International Draughts has been the most important draughts variant for two and a half centuries. Its body of theory has grown far beyond a mere 'impressive'. Its strategical concepts are constantly being refined by the very few that understand them in deep, and reviewed by thousands who are qualified to understand but lack the ability to break new ground. Its tactics are beyond question, if not beyond belief. In this essay it will be the standard against which all other variants are measured.
The authors are not among those qualified to understand the current state of strategical development, let alone comment on it. We can only give examples of how the fabulous combinatorial power of the game is a reflection of a fabulous combination of rules. So we will comment on the rules while giving them, and show alternatives in other games, and the different consequences to which they lead. We hope to show that the framework of International Draughts best suits the spirit of Draughts in a general sense. We can not, however, ignore the fact that the game itself is in danger of becoming a marginalized and localized affair, outside the spotlight of international sport, due to an inherent flaw that was very slow to surface, but is very hard to eradicate now that it has.
The diagram shows the board and the pieces in initial position. There are two players, black and white. White begins. Players move - and must move - in turn.
If a player has no legal move he loses the game. This may come about either by being eliminated or being blocked completely. Draws may occur by mutual agreement or 3-fold.
Capture has precedence over a non-capturing move. If the player to move has no capture to make,
he has the following options:
A king is a promoted man.
- Moving a man
- Moving a king
A man moves one square diagonally forwards, provided the target square is vacant. If a man ends its move on the back rank, it promotes to king. A king moves any distance of free squares along an open diagonal.
Capture is compulsory. The direction of capture may be both forwards and backwards.
- If a man is on a particular line, and next to it on that line is a square occupied by an opponent's piece, then the man captures the piece by jumping over it to the square immediately beyond, which must be vacant for the capture to take place. If the man can proceed in a similar way in the same or a perpendicular direction, it must do so, taking care beforehand to establish the route that brings the maximum number of captured pieces. A captured king counts as one piece.
If there's more than one way to meet this criterion, the player is free to choose.
- During a multiple capture, a square may be visited more than once, but a piece may not be jumped more than once.
- A multiple capture must be completed before the captured pieces are removed from the board.
- If a man in the course of a capture visits a square of the back rank without ending its move there, it does not promote.
- A king looks along open lines. If it sees, at any distance, an opponent's piece and immediately beyond one or more subsequent vacant squares, it captures by jumping the piece and landing on one of these squares.
A king is subject to the same rules regarding majority capture: if it can proceed in the same or a perpendicular direction it must do so, and it must likewise take the route that brings maximum number of captured pieces.
Note: the expression "... it captures by jumping the piece and landing on one of these squares", does not necessarily imply choice. In fact, during the capture the king will usually have no choice because it is subject to majority capture. After jumping the last piece it may choose to land on any of the subsequent vacant squares.
The precedence of majority capture is the basis for a class of combinations that include stickers: pieces moved to a square where they are exposed to capture, yet cannot be captured because the opponent must make a majority capture elsewhere. Of course we'll combine the fabulous with the instructive: there are two successive stickers in this combination.
Abolishing the precedence of majority capture means giving up all combinations based on it, not just the sticker based ones. It means giving up a measure of control. A different measure of control means a different strategy. We'd like to argue that this simple rule, just counting the number of pieces and making all pieces equal in this respect, has historically proven to provide precisely the right balance to allow weaving an ever more refined strategy around almost unlimited tactical possibilities.
Rules should be efficient, meaning that the desired effect should be achieved with minimal means. Precedence of majority capture puts a great measure of control into a few words.
Whether this effect is 'desired' is a different matter. The russian 8x8 variant Shashki, among others, does not require majority capture to precede. That obviously gives more choice to the opponent and thus less control. It excludes a whole class of tactics in favor of the ensuing emphasis on positional reflections. More of a pastime, less of a weapon.
Now in the other direction. Checkers does not require majority capture to precede either. Italian Checkers is otherwise identical, but features an impressive hierarchy of priorities of capture, involving not only the number of the captured pieces, but also whether they be men or kings, and even distinguishing between the order in which they are to be captured, not to mention which piece makes the capture. Learning to see through this labyrinth of priorities takes a lot of time, and eventually leads to positions in which it all matters. That's inevitable. The question is: are these positions anymore interesting than those arising from, say, simply introducing majority capture Draughts' style in Checkers? That should be very doubtful.
The premiss of the rules of Italian Checkers seems to be that more control over relative details renders a better game. Thus it ends up with a complex hierarchy of priorities needing a mass of words to explain, without altering the game in any essential way.
It's all about effectiveness and the balance between strategy and tactics. International Draughts' precedence of majority capture hits the bullseye in both categories.
The logic of (2) is that it's hard to argue the alternatives. Why wouldn't a piece be allowed to traverse a vacant square? How can you kill a piece that's already dead?
|Rule (3) is a different story because in Turkish Draughts, for one, it doesn't apply. A capturing piece in Turkish Draughts is like a vacuum cleaner, sucking up the pieces in the process of capture. If the capturing piece happens to be a king, it can even swallow a piece that it wouldn't be able to capture if the move were to be completed before removal of the pieces: by eating away its cover first and then returning for the piece itself. In principle a king might get more out of a capture that way, than would be possible in International Draughts. So what's wrong with it?
It hasn't got style. That's what wrong with it.
||It's a matter of etiquette, really. A move transfers one position to another. It should not alter the position during the move and act on it as such.
Chewing away like a dog on a cookie trail and finding even more cookies because of it, is bad etiquette. It also eliminates a beautiful capturing mechanism, ironically called turkish capture.
That's what's wrong with it too.
|The previous example of a 'Coup Turc' combines the consequences of (2) and (3) and is therefore called a 'full turc'. There are 'semi turcs' too, like the one above.
Capturing like a vacuum cleaner does eradicate turkish capture, be it full or semi. It's a way to trade style and elegance for immediate gratification.
If a man reaches the backrow in a capture, but is in a position to proceed its capture, and the capture ends not on the backrow but in the field, there are basically three rule options:
The first option is used in Checkers, the second in Shashki and the third in International Draughts.
- Make promotion immediate and let it signify the end of the move.
- Make promotion immediate and let the piece proceed as king in the same turn, a so called 'flying king'.
- Skip promotion and let the man complete its capture.
To be fair, (3) isn't open to Checkers because it has no backwards capture. Yet it doesn't choose (2) but settles for (1). Why?
|We don't know of course, maybe it never came up. But if it was a concious choice at some point, the reason to prefer one over the other couldn't have been 'game technical', because both would result Checkers, albeit in slightly different forms, but in all probability equally interesting. So it may have been a matter of etiquette: you don't change a position during a move, and subsequently act on it in the same turn.
Unless you're russian, and they definitely made a concious choice. Let's therefore emphasize that there's nothing wrong with it in a game technical sense.
In Shashki a piece that reaches the back rank in a capture is promoted immediately and proceeds as king in the same turn. The Shashki king is long, so the turbo boost may lead to very interesting patterns of capture.
The russians are quite fond of it too. Shashki is quite often introduced as a trade off: it has no precedence of majority capture, but it has a flying king. That may give it its moments of magnificence, but as a 'mental weapon' it lacks the measure of control of International Draughts, not to mention the simplicity of (3).
If those involved in establishing the definite rules at the end of the 19th century would have declared that a capturing move should end on the first vacant square after the last captured piece, then Draughts probably would have no problem today, regarding the number of draws. The rule is generic, concentrating on the nature of the move rather than the piece making it, but its net effect would be the introduction of the 'Thai king'. And the diagram illustrates that a Thai king can be captured with only two kings.
But they didn't because there was as yet no problem in sight regarding the number draws at top level. Why introduce an extra rule?
We have the benefit of hindsight. This simple rule would have slightly reduced the king's offensive powers, while significantly reducing its defensive power. Theory would have followed different but very similar paths, and in all probability the same heroes would have emerged.
But they wouldn't have ended up playing draws against one another at top level.
You can't regain what went down the drain. The rule is simple, but its consequences affect not only positions involving kings, but also positions involving possible kings. In short, all endgame theory would have to be rewritten, and most of the middle game theory. That's a no go. It should have been done then, it can't be done now.