How Chinese Checkers Works

chinese checkers
Chinese checkers has little to do with traditional checkers and even less to do with China.

Chinese checkers is a fun and easy-to-learn board game that has little to do with traditional checkers and even less to do with China. The board, which can be made from metal, plastic, wood or cardboard, is shaped like a six-pointed star and covered with 121 holes or indentations into which game pieces are placed. It's considered a game of traversal because the basic goal is to be the first player to move his or her pieces from one side of the board to the other.

Despite what its name may suggest, Chinese checkers did not originate in Asia. It was actually derived from a game called Halma, developed by Massachusetts surgeon George Howard Monks in 1885. Halma, which is Greek for "jump" or "leap," had rules very similar to modern-day Chinese checkers, despite the fact that its board was square-shaped. Monk's creation soon caught on, and E.I. Horseman of New York and Milton Bradley of Springfield, Mass., competed to sell the game to a receptive public. After a brief legal battle, Bradley discontinued its Halma line and instead sold a similar game under the name Eckha.


In 1892, German publisher Ravensburger became the first company to produce the game with a star-shaped board, calling it Stern-Halma or "Star Halma." J. Pressman & Co. first marketed the game as "Chinese checkers" in the 1920s, cashing in on America's fascination with Asia and the Middle East after the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922. The name stuck. By the 1930s, Chinese checkers was a craze sweeping across the United States, and the Milton Bradley Company ultimately secured a patent for the game in 1941.

Today, numerous companies produce Chinese checkers for the entertainment of young and old alike. The following pages will explore the rules of the game, a few variations by which it can be played, and some tricks and tips that could give you an edge in your next contest.

Chinese Checkers Rules

chinese checkers
Move in "steps" and "hops" to the base opposite yours.
Hemera Technologies/

Chinese checkers is a simple, entertaining game that is both mentally challenging and easy to learn. The star-shaped board consists of a 61-hole central hexagon and six 10-hole equilateral triangles that extend outward from each side. Known as bases, the six triangle areas serve as the starting point for each player's pieces, and each one is typically a different color. This arrangement allows as few as two or as many as six players to participate simultaneously.

Setup varies slightly depending on how many people are playing. For a game between two players, each places 15 pieces of the appropriate color in opposing bases on the board. If there are more than two players, each will use just 10 pieces. Three players should occupy alternating bases on the board, while six will obviously use all bases on the board. However, there is some disagreement about the positioning of four or five players. Some rules suggest that if there are any more than three players, they can simply start from whichever bases they like. Others insist that four players must leave two opposing bases open and five players cannot play because the board will not be balanced.


The goal of Chinese checkers is to move all of the pieces in one's home base to the opposite base on the board using a series of moves called steps and hops. To execute a step, a player moves one of his or her pieces to any one of the six surrounding holes. Pieces can be moved greater distances by performing a hop. A player executes this move by jumping his or her piece over any adjacent piece on the board, regardless of whether it's an opponent's or a player's own piece. Only one piece can be cleared in a single jump, but a jump can be made in any direction, and multiple jumps can be combined during a turn. However, players are not compelled to make a hop, and unlike traditional checkers, an opponent's pieces are not collected when they are jumped. Steps and hops cannot be combined in a single move, and each player can only move one piece per turn. The first player to move all of his or her pieces into the opposing base wins.

Now that you know how to play, you probably want to know how to get better. Hop over to the next page for some Chinese checkers tricks and tips.

Chinese Checkers Tricks and Tips

Though the rules for Chinese checkers are fairly simple, it takes a basic knowledge of strategy to become a good player. These advanced techniques center around one main movement: hopping.

Hopping is perhaps the most important move to master in Chinese checkers because it is the most efficient way to advance your pieces. Because multiple jumps can be combined in a single turn, you could conceivably move a piece from your home base to the opposing base in one move. Use pieces on the board to create a "ladder" over which you can jump other pieces and move them the greatest distance possible. This will require you to plan ahead and even anticipate your opponents' moves, but these tasks will get easier with practice. Remember, though, that such ladders are just as useful to other players as they move pieces toward their opposing bases.


There are a few steps you can take to increase your chances of a beneficial hop. One helpful strategy is to keep your pieces clustered along the centerline as you move them across the board. This will help you advance your pieces by giving you a higher concentration of pieces that can be jumped. It's also a good idea to avoid letting pieces get separated too far from the main cluster because you will eventually have to waste a significant number of turns relocating them with simple step moves. Another part of your hopping strategy should be to block your opponents from advancing their pieces. For example, it might be a good idea not to complete a hop if doing so will prevent another player from completing a successful hop. Experiment with these general strategies and you'll be filling your opposing base in no time.

Think you've mastered Chinese checkers? Click over to the next page to learn other ways to play.

Chinese Checkers Variations

If you're bored with the traditional rules of Chinese checkers, you'll be glad to know that there are variations to this classic game. One spin is to play with teams. This version of Chinese checkers can be played with four people paired in teams of two, or six people joined in teams of either two or three. Each player must choose a starting base opposite that of an opposing team member. Like regular Chinese checkers, the goal is to move your pieces across the board and into the opposing base. The first team to relocate all of their pieces into their opponent's home base is the winner.

Another variation is known as "fast-paced" or "super" Chinese checkers. This version is similar in many ways to the traditional game: You set up the pieces in the same manner and attempt to move your pieces into the opposing base using a series of steps and hops. The difference is in how you're allowed to hop other pieces on the board. In conventional Chinese checkers, you're only allowed to jump adjacent pieces, but in super Chinese checkers, you can jump more distant pieces as long as you land at a symmetrical distance on the other side. For example, if there is one space between your piece and the one you'd like to jump, you can hop that piece and land in the second empty space after the jumped piece. Like the traditional game, you can string together as many hops as you like but you can't hop more than one piece at a time.


The final variation, known as "capture" Chinese checkers, bears little resemblance to the traditional game. To set up this version, fill the center hexagon with all 60 pieces; the center hole should be the only one left empty. Two to six players then take turns jumping any piece over any other on the board, regardless of color. Like regular checkers, players collect any pieces that they jump, and multiple jumps can be made in one turn. The game is over when no more jumps can be made, and the player with the most captured pieces wins.

Now that you know the rules, strategy and variations of Chinese checkers, break out that star-shaped board and get to hopping!

Lots More Information

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  • Morehead, Albert H., Richard L. Frey, and Geoffrey Mott-Smith. "The New Complete Hoyle." Garden City Books. 1964.
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