Most of us have played Chinese checkers, the kids’ game with a board that has a six-pointed star and different colored marbles. Do you remember your frustration at getting blocked while moving your marbles across the board? Do you remember feeling very clever when you won by some stroke of luck? Is Chinese checkers a solved game? Is it a hard game?
Chinese checkers may seem hard at first, but it can be fairly simple once you learn the strategies. Theoretically, Chinese checkers is a solved game, according to a university report by N. Sturtevant, who tested different solvers. But more work still needs to be done before it is fully solved.
Now that you know that there are strategies to gain an advantage, I’m sure you are eager to master them. Though this might not be a cheat sheet from a “solved game,” these tactics and some regular practice could put you at the top of the Chinese checkers’ ladder. Here are 11 things you need to know.
1. The Object Of The Game Of Chinese Checkers
The point of the game is simple. Each player has to move all their marbles (pieces) from the triangle in front of them to the triangle directly across from them. The first player to achieve this is the winner. It is most easily achieved when there are only two players. Two, three, four, or six players can play simultaneously.
2. The Rules Of The Chinese Checkers Race
The race is on! You have packed your colored marbles into the triangle before you, and you’re ready to hop. A 2-player game allows each person to play with fifteen pieces. When there are more than two players, each person has ten pieces.
Players will toss a coin or draw straws to determine who starts the game, and the rest of the players take their turns in a clockwise direction.
To move all their marbles to the opposite triangle, players will either move one marble into an adjacent hole or use it to hop over one or more other marbles into empty holes adjacent to them. Only one of those options is allowed per turn. When a player can no longer move into any adjacent holes, it is the next player’s turn. Players don’t remove any pieces from the board.
Some rules vary according to those playing the game. What happens when a player has most of his pieces in their “home,” but an opposing player blocks one or more holes? Should it affect his victory? Can they win because they are the first to occupy all available spots in that triangle? Players must establish these rules before the game begins.
Traditionally, the game is over when the first player moves all their pieces into the opposite triangle, but some rules allow the rest of the group to vie for second, third, and fourth places. One of the rules of Chinese checkers is always to follow the house rules!
3. The Best Opening Moves For Chinese Checkers
We have now covered the boring part of the game by specifying the rules, but if you have a competitive nature, you will want to know how to win the game. It’s all about strategies, and these start with the opening moves.
There are 14 potential opening moves in Chinese checkers. If you’re wondering how that’s possible, remember that you could move each of the four marbles into a next-door hole (8 possible moves), and the second row can jump over the first row, which amounts to another six possibilities. These are two of the best opening moves.
- The sidewinder opener involves taking one of the front-row outer pieces and moving it diagonally outwards.
- The cross caterpillar is an opening move with the same outer pieces but inwards towards the center of the board.
These are both strong opening moves, heading towards the centerline to set you up for a successful route across the board to the opposite triangle.
4. Aim For The Center To Win At Chinese Checkers
Chinese checkers is not only a game of strategy, but it’s also a race. There’s no time to march your pieces around each corner of the board to protect them. Taking the direct route down the middle of the board is the quickest way to your home triangle, and this is a necessary strategy to win the game.
5. See The Big Picture To Win A Game Of Chinese Checkers
Yes, it’s a race, but don’t be impulsive. Take note of the entire board before making your move. Keep an eye on what the other players are up to so that you can prevent them from blocking your route. If you can see the big picture, you will have the advantage and anticipate other players’ moves.
6. Chinese Checkers Strategy For Reaching Home
You’ve soldiered through the center of the board, and now it’s time to start moving your men into the home triangle. A good strategy is to place the pieces around the sides of the home triangle. This makes it simpler to ease them in than if they go straight inwards from back to front. It will create more opportunities for pieces to jump over each other and reach the back of the triangle.
7. You Can Be Nasty In Chinese Checkers
Blocking your opponent is a winning strategy, albeit a bit spiteful. You are playing to win, so inhibiting other players’ progress is wise. You can stop jumping over checker pieces even if there is still space to jump. If it blocks your opponent’s route towards their goal, it is better to stay put and force them to move their pieces elsewhere. Their journey to their home triangle will then take longer.
You can also block your opponent by leaving one of your men in your starting area, preventing them from filling up their home triangle.
8. Don’t Lose Your Marbles In Chinese Checkers
The quickest way to the other side of the board is to move down the center keeping all your marbles (pieces or men) together in a group without stranding any of them. Although you will shift them around together, keep some spaces between them so that you can make them jump over each other, thus making more moves in a single turn and speeding up the win.
9. Think Like The Enemy In Chinese Checkers
This is where seeing the bigger picture helps you to strategize. It’s essential to take note of your opponent’s moves and route. Now get into his head, consider all the possible clever actions, and move your pieces according to your educated guess of what your opponent will do next.
10. Practice Makes Perfect To Win At Chinese Checkers
Is Chinese checkers a challenging game? Perhaps the first few times you play the game, you may struggle. But the more you play using these strategies, the easier it will become, and you will look like a genius amongst the players. Chinese Checkers becomes a little more complicated with more than two players, but good players always need a new challenge. Practice always makes perfect.
11. Is Chinese Checkers A Solved Game?
Nathan Sturtevant of the University of Alberta wrote a paper in 2019 on the requirements for strongly solving Chinese checkers. The article included a full set of rules necessary to solve the game, determined by extensive testing of different computerized solvers. However, the results are still purely academic. He solved many board sizes up to the 6 x 6 board, but only with first-player wins.
Fun Facts About Chinese Checkers
Here is some trivia that you probably didn’t know about Chinese checkers:
- The Germans invented it in 1892 as a variation of an American game known as Halma.
- The word “stern” denotes the shape of the star-shaped board. The Germans called it Stern-Halma.
- In 1928 Jack and Bill Pressman, whose company sold the game, coined the phrase “Chinese checkers” as a marketing ploy. The game was previously known as Hop Ching Checkers.
- Chinese Checkers is not related to the game called Checkers.
- The game also has nothing to do with China or anything Chinese!
All Things Considered
Chinese Checkers is a game suitable for most ages and playable by up to 6 players at a time. In theory, it is a solved game, with data providing information for further studying games. Is it a hard game? With some learned strategies – not particularly. It is a lot of fun for players with a competitive nature and lovers of board games, so have some fun and check it out!