11. Penetrating into the past
My linguistic exercise under the link of chapter 9 allows me to penetrate a bit further into the past. What can I do with the information that the game alquerque de doze in the Alfonso manuscript is draughts?
First, it allows me to explain the rise of the French game name dammes. In the late 13th c., courtiers of king Alfonso played draughts on a lined board. In the first half of the 14th c., draughts players made the transfer to the checkered board. I don’t know where. I do know where this “new” game was given a name of its own: in France. On the chess board, draughts has another character than on the lined board. On the checkered board it is for example more difficult to promote a singleton, so that there will appear less doubletons on the board. Compare both diagrams. And this induced players to give draughts on the checkered bard a name of its own.
It becomes also clear now why Lorenço Valls called draughts in his book towards the end of the 16th c. marro de punta, literally diagonal marro, compare the diagrams again.
I want to emphasize that draughts on a checkered board does not intrinsically deviate from draughts on a lined board. Therefore, it should not surprise us that medieval players played draughts on the checkered board and held at the same time on to the ancient name for draughts on the lined board.
A practical question: how did Alfonso’s draughts playing courtiers indicate a promoted piece? In the West a player piles two flat round pieces on top of each other, but with pawn shapes pieces this does not work. In the Middle East draughts draughts is played with standing pieces up to the present day; how do the players of today mark a promoted piece? “In Jordan the players have to know a king”, says Sultan Ratrout, a draughts player from Jordan. “And the same in Lebanon”. Sometimes a player does not like playing like that: he “flips a piece”, according to Ratrout.
Dutch players who participated in a tournament in Manama, the capital of Bahrein, in the autumn of 1999, returned home with the same story. There were players from Kuwait, Quatar, the United Emirates, Jordan and Bahrein. “Impossibly to mark a king with the spherical pieces”, wrote the Dutchmen Cock van Leeuwen and Jan Wielaard, “you had to remember the promoted pieces”. The engraving in the draughts books of the Spaniard Joseph Carlos Garcez from 1684 (right below), however, shows two kinds of pieces: pawn shaped ones and pieces looking like the bishop in modern chess. How to explain this? Well, for Garcez draughts was no simple pastime, as it was for the courtiers in Sevilla in the late 13th c. and for the players in Bahrein in the late 20th c.: he composed endgames with pieces and kings, an intensive activity. And a considerable burden of the memory, you can take it from me: I am a composer with the title of International Grandmaster.
As appears from the reprint of his “History of Board Games” (2018:243-4), the English board games authority David Parlett holds to the traditional interpretation of alquerque as a game without promotion. “Why?”, I asked him. “Is my linguistic analysis in 1997 and 2005/2007 not convincing?” Parlett founded his objection on the alquerque picture in the Alfonso manuscript (left below). “With pawn shaped pieces one cannot mark a promoted piece”, said Parlett. “And I don’t see extra pieces with for example the model of the bishop”. I hope to have taken away his objection.
The new information on the game name alquerque is the gateway to a further opening up of the past and to seek for the origins of draughts. Then a question will rise as: to which century can I follow the path back? And: this century, is it before or after the birth of chess? It remains an intriguing question, the similarities between draughts and chess.
First, however, another question is waiting: what about the popularity of draughts in the period we speak of, so between 1000 and 1500? See for the answer chapter 12.
11. Penetrating into the past