Zamma Damas Damje was a once in a lifetime exhibition in the Dutch mindsport library Tresoar in Leeuwarden.
Sand, sticks and dung
Draughts has been played in the sands of the Sahara for centuries using sticks and camel dung. You move along the lines, jump over your opponent’s piece to take it: diagonally, up and down and across, just like in Frisian Draughts. One of the names given to this game is zamma.
This game was introduced to Spain in around 800 AD. There they made wooden boards for it, just like those still used today – the alquerque boards. In around 1300 they began to play the game on a chessboard, and adopted some of the rules of chess as well. They were particularly inspired by the queen, a chess piece that in those days was only allowed to move one square at a time, and only diagonally. They also adopted the rules governing how pawns move. The new game was called juego de damas, literally ‘ladies game’. The Dutch word ‘dammen’ is ultimately derived from this name.
Draughts goes global
This new mind sport then started its march across Europe. In the meantime, the rules in chess governing the queen began to change. Finally she was allowed to move across the whole board in eight directions. This resulted in different versions of chess, and thus also in different versions of draughts. Only in Fryslân do we find pieces that can capture in eight directions, and it was also originally the only place where there were draughts boards with 100 squares.
Fryslân and the rest of the Netherlands
In Fryslân, draughts is still played as it always has been, with captures possible in eight directions. The rest of the Netherlands usually played the French version, but on a board with 64 squares and with a king (dam) that could only move one square at a time. This French variant has never been played in Fryslân. The Dutch called the Frisian game ‘Molquerents’, after the village of Molkwerum. This is also the name by which the Frisian game was known in other parts of Europe.
Confrontation in Paris
In around 1720, Frisian Draughts was introduced to Paris. It became the rage, but also caused confusion and resistance. A compromise was born: from then on draughts was played on 100 squares but mostly following the old, French, rules. This new variant was originally called Polish Draughts, but is currently known as ‘international’ because this version was introduced by the French to Russia and Africa
Fryslân – the Dutch draughts province
The new game also conquered most of the Netherlands. Only in Fryslân did they stick to the Frisian game. The rest of the Netherlands was aware of this and often mocked the Frisians about it. At the same time, the Frisians were known as the strongest draughts players. Most of the draughts competitions, organized by pub owners, were held here
Top level sport in Fryslân
From around 1900, mind sports began to be organized in clubs with umbrella organizations. These organizations tried to convince the Frisians to change to the international game. To a certain degree this was successful. However, a problem in the international game began to emerge. Once you got to a certain level of competence, the chances of a draw were extremely high because two or three kings could virtually never beat a single king. In the Frisian game, two kings always beat a single king. This is because a board with 100 squares is actually too large for a king that can only capture in four directions. Suggestions were made to play the international game partly following the Frisian rules
Frisian Draughts marches on
The Frisians did not change over en masse but instead founded their own organization in 1932 for Frisian Draughts as a competitive sport. Championships were arranged, instruction manuals, opening theories and computer programmes published. And in 2014 the Fries dammen app was createdTop level sport in Fryslân.
The learning games are another story. The Sheep and Wolf Game teaches you how to use five pieces to capture one. You play it on a draughts board. The game of Nine Men’s Morris was often on the back of the draughts board. It helped train players how to think ahead and to combine moves. Understanding the capture options can be trained by trying to have your pieces captured as quickly as possible. The newest learning game is FRYSK! – each player has five pieces and learns about the finesses of the Frisian endgame. The first FRYSK! world championship is planned in 2016.
Frisian Draughts to take over the world?
Will Frisian Draughts become an international sport? The world top in international draughts is beginning to venture into the Frisian game. Frisian Draughts is more complicated and thus a greater challenge, and above all it nearly always ends in a win or a loss. The Grutmastertoernoai [Grand Master’s Tournament] in Franeker is being attended by more and more international draughts players every year. Their aim? To become the Frisian Draughts world champion in 2018!