Checkers Endgame

Arthur Conan Doyle, the British author famous for creating the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, once said that a checkers champion has all the tools needed to become a great detective. While I’m unsure if the average checkers player could solve a murder or stop Victorian-era criminal masterminds, I do know of one instance where their powers of deduction and reason are pushed to the limits: the checkers endgame.

In the words of former checkers world champion Derek Oldbury: “An endgame is a game ending in which both sides have achieved a king or at least gained a clear run to the king-row.”

That means the game is starting to wind down, and the astute checkers player should exercise careful strategy. A single mistake can allow victory to slip through your grasp, while a well-timed strategy can gain a satisfying victory.

This article deals with the subject of the checkers endgame on a basic level. For those wanting more in-depth analysis, there are a number of books on the subject (I’ve included some suggested titles), as well as information scattered across the Internet. But to truly understand the endgame in checkers, you‘ll need to practice. This last point cannot be emphasized enough, as players without a firm knowledge of openings and midgame strategy will be lost once the all-important endgame arrives.

Rules of the Endgame

When the endgame begins, there are a few basic maxims that should be kept in mind. You may think of others as you hone your skills, but the following are crucial.

Checkers Endgame Rule #1 - During the endgame,  keep your kings in a central position on the board. If you can keep them connected, then all the better.

Checkers Endgame Rule #2 – With careful play, a single king can pin down multiple pieces. Learn how this is accomplished and how best to go about it.

Checkers Endgame Rule #3 – As the midgame progresses, get your pieces farther up the board than your opponent. This will give you a better chance during the endgame, so don’t hesitate to sacrifice pieces that can further your advancement.

Checkers Endgames Online

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, a wide range of checkers endgames can be found online. Two of the more notable are the endgame calculations performed by Nemesis and the famous Canadian program known as Chinook. Nemesis includes an evaluation of all endgame maneuvers for eight pieces or less, and it can be found here. Chinook, meanwhile, has calculations for every position with 10 or fewer pieces on the board, and you can view it here.  (Chinook is the first computer program to win the checkers world champion title against humans.)

Checkers Endgame Terminology

While the following list is far from complete, it should provide you with a basic understanding of some terminology as it relates to the checkers endgame.

Backward Men – The term for your pieces that haven’t made much (if any) progress towards the opposing king-row. Such pieces that are prevented from moving by an opponent are known as pivot men. During the endgame of checkers, these pieces can be more of a hindrance than anything.

Blockade – A tactic where the opposing player’s pieces are trapped and unable to move. During the endgame in a game of checkers, this can lead to a victory.

Bridge – A key strategy during the endgame phase, a bridge is formed when two pieces belonging to the same player rest on the king row with an empty square between them.

Draw – Players may agree to call a game a draw when neither has enough of an advantage to clearly finish off their opponent. This may also occur in a timed game, when the player with the advantage doesn’t believe he’ll be able to win within the time remaining. At the highest levels of checkers, a surprising number of games end in a draw.

First Position – There are multiple families of endings in checkers, but first position is considered the most important. It does, however, take a number of moves to properly execute.

The Move – The last move made by a player in a game of checkers.

Resign - When a player decides to forfeit a game of checkers to his opponent. This often occurs when one player realizes that defeat is inevitable.

Themes – These are tactics employed during the endgame. Some of the most popular endgame themes include Vice Pocket, Captive Cossacks, Nipped at the Wire, Changing Guard, Self-Destruct, Vice, Ace in the Hole, Pocket, Double-Corner Block, Single Corner Block, Squeeze, Steal, Hanging Man, and Hobson’s Choice.

Zugzwang – When a player finds himself in a position where all available moves results in a loss. Often, the game would be able to continue if it were the opponent’s turn.

Books on Checkers Endgame Strategy

There are a number of quality books available on checkers endgame strategy. While this list is by no means complete, it should provide a solid starting point.

Win at Checkers – Written by former world champion Millard Hopper, this book covers endgame strategy, opening moves, tactics, shots, traps, and much more.

How to Win at Checkers – This Fred Reinfeld text details the five most common positions found during the endgame. Readers will also receive a comprehensive examination of openings, and tips for getting a draw when forced into a losing position. Shoots, traps, and pitches are also covered.

Play Winning Checkers: Official Mensa Game Book – Mensa is the society for people with a high IQ, and this Robert Pike books takes a suitably cerebral approach to the game.

The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Checker Puzzles – Another book from Robert Pike, this time filled with checkers puzzles that can be resolved in less than seven moves. The small size makes it ideal for the checkers player on the go. A great buy considering that it’s 512 pages.

More Memorable Matches – For players who want a historical perspective, this Jim Loy tome covers some of the greatest games of the 19th century, with a total of 749 matches being examined.

Other Jim Loy Books – The American Checker Federation website sells a number of other works from Jim Loy, including a three part series based on checker problems and solutions. These include: Checker Problems Vol. I ($30), Loy’s Guide ($20), and Jim Loy’s Checker Problems Vol. III ($20).

The checkers endgame is vital to anyone who wants to succeed as a player, and the suggestions and resources listed above should have you well on your way towards a better understanding of the game. Just remember that such knowledge is useless with constant practice, so be sure to balance out your checkers study and research with a liberal dose of head-to-head competition.