Today, draughts and chess have got a completely different image: chess is considered as an intellectual, difficult and rich board game, draughts as a simple game without any depth. About this prejudice some appeasing words.
"Chess is more difficult than draughts" (21st c.)
Nowadays much more people play chess than draughts. However, this is only the case since 1900. Only a few players really understand chess. The great majority plays the game without any notion of strategy, but exactly these characters think unfavourable about draughts. Explanation.
In 1946 [A.D. de Groot “Het denken van den schaker” (How a chess player chooses his moves)] and 1968 [R.W. Jongman “Het oog van de meester” (The master's eye)] two Dutchmen published the results of inquiries into the way a chess player evalutes a position. Their conclusion: for a chess master a position contains an average of two (Groot) or 1.76 (Jongman) good moves, but the weaker the player, the more "good" moves he sees. These investigations were repeated by the Dutchman Gerhard Bakker [journal “Het Nieuwe Damspel” 1975:5-11], but applied to Polish draughts. Played at the highest level Polish draughts appeared to be as difficult as chess: for a draughts master a position contains an average of two good moves. With a note: the choice of the positions influences the figure, because the masters more often disagreed about the best move in bad positions.
Bakker's positions were collected by way of a contest, copied from a bridge journal. Top players indicated their move in some hundreds of positions taken from championships. In every number of "Het Nieuwe Damspel" the readers were invited to choose the best move in twelve positions. See the diagram for an example.23-18, 40-34, 42-38 or 43-38. The journal made a ranking: the move 43-39 gave four points, the other moves 0 points.
Chess players use more squares of their board (64) than players of Polish draughts do (50), and the major chess pieces have got a greater move than the singleton in draughts. This implies that the average chess position contains more moves which are allowed by the rules (c. 30 [Groot 1946:19]) than the average draughts position: Polish draughts c. 11 [Bakker 1975:8]. A chess player playing his game at the lowest level has the choice between 30 "good" moves, whereas he sees 11 "good" moves in a position in Polish draughts. This evokes a paradox: "The weaker someone plays chess, the simpler draughts becomes".
"Chess is more difficult than draughts" (c. 1800)
The "Law of the Fool" expressed in the paradox is from all times. Two centuries ago French draughts players complained about the condescending attitude of chess players -except for two stronger ones. In his “Manuel des amateurs du jeu de dames à la polonaise” (1811), Alphonse Éverat appreciatively mentioned Philidor and Léger. Together with three friends, Léger wrote a chess book: “Traité théorique et pratique du jeu des échecs”. According to Richard Twiss, Léger was not able to cope with Philidor without receiving a pawn and the move [Eales 1985:122]. Philidor and Léger played draughts as well, fragments from their games against Parisian draughts players have come down to us.
In 1807-1808 Dufour, a draughts player living in Paris, published a book for a rather negative reason: his object was to silence the many chess players who ran down every other game, particularly Polish draughts, wrote Éverat (1811:V]. Éverat: "Philidor, the strongest chess player we know, held another opinion. He excelled in draughts too, and for this reason he was more qualified than anyone else to give his judgement about both games. He has never pronounced it, however, because he knew how difficult draughts is. He has never asserted, like some chess players, that draughts is a notable game for lackeys or school children (as Deschapelles said, see below). On the contrary, Philidor often played draughts and almost worked his way up to the top. Léger shared Philidor's opinion, and with him all players knowing something about chess and draughts." What did those draughts haters assert?, asked Éverat: "That Philidor and Léger kept draughts players and therefore were obliged to devote some positive words to that stupid Polish draughts now and then." Suggesting that draughts is more difficult than the ordinary chess player supposes, Éverat [1811:VII] established: "Philidor is not able to reproduce the first fifteen moves of a game of draughts he played, but does reproduce three chess games from the first till the last move". For Éverat cause to ask a rhetorical question: the fact that for a genius like Philidor draughts is more difficult than chess, does not lead this to the conclusion draughts and not chess is the difficult game? I ask another, not rhetorical question:
Why was Philidor not a genius in draughts?
It is an eternal question: "Which game is more difficult, chess or draughts?" Lovers of mathematics like showing that in chess an astronomic number of variants is hidden, a lot more than in draughts. Because the human brain plays chess and draughts without calculating -the best move is chosen intuitevely- this difference is irrelevant. For a human being chess and draughts are equally difficult -if played well, see above.
Number people are found in any time. The 18th-c. Dutch novelist Petrus Lievens Kersteman was a number man. In 1786, he published the Dutch adaptation of Philidor's second chess book. A verbal translation was impossible, as in the Netherlands in his time chess was an almost unknown game; Holland played draughts. It is most enlightening to see how he did his utmost to make comparisons with draughts: the chess board resembles a draughts board but has got 8x8 instead of 10x10 squares; chess pieces have got the same colour as draughts pieces, usually black and white; the pawn can promote like the singleton in draughts. It is remarkable these comparisons came after an Introduction in which he ran draughts down, just after a sentence where he pointed to the many different pieces of chess: "All this very different from draughts, which is not more than a children's game compared with chess; it will irrefutable come to light if one pays attention to the mass of complications occurring in chess". With these words Kersteman gave the initial impetus to fruitless discussions, repeated to this very day. Chess players redo Kersteman's arguments, draughts players draw attention for the fact their game is complex despite the uniform pieces and emphasize a draughts player has to see deeper than a chess player.
Back to Philidor. At the end of this complaint about cocky chess players, Éverat asked an intriguing question: Why was Philidor a better chess than draughts player? Éverat is not the only contemporary who stated Philidor's skills regarded chess, not draughts, there also is an English eywitness. Georges Walker, a chess player, did not speak highly of Philidor's draughts capacities either. A quotation from “Chess and chess-players” (1850): The difficulty of acquiring Polish draughts is almost commensurate with that of learning chess. As a proof of this, the renowned Philidor, though he played Polish draughts for many years, and worked hard at the game, was never equal to those, like Chalon, of the first grade. There were always draughts-players who could give Philidor odds; and this determined him, probably, to confine himself to chess, in which, like the lion of the desert, or the eagle of the Alps, he reigned without a rival. The Polish draughts-players have long since returned to the café de Manoury, and the most skilful player there told us (in the flesh, some six weeks back), that he should consider seven or eight years a reasonable time to be spent in getting up to the odds of one pawn! (But Chevalier de Jaucourt in his article on chess in Diderot’s “Encyclopédie” (1755): "When he was eighteen Philidor was a stronger draughts player than anyone else before him and may better than anyone will be in the future".)
The human brain is a mystery. Why did not succeed Philidor, the genius, in learning draughts on the same level as chess? Does chess make an appeal to other parts of the brain? Or must we assume that the brain of brilliant draughts players like the American Marion Tinsley and the Dutchman Ton Sijbrands were shaped with another structure than the brain of a Garry Kasparov?
A sociological component
The French draughts players Dufour and Éverat made complaints about the disdain with which Parisian chess players rebuffed draughts players -compare the Dutchman calling draughts a children's game. Alexandre Louis Honoré Lebreton Deschapelles pronounced the feeling of superiority without any restraint. In 1839 Georges Walker noted down a curious story, published in his book of 1850 (see above, chapter “Deschapelles, the Chess-king") about Deschapelles and Chalon, Blonde's successor as strongest draughts player of Paris. In the early 19th c. Deschapelles was perhaps the strongest Parisian chess player and certainly the greatest boaster of the City of Light. During his visit to Berlin in 1806 he had been able to give a rook odds to all the Germans -he said; giving odds was a mark of status [Eales 1985:128,144]. Walker wrote: The mode in which Deschapelles acquired Polish draughts is very curious. For a long time this scientific game had been popular in France; its head-quarters being the Café de Manoury, from whence the amateurs of draughts were, however, at one, temporarily expelled during the first French revolution from their being a body of men at that time too poor in pocket to answer the purpose of a wealthy coffee-house keeper. During their wandering in the desert, they settled for a time in an “entresol” near the Café de Manoury, and there the banner was pitchet, under the leading of M. Chalon, the first player of Polish draughts at that time in France, and author of some curious printed problems on this subject. This gentleman was the successor of Blonde, Manoury, and others of the élite, and gave odds to all with whom he played, -daily keeping the lists for hours again all comers. Deschapelles took it into head to play Polish draughts. He walked one fine day into the sanctum, learned the moves and laws by looking on for an hour, and then challenged M. Chalon to play. The latter gave the odds of two men, and they played thus daily for a dew days, when the odds were diminished to one man. After a month, they were brought down to the half man; and at the end of three months, M. Deschapelles challenged Chalon to play even. They did so, and the former was the Conqueror. Chalon wished to continue; Deschapelles declined, in the following pithy terms: “I have looked through your game”, said he, in his peculiarly quiet tone, “and find but little in it. At one time, played by gentlemen, it might have been worth practising; but it is now kicked out from the drawing-room to the ante-chamber; and my soul is above the place of lackeys. In three months I have become your equal, in three months more I could give you a pawn; but I renounce the pursuit, and bid you farewell. I shall never play draughts again!”. This mode of speech may be termed gasconade, but it is characteristic of the man, and we can but view it as emanating from the simplicity of a Hercules, in the knowledge of his vast strength. Conscious pride is not boasting. The braggart is he who threatens that which he cannot execute. “M. Deschapelles boasts; but, then, the devil of it is, he acts up to what he boasts!", quoth M. Chalon, sententiously, as his conqueror walked forth from the arena.
A nice story, too nice not to believe it. By the way, for a man with his stature it took Deschapelles extremely long, three months, to master Polish draughts. Read about the few days he needed to become a chess player of rank: "I acquired chess, said he to us (Walker) in the presence of fifty amateurs, in four days! I learned the moves, played with Bernard, who had succeeded Philidor as the sovereign of the board; lost the first day, the second, the third, and beat him even-handed on the fourth; since which time I have never advanced or receded. Chess to me has been, and is, a single idea, which, once acquired, cannot be displaced from its throne, while the intellect remains unimpaired by sickness or age." Walker added: "At first reflection, it would appear ridiculous to say the greatest chess player of the age had acquired his skill in four days; but M. Deschapelles asserts it as a fact, and we are therefore bound to believe him".
In Deschapelles' opinion on draughts as a game for lackeys we can hear, I believe, a different social appreciation of chess and draughts. Up to the 19th c. both games were played by members of the same social circles -in my book of 2005 I paid much attention to the social position of draughts and chess (and also of tables and morris) [Stoep 2005:50-51,69-80,87-88,92-95]. In the occidental society, the millions consider chess a game which exceeds any other board game, a prejudice which partly has its origins in the enthusiastic but wrong identification of chess as a game with chess as a symbol in the medieval literature by the first generations of chess historians, I believe, see Stoep 2005 §7.7, titled The reconstruction of a prejudice. Already before the appearance of the chess history (19th c.) however, chess was regarded as an extraordinary game, at least in France and England. In 1777 Philidor published the reversed version of his chess book. The subscription list contained intellectual celebrities like Diderot and Voltaire, but also many politicians, like Calonne and Talleyrand, and noblemen, no less than thirteen dukes. Murray [1913:863] considered the interest in chess of nobility as the game most typical of their order. His pronouncement is the consequence of the process of identification I just mentioned, which led to the supposition also in the 18th c. chess was the favourite game of the nobility. I doubt whether in the Middle Ages and later noblemen so frequently played chess; on the contrary, till far into the 18th c. chess seems to me to have been an unpopular board game. In the Middle Ages draughts was much more favourite than chess, in the 15th and again in the 18th c. chess underwent radical changes under the influence of draughts. Eales interprets the interest in Philidor's book from noblemen and politicians as a fashion fad: “Chess had suddenly become fashionable”, said he [1985:117], but “the fashion which dictated their behaviour rarely lasted very long”. This may be true, but it does not explain the fashion fad itself. I wonder, whether the dominant position of chess in the medieval culture is responsible, indirectly, whether chess has always kept the aureole it acquired in the medieval literature. This could explain Deschapelles' opinion, and also the attitude of Rousseau towards chess and draughts:
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) played chess and draughts. In his "Confessions" (1770), in which he critically looked back upon the days of his youth, he spoke of making the acquaintance of Légal (Philidor's teacher and the best player in France until the coming of Philidor [Golombek 1976:115], Philidor and other players. Rousseau narrates how he tried to became a strong chess player. He shut himself in his room, spent days and nights in trying to learn openings by heart; three months later he went to a coffee house, thin and sallow. In his book of 1749 Philidor strongly descouraged Rousseau's behaviour: after four, five moves these egg-heads get their wires crossed. And indeed, Rousseau lost one, two, twenty games in succession. "I saw nothing but a cloud before my eyes", said Rousseau. Later he tried it again, but the same thing happened to him: "I found myself weaker than before", he explained [Eales 1985:115-116; Golombek 1976:116].
With draughts Rousseau did not fare much better. He visited Manoury's coffee house. In his book of 1787 [:47], Manoury remembered Rousseau as a weak player. "J.J., there is no need to mention him more precisely, would have received two pieces if he would have played against a strong player. But he only wanted to play against players of equal strength, and in despair that in this game he should always be a mediocre player he finally said goodbye to draughts".
From a social point of view Rousseau showed the behaviour that is typical of an intellectual: he moved in all circles, had contact with the keeper of a coffee house (Manoury) as well as with the upper classes of Paris. Intellectuals like Diderot, de la Condamine and Beaumarchais did the same. It characterizes the social mobility of intellectuals: an intellectual is vertically mobile, moves easily between all classes of a society.
Rousseau failed to become both a strong chess player and a strong draughts player, but it is notable he only committed his failure to become a strong chess player to paper. I explain this as coquettish behaviour, possible as in the better classes chess had a better image than draughts. In my view this also is the reason why a politician or a nobleman subscribed to Philidor's chess books: by buying Philidor’s book and showing it off on the shelves a politician or a nobleman showed his acquaintances and family he belonged. It is not likely they were chess devotees. By the way, the fact that Philidor played both chess and draughts implies that among the subscribers there have been Parisians who only played draughts but bought the book to do Philidor a pleasure.
"Chess is the board games of the intellectuals" (1985)
The English chess player and historian Richard Eales [1985:106-107] argues: “It was the eighteenth century that brought to chess the specific adherence of intellectuals, and so gave it the high-brow, rather than high-status, image which has stayed ever since". Eales said this after thorough historical inquiries, but his book is characteristic of a chess historian: chess, chess and only chess is brought into focus, other board games do not exist. Well then, Eales' intellectuals played draughts too, so his statement cannot be true. In my opinion the real development has been that up to c. 1900 chess and draughts were seen as intellectually equal board games. In the 20th c. draughts became dull; only then chess could become the game of the intellectuals.