In my country (Poland) Chess is called a “royal game” while the Checkers are known as “Chess of proletariat”. Such terms clearly classify the first game as noble and worthwhile and the second as silly or worse. Many people think they sound like experts when they speak about the superiority of the Chess over the Checkers (Draughts). In fact, such people show only their ignorance. Chess is not harder than Checkers … and vice versa. In the case of non-trivial games, you should generally avoid speaking about a superiority of one game over another.
People have a strange propensity to split culture into “high” and “low”. Painting in the museum is always a “high culture” while spray-painted graffiti on the wall will always be perceived as the plebeian, “lower” art. However, you have to admit that many graffitis are more interesting than many modern paintings from galleries or museums. Sometimes we just admire the work of street artist and reluctantly we have to admit that he presented a higher creative workshop than educated and titled creators of “higher” culture.
Games are a part of the culture like music, painting, and literature. And we want to classify them to “noble” and “less noble”, just like we classify art. We can even create different theories proving the superiority of one game over another but are these theories really rational?
Chess is not the only mind sport
Chess and Checkers – that’s a good example. The first of these games is considered as mental entertainment of the upper social class. When you say “Chess player,” you think “sluggish intellectualist”. Meanwhile, the Checkers is considered a game without any depth, good to play in a pub or with the children.
Most people would say that Chess has the status of mind sport. There are tournaments, world champions and from time to time we hear about important matches. What about Checkers? Is this a mind sport? Yes, but not everybody knows this.
Especially international Draughts grown as a serious mind sport, but there are also important 64-square Checkers tournaments and Turkish Draughts competitions. Many other games have the status of mind sport like Othello, Shogi or Go.
Why chess players are not draughts champions?
If someone believes in the superiority of Chess over the Checkers let him answer one question. Why the world Chess champion is not also a Draughts grandmaster? Why generally Chess players do not win Checkers tournaments? If Chess is a “hard” and Checkers is “easy” what stops all Chess players from winning those tournaments and taking the money offered as a prize?
Well… Chess players do not win Draughts tournaments because they are not good Draughts players. If you want to join elite Draughts players you have to study the theory of the game – openings, endgames, combinations and positional play. You have to understand many concepts, learn and remember some things, analyze games and so on.
Becoming a good Chess player requires exactly the same. You need to know Chess openings, endgames, ideas of combinations and positional play. Let’s be clear that the theory of Chess openings has absolutely nothing to do with a knowledge about Checkers openings and positional play in Draughts has nothing to do with the positional play in Chess. Here we come to the vital point, often forgotten by ignorants calling Checkers a “Chess of proletariat.” Chess and Checkers are two different games. They vary as much as Chess and Go or Bridge and Scrabble.
Comparing apples to oranges
People wrongly see checkers as a kind of “simpler chess” because they see board used in Draughts as similar to the Chessboard. Besides, there’s a “crowning” in Draughts, and in Chess, pawns are also promoted after reaching the last line. But similarities end here and the differences are much more important.
- In Checkers the aim of the game is to capture or block all enemy pieces. In Chess, the goal is associated with only one piece – a King.
- Capturing rules are different in both games.
- In Draughts capturing is mandatory and this is crucial for the mechanics of the game (you can force your opponent to make particular moves).
- In Chess, there are 5 types of pieces. In Checkers there are only 2 kinds of pieces.
- Boards used in both games are essentially different if we consider fields that can be occupied by pieces. In Draughts you play only on the dark squares connected only diagonally (with the exception of orthogonal draughts). In Chess, there are more fields connected diagonally, vertically and horizontally.
- Chess and checkers are of different origins. Checkers come from Alquerque while chess is a descendant of Chaturanga.
You have to admit this is silly to call Checkers a “chess of proletariat.” We might as well call apples “oranges for poor”. Does that make sense?
Some people will still try to prove the superiority of Chess over the Checkers. They will show us a mathematical proof. In Chess, there are more possible positions because there are more types of pieces and those pieces can be placed on the greater number of fields. Besides, in most positions Chess player has a greater choice of possible moves than Draughts player.
This argument is not as rational as it seems. First, people do not play Chess or Checkers by calculating all possible positions. Even good Draughts player is not able to form in his mind a game tree (an image of all possible endings from each position). The numbers of positions in both games are just too large for a human’s mind. In practice the difference between this to numbers is irrelevant.
If the number of possible positions would really matter, we could say Chess is also a simple and stupid game (yes!). There is a game of Go with a larger board (361 fields) and many more pieces than in Chess. Chess looks really “poor” with its 64 fields and 32 pieces. If we should measure the value of the game by a number of possible positions then Chess should be not highly valued. But Chess is not a stupid game… and Checkers is also not a stupid game.
Because of computers…
I heard the opinion that computers “solved” Checkers earlier than Chess. Where this myth come from? I have no idea.
Both Chess and Checkers programs emerged around the 1970s. Serious matches between humans and machines ended with different results. In 2012 draughts player Alexander Schwarzman beat computer program Maximus (in international draughts). Much earlier Chess player Gary Kasparov lost to Deep Blue computer, but program named Chinook is considered unbeaten in English checkers (although it’s still not perfect as one reader mentioned in comments). Draughts grandmaster Alexei Chizhov said he could not beat the computer, but he also would not lose to the computer.
Note that recently computer beat a human master in Go. Many people thought it was not possible because game Go is so complex! On the other hand in some games (like Othello), computers are strong for a long time, but all this does not mean one game is better than the other. People are still playing at a different levels, and the essence of sport is to compete with other people. In this sense, no game was ever “solved”. Is running “solved” because there are fast cars?
Theoretical number of positions in practice
A large number of possible moves does not always have importance in practice. The diagram below shows one of the possible positions in Chess. This position can theoretically occur in every game.
This position will occur if White will move only his pawn from the beginning and Black player will only move his Knight from b8 to c6 and back to b8 and so on.
This position is possible, but in practice, it never occurs. Why? Because it requires both players to play very silly moves. So silly that even two novice Chess players wouldn’t do something like that.
Here we come to the point. It’s true that Chess player can have 30 possible moves while in Checkers there is usually less than 10 possible moves in every position. The thing is that among the 30 options for the Chess player many will be obviously wrong, silly or senseless. In Checkers, every move can look as good, but only certain moves are really good.
The weaker someone plays chess the simpler Draughts becomes?
Some people proved that the better Chess player is, the less good moves he sees in each position. For a Chess master, a position can contain an average of two good moves. Weak amateurs have fewer problems – they can see over a dozen “good” moves.
This evokes an interesting paradox. If the number of moves considered by a player affect the difficulty of the game that means … the weaker someone plays Chess, the simpler Draughts becomes! A very weak Chess player can see even 30 good moves so Chess is harder for him than Checkers. Chess grandmaster sees two good moves, and in Draughts there are often more possible moves. Does this mean the chess grandmaster see Draughts are a harder game? Of course not. Greater choice of possible moves does not make the game easier or harder.
Who can compare the difficulty of two games? Someone who played both games pretty well. There were such people, for example, François Philidor, Chess master and music composer who lived in the XVIII century.
Philidor was the most prominent Chess player of his time, but he also played international Draughts and wrote books about the theory of Draughts. As a chess player, he was invincible. As Draughts player he was strong, but not a true master.
Philidor was able to reproduce three last Chess games from the first till the last move. But he was not able to reproduce the first fifteen moves of a game of Draughts he played. Does this mean Checkers is harder than Chess? No. Not at all. These games are just different and Philidor apparently had Chess aptitude. In addition, the positions in Draughts are not easier to remember or analysis just because pieces are less diverse. In fact, seeing many pieces of one kind can take an assessment of position to a higher level of abstraction.
The picture below shows a position from Draughts game. There are 9 pieces on each side. This position doesn’t look like better for Black or better for White. In fact, White can win this game in just a few moves and Black can’t prevent this win. In order to win White must make few just-right moves. Good Draughts player will see this chance, but it’s not visible for many average people.
If you to see what good draughts player can do here, read this post.
Both Chess and Checkers require one skill – to imagine a position after making a move. Chess pieces are more diverse but paradoxically this may facilitate imagining the situation on the board. It’s easier to remember the positions of several different elements than the positions of identical elements.
Draughts player must memorize different layouts of similar pieces. What’s more, on Draughts after making a capture, a piece does not stay on fields previously occupied by enemy pieces. And because capturing is mandatory one move can determine next few moves. Therefore, imagining how the position will look after one move can be really hard in Draughts.
People say Chess players predict the moves of the opponent. In fact, you can’t predict a move, but you can suggest something to your opponent and anticipate some of his reactions (eg. exposing a valuable piece for a capture may result in moving a certain piece to make this capture).
Draughts players need to think in another way because in Draughts it’s not simple to calculate an advantage or loss. Draughts player must be more focused on maintaining a strong position and he seeks for unavoidable holes in the defense of the opponent. Exploiting this holes is not done by ruse, but it requires to find a way of an attack that can not be stopped in – for example – 5 or more next moves.
The truth is that different games require different skills and being an outstanding player always takes a lot of work, whether in chess or checkers or in Othello or any other game.
Every game is worthy
I wrote mainly about Chess and checkers but all this applies to every non-trivial game (that is not so simple as tic-tac-toe). There is beauty in each game. Games are our great cultural heritage. Every game makes your mind sharper and you don’t have to classify games are worthwhile or worse. You should just play and enjoy them.
In the header, I used two photos licensed on Creative Commons license.