Chapter 10

10. Draughts in 13th c. Spain
 Several games in the Alfonso manuscript bear the name alquerque. Three of them are relevant for me: alquerque de tres, alquerque de nueve and alquerque de doze.
alquerque de tresMolenspel 2x3

Alquerque de tres (three) is our noughts & crosses or tick-tack-toe, not played on paper but on a board with 2×3 pieces, see the two pictures. The aim is getting three in an orthogonal or diagonal line to form a mill. On the smaller board top right the game is over: the player who forms a mill wins the game.
alfonso molenspel
Alquerque de nueve (nine) is morris with 2×9 pieces. Here too the aim is of getting three in an orthogonal or diagonal line to form a mill, but on the bigger board a mill means you can take one of your opponent’s pieces from the board.
The picture below shows the initial position of alquerque de doze (twelve), a game with 2×12 pieces. The clerk at Alfonso’s court describes two features the game had common with our draughts: the leap capture, and a capture can be continued. The two scoring rules are identical too: who cannot play because he lost all his pieces or because his pieces are immobile, loses the game.
Alfonso doze
About this third game, for brevity’s sake hereafter alquerque, there is a discussion going among board game historians about the question if it has been played without or with promotion.
I shall explain now why the arguments that were brought forward by the no-camp are invalid. Then I shall expound why the yes-camp was right, as far I can see.
The no-camp composed positions and called: “Look what a nice game alquerque is, it is well playable without promotion!”. This is the first argument. It is true, the game can be played without promotion. If I google an hour or so, however, I can add here a lot of gripping chess and draughts games where neither a pawn nor a singleton was promoted. Imagine, a game of chess or draughts should only become interesting with promoted pieces on the board. In that case chess and draughts would be lost games, long ago abandoned: who wants to play a game with a long boring introductory?
The second argument was introduced by Harold Murray. Draughts has been invented by experimenting medieval men, he claimed. They put the 2×12 pieces of alquerque on the dark or white squares of the chess board. The pieces kept their leap capture, but they acquired the right to promote to queen. “The literal sense of the French name of draughts, jeu de dames, proves this reconstruction”, Murray wrote [1952:75]. From which he concluded: “Draughts received its promotion from chess, which proves that alquerque was played without promotion”.
Apart from the warped reasoning ‒it is also valid if alquerque was played with promotion‒ his etymology of jeu de dames is wrong, se chapter 2. Therefore, the name is no proof that draughts borrowed its promotion from chess.
Argument number three is the lacking of a reference to promotion in the 13th c. description of alquerque. “Promotion is such a major rule”, the argument runs, “that the clerk had it certainly mentioned”.
This argument passes too easily over the psychological aspect. I shall exemplify this with a study experience.
The faculty Dutch of the University of Leiden has besides Linguistics and Literature a third discipline: Linguistic competence. In a seminar of this discipline my fellow students and I have buried ourselves in the means applied by an orator to convince a public of his truth.
Another interesting study object are manuals for electronic equipment. In that time, these were written by technologists as their CEO reasoned: ‘They know everything about a household appliance’. Such an expert, however, is not able to imagine himself in a poor lady next door who without lucid explanation does not understand the function of the third button from the top on the side panel, neither that she has to give this button a half turn to the left. The expert was driving the lady up to the wall.
The clerk at Alfonso’s court who draw up the rules of alquerque was this technologist and we are this lady next door: the promotion was so evident for him that he forgot to mention it. A matter of the third button from the top.
But this is only my additional argument, not convincing enough to win a representative of the no-camp over. I hope my main argument will be persuasive. It is founded, however, on a linguistic analysis that could be experienced as difficult, and therefore I hide it behind a link. Click here. In chapter 11 I shall discuss the consequences of my analysis.