Checkers Rules: Playing Made Simple for Anyone

Updated August 6, 2021
Hand on checkers board game

When you think back to your earliest childhood memories of playing board games, chances are high that checkers was one of your first. Since the rules of checkers are so easy to follow and the game is colorfully coded in a grid, oftentimes the historic game is the first tabletop game employing light strategy techniques that people are introduced to. However, if you're just now starting to cultivate your savvy with checkers, take a look at everything you'll need to know about how to play a round or two.

The Origins of Checkers

There's not enough evidence within the historical record for board game historians to come to a consensus over when checkers was first invented; however, there is a general agreement that the game probably derives from ancient configurations of 'draughts,' of which most of the western world still refers to this strategy game by. Historic examples of draughts come in various sized board grids and the number of pieces of conventional American Checkers consists of 12 pieces on a 64-square board.

A Game of Draughts at the Cafe Lamblin

How to Set Up the Game

Checker boards are square and have 64 alternating-colored squares patterned across the board. They come with 24 pieces, 12 of each color corresponding to the board itself. Most often these boards are black and red or black and white, though you can find custom boards made out of a vast array of colors and patterns. Set-up is rather simple and involves only a few steps:

  1. Lay out the board with the sides that have dark squares in the far-left corner facing the opponents.
  2. Use some sort of attributing system, like flipping a coin, to determine who gets to play the light pieces.
  3. Each player then takes 12 tiles of a specific color and places the tiles in the darkest squares closest to them.
  4. The pieces should take up the first three rows of the board that a person is facing.
  5. The person with the lighter color will then make the first move.

Purpose of the Game

The purpose of American Checkers is incredibly simple: remove all of your opponent's pieces off of the board before they remove yours. Occasionally, a game will come to a point where no more moves can be made, and these are considered a draw. To remove your opponent's pieces, you have to jump over them with your own, though you have to follow a certain set of rules for how these pieces can move around the board.

Rules for Moving Around the Board

Before you can start your campaign against your opponent's pieces, you first need to know exactly which ways you're allowed to move your pieces around the board according to the rules of checkers.

  • Pieces can only move diagonally to open squares.
  • All moves are made across the dark squares on the board.
  • Pieces can only move one square at a time, meaning a person's turn ends once they've completed their move.
  • If a piece makes it to the farthest row of the board from the place it where it first started, it's considered 'kinged' and a second piece is placed on top of it.
  • A king piece can only move one square at a time as well; however, it can move backwards to avoid capture.

How to Remove Pieces From the Board

The only way to remove an opponent's piece from the board is to figuratively capture it by jumping over the piece from one dark square to another. There are a few stipulations about how you're allowed to do this:

  1. To capture an opponent's piece, diagonally jump over it with your own piece that's adjacent to it into the empty square behind the enemy piece.
  2. You're allowed to jump multiple pieces so long as there is only one square in-between the opponent's pieces.
  3. A regular piece can jump a king and remove it from the playing field.

Interestingly, there are two different styles of gameplay when it comes to jumping. The first forces you to capture a piece if you have the ability to, and the second allows you to decide if you want to capture or move elsewhere on the board. You should make sure to come to a consensus with your opponent as to which type you're going to play.

Woman and kid playing checkers at home

Basic Strategy Theories for Checkers

Despite the fact that it's a simplistic game, you can approach playing checkers with a strategy in mind. Here are some things to keep in mind when planning your next move:

  • Offense is the best defense - You can't win checkers by being solely defensive, meaning the stronger offensive flow you build, the better chances you have of winning.
  • Control the center - A lot of the action happens in the mid-field of the board, meaning that you want to make sure that you're keeping control of the play occurring in the center.
  • Make a few kings - While chasing pieces down around the board is certainly fun, don't underestimate how useful having a few kings of your own on the board is when it gets down to only a few pieces left.
  • Sacrifices have to be made - No one has ever made it out of a game of checkers without losing some of their pieces, but try to push your opponent to take the pieces that you want them to take off of the board so you can remain in control of the situation.

Conventional Checkers Gets a Twist

Though checkers is a relatively simple game, there have been some adjustments made to it over time to enliven the gameplay and complicate its simple procedures. These checker variants can offer you and your friends a fun way to play an old classic:

  • Suicide checkers - The rules are turned upside down, with the "winner" successfully getting all of their checker pieces taken.
  • Canadian checkers - This type of checkers is played on a 12x12 board with 30 pieces per player and varies slightly in the rules as it follows the International Draught rulebook.
  • Italian checkers - Very similar gameplay to American checkers save the fact that regular pieces aren't allowed to jump kinged pieces.

Easy to Follow and Fun to Play

The rules of checkers are really intuitive, making the game a joy for people of all types to experiment with. Magnetized boards make checkers a great traveling pastime, and as you gear up for your summer vacation, think about breaking out a checkers board or two for the whole family to enjoy.

Checkers Rules: Playing Made Simple for Anyone