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Checkers Strategy and Tactics: How to Win Every Time

Howard is a checkers enthusiast who wants to help others appreciate some of the finer points of this classic game.

If you've found this page, you might suspect that checkers isn't the simplistic kid's game it's often thought to be. It's true that checkers is simpler than chess, and that's probably where the misconception comes from.

If you have any checkers playing experience, no doubt you've noticed that certain moves are much better than others. This makes sense when we realize that checkers is entirely a skill game. There are no random elements. You control every move you make. While checkers isn't a complicated game to learn, it contains a lot of complexity.

Fortunately, moving beyond the pure novice stage isn't too difficult. If you want to be able to beat your friends at checkers, this article will give you the basics to do just that.

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The basic rules of checkers won't be covered here. I'm going to assume you know how to play. In case you're not aware, a numbering system is used to identify the black checker squares.

These squares are numbered from 1 to 32 starting on the Black side of the board. So, Black's back row is numbered 1-4, while White's back row is numbered 29-32. I'll occasionally refer to a piece's placement by its number. Here's a picture to reference if that gets confusing.

Black plays from the top and White from the bottom.

Black plays from the top and White from the bottom.

Checkers Strategy

The following strategies are general principles of strong play. It's important to understand that following these principles won't result in the best move every time. They could even lead to a terrible move. You have to consider the position on the board to fully evaluate a move.

However, these strategies will result in good moves the majority of the time.

Control the Center

This consists of occupying the center by moving your pieces into it, and by jumping toward the center when you have the option of jumping more than one way.

The central squares are more critical to control than the edges. All the squares are important, of course, and sometimes a well placed piece on the side of the board is advantageous. Again, don't ignore the position on the board. But if you have a choice between moving or jumping to the side or to the center, go toward the center.

Why does this help? Because a centralized piece has more options.

  • It has two possible moves while an edge piece only has one.
  • It can reach either side quickly if an opportunity arises.
  • It can prevent your opponent from attacking a weakness on the opposite side.
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The preceding picture shows the disparity between a centralized and an edge piece. Notice that:

  • it's two possible moves to one for the central piece,
  • the central piece can potentially reach 13 squares compared to only 8 for the edge piece, and
  • the central piece can defend or slow an attack from the center or a diagonal attack from either side while the edge piece casts a much narrower defensive net.

Protect Your King Row

Getting the first king is a huge advantage among less skilled players. So, the importance of protecting the king row is something that even checker amateurs realize very quickly.

It still deserves some consideration here because most amateurs go about this in a flawed way. The natural tendency is to refrain from moving your back row. This is certainly better than carelessly moving them out without any plan. But there's a better way.

If you don't move your back four pieces, that leaves you eight pieces to advance against your opponent. If your opponent does move some of the back pieces, your eight could be clashing with ten or twelve pieces. This could easily leave you on the wrong side of some exchanges.

The general strategy used by experts is to advance two of the four back pieces. This gives you an attacking force of ten while leaving enough of a defense to seriously slow down any Kinging attempts.

So, which two pieces do you leave behind? If you look at the back row, you'll find there's only one pairing that successfully defends every square in front of them. For black it's the pieces on 1 and 3; for white it's the pieces on 30 and 32. Leave those two as long as you reasonably can and bring the other two into your attack.

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In the preceding picture, notice how those two pieces can defend every square that leads to the back row.

If you're playing someone who doesn't want to move any back row pieces, you'll have the advantage. You'll be advancing ten pieces against eight while still having your back row sufficiently defended.

Keep a Strong Formation

Pieces grouped together tend to be stronger than ones that are separated. Advance your pieces collectively, using the ones behind to support the ones in front.

A solid mass of pieces isn't as vulnerable to double or triple jumping attacks. It also can't be easily broken up. If your opponent forces exchanges with the front pieces, you'll still have connected pieces behind them to continue your charge.

Amateurs often exchange pieces randomly just to simplify the game. Instead, try to build a strong formation. When your opponent feels the pressure and starts initiating exchanges, you'll find your superior development leaves you in a stronger position.

Here's an example of a formation of connected pieces that is superior to one with more separation and gaps.

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A stronger formation against a weaker one can also result in some of the favorable exchanges that will be covered in the tactics section below.

Checkers Tactics

Now we're going to look at some of the most common tactics that result in an advantage. Sometimes a game-winning advantage can be obtained with only one favorable exchange.

The Two-For-One Shot

This is probably the most basic tactic available to the checker player. Getting one piece jumped and jumping two in return feels really great. In games between novices, these situations just seem to happen. Really, though, they're not coming out of nowhere. Knowing how to create these shots will win you a lot of games.

In the following position, advancing the white piece as shown forces the black piece on square 15 to jump.

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White is down a piece but now the board looks like this, which gives White a double jump.

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The Three-For-One or Three-For-Two Shot

These work on the same principle as the two-for-one, but they might require thinking ahead a little further. You give up one or two pieces and gain three.

Making a slight adjustment to the two-for-one example gives White a three-for-one shot. If the Black piece on square 7 was on square 8 instead, Black's forced capture would lead to this position, giving White a triple jump ending in a King.

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Attacking Triangles and Triplicates

A group of three connected pieces, either in a triangle or along a diagonal, can quickly become a liability if the middle piece can be removed. That will leave two spaced pieces vulnerable to a double jump.

In the following picture, White's pieces are in a triangle formation and Black has a King on square 21. Black can remove the middle of the triangle by advancing as shown, forcing White to jump.

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That leaves the White pieces looking like this. The Black King has a double jump.

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We'll go back to the picture from the formation section for an example of a triplicate. On the center-left side there are three connected diagonal pieces. Depending on the board position, this could be a vulnerability. If Black had a piece on square 9 it could advance to 14, forcing White to jump.

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The board would now look like this, giving Black a double jump and easy King.

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This example also serves as a reminder about the general strategies. Even when things look good for you, like with this formation, you have to pay attention to the threats on the board.

Explore Forced Moves

Many times throughout a game, you'll be in a position to force your opponent to jump you, as in the previous example. Always pay attention to the possibilities that these present.

At a glance one of these might look like a simple one-for-one exchange, or even a one-for-zero that will leave you worse off. But look a bit closer.

What opportunities would this new position offer? Does it allow you to set up one of the tactics we've covered? Does it create a weakness that will allow you to King a piece? Sometimes a neutral or bad looking move is the catalyst for a profitable play.

Look at the possibility in the following position. White can advance as shown, first forcing the piece on square 6 to jump him, then forcing the piece on 13 to jump as well.

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By drawing those two pieces to new squares, White now has a game-ending triple jump.

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Keep Planning After You Move

Beginners sometimes feel relieved after their move and relax until it's their turn again. This is a wasted opportunity. The position usually doesn't change that much from one move to the next, so use your opponent's time to analyze the game.

Where is your opponent's position the weakest? Where is yours the weakest? Can you set up a two-for-one shot? Are you about to fall victim to a two-for-one?

The more you think about and look for the opportunities described here, the better you'll get at finding them. Be sure to spend time examining the board from your opponent's perspective as well. Avoiding an unfavorable exchange can win the game for you just as well as scoring one can.

Happy playing!