30. Medieval draughts: free capture and the huff
We call Noughts & Crosses a game but it is not. David Parlett [2018:113]: “The first player has the advantage but the second can always force a tie”. He mentions three American mathematicians who proved this in 1982.
Without promotion draughts is a comparable game: if you know it better you can never lose, as appeared from the programs written by the Swede Mats Winther at my request [Stoep 2007:138-40], see chapter 10. The computer affirmed what I found applying linguistic methods: in the Middle Ages Spain benefitted from the Moors, who had a high level of civilization. The Arabs brought Spain the long doubleton (king), a doubleton we encounter again in the Spanish draughts books from the 16th c.
Winther’s work allowed us to answer a second question: did the medieval man and woman play on the lined board with or without full obligation to take? The computer, that played umpteen games against itself, gave the answer: the first player will always lose material. So, the lined board appears to fit only for draughts with the free capture.
I don’t know whether the lined board is appropriate for draughts with the huff, i.e. a partial obligation to take. At any rate the huff was introduced in the 15th c. (chapter 29), when draughts players played their game on the 64 squares board.
So far I don’t tell anything new, I repeat information from chapter 10 and 29.
Draughts in France 1492 [Depaulis & Simonata 2007]
The board game literature
However, my reconstruction of medieval draughts seems not to match with the reconstruction of board game historians. I don’t know for sure, because the most recent reference book, David Parlett’s, does not give clear information about the capture. First, Parlett [2018:244] writes: “Alfonso did not say whether capture is compulsory”, but later he seems to agree with Robert Bell’s reconstruction [1969 I:48] with the huff.
Alfonso, I tell it once more, is the manuscript where clerks at the court of the Spanish king Alfonso laid down the board games played in Sevilla and surroundings in the late 13th c. I zoom in on the passage where the clerk described the game I call line draughts and he alquerque de doze literally “game with twelve pieces”.
The 13th c. clerk
Describing the rules is the devil of a job, as I experiences when I cooperated on the brochure “ABC of draughts” (Dutch title: “ABC van het dammen”), in 1973 published in Utrecht with G. Bakker as the author. I brooded for example for days on the definition of the concept Majority take, in what is called International draughts on 100 squares a number of complex rules. For this reason, I don’t blame too hard the poor clerk who got the task to describe alquerque de doze. I have to say, however, he made a mess of it.
The man did not mention the promotion and mumbled something indistinctly about the obligation to take. I quote: “The first player (I chose White) has a disadvantage, as he is obliged to move a piece to the free point”. Of course, White has no disadvantage because of his opening move but because of what will follow.
White has four possible opening moves. As you see, two of them are excluded: White loses a piece where Black immediately makes a king.
Two opening moves are playable, and then Black has to capture. And so the clerk wrote down: “The other player (Black) captures by lifting the enemy piece”. This is the translation by both Westerveld in his Dutch [1997:105] and English text [2016:183] and by Schädler & Calvo [2009:291]. The clerk used for the concept capture the word lieua, as I assume a form of the present verb levara, ‘to lift’.
In my opinion the clerk did not give a general rule, he noted down the practice of the opening moves. The interpretation implies that after the opening taking is free. And this matches with the evolution of the capture in draughts and is in conformity with the results of computer experiments.