Alquerque

Alquerque

An essay submitted by Robert fitz John to the
Guild of Gamesplayers & Gamescrafters in partial
fulfilment of the Requirements for Advancement
to the rank of Journeyman Gamesplayer,
dated xxvii June, AS XX.

I. History

Alquerque is known to date back at least as far as 1400BC, since boards have been found cut into the roofing slabs of the temple at Kurna in Egypt. A game called Quirkat is mentioned in an Arabic work of the 10th Century AD. The earliest set of rules is found in the Libro de Acedrex, Dados e Tablas, a magnificently illuminated manuscript compiled between 1251 and 1282 by order of the King of Leon and Castile, Alfonso X. The game's Spanish name, derived from 'El-quirkat', was Alquerque.

There are several variants of Alquerque that use larger boards and more pieces. Cross-fertilization with early forms of Chess created the game we know as 'Draughts' or 'Checkers'.

II. Rules

The board is illustrated above (used to - I am sorry, the original depiction did not pass the test of time and had disappeared - Court Jester), with the pieces laid out for the start of the game. Sources disagree as to whether each player's foremost two pieces are placed to the right of the board (as shown) or to the left. For right-handed players I prefer the layout depicted; in any case, the transposition does not affect the game.

 The basic rules, as given in the Libro de Acedrex, Dados e Tablas, are as follows. One player has 12 white pieces, the other 12 black pieces. They decide, by whatever means, who will move first. Each player, in his turn, moves one of his pieces from its current location to another point. A piece may move along one of the marked lines to an adjacent unoccupied point. Alternatively, if an adjacent point (along one of the marked lines) is occupied by an opponent's piece but the point beyond that (in a straight line) is vacant, the player may capture his opponent's piece by jumping over it to the unoccupied point. If, after the jump is completed, another of the opponent's pieces is now en prise, that piece may also be captured even if the second jump is along a different line to the first, (see figure). Thus, two or more pieces may be captured in a move, but the same piece must be used to make all the captures. If a player is able to capture an opponent's piece during his move, he must do so. If he does not, his opponent may, at the start of his own turn, huff the piece that could have made a capture. (This is in addition to the player's normal move.)

It may be observed that the Alfonso manuscript does not give a sufficient set of rules for the game. Since we cannot determine the precise Medieval rules, we have to resort to guesswork based on more recent versions of the game. (Indeed, it is quite possible that there was never one single set of rules.) There are essentially two variants, which I shall describe below. Players should decide in advance which rules they will use.

IIa. First Variant

An example of this variant is described by Bell. Pieces may only be moved directly forward, diagonally forward, or sideways. A piece may not move onto a point it has occupied before. Bell also suggests that a piece reaching the opponent's back row may not move except to make a capture (sideways, presumably). This last rule seems unnecessary, except that it shortens the game slightly. Play continues either until one player has lost all his pieces, or until he cannot make a move. That player loses the game.

If a player has lost all his pieces, he pays his opponent two stakes, plus two more for every piece the winner has remaining on the board. If the game was lost because a player was unable to move, the loser pays two stakes, plus one stake for every piece the winner has on the board, but minus one stake for every piece the loser has on the board.

IIb. Second Variant

An example of this variant is described by Pritchard. Pieces may be moved along the lines in any direction. To win, a player must capture all his opponent's pieces.

IIc. Comment

Of the major variants I have described, I prefer the second for its simplicity. Note that there are many minor variations that I have not listed.

As regards scoring, Pritchard does not suggest a method, but I find it sufficient for each player to wager an agreed stake, winner takes all.

Pritchard also expands upon the obligation to capture if possible. He states that, after the initial jump further captures must be made if possible. If there is more than one way a player can capture, he may choose whichever option he prefers. My interpretation of this is as follows. The figure shows a possible situation with White to move. He is obliged to make a capture, but is free to choose whether to take Black's piece 1 with Y, or pieces 1 and 2 with X. Note that piece X can be huffed if it fails to capture piece 2 after jumping 1. Capturing using piece X will result in both White's pieces being captured by Black's piece 3 in his next move, so White should choose to capture with piece Y.

Concerning huffing, I suggest that if a player makes no capture during his turn, but he has more than one piece with which he could have made a capture, his opponent may choose to huff any one of those pieces.

III. Glossary

Capture
An opponent's piece is captured by jumping over it; it is then immediately removed from the board.

En prise
A piece is en prise if an opponent's piece is able to capture it, without the need for any intervening moves.

Huff
A piece may be huffed as a penalty for failing to capture; the piece is immediately removed from the board.

Point
A point is any location on the board where a piece may be placed.  An Alquerque board has 25 points, joined by lines.

Stake
Stakes are used to record wins and losses; they may be (numeric) points recorded in a suitable manner, or - for a more medieval ambience - items, preferably of small value, such as cheap bangles or reproduction coins.

IV. References

The author, being an 11th Century man, uses masculine pronouns when referring to the players. Ladies are invited mentally to substitute feminine pronouns instead.

© 1997, 1998, Trevor Barker.  Permission is given to reproduce and distribute this work, on the following conditions: this must not be done for profit, and this copyright notice must remain attached and unaltered.

About the Author

Trevor Barker, MA DPhil, studied Chemistry at Oxford University. He works for a leading software and systems integration company and is married with two young children.

Robert fitz John was born in Flanders, circa 1047. He joined the army of William, Duke of Normandy, as a mercenary archer, and participated in the invasion of England in October 1066. He is currently Sheriff of Blackwater in the Principality of the Far Isles. After writing this essay he earned the rank of Master Gamesplayer a few months later at Foundation and Independence Revel.