Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Draughts is more difficult than chess

What is more difficult, draughts or chess?

One can argue endlessly about this question according to the ex-world champion Dr. Max Euwe. The chessboard has 64 squares, the checkerboard only 50 in the international game of 100 squares. Players use 40 pieces in draughts (checkers) and only 32 in chess. In a full position on the checkerboard there are usually three or four reasonable possible moves, on the chessboard the number of free moves can be even greater. It is a question of the theoretical liberty of choice, as the possibilities in chess are very broad and can reach up to 20 or 30 moves, but it is the question of the practical choice that is somewhat wider in chess than in checkers.

Conversely, one must generally calculate more deeply in a draughts game, partly because capture is compulsory. However, even if nothing special is going on, the top player will see five or more moves ahead, while the chess player can limit in a quiet position to only two or three moves.
 Max Euwe, 1926

The blind game, even simultaneously blind game, is already highly advanced in chess. The record is nearly 50 boards! Marc Lang set a new world blindfold record playing 46 games at once in 2011. The blind game in draughts (100-square board) is still only in the first phase, therefore checkers players say that draughts is more difficult. One could go on in a similar manner. 

Dr. Max Euwe once had a conversation in New York with a world checkers champion Dr. Marion Tinsley. That's checkers on a checkerboard - a slightly simpler form of our international draughts game  (on a 100-square board). He confided in me: "If I want a quiet game with not too much effort, I will play chess. With checkers I must already be very careful at the third or fourth move that I do not do anything wrong, I have to calculate deeply, because one mistake can have fatal consequences. However, when I play chess, I can get away with making a less good move in the opening. I can correct  the disadvantage later.”

The first move done by Max Euwe during the match of World Championship
Draughts (1936) between Maurice Raichenbach (left) and Jan Hendrik Vos (right)

Conclusion: Checkers (64-square board) is harder than chess. One can certainly say the same about draughts on 100 squares, because this game is more complicated than checkers.  Chess is played with different pieces, has more variety. It's harder to learn and combining demands richer imagination. Conversely checkers is strictly logical and can be scientifically explained . The well-known poet and writer Edgar Allan Poe wrote the following in one of his works on chess and checkers:

Edgar Allen Poe

The faculty of resolution is possibly much invigorated by mathematical study, and especially by that highest branch of it which, unjustly, and merely on account of its retrograde operations, has been called, as if par excellence, analysis. Yet to calculate is not in itself to analyse. A chess player, for example, does the one without effort at the other. It follows that the game of chess, in its effects upon mental character, is greatly misunderstood. I am not now writing a treatise, but simply prefacing a somewhat peculiar narrative by observations very much at random; [page 117:] I will, therefore, take occasion to assert that the higher powers of the reflective intellect are more decidedly and more usefully tasked by the unostentatious game of draughts than by all the elaborate frivolity of chess. In this latter, where the pieces have different and bizarre motions, with various and variable values, what is only complex is mistaken (a not unusual error) for what is profound. The attention is here called powerfully into play. If it flag for an instant, an oversight is committed, resulting in injury or defeat. The possible moves being not only manifold but involute, the chances of such oversights are multiplied; and in nine cases out of ten it is the more concentrative rather than the more acute player who conquers. In draughts, on the contrary, where the moves are unique and have but little variation, the probabilities of inadvertence are diminished, and the mere attention being left comparatively unemployed, what advantages are obtained by either party are obtained by superior acumen. To be less abstract — Let us suppose a game of draughts where the pieces are reduced to four kings, and where, of course, no oversight is to be expected. It is obvious that here the victory can be decided (the players being at all equal) only by some recherché movement, the result of some strong exertion of the intellect. Deprived of ordinary resources, the analyst throws himself into the spirit of his opponent, identifies himself therewith, and not unfrequently sees thus, at a glance, the sole methods (sometimes indeed absurdly simple ones) by which he may seduce into error or hurry into miscalculation.
                                                                                                                  Dr. Marion Tinsley
World Champion Checkers 1975-1991
Dr. Marion F. Tinsley, the greatest checkers player ever, said it this way:"Chess is like looking across an ocean. Checkers is like looking down a well." In neither case can a solution be seen - in most cases. Dr. Tinsley was on the Ohio State Chess Team, as a young man, but chose checkers as the game he could most likely become a grandmaster at.

Irving Chernev, a chess grandmaster, had the opposite opinion. In 1982 he wrote a book about his first love - checkers, The Complete Encyclopedia of Checkers. In it he stated that he did not think he could accomplish the status of a grandmaster with checkers, as he’d thought he could with chess.

  Irving Cherney

François André Danica Philidor (1726-1795) was the best chess and draughts player of his time. And after his death it was Alexandre Louis Deschapelles (1780-1847) in France. Some of the best chess and draughts champions took part in the Salta tournaments played in Paris (1900) and Monte Carlo (1901). The chess champions were slightly better than the draughts champions . There are some ideas on draughts, which were represented by chess experts. British chess champion Joseph H. Blackburne (1841-1924) gave the following explanation:

François André Danica Philidor

Checkers is a less attractive game, infinitely less, but much more scientific. Look, a less good move in draughts is irreparable and has immediate drastic consequences. However, with chess one can still return and change the position of the pieces and possibly even win.

The American chess champion Harry N. Pillsbury (1872-1906) once said: "Chess is what one sees; checkers (64-square board) is what we know. " There is enough in the game to keep one man busy in a long life. International chess master and writer Israel A. Horowitz (1907-1973) wrote in his book: "The personality of chess":

"Checkers is a wonderful game, perhaps a miracle game of pure skill. One only needs a minute to learn the rules of the game and an eternity to become proficient at the game."

Draughts is harder than chess

According to Gerard Welling, an international chess master, the visualization in checkers is much harder than in chess. Not only are the pieces uniform, but also in stroke exchanges the position can completely change in only a few moves.  This is not the case in chess. If this experience is shared by other experts, this means that blind draughts games require more imagination than blind chess games.
 Gerard Welling

This is more or less what the famous chess master H. Kramer once said:

"Because of its diversity in pieces and rules the chess game lends itself excellently to blind games. Precisely this variety of pieces gives clues to the human memory.”

This immediately explains the fact that the draughts game lends itself to the blind game much less: the pieces are all equal and with this uniformity it is much harder for the memory to find points of support. 

With respect to blind checkers or draughts games we are of course talking here about draughts on a board of 100 squares. With a board of 64 squares, or a chessboard, everything is nonetheless different. Newell William Banks (1887-1977) proved that in 1947. He established a speed blind game at 62 checkerboards in the Convention Hall in Detroit (Michigan) by winning 61 parties in a period of 4 hours and he only allowed one draw.

William Newell Banks

How do Banks’s thoughts about chess compare to checkers? In one of Banks’s remarks in the Chess Omnibus magazine he declared that draughts (checkers) is 80% memory and 20% intuition, while in chess it is the opposite.

In 1947 Banks gave his opinion in Banks's Blindfold Checker Masterpieces. After 50 years of checkers and 45 years of chess and careful consideration of both games he came to the following conclusions:

The end game in draughts (checkers) is more subtle than chess, because while the movements are limited, the timing is nonetheless deep. The overwhelming beauty of chess lies in the opening and middle game.  These two characteristics are, in my view, undoubtedly better reflected in chess than in draughts (checkers).

Anyway, that's the opinion of the checker game played on 64 squares and bears no relation to the 100-square game, in which combinations play a very important role and which is much more difficult. The same can be said about the Canadian draughts game on 144 squares.

So coming back to the 100-square game we can ask again: what is more difficult: chess or draughts? You're tempted to say chess. The pieces are 'all else', there are complex rules with pat, castling, and en passant capture. A draughts writer of the Woerdense newspaper writes:

My grandmother wanted to play a game of checkers with me, but to play chess she did not venture: she found it too difficult.

Draughts and chess players are not always friends. Chess players find draughts a weak game and conversely draughts players often find chess players arrogant. They are "smarties". However, chess and draughts players mostly agree to one thing - that blind draughts games are harder than blind chess games.  Just because the pieces are so much alike it is more difficult to play from memory a draughts position than a chess position. Therefore chess players look in awe at the performance of ex world champion (1972) Ton Sijbrands, one of the best draughts players in Holland. Several years ago he played 28 blindfold games simultaneously and lost only 3. He needed 42 (!) hours for that. A feat that cannot be praised enough and therefore was a world record  in 2009.

Erno Prosman

Sijbrands lost his world record in 2012 to Erno Prosman. This player then played thirty parties, won seventeen, drew eight times, and lost five parties, with which he obtained a score of exactly seventy percent. Ton Sijbrands became world record holder again at blind simultaneous draughts on Sunday December 21, 2014. The 65-year-old former world champion played 32 games in almost two days, of which he won fourteen and eighteen ended in a draw. He so came to a score of 72 percent. Most professional draughts players can reproduce the moves of their parties played and positions in their games and those of other players, but nothing more. What Sijbrands had performed is boundless and an ambitious work of a genius. 

 Ton Sijbrands, 2014

What is more difficult, checkers or chess? For grandmasters there is no difference. Both have to rely (calculate) equally deeply in these two board games. However, for beginners chess is more difficult because the number of possible moves is about 30 to 10. The layman has three times more chance to commit blunders in chess. What is the big difference? In draughts capture is compulsory, and this is not the case in chess. 

There have been several chess tournaments where chess players played draughts and draughts players played chess. They showed that the draughts players were always superior. Also with triathlons draughts players have generally much better scores than chess players.

What then makes draughts different from chess? It is often said that chess is a much more complicated game. But appearances are deceptive. Checkers has simple rules, but the possibilities are, as in chess, huge. At every turn there are an average of nine possible moves, so the number of possibilities quickly adds up!

At the board games forward calculation and assessment of future possibilities play a major role and one game can be more difficult than the others, but if someone says that chess is harder than checkers or vice versa, this is obviously a subjective judgment according to Prof. Dr. Euwe.

According to Prof. Euwe from 1972 such an opinion on these board games, however, is of little relevance. The number of possibilities is in fact of an order of magnitude which makes it unlikely that we will have seen all possibilities on the board within the foreseeable, or at least the most reasonable future. The number of options for chess is 10 to the power of 120, thus a 1 with 120 zeros. Generally this number is just called to make it clear that not even a PC with its high computational speed can deplete chess by systematically examining all the possibilities.

  Max Euwe, 1972

For draughts on a 100-square board the potential is 10 to the power of 60, for checkers 10 to the power of 18. For the game "go" this seems to be unknown, but it is certainly greater than for any other games. Incidentally, the computer could reach at best the beginning of a solution  in checkers.

At the sound of the word draughts people unfortunately still conjure up a household, garden, or kitchen game. However, the reality is different. It seems like a simple game, but the more one looks into it, the more one finds out that the game on the 100 squares is very complex.

 Wim Huisman  – Piet Roozenburg, 1954

Albert Huisman, the son of the legendary blind draughts player Wim Huisman, and public servant who works in a university library, says that draughts is harder than chess:

"If you get a wrong move in chess, you can easily restore it. In checkers one cannot withdraw a forward-mounted piece."

According to Hans Vermin we often hear that chess should be more complicated and it should come by the rules, which are more extensive in chess than in draughts. Vermin then says, precisely in order to prove that draughts is a more difficult game, that in the draughts game pieces are the same and therefore appear to have similar functions. That is not so. Depending on the position on the board each piece has a particular function or more functions which can be different in another position. This is unlike chess, where one knows in advance what the function of a particular piece is and what they are worth opposing. One does not know this in draughts and that is what makes it so difficult . 

Anton Dusseldorf considers draughts harder and said in 1999:

"You can force your opponent to make a specific move much more, because he is obliged to capture."

It is often thought that chess is harder than checkers. Nothing is less true. The very simplicity of the game makes draughts so difficult. A chess player must calculate various possibilities at once before he moves. Draughts players are forced to think ahead. We know from Ton Sijbrands that he thought forward 35 moves during a party. While his board was full of pieces, he came calculating to a position in which he had three stones and his opponent only two. Because it would finish in a draw, he decided to make a different move . 

Is blind chess not more difficult than blind draughts? Players who have studied and played both games do not say no, because although the number of pieces in chess is higher, they have clear distinguishing marks which help memory, an element missing from draughts . To the question whether draughts is harder than chess or bridge master Jack de Haas once extensively responded:

"Checkers is at least as difficult as chess and the combinations in checkers, thanks to the compulsory capture and the capture of the majority of the pieces, are brighter and deeper than in chess ."

 Jack de Haas, 1912

Mr. Matla's  opinion of the difficulty factors in checkers and chess was as follows:

"Checkers is to me harder than chess, because all the pieces play the same role and the same value, allowing more possible combinations. The course of a game of chess is easier to remember, because the pieces do different work and are not equivalent. In addition, the number of squares on a chessboard is significantly lower. There are cases of good draughts players who made formidable achievements in the world of chess after a short time, including a former champion of the Netherlands who now plays on the second board for his chess club in competitive matches."

Ron Heusdens considers draughts the most difficult of all mind games . Heusdens's view is very clear:

"In fact, I do not know how to play draughts. Sometimes I see an open square and think 'I can move a piece to that place too’, and then I move it to that square.”

 Rob Heusdens
Foto: Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, 2 April 1999

These are the words of Ron Heusdens, eightfold mind sport triathlon champion of the Netherlands. A tournament, in which he incidentally usually scores with bridge, Heusdens considers more as a game of skill than a mind game. Chess is a lot more difficult, nevertheless his extremely intuitive way of playing sometimes brings him good results. However, according to his judgement draughts is too difficult for him. He enjoys drawing nice figures peeping into holes, nothing more than that, but if he is forced to calculate deeply and concretely, he prefers to back out .

Palmans considers draughts harder than chess .

"It has been scientifically proven. A computer can beat the best chess player, but cannot handle the draughts board of 100 squares (a chessboard has 64 squares)."

The world champion of draughts on the 100 squares Jannes van der Wal left it in the middle :

"It depends on who is your opponent. You could say that chess is easier. You just need to conquer the enemy king. With draughts you have to capture all the pieces."

Van der Wal would know, because he also played chess in those years and caused a stir in Groningen by starting in the open grandmaster group with a convincing victory against the Swedish master Rolf Akesson.

Jannes van der Wal
Foto: Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, 4 Juli 2008

According to Hendrik van der Zee and Andries Bakker it is a myth that chess is harder than draughts .

"If you compare Timman with the best draughts players, then he is a mediocre chess player."

In competitions between mind sportsmen the draughts player came out as the best.

Jannes van der Wal and Ton Sijbrands are deserving chess players. Draughts players are more inventive and play less (according to the theory).

The ten-fold world champion of draughts on the 100 squares Alexei Tsjizjov says that chess is easier than draughts. Eddy Budé is on par with Tsjizjov and considers draughts more difficult than chess. A draughts player can see fifteen moves ahead. Timman is doing only four moves ahead.

Aleksej Tsjizjov World Champion Draughts, 1988
Photo: Rob Kroes, Original at Nationaal Archief with id ad6e6eea-d0b4-102d-bcf8-003048976d84

A statement of V. Cornetz:

"At the risk that I will hit on the nerve of many chess players I say that chess is more difficult to learn than draughts, but draughts is actually much harder than chess."

With regards to the computer programs for checkers, chess, and draughts on a 100 -square board we see the following development:

Checkers on the 64-square board
Jonathan Schaeffer of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Alberta spent 18 years on a project using dozens of computers running continuously. In 2007 Schaeffer published his results. His program, Chinook, plays perfect checkers and cannot be beaten. If its opponent plays equally well, the game will end in a draw. So, game over! Checkers is a fair game and the game will always end in a draw if both players make optimal moves at each step of the game .

In May 1997 an IBM supercomputer known as Deep Blue beat then chess world champion Garry Kasparov, who had once bragged that he would never lose to a machine. The computer beat Kasparov by 3½-2½ in a famous six-game match after the first match in 1996 was won by Kasparov (4-2). In 2006 the chess program Deep Fritz beat world champion Vladimir Kramnik by 4-2.

Draughts on the 100-square board:
From April 9 to 14 2012 a Man-Machine battle in international draughts took place in Heerhugowaard, Holland, as a side event to the Dutch National championship in international draughts. A match with triple world champion Alexander Schwarzman, from Russia on one side of the board and Maximus , a computer draughts program from The Netherlands on the other side. Schwarzman won the match with 7-5 (one win and five draws). Still now there is no program that can beat the world champion of draughts on a 100-square board.

Whatever it may be, the debate of whether draughts or chess is more difficult will always remain.


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