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How is the state of the inquiries into the origin of draughts (checkers)? I mean serious inquiries, no fancy stories. An example of this last category is the tall tale about ancient draughts on the basis of a plate like this one, taken from Grunfeld e.a. 1975:9. "Draughts was already played by the pharaoh's", the storyteller assures us, without the foggiest notion of the comprehensive literature on ancient board games.
What I'll do is summarize serious investigations into the origin of the game and evaluate them, applying knowledge from many disciplines, like archaeology, iconography, history of civilization and linguistics. I have divided the material into 11 chapters.
As it bears upon a complex matter, I suggest first to read up the popular story where I unlock the subject to a greater public. After that I recommend the part about the origin and the evolution of draughts throughout the ages. Only then, being enough familiar with my reconstruction, you can take a fruitful note of the defence of my ideas below. My defence is negative (chapter 1-5): I explain why the traditional view on the birth of draughts cannot be true, and positive (chapter 6-11): I build up an alternative view on birth and grow of the game.
Readers who know the fixed opinion about the history of draughts, will not be surprised that my story starts with chess. The first generations of chess historians got interested in the origin of draughts because of the similarities between chess and draughts: in both games the promotion is a striking rule, and the vocabulary of chess and draughts players in some European countries has some words in common. They concluded, later applauded by draughts historians: draughts originates from chess. See chapter 1: The current opinion on the origin of draughts.
My own investigations, made between 1975 and 2005 and set down in a lot of publications in Dutch, among which a doctoral thesis, and two English books (1984 and 2005) led to the conclusion this cannot be true, see chapter 2: Why the current opinion is not more than speculation.
The claim: "Chess was the parent of draughts" conceals a presupposition: chess has always been the leading board game, at any rate a board game with more prestige and with more influence. But is it true?: an inquiry into the position of chess, draughts and other board games does not exist, the claims about the influence from chess (on draughts in particular) are only assumptions. I did what chess historians omitted, with a disconcerting result: after the Middle Ages draughts has for ages been a much more popular game than chess. See chapter 3: The position of chess and draughts in some European countries after 1500. But what's more: in this period it was draughts which has affected chess, see chapter 4: Chess players were influenced by draughts. At several occasions I had a lecture for chess devotees on my inquiries into the relation between chess and draughts, but I'm afraid my ideas were such an infringement on their image of chess they secluded their selves for my ridiculous view.
How much more sceptically will they receive my chapter 5. In chapter 2 -based on the historical linguistic inquiry I published in my dissertation- I proved that the name for draughts in Romance speaking countries (France, Spain, Italy) can impossibly be derived from the name for the modern chess queen, Spanish dama, since the name for draughts is much older than the name of the modern queen. Because the chess queen can be the product of promotion and the pursuit of promotion is an important strategy in draughts, I asked the question if the word Spanish dama = 'chess queen' could have been taken from the vocabulary of draughts players, all the more since I had found influence from draughts on chess. My answer is affirmative, see chapter 5: Draughts and dama, the new 15th c. chess queen.
If it is true that the influence from draughts was responsible for the great reform of medieval chess, draughts must have been a popular game in Spain in the 15th c. A bold claim? By no means: in the 15th c. draughts was (also) popular in Spain's neighbour France. This popularity was far from momentary, in France draughts seems to have been very popular since the 11th c. and may be earlier. However, all my claims can be refuted, it seems, by referring to the literature on board games: all experts are united in their supposition draughts was not described in the Middle Ages. It does not occur in the Alfonso manuscript (1283), a strong indication, perhaps a proof, that draughts did not exist in the 13th c. Certainly, this manuscript gives the rules of a board game with the leap capture called alquerque, but alquerque was not played with promotion, all surveys on board games assure us. My inquiries gave quite another result: alquerque was played with promotion. In other words, see chapter 6: Alquerque was draughts.
The medieval variety in England, France and Italy was played with a short doubleton, the medieval variety in Spain with a long king, see chapter 7: Two medieval draughts varieties. It is plausible that the variety with the long doubleton sprang from the variety with the short king, probably before the 8th c., see chapter 8: How old is the long king?
The draughts variety with the short king was played by Latin speaking people. Could this game be inherited from Ancient Rome? Or in Ancient Greece? Or in Ancient Egypt? See chapter 9: Draughts in the Antiquity.