Draughts' evolution and its history are intricately linked, but not the same. We are interested in its evolution, so we'll concentrate on the nature of the rule changes that the game underwent, rather than on the exact time and place they took place.
The introduction of forced capture for example, was very important in the evolution of the game. Initially it came under penalty of the 'huff' and eventually turned into a an absolute rule. The process started around 1500 and came to a conclusion at the end of the 19th century. From an evolutionary point of view, The way in which the game changed, is more significant than the exact timeline and the precise places. This appraoch is not shared by all who are involved in Draughts' history.

Of Ancient Times, Mesopotamian Digs and Egyptian Temples
Let's take one example of a popular story. On the website 'The Checkered History of Checkers' we read:
"The history of checkers can be traced to the very cradle of civilization, where vestiges of the earliest form of the game was unearthed in an archeological dig in the ancient city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia, which is now modern day Iraq. Using a slightly different board, no one is sure of the exact rules of the game which was carbon dated at 3000 BC. A similar game using a 5x5 board, called Alquerque is known to have existed in ancient Egypt as far back as 1400 BC." (source).

In the mind of an historian or an archeologist, a 'simple game' may be synonymous with 'checkers', but naming the Game of UR as an ancestor and calling the board 'slightly different' from Alquerque, doesn't make much sense from a topological point of view. Let's have a look at the Ur game board.

Though only partial rules of a later date remain, it has been established that the Game of Ur was played with two sets of seven markers and three tetrahedral dice. The rules of the game as it was played in Mesopotamia are not known but there is a reliable reconstruction of gameplay based on partial rules found at a later date.
It is fairly universally agreed that the game was a race game and a possible predecessor of today's backgammon.

Alquerque was not "a similar game" at all, and though it uses a 5x5 board, its existence "as far back as 1400 BC." also raises some questions. It's never easy to establish the source of a story. Charles C. Walker, secretary of "The American Checker Federation", in his "What is the Origin of Draughts?" writes:
"The Origin of this game dates back to the 4000 BC. Sir Gardner Wilkinson, in his expedition to Egypt, discovered large inscriptions in the ancient temple of Thebes portraying King RaMeses playing a game of Draughts with a member of his family." (source).

The first King Ramesses or Ramses had a short reign in the period 1295-1290 BC. and his grandson Ramses II reigned from 1279 BC to 1213 BC. Such are the discrepancies one encounters. We already encountered a date that would indeed have allowed King Ramses to play. The Online Guide to Traditional Games states:
"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 600 BC. 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 1400 BC (of course, they might have been carved at any point since)." (source).

"Of course, they might have been carved at any point since", now there's a point. There's no way to tell. And there's more:
"According to R.C. Bell, the earliest known board for the game includes diagonal lines and was "cut into the roofing slabs of the temple at Kurna in Egypt" c. 1400 BCE. However, Friedrich Berger writes that some of the diagrams at Qurna include Coptic crosses, making it 'doubtful' that the diagrams date to 1400 BCE. Berger concludes: 'certainly they cannot be dated.'" (source).

Isn't that the same temple? The same date? Indeed it is, but it's about a different game: Nine Men's Morris.


Are the carvings so sloppy or incomplete that it is impossible to tell which game it is? Then it is unlikely that they're made by people who not only moved and shaped rocks weighing tons, but fitted them to the millimeter and carved them elaboratly and sophisticadedly. In all probability they are from a later date.

Mats Winther, in his 'Historical Board Games' pages refers to it as a 'Zamma' board:
"A Zamma board survives among the roof-slab scribings at Kurna (c. 1400 BCE). However, the present version of Zamma is believed to rely heavily on developments in draughts since the 17th century (a supposition that could be challenged)." (source).
He makes no such reference in the Alquerque section, which is curious since the Zamma board is a four times enlarged version of the Alquerque board. (source).

Charles Filion, in his Circled Dot website, mentions both games too:
"Alquerque is known to date back at least as far as 1400 BC, since boards have been found cut into the roofing slabs of the temple at Kurna in Egypt. A game called Quirkat is mentioned in an Arabic work of the 10th Century AD."

iceage morrisAnd about Nine Men's Morris:
"Supposedly, the first carved board ever discovered was found 3500 years ago at the temple of Kurna, Egypt. However, in 2006, archeologists have found a Men's Morris engraved stone dated back to the last Ice Age. The last Ice Age started about 50,000 years ago and ended around 8,000 BC." (source).

The latter with a rather convincing photograph.

Apart from making Nine Men's Morris the oldest game known to man, the above says little more than that there was quite a lot of carving going on in Egyptian temples at the time, and that a gameboard like (2) may have existed there some centuries BC. Grid (2) topologically fits the requirements of a draughts type game. Supporting this hypothesis is the fact that it persisted to become the Alquerque board. But that was later.
Morris may and likely will have co-existed alongside, but its topology, whether with or without diagonals, is rather uniquely suited for its partcular way of placement, movement and capture. The only 'cross-over' game we've come across is the traditional West African game of Yoté, where a placement is combined with movement and draughtslike capture.

Both boards survived obviously, but for reasons that were in polar opposition. Morris is specifically tailored for capture by alignment of three men. Whether or not to include diagonals was about all there remained to consider, and the game exists basically unchanged till the present day. Grid (2), in contrast, is not tailored for any specific game. As we pointed out in Grids, the lines invite to the playing of partial doublegrid games, and it is curiously related to the hexgrid. Movement and capture may be considered in terms of straight, diagonal, forwards, backwards, sideways, short, long. Capture may be by leapfrogging, by approach, single or multiple. Forwards movement combined with promotion is an option that would have presented itself.

We'de like to argue that the fact that "no early rules are available", rather than casting doubt on Alquerque as the ancestor of Draughts, in fact support the idea. Where Morris was more or less born finished, Draughts remained 'under constuction'. Early rules couldn't be available because there would have been no concensus about them.
Playing boardgames was in itself a rather new pastime. Mancala's were around, Morris was around, and 300 BC. Go was already widespread in China. But Chess was still awaiting its invention behind the scenes. Alquerque rules took more than a few centuries to solidify. Centuries that are interesting to historians, antropologists, acheologists, but hardly for the evolution of the game into its current forms. In a nutshell: it was 'persistent', as many have remarked, while finally making its way into Europe with the invasion of Spain by the Moors. At least according to R.C. Bell in his 'Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations'. And that would make sense indeed, as Moorish dynasties were governing substantial parts of Spain at various times in the period between 711 and 1492.

Books and Manuscripts
More than a few centuries after the asserted carving of roofing slabs of the temple at Kurna in Egypt, in the 10th century AD, a game named Quirkat or Al-Quirkat is mentioned in the Kitab al-Aghani (Book of Songs) by the Arab scholar Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani (897-967). This may have been the later Alquerque, but no rules were provided, so who's to tell.
A good three centuries onwards we hit a milestone: Rules! Rules as provided by the Libro de los Juegos (Book of Games) a book commisioned by Alfonso X, king of Castile, León and Galicia (1221–1284) and completed in 1283. The book contains an extensive collection of writings on Chess and Chess variants, and over 100 Chess problems. But it also contains a small section on Alquerque, which is Spanish for the Arabic Al-Quirkat.

Alquerque illustration from Libro de los Juegos
Here is an Alquerque illustration from the book. It shows the board with the pieces in the same initial position that is used to the present day.
Note that both contestants feel its their turn and that both try to move an immobile piece, looking slightly bewildered as to where to put it.
Armed seconds are standing by, should conflict arise and expand beyond the board. Rather than checkers, the pieces are chess pawns, and despite the full color painting, they're all black, with sides distinguished by the direction they point, as in Japanese Chess. This is curious. Why not colored checkers? Obviously pawns would have done just as well, provided they're not all black, but the question remains.

(picture scanned from Frederic V. Grunfeld, Games of the World (1975) p. 39; Holt, Rinehart and Winston - public domain).

Reconstruction of the Rules of Alquerque
This is a translation of the text given by Arie van der Stoep, based on the German translation by Steiger (1943), the Dutch translation by Westerveld (1997) and the English translation by the American investigator Sonja Musser Golladay of the University of Arizona (2007):
"This is twelve men's alquerque which is played with all its pieces.
And we will begin first with the game alquerque twelve, because it is larger than all other alquerque games and it is played with more pieces (...). And it has part of dice in it due to luck, because as with the rolls of the dice that are luck so in alquerque players roll to decide who plays first.
And it is played in this manner: on the alquerque board there are to be twenty-five places where the pieces can be placed and there are to be twenty-four pieces. And they put twelve of one colour on one side and the other twelve on the other in a troop formation. And one place remains in the centre to allow play.
And the one who plays first has a disadvantage because he is forced to play in that empty space. And the other player moves his piece to the space the first left empty and captures the one that was first to move. That player captures the second player’s piece by jumping over it from one space to another according to the straight lines on the board, and over as many pieces as he could take and the other player does likewise.
The one playing first always moves first trying to capture some piece from the other side. And the other player guards himself well from attack because of and by understanding the move that he wants to make so that he guards that piece of his best.
And the other does the same thing that his opponent plans to do to him and therefore he is at a disadvantage, the one who plays first. And the one who guards his pieces worse and loses them more quickly, loses. If both players known how to play it, they can both tie the game. These are the alquerque drawings and the way the pieces are placed in their spaces." (source).

Followed by a diagram of the board with the pieces in the initial position.

You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that this in an incomplete description of a draughts type game.

  • Movement follows the lines of the board to an adjacent point.
  • Capture is draughtslike and follows the lines of the board.
  • Multiple capture is permitted.

Did Alquerque have compulsory capture?
Does the above translation mention compulsory capture? The first player is forced to expose a man, and the second player is forced to capture, if not by the rules, then by the fact that there's no other option available. Then "that [first] player captures the second player’s piece by jumping over it from one space to another according to the straight lines on the board, and over as many pieces as he could take and the other player does likewise." Since the first player cannot make a multiple capture on his second move, we understand that the author in this sentence moves from the specific to the general. And "the other player guards himself well from attack ... so that he guards that piece of his best". So there's a lot of 'guarding' going on, but there's more than one way to guard a piece, and nowhere does it explicitly say that capture is compulsory or penalized if neglected.

If capture was compulsory, combination (2) would allow white to win two men according to the above rules.
If not, then ...b34, ...c5b4 or ...cb4 would constitute ample opportunities for black to "guard himself well from attack ... ".

Chess was in a transitional period, going from the Arab Shatranj to a European version closely resembling the present day game. The transition from the Arab plain board to a checkered board had obviously already taken place. Different variants and sophisticated problems included in the Libros de los Juegos make it hard to believe that the authors in the case of Alquerque described pleasant woodpushing for ladies.

Our present day feeling is that compulsory capture is the soul of Draughts. A game without it is not Draughts. There may be rule questions to consider afterwards, whether to remove captured pieces immediately or only after completion of the move, whether or not majority capture precedes, whether backwards capture is allowed or not, and the like. But we wouldn't consider to abolish compulsory capture in a draughts game.

However, right about Alfonso's time, the game was being transferred to the Chess board and a century or so later there arose the often cited distinction between le Jeu Forcé, in which capture was compulsory, and le Jeu Plaisant, in which it was not. Since the distinction existed, draughts without compulsory capture must have existed too. The main question regarding le Jeu Plaisant would be: was it a game at all or just a pleasant albeit rather mindless pastime?
If we dismiss the latter possibility, we must assume that le Jeu Plaisant had forced progress, but no promotion, because only this combination eliminates 'move cycles' and eventually leads a game to a conclusion, if not by elimination, then by being blocked completely.
There's a precedent that never drifted very far from Alquerque and therefore should be considered carefully: Ossetian Draughts. It is a remarkably modern 'doublegrid' game, but without compulsory capture. The reason why it never developed it is probably the fact that having no promotion, combined with forced progress, is the very basis of its decisiveness, regardless of whether capture is compulsory or not. Kings and sideways movement bring cycles. Cycles bring draws.

Did Alquerque have promotion?
A distinction between forwards and backwards movement is common in a draughtsgame with an initial position and for good reasons: omnidirectional draughts with dwindling number of pieces leads to a drawish non-game. The only games in this book without the distinction are Yoté and Emergo. Both have entering stages and no initial position. Yoté guards itself against drawishness by positive feedback: after a capture a player is allowed to remove one extra opponent's piece at will, as a bonus. Emergo guards itself against drawishness first and foremost by being a column checkers game in which men never leave the board but rather form colums that grow ever higher, with a dwindling number of pieces. The absence of an initial set-up guards against opening studies.
It is safe to assume, without it being explicitly mentioned, that the rules of Alquerque did not allow moving backwards. There's a wide concensus about this. Whether this restriction would have applied to capture is yet another matter. Disallowing backwards capture would have restricted combinations, but it would not necessarily have left the game unplayable.
Does a forward orientation imply promotion? Not necessarily either, as Ossetian Draughts shows. But pieces only capable of grinding their teeth along the backrow, if at all and after the struggle to get there in the first place, must have appeared unsatisfactory to the players, even then.

Despite its absence in Ossetian Draughts, most historians nowadays, Murray, Bell, Parlett, agree that capture must have been compulsory in Alquerque, on penalty of the 'huff', the removal of the offending piece of a player who refuses to capture. They also argue that promotion did only enter the game under the influence of Chess, possibly with its transition to the chess board.

The Dutch draughts historian Arie van der Stoep disagrees on both accounts.

Van der Stoep, like his fellow historians, places the transition from the Alquerque board to the Chess board around or shortly after the publication of the Libros de los Juegos, but makes a distinction between two lines:

  • In Europe the checkered board became prevalent, and draughts turned diagonal, with a 'short king' for promotion, the present day Checkers.
  • In Arab counties and the Middle East the plain 8x8 board became prevalent, and draughts turned orthogonal, with a 'long king' for promotion, the present day Turkish Draughts.

The 'long king', he argues, is an Arab innovation that took place before the 8th century AD. His claim is based on linguistics (source). Similar linguistical arguments are then given to support his claim that the game that entered Spain and later France was the game with the long king (source).

The point being that Draughts owes nothing to Chess. That appears to be an important point and van der Stoep goes at some length to convince the readers that the truth is in fact quite the reverse.
This shift in priorities is in fact quite boring. Draughts' relation to Chess has always been uncomfortable, yet some interaction is undeniable. Making it a contest of importance doesn't seem a very fruitful endeavour and is certainly not helping Draughts.

To do van der Stoep justice it must be said that he didn't leave it at linguistics. Being an able Draughts player himself, he decided to put several versions of the rules of Alquerque to the test on the Zillions generic game computer (a machine of sufficient strength were draughts variants are concerned), and soon concluded that Murray's version, with compulsory capture and no promotion was at most a draw for the second player, who cannot avoid the loss of a man. Similar investigations led to the conclusion that Murray's version without compulsory capture produced boredom everlasting. In fact, his conclusion is that only the version with the long king but without compulsory capture led to a playable game. Or in other words, as far as promotion was concerned, Alquerque, according to van der Stoep, already was 'Draughts' in Alfonso's time (source).

Questions remain however. Small nagging ones, like "if Alquerque had a long king, why did the European branch initially develop with a short king"?
Bigger ones, like "why did the rules in the 2008 CodeCup Challenge lead to interesting games"? These games were played between competing programs on a 7x7 board. The pieces moved in all available directions, making the game a pit rather than a track. Moving back to a point left in the previous turn was not allowed. Capture was compulsory, majority capture did not precede, there was no promotion. The 5x5 game in this version is very close to Murray's rules and therefore very likely to be a draw at most, for the second player.
But the fact that the second player cannot win in either version, does not prove van der Stoeps claim that his version renders the only playable game. The second player cannot win at Tic-tac-toe either. The game 'persists' because the first player can trick a novice once or twice. Alquerque may have been no more than an elaborate game in the same category.
And then there's also a really big question: "Why wasn't promotion mentioned in the Libros de los Juegos?" Van der Stoep may argue that compulsory capture wasn't mentioned because there was no compulsory capture. Occam's razor. One might even argue that 'not moving backwards' was something taken for granted. But promotion, in whatever form, implies a new piece, and this should certainly have been mentioned in the rules. So why wasn't it?

The split in two branches
From an evolutionary point of view the descendants of Alquerque are known games, and the fact that they came out as fraternal twins in itself shows that evolution may go in more than one direction. Speculations about the parent may conveniently lead to 'predictions in retrospect', but we will probably never know how exactly the transitions and rule changes took place.

Moreover, the transition to the Chess board led to an important and entirely visible topological change in both branches, that till the present day has remained significantly invisible in all the game historians' comments: where the parent game allowed straight and diagonal movement, one descendant allows only straight movement, the other only diagonal movement. Since evolution tends to go from the more simple to the more complex, this is a curious phenomenon, to say the least.

Checkered Alquerque
If we project the Alquerque board over a checkered board, it is clear that the latter could have been used for Alquerque: if only the dark squares allow diagonal movement. Why the transition took place will forever be in the realm of speculation, but the Chess board, measures 8x8, more than twice as large, and has dark and light corners. This makes a simple transition problematic, so the whole concept was probably reconsidered.

The source of the switch from a 'partial doublegrid' game to two 'singlegrid' games may have been a trade off between size and complexity: the new games were larger but their structure was simpler.

Turkish Draughts
The 'Turkish' descendant came out amazingly 'modern'. It used the board in alignment with the three directions of movement and capture a piece could take, had promotion to a long king capable of moving and capturing in all four directions, with compulsory capture and precedence of majority capture. However, by abolishing diagonal movement, Turkish Draughts became the straight only game it is to the present day. At the time this may have been 'modern', and justified by the game's increased size and the greater complexity resulting from it, but currently it is holding the game back.

European Draughts
The 'European' descendant came out with one revolutionary idea: diagonal movement. It eliminated the problematic sideways move and for the first time in draughts history created a game with forced progress. It traded half the board for it, but hey, 32 squares is still more than 25, isn't it?
Apart from this important shift of perspective, the game was a problem child. Compulsory capture was still a source of debate and a refinement like majority capture wasn't even within the horizon. There was no concensus about the short and the long king either, and eventually the debate about it would be the source of another split into two sub-branches, the one being Anglo-American Checkers, the other International Draughts and its derivates like Russian and Spanish. It never was one game. The main feature (apart from losing half the board) was understandably emphasized: both movement and capture of an unpromoted man were to be stricktly forward. However, by abolishing straight movement, European Draughts became the diagonal only game it is to the present day. At the time this may have been 'modern', and justified by the game's increased size and the greater complexity resulting from it, but currently it is holding the game back.

Yes, same story. What's so important about it?

Suppose we play Alquerque with compulsory capture, precedence of majority capture and no promotion, then this is an example of the kind of move that requires a doublegrid game. It is lost in singlegrid games, more specifically in Turkish and European Draughts.

And that is what's important about it.

None of the established Draughts historians even so much as noticed the topological diversion that took place, let alone understand the implications. The game itself carried the resources it had thus dislodged, as a kind of 'junk-dna' in some variants. The least obscure of these are Frisian in the European branch, where straight capture was reintroduced in the diagonal game, and Armenian in the Turkish branch, where diagonal movement was reintroduced in the straight game.

Van der Stoep writes in his Evolution of the Game:
"The number of combination structures considerably increased with the introduction of Polish draughts in the Netherlands in the 16th c. See for the birth of this variety Stoep 2005:68-69. Polish draughts is the most sophisticated draughts variety, result of an evolution that took 3.000 years."

Does van der Stoep think evolution has come to a full stop? That would go against scientific concensus, if not against the very meaning of the word. Ironically he hails 'the increased number of combination structures' as evolution's final push. Draughts had only two to three centuries before decreased the potential combination density by becoming a singlegrid game. This somehow went unnoticed by van der Stoep and his fellow historians.

Meanwhile the changes in the European game between Alfonso's time and the introduction of 'Polish Draughts' on the 10x10 board in the 16th century, which is essentially the International game, were interesting from an evolutionary point of view, but for our purposes the exact timeline, apart from being less than exact in the first place, is not. Compulsory capture was introduced in the 15th century, to be followed by precedence of majority capture, backwards capture and the 'huff', a strange rule taking effect if another was violated, therewith implying the legality of the violation.
Like the long versus short king, none of these changes went unchallenged, and all were tried in different combinations.

early draughtsHere's an example van der Stoel provides, taken from a manuscript of Alonso Guerra, written in 1595.

In this variant, capture is compulsory and majority capture precedes. Men are not allowed to capture backwards and the king is long. In short, it strongly resembles the current day Spanish Draughts, and it is almost certainly one of several other variants with a mix of 'arbitrary' rules that were tested at the time. It goes like this:

1. c5-b6; a7xb5 (no backwards capture)
2. e3-d4; c1xf4xc7
3. d4xb6xd8 and the white king is able to capture both the remaining black men.

White's second move is an early example of a sticker, a man that cannot be captured because the opponent must take a majority capture elsewhere. The sticker is a very common tactic, intrisically linked to the precedence of majority capture.

"I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down"
With the intoduction of compulsory capture came the mechanism to remind players of it. A player who would fail to capture if in a position to do so, would be penalized with the loss of the offending piece. This was called "huffing". The soul of Draughts was sold for a penny before it could even manifest itself. Players didn't fully realize what game they had yet, and the loss of a man was obviously considered a heavy enough penalty for the violation. However, why a violation of the rules was permitted in the first place isn't entirely clear.
Not all people are always aware that intended effects usually come with unintended side effects: huffing soon became a tactical weapon, something players would consider in terms of gain and loss. The combinatorial richness of the new variants that emerged, in particular Polish Draughts, the later international game, could only be shown in examples, but never in actual games.
Take the above example. On white's first move, black would smell a rat, or maybe he wouldn't since white has no other option than to give a man, but say he would. Eventually he might discover the source: a winning combination by white!
No problem. Just refuse to take and play king A3. White huffs the black man on A7 and can reach the backrow, but he cannot save his man on D6 and black also threatens to move his king to B4 attacking the man on D2. This is an easy draw for black.

Where actual play actually hampered the development of the game, it triggered a hunt for examples of the combinatorial magic it could display if played by the rules. Draughts problems were created as puzzles, not as something that could be executed in actual play, as the players were huffing and puffing and blowing their house down.

In Europe the huff was finally and rightly abandoned at the end of the 19th century, although the English held on to it a couple of decades longer in their game. One of the first to advocate its abolishment was the Dutchman Ephraim van Emden, but it would take another century before there was a concensus to actually play by the rules.

In Africa the huff still flourishes in places, like in Ghana where Damii is a popular entertainment. It is a hybrid of International and Russian Draughts that is played at the speed of table tennis. Since there's no time to think anyway, huffing a piece is considered a fair compensation for the opponent's oversight - if indeed it was 'oversight'.

After the dust settled: picking up the pieces
In the East, the Turkish game became dominant, but it bred a curious offspring in Armenian Draughts, which is an upgraded form of Turkish, reintroducing diagonal movement. Another game that is still played somewhat farther north is Ossetian Draughts. This however is less clearly a derivate of Turkish Draughts. It breathes ancienty and may well be a 'separate species' that developed from Alquerque on its own accord. Ossetian features straight and diagonal movement and capture, but it has no promotion, and no compulsory capture. Nor does it have cycles, so draws cannot occur, and this may well be the reason for the existence of variants without compulsory capture in the first place. They may not have been spectacular or dramatic, but someone would nevertheless win.

In Europe the game basically evolved into two branches, English Draughts, representing the minimalistic approach to the game's implementation, went its own quiet way, eventually settling mainly in the UK and the USA, where it became popular as 'Checkers'. It has the lure of simplicity and the resource of a depth that is almost beyond human comprehension.
Marion Tinsley, generally agreed to be the greatest player the game has ever known, summarized it as follows:

"Chess is like looking over an endless ocean, Checkers is like looking into a bottomless pit."

Tinsley died in 1995, his illness forcing him to withdraw from a match against, ironically, the very machine that would prove him wrong. In 2007 Chinook hit the bottom of the bottomless pit. Checkers players worldwide suddenly faced a situation in which they had to compete against one another in the shadow of perfect play. But then, Chess and Draughts programs nowadays, though not 'perfect', are also stronger than humans, and Go is going the same way. Things change.

Meanwhile, pursuing greater complexity by breaking away from the basic simplicity of the 8x8 game, the game eventually solidified in a second branch that would grow much bigger: 10x10 'Polish' Draughts, the later international game.

A Polish Mystery
Murray created the popular story about the origin of Polish Draughts by referring to a book allegedly written by the French Draughts player M. Manoury. Polish draughts, it said, was invented in Paris about 1723 by an officer of the court of Philippe II and a Pole who went by the name of 'The Polonese'. Instead of playing the later English Draughts, then called 'Anglo-French', they played a new form, extending the board from 64 to 100 squares, introducing backwards capture, the long king and precedence of majority capture and calling it 'Polish Draughts' to honor the Pole.
It's a nice story, but van der Stoep leaves little doubt about its historical truth: none. There may have been a Pole in Paris in 1723, and he may have played the new game. But in the "Dictionnaire complet François et Hollandois", edited in Amsterdam, 1710, the Frenchman Pierre Marin mentions a game called Polish draughts. The translation of the sentence "Sçavez vous damer à la Polonoise?" is given as "Kend gy op zyn Pools dammen?", in English: "Can you play Polish draughts?" (The source shows a 1720 publication, the link to the 1710 one vanished).
That still doesn't explain where the name originated though. Occam's razor suggests that the Pole in Paris, if there's any truth to the story at all, may have spend some time in Amsterdam, teaching the Dutch how to play a decent game of Draughts.
Because if it were a Dutch innovation, they wouldn't have called it Polish Draughts, now would they?

Evolution grinding to a halt
Evolution occurs under pressure, and once Polish Draughts had taken root it immediately blossomed and evolutionary pressure would disappear for the next two and a half centuries. After the abolishment of the abominable huff, at the end of the 19th century, the rules were set, and theory would start to accumulate, shaping the game's strategy and effectively prevention any further rule changes.
There was some offspring back to the 8x8 board, but the game may have been played with Polish rules on the 8x8 board even before its 'invention' on the 10x10 board, in the intermediate phase of rule experiments. It seems safe to assume that the new rules were invented on the old board and that the switch to the larger board was inspired by the more elaborate combinations and the long king.
Two of its offspring require some attention, Russian Draughts and Frisian Draughts.
The first one reverted to the 8x8 board, abandoned the precedence of majority capture (eliminating all sticker based combinations) and introduced the flying king, a king that becomes effective the very moment a man reaches the backrank, and proceeds as such in the same turn. Apart from that, it is the cradle of Bashni, the mother of all column checkers games.
Frisian Draughts is the only European variant to reintroduce Draughts' 'junk-dna' by allowing straight captures on top of and combined with the diagonal captures.

Evolution of Draughts Strategy
The end of Draughts' structural evolution marked the beginning of the evolution of its strategy. Players and problemists were indulging in the largely unexplored combinatorial possibilities, making one surprising discovery after the other.
no Sound  -  Flip board
Broken canvas...
to move

Problem 25 - (author Jurg)

Here's a classic pre WW2 problem by the dutchman Anton Jurg. How could anyone impressed by its beauty, fail to be impressed by the game that makes it possible?

Of course there's more where this comes from. So much more in fact, that it's mindboggling.
Eric van Dusseldorp, a Dutch player and promotor, gives an excellent selection on his Draughts site.

Soon really strong players emerged and matches were organized, turning the game into a sport. The initial approach of strategy was characterized by the hunt for the combination, the 'romantic' period that found its height in the person of the frenchman Isidore Weiss, a combinatorial genius who held the unofficial world title (most of the contestants being french) from 1899 till 1911. But a romantic approach only suits a young game well, and as strategy progressed, it also changed in favor of a more down to earth approach. A player hunting for the combination, could only do so by allowing structural weaknesses in his position, that would backfire if the hunt went unrewarded. This analytical approach proved successful and in 1912 Alfred Molimard dethroned Weiss in a match, with 21-9.

In the first decades of the 20 century, International Draughts was mainly a french/dutch affair. When the Federation Mondial de Jeu de Dames was founded in 1947 by four federations, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland, the french hegemony had only been interrupted twice, by the Dutch players Herman Hoogland (from 1912-1925) and Benedictus Springer (from 1928-1931). The french titleholders were Weiss, Molimard, Bizot, Fabre, Raichenbach and Ghestem.

Each of the players added new ideas to the game. Strategies emerged and were modified, if not refuted, by new strategies, and everything ended up in theory books, collections of games, opening studies, middlegame strategies, endgame studies. The first official world champion after the founding of the FMJD, the dutchman Piet Roozenburg, wrapped it all up and added his own ideas. He was worldchampion from 1948 to 1956 and made history by winning a 1946 tournament between six world class players with a score of 37 out of 40.

Draughts was a sport now, with ample media coverage for its heroes, and it became more international. Russia entered the scene, considering the game a good vehicle to illustrate the superiority of socialism, and succeeding at it too. From 1958 to 1972 the hegemony of the russian players Koeperman, Sjtsjogoljev and Andreiko was only interrupred by the Senegalese player Baba Sy in 1963, but the '63 match against Koeperman was never played because Russia refused him a visa, and the title was conferred posthumously.

International Draws
Building on the phenomenal legacy of Roozenburg and his predecessors, strategies became ever more refined, and a shadow that could easily have been ignored just a few decades before, began to grow. If a game is a determined draw, all strategy eventually converges toward that result. Checkers is a proven draw and few doubt that Draughts, despite the absence of a formal proof, is any different.

If the margin of draws embedded in a game tree is extremely small, like Havannah's for instance, there's not much a player's can do than to play for the win.
A greater margin gives a greater target for a player who for whatever reason happens to be satisfied with a draw, without it necessarily becoming a problem. Chess is a good example. Or was.
But when all strategy, all charting of the game tree, is converging, not towards a sea of draws, but towards an ocean, then there's bound to be a problem. And that's the problem with Draughts' and the reason for the evolutionary pressure the game is now under once again.

The source of the problem is the introduction of the long king on the diagonal board. Its resources for escape are such that barring a mere 10.000 of some 2.500.000 three against one positions, a player needs four kings to capture a lone king. In contrast, to capture a lone king in Turkish Draughts, a player needs only two.

If we look at world championship matches, the first one to end in 20 draws was Andreiko-Koeperman in 1971, but Dybman and Gantwarg repeated the performance in 1987. Next best were the matches Wiersma-van der Wal 1983 with 19 draws, and Sijbrands-Andreiko 1973, Wiersma-Gantwarg 1981, Wiersma-Virni 1984, Tsjizjov-Sijbrands 1989 and Tsjizjov-Wiersma 1993, all with 18 draws.
To remedy the problem, the matches from 1995 onwards were organized in sets. In 2004 the 'tie break' was introduced. The 2009 match between Schwartzman and Georgiev started of with 12 regular games, ending in 12 regular draws, then proceeded with blitzgames, so called 'micro matches' in which Schwartzman finally reached the required three wins.
In 2013 the rules changed. If a regular game ended in a draw, then the session would proceed with a rapid game, then a blitz and then a tie break (!). The 7 regular games rendered 5 draws and 2 decisions. Georgiev won one rapid, Schwartzman none. In 2015 the 7 regular games between Georgiev and Jean-Marc Ndjofang all ended in a draw, but Georgiev won a rapid and a blitz.
In 2016 Georgiev withdrew because, after ten world titles and countless draws he had lost the ambition. Then a curious thing happened in the match between the runner up of the 2015 tournament, Jan Groenendijk, and the number three, Roel Boomstra. Both are young Dutch players and Boomstra won 4 of the 12 games. There were news items, live streaming, interviews and an appearance in a popular talkshow where they were allowed to demonstrate how much fun Draughts can be. A true advertising campaign showing that Draughts is young and vibrant and pretty decisive! In the background the monumental figure of Harm Wiersma commented favourably on the new developments. Remarkable developments indeed!

"Denial is a river in Egypt"
Draughts players can no longer afford to be in denial. The problems become acutely manifest in high level match play, and since high level match play is supposed to be a sport's best promotion, Draughts is in the process of losing its status as an international sport and becoming a marginal game. The number of draws drives away the public at large, and the sponsors in particular.

In a survey done by Eric van Dusseldorp, no less than 25 suggestions have been made to remedy the problem, showing that not all Draughts players are in denial (the page is in dutch).
A suggestion that fails to address the source of the problem is to award 3 points for a win instead of 2. This might have some effect on tournament results, but in a match it is irrelevant. Moreover, the source of the problem is in the structure of the game, not in the attitude of the players.
An interesting suggestion is to adopt a 'Thai king' that must stop on the first square after the last captured piece. This allows the capture of a lone king with two kings and it is implemented even more rigorously in a variant called Killer Draughts. Of course it requires an extra rule: the king is not just long, but long with a restriction. It also implies letting a library full of accumulated theory go down the drain.

It's hard to get Draughts players to agree on anything, so the current state of increasing evolutionary pressure will most likely last till Draughts has become marginalized to the point of failing to attract new players and new sponsors altogether. The game as it is played now has become frozen by its own accumulated history and theory, and all new theory will only chart new roads to a draw.
Problemism flourishes to the point of organized world championships, but the creations generally speaking divert more and more from 'natural' game positions. As if to show what is possible in the game, but hardly ever happens anymore. As in the time of the 'huff', gameplay and problemism have once again become separated disciplines. But three centuries ago the compositions would point to future glory, now they point the opposite way.