How To Play Checkers: Rules, Moves, & More (Plus, How To Teach Kids)

King Me! How To Play Checkers And Teach Your Kids Strategy

November 9, 2020 Updated February 9, 2021

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Tai's Captures/Unsplash

We’ve all played Checkers before, right? As a matter of fact, many of us probably have very vivid memories of playing those giant checkers by the fireplace or on the porch at Cracker Barrel. It was just what you did after you wandered around the gift shop and before you were finally seated for Sunday evening dinner. It’s a game that sort of inherently lends itself to family traditions — like playing Hearts or Spades around the kitchen table on a Friday night. Mancala and Backgammon may be more popular in other places, but Checkers may very well always be the sentimental favorite here. You could say it’s as American as apple pie.

For good reason, too! There are so many solid reasons to enjoy playing Checkers. It’s a fun and simple game that is easy to master at just about any age. After all, it doesn’t require reading or math and, even if you’re terrible at strategy, you can still “accidentally” win. As a bonus, nearly every household has a hand-me-down set in their attic or basement, so you may not need to buy a new game. And even if you do? A Checkers set is relatively inexpensive. (And, honestly, might make a decent Christmas gift for your most competitive kiddo.) While it’s not as portable as playing the dot game or Tic-Tac-Toe, Checkers packs up well enough to play practically anywhere.

If it’s been a while since you’ve played, though, your memory of the board might be where your knowledge stops. What are the rules? How exactly do you play? And, perhaps most importantly, how do you teach your kids to play? We have all the answers right here.

The Set-Up

What You Need

  • A board: It should have alternating squares of a dark color and a lighter color. Checkerboards are typically red and black with “lighter color” referring to the red color. If you don’t have an “official” Checkers board, you can also use a chessboard.
  • Playing pieces/checkers: Play includes 12 light (red) and 12 dark (black) checkers that add up to 24 pieces total.
  • A friend: You just need to wrangle up one challenger. Easy peasy!

Who Can Play?

You need two players to play Checkers. There’s an old-school game often called “Chinese Checkers” that uses marbles and a round board. It allows for more players.

How To Start

  • Sit facing your friend with the board between you. Both players should have a lighter colored square in their right corner.
  • One person should be light and one dark. You’ll place your 12 checkers on the dark squares in front of you. (Both sides use only the dark squares.) You should have three rows of four checkers each.
  • There will be two open rows between your checkers and your opponent’s.

How To Play

How To Move And Capture

Before you can start, you need to decide who goes first. Many families/tournaments have the darker checkers move first. You could also flip a coin for it or simply decide that the older person goes first. Whatever keeps the peace. Now, it’s time to make some moves.

  • In the beginning, players can only move their checkers diagonally and forward onto other dark squares.
  • As you continue to maneuver your checkers, you might land on a space diagonally adjacent to your opponent. If the space is open behind their checker, you must jump their piece to get to the space behind them. You’ll “capture” or collect their game piece.
  • If there is a chain of open and occupied spots with your opponent, you may jump more than one piece in a play, as long as you’re touching down between each hop. Note: That also means your opponent can jump and capture you if you move into a spot in front of them and have no pieces behind you to block them from landing.

King Me!

If you reach the other side of the board, your opponent must “king” you. They do that by taking one of the captured pieces and stacking it atop that piece. That essentially means that they lose a “point.” A few notes about king pieces:

  • Kings can still only move one space and one direction at a time if they are not capturing.
  • However, king pieces can move diagonally in either direction — forward (toward your opponent) or backward (toward you) — when capturing the opponent’s pieces.

How To Win

In order to win, you must either trap your opponent from making any further moves or collect all of their pieces.

Winning Tips

  • Keep a full back row for as long as possible. If your back row is occupied, your opponent can’t reach it. This means that they can’t be kinged and have the additional freedom of movement, which is quite an advantage.
  • Keep your pieces in pairs or clusters. The only way to get captured is if your pieces are left alone with no other surrounding checkers. Since you can only move your checkers one at a time, it may not always be easy. Occasionally a piece might be stranded and sacrificed. That’s okay to do from time to time! However, if you can keep your checkers from straying too far out from the pack, it will be much harder for them to be picked off by your opponent.
  • Focus on getting kings. You already know the advantage of having kings to play with. Try to grab as many as you can.
  • Capture your opponent’s kings. Even kings can fall. If you see the opportunity to jump a king, go for it. Just make sure you’re not setting up your opponent to make multiple moves and captures.
  • Checkers is a game of strategy and sacrifice. It’s important to recognize which pieces are worth losing and to be willing to lose a few to gain territory. It also stops dangerous opponent pieces from moving forward on the board.
  • Try to gain control of the center of the board. This helps by sneaking your pieces out along the edge and then going from there. When your pieces are layered on the edge, it reduces your risk of losing pieces and defends your back row. However, don’t keep your pieces there too long as it could become dangerous and restrict your movement. Stay there briefly so you can peek out into the middle and block opponents from going forward.
  • Build triangular structures with your pieces. This makes your defense less vulnerable and gives your opponent less space to invade.

Teaching Kids

Okay, so you have the rules and general idea in front of you. But, how do you translate that to teaching your kiddos to be good Checkers players? It’s easier than you think. Keep the following tips in mind, and you and your mini-me will be enjoying routine Checkers sessions in no time.

Have Patience

Your kids are going to lose their cool when they’re not sure what to do and feel stuck. If you breathe through it and give them space to air their frustration, it’s really best. Sure, we want our kids to be good losers, but new things are hard. As long as we’re not flipping tables (or, in this case, checkerboards), it’s okay to have big feelings when we learn new things.

Cheat

No, mama. Seriously. Your kiddo has no idea how to strategize or look ahead. If they knew how to think three steps ahead, they’d stop using a death grip on the toothpaste every morning and night. When you start off, give them suggestions or allow redos. If it starts to become “a thing,” set a limit: “Okay, bud — next game, you only get five do-overs.” Lower it each game. But definitely consider letting them have one do-over per game for as long as it takes them to really get a grip of the game.

Talk Out Your Moves

Did you know that reading your notes out loud is a great note-taking hack for learning and memory recall? It’s true! And the same goes for describing your actions out loud. So, make your inner monologue an outer monologue: “I think I want to move right… but then it’ll be easier for you to capture me. If I move left, instead, you won’t be able to get me. And the next move I can move this piece to the right and capture you.” As you walk through your own thoughts and strategy, your kiddos will begin to understand how they should think about the game as well.

Restart the game

The more your kid plays, the easier it’ll be for them to point out their own mistakes. Like most things, learning is a journey and throughout the game, your kid will absorb your training tips. And at the same time, they’ll probably be losing. Defeat in checkers is sometimes a long and boring battle, so don’t be afraid to cut a game short and restart. Playing a losing game can be a learning opportunity, but it can also be a bit pointless, especially when your kiddo has learned from their mistakes. So be prepared to toss matches so your child can use what they’ve learned and apply it in a new game where they will be more confident and a better opponent. However, you can keep a game going if there’s still space for them to use their new understanding or you can scrap it and give them a fresh start.

Checkers Game Downloads

Between COVID-19 and social distancing, many are turning to the internet for their game night fixes. If you’re looking for an app to play checkers on, we’ve gathered several free downloads that’ll let you play until your heart’s content. 

Checkers: This download has a 4.2 rating and ten-levels of difficulty. They also provide rules and guidelines within the app to help with any questions you may have about the game. 

Checkers Free: This game is available on Android and iOS. If you’re a beginner, Checkers Free has an undo button to help you along. 

Checkers Free !: This Microsoft download allows you to choose different themes for your game. Keep in mind that you can’t play a flying kings move within this program.