How to play checkers for beginners

Checkers (or draughts) is a great classic board game and strategy game for beginners. Here's how to play checkers, and strategies to win.

Checkers (or draughts, for users of British English) is a classic board game for a reason. A strategy board game dating back over 5,000 years, checkers turns a simple eight by eight checkerboard into a brain-boggling black-and-white battlefield. Checkers can be a great gateway into more complex strategy games, as it’ll only take you around thirty minutes to play. Of course, you’ll need to know how to play checkers to get started.

Strategy games like Root and Scythe may make it onto various best board games lists, but they can have a steep learning curve for someone who’s relatively new to tabletop gaming. Checkers ticks all the boxes that some complex games can’t – it’s a great family board game, an easy kids’ board game to pick up, and it still manages to a fun board game. Learning how to play checkers can be the stepping stone that future strategy lovers need.

This guide is designed to teach you how to play checkers, including everything from setup to winning strategies. It’s beginner-friendly, but people who’ve been playing since childhood may find a new tip or two, too.

Here’s how to play checkers for beginners:

How to play checkers - a hand points at the black pieces on a fully set up checkerboard

Checkers setup

A typical checkerboard has 64 squares that alternate between a dark and light colour. Players sit opposite each other with the board between them, and it’s traditional to have a light square in each player’s far-right corner. Choose who will play with dark and light checkers, then place your 12 pieces on the board – each player should have three rows of four, with the checkers placed on the dark squares only.

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A checkers tournament allows players five minutes to take their turn, so you should decide ahead of time whether you’ll time your moves or not. Whoever plays with the black checkers typically starts the game.

How to play checkers - a red and black checkerboard with red pieces on blacks squares, seen from above

How to play checkers

Checkers only has a few core rules, but they’re important. Firstly, your pieces can only move diagonally onto other black squares, one square at a time. They can also only move forward towards your opponent.

You can capture an opponent’s piece and remove it from the board if you can successfully ‘jump’ over their checker. This means that, if there is an opponent’s piece in a square you could usually move into and there’s an empty space diagonally behind it, your piece can move two spaces instead of one by ‘jumping’ over the piece – that’s when you take the captured checker out of play.

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Generally, you must capture a checker if you’re able to do so on your turn. If two different checkers can potentially perform a jump, you can choose which checker you want to move on this turn. There’s also one more thing to consider. If landing a jump puts you in the position to capture another opposing checker, you must do so immediately – and you keep going until you can’t capture any more pieces. There are plenty of opportunities to stack up some captures this way.

If you manage to move a checker to the other end of the board (your opponent’s back row), you’ve managed to ‘king’ your checker. Congratulations! Place a checker previously captured by your opponent on top of the ‘kinged’ piece. This checker can now move forward and backwards diagonally – it can still only move one space when it’s not capturing checkers, though. One fun benefit of this new rule is that a kinged checker can move forward and backward in the same turn, so you could change direction to capture even more opposing pieces.

How to play checkers - a closeup of a wooden checkerboard, with four white and four brown pieces scattered on top

How to win checkers

There are two ways to win checkers. Either you capture all your opponent’s pieces, or you trap them in a position where they can’t make any legal moves.

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When it comes to checkers strategies, playing aggressively is usually better than being defensive. It’s far better to try and control the middle of the board rather than stick to the edges in an attempt to avoid capture.

How to play checkers - a wooden checkerboard seen from above, with a mix of light and dark checker pieces scattered on top

It also helps to move checkers as a group rather than push forward with a few individual pieces. Single checkers that stray too far from the group are far more vulnerable to capture, after all.

Knowing when to sacrifice a piece is also a vital part of winning. If your sacrifice allows you to create or protect a kinged piece, or you can capture at least two of your opponent’s pieces from this new position, it’s definitely worth losing a single checker. However, be careful not to lose too many pieces needlessly – you could create the path to kingship your opponent’s piece needs.

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Kinged pieces should be a big priority. There’s no limit on how many pieces you can king, so you should get as many pieces across the board as possible. However, you should also be vigilant for any opposing pieces that may be edging closer to your end of the board. Knowing when to block your opponent will help keep them from creating more powerful pieces.

An effective way to block pieces is by leaving your back row of checkers in place for as long as possible. If they can’t reach any of the dark squares on your end of the board, that means no kinged checkers. Of course, they may do the same to you – in this case, it might be worth sacrificing a piece to tempt them into opening up a space for another piece that you can quickly king.