkers

We’ve looked, and we’ve not found a site where you can play online checkers for money.

You’re not totally out of luck, though. There are a few alternatives if all you’re looking to do is gamble on some heads-up competition.

Here are a couple casino games you might try instead.

Casino War

Checkers is played on the battlefield where you want to be the last army standing. Casino War has a similar winner takes all concept.

Instead of making moves in battle, you’ll get straight to the heart of it with high-card wins.

Plus, the action intensifies with an identical card outcome. You won’t take a tie, as you would in checkers; instead, you’ll go to war to declare a winner.

Poker 3 Heads Up

Betsoft sits you across the table from a virtual player in its 3D, lifelike heads-up poker game. So, if you like checkers strategy-based gameplay, Poker 3 Heads Up has you covered.

The experience is so much like the real thing, don’t be surprised if you see other variations roll out from other casino software providers in the future. 

Who knows, there could be a Checkers 3 Heads Up on the horizon.

In the meantime, you can find Poker 3 Heads Up and other games from Betsoft at most US online casinos.

Checkers Through the Years

Did you know that checkers games date back more than 4,000 years?

Here is a brief history of checkers covering when experts believe it got started and how it has changed over the centuries.

3,000 BC Earliest known checkers game – a board was discovered in Mesopotamia.
10th Century A game called Alquerque, or Qirkat, resembles today’s rules for checkers. It was played on a 5 x 5 board with 12 pieces and men that can move in any direction.
13th Century The French version of Alquerque emerges as Fierges, played on a checkerboard with the concept of crowning the kings.
13th Century A Spanish Alquerque-based game also comes into play, but rules of checkers in this particular version encompass four players.
16th Century Fierges gets a minor makeover with a forced capture rule and a name change to Jeu Forcé.
17th Century Although English draughts dates to the 15th century, the game picks up speed in the 17th century. It adopts a similar setup to Fierges and a new “mandatory jump” or “forced capture” checkers rule.
19th Century Competition-based checkers begins with the first English Checkers and Draughts World Championship.
1948 International competition follows suit with International Draughts Championships by the World Draughts Federations, held every two years since 1948.
1971 Start of the World Junior Championships.
1973 First women’s checkers competition.
1985 Brazilian draughts competition play emerges.
1993 Tournament play extends to Russian draughts.
2014 Turkish draughts join the tournament circuit.

Closing Thoughts

Checkers is a strategic game with multiple variations and several unique ways to play.

The equipment is inexpensive, the rules for checkers are straightforward and, if you’re not feeling super social, you don’t even need a live opponent. You can just play online checkers instead.

So, what are you waiting for? Learn how to play checkers today!