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Chinese Checkers: How To Play & Rules – 14 Things You Need To Know

While some sources tell us that the game originated in China around 600 years ago, it’s generally accepted that Chinese Checkers in its present form was invented in Germany in 1892. Originally known as “Sternhalma”, it’s derived from an earlier American game, Halma.

Playing Chinese Checkers means understanding the objective of the game and the basic rules you need to know to achieve that objective. Children can enjoy the game at one level, but it can also be played tactically and more intricately by more experienced players. 

It wasn’t invented in China, and it’s not related to the game of checkers. Still, Chinese Checkers is nevertheless a fascinating game for players of all ages, and it can be played by two, three, four, or six players either individually or in teams of two. Let’s look at the 14 things you need to know to start.

1. The Chinese Checkers Board And Equipment

The classic board is a six-pointed star with a hexagonal center with five holes on each side. Each point on the board is a differently-colored triangle containing ten holes. Each player has ten pieces, usually pegs or marbles, and plays from the triangle, which corresponds with the color of their pieces. This is termed the home triangle.

2. The Objective Of Chinese Checkers

Each player tries to be the first to move all ten colored marbles across the board to fill the ten gaps in the opposite triangle, known as the target triangle. It may be empty at the start of the game, or, depending on the number of players, it may be the home triangle of an opponent.

3. The Order Of Play

The first player is chosen, possibly by throwing a dice or tossing a coin, and then the person on the left is next to play. Players must space themselves evenly around the board:

  • two players would sit opposite each other,
  • three players sit at alternate triangles with a gap in between each,
  • four players in groups of two facing each other across the board, with two vacant triangles,
  • and six players would fill each space. 

4. Basic Rules Of Chinese Checkers

  • Players can only move one marble at a time by placing it into the next adjacent hole along the line or by jumping an opponent’s marble into an empty hole along the line.
  • If the spacing allows, a player can jump more than one marble if an adjacent vacant hole is available after each. Players cannot play both an adjacent hole move and then a jumping move – it must be one or the other.
  • You are allowed to jump not only your opponent’s pieces but also your own. Setting up the board to enable multiple jumps, by building bridges or chains, is part of your strategy. Six adjacent holes surround every hole except those on the edges, so you have a lot of choices to make in planning your moves.

5. Determining the Winner in Chinese Checkers

The winner of the game is the first player to move all his marbles out of his home triangle and into the target triangle. However, if the target triangle has not been fully emptied by an opposing player, filling all the available spaces is all that is required for the win. 

A variation of this rule states that a piece left in the target triangle to block entry can be removed and replaced by the attacking player’s own piece.

6. Your First Move Is Vitally Important

As with chess, your opening move can be decisive in the race to the end and who the winner will be. There are fourteen possible first moves, but as these are mirrored, there are, in fact, only seven. Experienced players use only four or five, and it’s a good idea to learn them. 

The most common opening move is to take a marble from the extreme left or right of your front row and move it one hole forward and towards the center of the board. This is the Cross Caterpillar move. A similar move, but moving away from the center, is called The Sidewinder.

7. All Pieces Stay In Play

When planning your moves, remember that no pieces are removed from the board during a game. Your opponent’s marbles remain in play even after you’ve jumped them and can be used to block your future moves.

8. No Pieces Can Be Moved Out Of The Target Triangle 

Once you’ve placed a marble in the target triangle, it remains there, so you need to be careful that you’re not going to block future moves into the triangle. You can shuffle pieces around the triangle to make future entries more straightforward, but each shuffle is a valuable move that delays moving your other marbles in, so do it sparingly.

9. Strategy Depends On The Number Of Players

A basic strategy in any Chinese Checkers game involves making the most extended move from your home triangle towards the target triangle on the other side of the board. 

It is possible to take a marble from one triangle to the other in one move by multiple jumps. But remember that you must pass through your opponent’s areas of strength and also block your opponent from getting to their target triangle.

10. Players Cannot Deliberately Leave Pieces in their Home Triangle

It is against the rules of Chinese Checkers to block your opponents by leaving your pieces in your home triangle to prevent them from reaching the target. If your opponent has filled all the available spaces in the target triangle, he has won the game even though some of your pieces remain.

11. Moving Pieces In A Pattern

With ten pieces to move, one at a time, it is essential to keep them centered along the path between your home and the target. You give your opponent ample room to break through your defenses if you spread them too widely. On the other hand, if you keep them too tightly grouped, this also gives your opponent ample space to move, so try to avoid this.

12. Keep Track Of Your Last Piece

Don’t leave your last piece behind, or you might find it has been blocked, is unable to move forward, and you’ve lost the game! This can happen, especially when you have more than one opponent.

13. Playing With A Partner

It is a rule of Chinese Checkers that two players may join forces in a partnership. In this situation, a player is allowed, once he has completed his game, to assist his partner in reaching his target triangle and complete his game as well.

14. Playing Chinese Checkers Online 

Sitting and enjoying board games with friends and family is great, but sometimes this isn’t practical, and you can learn to play and compete with them or against the computer by playing an online version of Chinese Checkers. The game is available for all operating systems through your favorite browser.

Conclusion

Like many other board games, Chinese Checkers provides players with hours of fun and entertainment, and it’s inexpensive to buy and never wears out. The rules are simple, although the strategies used by advanced players can get quite complicated.

Because children as young as four years old play it, Chinese Checkers is not just a game but an educational tool. It teaches children (and adults!) how to analyze a situation, solve problems, and strategize. It also aids in memory development, as solutions are discovered and used in future games. Let’s get started!