35. The medieval evolution of draughts
In chapter 36, I shall cross the border to the New Time, i.e. the 16th c. It does not mean we can leave the Middle Ages for good, as it will be often necessary ‒also in texts about chess!‒ to fall back on the medieval past.
The day the European citizens welcomed the New Time, draughts had finished an unquiet life with many changes. The further we go back in the time, the scarcer the sources, with the belonging uncertainty. I am rather certain about the evolution of the game after 500 AD, but before this time it is blindfold grabbing in a lucky bag. So be it.
The results of research: the first variety was played
1, on a board with a lined pattern.
2. with a short doubleton (king)
3. without the obligation to capture.
We don’t know for sure where draughts was invented. The available data indicate to a region with Roman cultural influences covering present Spain, Italy and France. Time: around 2nd c. AD.
From France and Italy the game spread to other parts of Europe. Not everywhere, see further.
First innovation: the long doubleton
Possibly between 400 and 600 AD, in a region with Roman cultural influences, an innovation with a long doubleton (king) came into being. In later times we find this variety in cultures with Arabic influences: Spain, Turkey, Middle East. The long doubleton gives a more lively game, and for this reason I assume this variety superseded the old variety. Not everywhere: despite the cultural exchanges between Spain and France for instance, French draughts players held long on to their short king.
I can’t explain the national varieties in Russia and the the Netherlands: both cultues did not undergo Arabic influences but do have a draughts variety with a long doubleton.
Second innovation: transfer to the checkered board
In (very probable) the first half of the 14th c., draughts players started their game on the chess board. The name for this “new” game is French, but we don’t kow if this transfer was made in France.
Third innovation: partial obligation to take
In the 15th c., a partical obligation to take was introduced, it’s unknown in which civilization.
French and English writers mentioned two ways to play draughts: with free capture and with the huff [Stoep 2005,2007:69, 162]. A piece was huffed if a player was obliged to take an enemy singleton but refused it. His opponent picked up the singleton that failed to take, huffing it. We don’t know if it was permitted to huff a doubleton.
Huffing a piece was not the only bizarre custom. In France, wrote Diego Cavallero del Quercetano in “L’Égide de Pallas” (1722), a player who lost a game without having promoted a singleton has to scrape his nails across the underside of the board. And if your opponent allows you to take back a wrong move, you have to kiss the piece in question. In 17th c. England chess players had a similar practice: if you made a capture against the rules, you had to kiss the bottom of the piece in question.
The variety with the free capture lived on for ages, the Frenchman Pierre Mallet mentioned it in 1668: “It’s a childish game”, he wrote, preferring the variety with the huff. The huff held its ground into the 20th c.
In the 16th c., possibly in Spain, a full obligation to take was introduced, not in crossboard play but in problems. Players of games introduced the rule not earlier than the late 19th c. Without the full obligation to take, longer combinations are impossible. This explains draughts is lacking in the medieval manuscripts with puzzles based on chess, tables and morris: there was not yet an obligation to take.
As we never see an introduction of more than one rule at the same time, I hold the axiom that there is never more than one change. I’m aware an axiom is not founded on proof.
Fourth innovation: the singleton takes backwards
In the variety played in the Netherlands in the 16th c., the singleton captures both forwards and backwards, a rule which can only go together with a long doubleton. It is unknown when this rule has been introduced. On the border between Middle Ages and New Time? Also in Russian draughts the singleton takes backwards. Again I observe a parallel between draughts in Russia and the Netherlands.
The varieties with the long king in Spain, Turkey and the Middle East don’t have this rule.