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What's the difference between chess and checkers?

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Chess and checkers are two iconic board games that have long, rich histories. While both games are played on a similar-looking board with similar pieces, there are significant differences between them. Here are some features that set checkers apart from chess.

The Board and Pieces

The chessboard is an 8x8 square board consisting of 64 squares. Each player starts with 16 pieces, including a king, a queen, two rooks, two knights, two bishops, and eight pawns. Each unique piece has different abilities and subsequent movements, which makes the game a bit more complex.

Checkers also is played on a 8x8 square board with 64 squares. But, each player starts with 12 pieces, and the pieces are typically flat discs. There is no differentiation among the pieces, and all of them are able to move in the same way, making the game simpler than chess in this way.


In chess, each piece has a unique way of moving:

  • The king can move one square in any direction
  • The queen can move diagonally, horizontally, and vertically
  • The bishop can move only diagonally
  • The knight can move in an L-shape
  • The rook can move horizontally and vertically
  • The pawns can only move forward one square at a time, except for their first move when they can move two squares forward.
  • Pieces can capture other pieces by landing on their square.

In checkers, this is much simpler. Each piece can move diagonally, and only one square at a time. Pieces capture other pieces by jumping over them diagonally, and multiple captures are possible in a single turn. If a player has the opportunity to capture an opponent's piece, they must capture.

Gameplay and Strategy

Checkers has simpler rules that can be explained in a few sentences and learned by small children in a few minutes but this doesn't mean playing the game well is simple. Checkers requires as much strategic and tactical thinking as Chess. As Bob Newell of The Checker Maven states, "You can learn the rules in a few minutes, but real expertise takes many years of study"

Chess has a larger branching factor (the number of legal moves from any given board state) than Checkers which makes the game tougher for computers to analyze. It also means Checkers gameplay is often driven by forcing your opponent into situations where there are no good moves (called Zugzwang). Zugzwang is achieved through blocking opponent pieces and forcing captures that leave them in disadvantageous positions.

Checkers games are much more positional and have a heavier focus on capturing material (because the game does not have a King). Piece exchanges that improve the material balance in your favor are almost always a good idea and a single checker advantage is usually enough to win the game (contingent on not blundering after). In chess high-valued pieces are often sacrificed for a tactical advantage. The most dramatic case of this being the queen's sacrifice.


Chess has a (unfortunate and perhaps undeserved) more intellectual reputation than checkers, as the games are much longer, less likely to draw and more computationally complex. Checkers is more associated with younger players, though there are serious players of all ages. Checkers has a thriving competitive scene with National and International championships albeit on a smaller scale than Chess.

Though the boards may appear the same at first glance, chess and checkers are two different board games with distinct differences in game piece movement, gameplay, and strategy. Chess is a more complex game with unique pieces and complicated movements, requiring strategic thinking and planning. Checkers is a simpler game with fewer strategic considerations and uniform pieces, making it easier to learn and play. That’s not to say checkers is a lesser form of chess. Checkers is a fun and more fast-paced strategy game enjoyed by millions around the world.