Mark Palko writes:
Chess derives most of its complexity through differentiated pieces; with checkers the complexity comes from the interaction between pieces. The result is a series of elegant graph problems where the viable paths change with each move of your opponent. To draw an analogy with chess, imagine if moving your knight could allow your opponent’s bishop to move like a rook. Add to that the potential for traps and manipulation that come with forced capture and you have one of the most remarkable games of all time. . . .
It’s not unusual to hear masters of both chess and checkers (draughts) to admit that they prefer the latter. So why does chess get all the respect? Why do you never see a criminal mastermind or a Bond villain playing in a checkers tournament?
Part of the problem is that we learn the game as children so we tend to think of it as a children’s game. We focus on how simple the rules are and miss how much complexity and subtlety you can get out of those rules.
As a person who prefers chess to checkers, I have a slightly different story. To me, checkers is much more boring to play than chess. All checkers games look the same, but each chess game it its own story. I expect this is true at the top levels too, but the distinction is definitely there for casual players. I can play chess (at my low level) without having to think too hard most of the time and still enjoy participating, making plans, attacking and defending. I feel involved at any level of effort. In contrast, when I play a casual game of checkers, it just seems to me that the pieces are moving by themselves and the whole game seems pretty random.
I’m not saying this is true of everyone–I’m sure Palko is right that checkers can have a lot going for it if you come at it with the right attitude–but I doubt my experiences are unique, either. My argument in favor of chess is not a naive “Chess has more possibilities” (if that were the attraction, we’d all be playing 12x12x12 three-dimensional chess by now) but that the moderate complexity of chess allows for a huge variety of interesting positions that are intricately related to each other.
Overall, I think Palko’s argument about elegant simplicity applies much better to Go than to checkers.
But what happens next?
I wonder what will happen when (if?) chess is fully solved, so that we know (for example) that with optimal play the game will end in a draw. Or, if they ever make that rules change so that a stalemate is a loss, maybe they’ll prove that White can force a win. In a way this shouldn’t change the feel of a casual game of chess, but I wonder.