Written by Howard Fosdick ©

Overview: Checkers is a traditional favourite for two players. Some call it draughts. There are dozens of rules for checkers that vary by country and culture. These rules are for standard American checkers.

Objective: You win the game either by capturing all enemy pieces, or by placing your opponent into a position where he can not move any piece. Should both players end up where neither can move a piece, the game ends in a draw.

Draws also occur by mutual agreement, because it is not unusual for both sides to be so decimated that neither side can force a win.

Set Up: Set up the board and playing pieces as shown in the diagram. Randomly decide who will take the first turn (alternate in subsequent games).

Checkers Board with Starting Positions
Checkers Board with Starting Positions

Play: Pieces move and reside on the dark squares only. In his turn, each player can move one piece.

Pieces move diagonally in forward direction (towards the opponent). They can not move vertically or horizontally -- they only move diagonally. They can not move backwards, only forwards in the direction of your opponent.

Jumping: If your piece is next to an enemy piece and there is an open space on the other side, your checker jumps the enemy piece and lands in the open square opposite. The enemy piece is removed from the board at the end of your turn.

Jumping is mandatory. If more than one jump is possible for a piece, the player may decide which jump to take. You do not have to take the jump sequence that results in the greatest number of captures.

You perform multiple jumps with one piece in a single turn, if all jumps line up in a forward direction. Zig-zag jumps are permitted, as long as all progress in a forward direction.

Kings: If you move one of your pieces all the way across the board, to the final row, it becomes a King. A second checker is placed on top the King piece to indicate that it is now a King. Kings can move in both directions, forward and backward.

(Just like the regular pieces -- or "Men" --- Kings only move on the dark squares, only one square in each turn when not jumping, and only in diagonal directions.)

Since Kings can move in all diagonal directions, they can jump forwards and backwards, zig-zagging across multiple pieces during multiple-jump sequences.

Once you King a piece, you must wait until your next turn to move the King.

Variants: There exist dozens of checkers variants. Here are some of the rules that most frequently differ:

1.  In the flying King rule, Kings can move any number of vacant squares in one direction in one turn (rather than a single square at a time, as in basic American rules.) Kings can fly across the board to implement captures, too. Yikes! This greater mobility confers a big advantage on the first player to king a piece.

2.  A common piece can only move forwards -- but it can jump in any direction. Thus it is possible for a Man to implement multiple jumps in a single turn, in any of the four diagonal directions.

3.  Some play that if a common piece merely touches the furthest row, it becomes a King. Standard rules require that your Man end your turn residing on that back row to become a King.

4.  If a player has more than one alternative path to capturing enemy pieces in his turn, he is required to take the route that captures the most enemy pieces. The player only chooses which path to take when their resulting captures are equivalent.

5.  Lastly, since a player does not remove any jumped checkers until his turn ends, he can not jump the same checker twice in the same turn (although he can pass through any unoccupied square more than once per turn).

Tips for Play: Pieces on the sides are protected because they can't be jumped. But ultimately, control of the middle of the board tends to be a winning strategy. A centralised piece has more options because it:

  • Has two possible moves versus one for edge pieces
  • Can move quickly to either side
  • Prevents your opponent from attacking a weakness to one side

Pieces clustered together "in formation" are stronger than individual pieces that are isolated from others. Moving pieces together and keeping them grouped is generally wise.

Be sure to protect your back row so that your opponent can't get a King. Sometimes it pays to leave a few men back there to defend the King row. Many experts suggest moving two of the back row pieces forward, to expand your attacking force, while leaving two behind on the last row. The two left on the last row should be those two that defend the most squares.

"2 for 1" or "3 for 2" sacrifices can be useful early in the game, and give you the upper hand going forward. Understanding how to leverage the "forced jump" principle can help you create these favourable exchanges.

The fun of checkers is that while these tips generally give advantage, each game presents situations you must analyse and handle on their own merits. Though checkers is less complex than chess, truly good players know how to think many turns ahead and consider all eventualities.

Related Games: If you like Checkers, we urge you to try closely related games like the elegant Dameo. Also try "column checkers", such as Bashni and Lasca.

Print Your Own Game Board: Want to print your own game board? We offer several different free images. Just click here. You don't need to buy anything to play!

Sources: Checkers rules are widely available on the internet. These are typical of the game as played in the U.S. and often called "American Checkers". The variants we mention reflect the game as played in other regions.

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License: Feel free to print, copy, and distribute these rules, so long as you retain this paragraph. Written by Howard Fosdick © 2023, distributed under Creative Commons License BY-ND.      HOME