(This article was rewritten on 09 February 2005 due to newly found information affecting its accuracy.)
Take a good look at the image below. It's an artist's conception of a serious checker game in a rural grocery store. Nice drawing, but the artist was clearly not a checker player.
However, the game these two are playing in fact could be one of two (or maybe even more, but we know of two) little-known checker variants, one of them quite old and the other quite modern. The game also looks a lot like (but isn't quite) several other unusual variants.
Do you know what variants would be an exact match? Can you name a few also-rans that don't quite make it?
Click on the picture to see a larger version; then come back and click on Read More for the solution.
The two exact possibilities are Breakthrough and Gothic Checkers. We received the following from George Miller of England:
"The game in the diagram could well be 'Breakthrough' - moves are made one square forwards either horizontally or vertically - capture like a pawn in chess. First play to get to the 8th rank wins by breakthrough. I first played this game in Cambridge while at a checkers match against Uganda. I reckon it's a win for the second player if they can play appropriate waiting moves to counter the first player."
Checker Maven staff did some research and found that Breakthrough was created by Dan Troyka as an entry in a contest to create new 8x8 board games held in 2001. More information can be found at The Games Forum, and the game can be played competitively by email through Gamerz.Net.
Another possibility that we just came across is the much older game of Gothic Checkers, as described in R. Wayne Schmittberger's book, New Rules for Classic Games. This too fits the board display exactly. An internet reference on this game is here. (The diagrams there are clearly incorrect, as the men are shown on points rather than in the squares.) In German it's called "Altdeutsche Dame" and seems to date all the way back to 1650. It can be played competitively at BrainKing, where it is described as the "newest" variant of checkers. Newest on the site, perhaps, but certainly an old and venerable game.
The also rans? It almost could be Armenian Draughts or Turkish Draughts. These variants are played on all 64 squares, with White moving first, and 16 men per side. So far so good. However, the men start on the second and third rows, not the first and second rows. Armenian Draughts allows for diagonal moves but Turkish Draughts does not, so in the latter case, White's first move as pictured would not have been legal.
These games are also described in Schmittberger's book and on various and sundry internet sites.
If you had guessed that this could have been the Roman game Latrunculi that would not have been too bad a try, either, but that's a fair bit further afield than the other possibilities.
Now, do you really suppose the two guys in the drawing knew about any of these unusual variants? Do you suppose the artist knew? Gothic Checkers would be the most likely candidate, but somehow, we don't think so...
Hey, come on, it's quite a nice drawing, after all.