Checkers Strategy & Tactics
Checkers is a subtle game that requires a surprising amount of strategy to succeed. Some players dedicate their whole lives to mastering the game, only to realize that they’ve just scratched the surface of possibilities. But no matter how complex the game may be, implementing proper checkers strategy, tactics, and strategies can make the difference between a win, a loss, and a draw.
This article includes basic strategies for the game of checkers, as well as a breakdown of the three phases of the game and a suggested reading list. If you want to improve your game, following this advice is a wise place to start.
The Three Phases of Checkers
Before you can make use of checkers tactics and strategies, it’s important to understand the three phases of any checkers game. No matter what the skill level of the players involved, each game of checkers will progress through these three phases.
Openings - These are the first three or four moves that take place during a checkers game. Checkers has two different styles of play when it comes to openings. The first is known as go-as-you-please (or GAYP), and this means that players can use any opening they want. The second, known as the 3-Move, is when players must choose three opening moves at random (red-white-red) and adhere to them. This is common in tournament play, and a 2-Move option also exists.
Some famous opening strategies in checkers are:
- Will-o-the-Wisp (11-15, 23-19, 9-13)
- Black Dyke (11-15, 22-17, 15-19)
- Cross (11-15, 23-18)
- Defiance (11-15, 23-19, 9-14, 27-23)
- Single Corner (11-15, 22-18)
Midgame - The section of a checkers game that falls between the opening and the endgame.
Endgame - The endgame usually occurs when there are eight or less pieces remaining on the board. Both sides are working their way across the board, and one or more pieces may have already been kinged.
Suggested Checkers Strategies
There are a wide range of available strategies for checkers. Instead of overwhelming you with advanced concepts and complicated terminology, I’ve decided to focus on basic ideas that will prove beneficial to players of all skill levels.
Practice Is Key – The best way to improve at checkers is to play games against those with superior talent, be they human or computer.
Book Play – The term “book play” means engaging in checkers strategy that’s been learned from a book. There is nothing wrong with this. Books on checkers contain moves and strategies that have been perfected for over a century, so endeavor to understand them and incorporate them into your game.
Work on Crossboard Play – Crossboard play occurs when game situations arise that haven’t been covered in books, leaving both participants trying to solve the problem from “across the board.” While book play is important, it’s just as critical to be able to think on your feet. This ability can come in handy when an opponent goes “off book,” meaning that they do something not covered in the strategy books you’ve studied.
Solve Problems on Your Own – During practice, or when playing against a computer, try to solve problems yourself without consulting a book. You’ll be more likely to remember the solution in future games if you arrived at it naturally.
Keeping All Pieces on the Back Row – While this might seem like a good idea to a novice player, it’s something you want to avoid. Doing this will leave you with only eight pieces against your opponent’s twelve, and you’ll soon find yourself at a disadvantage. It doesn’t hurt to leave a couple in the back row, but try to use the others as part of a coordinated attack.
Trading Pieces – Only trade pieces with your opponent when it leads to a positional advantage.
Be Aware of Corners – Two corners of the board have squares that are only accessible by a single square. Meanwhile, the other corners can be accessed by a pair of squares. The latter is far safer due to the increased amount of exits, although corners should be avoided when possible.
American Checker Federation – After you’ve played for a year or two, consider joining the American Checker Federation and taking part in live events.
Center of the Board – By occupying the center of the board, your pieces will have more options for movement.
Importance of Position – While the number of pieces is important, the position of your pieces also factors greatly into a game. Always be aware of your position and seek to improve it.
Avoid the Sides – When possible, avoid the sides of the board. While they’re not as weak as the corners, they effectively cut the reach of a piece in half.
Books on Checkers Strategy and Tactics
Book play is crucial for success at checkers, and this can be achieved by purchasing books on checkers strategy and studying until you’ve memorized all the good moves. Here are some suggested texts to buy, as well as what point in your career you might want to consider them.
The Beginner – If you’ve been playing checkers for a few years or less, you’ll want to add these books on checkers strategies to your personal library: Gould’s Problem Book, Horsefall’s Problem Book, Win at Checkers, Play Winning Checkers, Starting Out in Checkers, How to Win at Checkers, and Masterpieces.
The Intermediate Player – After several years in the game, give the following books on checkers tactics a try: Lee’s Guide to the Game of Draughts or Checkers, The Complete Draughts Player, Border Classics, Checkers in Depth, 101 Checker Puzzles, Boland’s Famous Positions, Little Giant Encyclopedia of Checkers Puzzles, Basic Checkers, Boland’s Famous Themes, Ryan’s Modern Encyclopedia of Checkers, Big League Checkers, Solid Checkers, and Checkers the Tinsley Way.
The Experienced Player – Now that you’ve devoted a decade or more to the game, take the plunge and give these checker strategy books a try: Oldbury’s Complete Encyclopedia, Kears’ Encyclopedia, and Master Play.
Checkers strategy can be ignored when you play, but don’t expect to win many games in the process. Even beginners apply checkers tactics during gameplay, and it can be as simple as trying to jump an opponent without being captured in turn. So no matter what your level of skill, keep in mind that the driving force behind checkers success is the ability to understand strategy and make it work for you.