Laska

Rules,   Background,   Equipment,   Notation,
Openings,   Endings,   Advice,   Play,   and See Also


Rules

Laska is played on a seven-by-seven board, using the corner squares and the other squares of that colour (so on 25 squares of the available 49). It uses eleven White counters and eleven Black counters. The counters should be ornamented on one side; they start the game with the ornamented side downward, and are turned over when promoted.

Taking : A taken counter is not removed from the board but placed under the taking counter to form a column. If a column is taken, only its top counter is added to the the bottom of the taking column. The colour of the top counter determines the ownership of its column. ( So if the second-to-top counter in a column is a different colour to the top counter, that column will change owner if taken; I call this a weak column. ) As in draughts, multiple takes can be made per turn. Taking is compulsory; there is no huffing. A multiple take ends on promotion. If there is a choice of takes, it is a free choice.

Promotion : When the opposite side is reached, the counter (or the top counter of a column) is promoted by being turned over; it then becomes an officer and can move diagonally in any direction. The rank of the top counter determines the rank of its column. Officers remain as officers, even while buried inside a column.

The Result : The game ends when one side cannot move, or has no pieces left.

Probably there should be some rule for a draw by repetition of moves, or after a certain number of moves without a take. Drawn positions do exist (see the Endings) but seem to occur more rarely than in chess.


Background

World chess-champion Emanuel Lasker published the rules in 1911; you can read them in PDF format or transcribed into HTML. The game achieved popularity in the 1920s and has enjoyed some revival in the internet era. See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laska

A variant also exists in which only single takes are allowed; it has been called Bignor Ludus. It also is an interesting game, with a more strategic character then Laska.


Equipment

Counters can be made from Poker chips, if the poker chip is ornamented with painted signs like dots or the card suits. If you take eleven white chips and eleven black (or red) chips and can scratch off the ornamentation on one side using a sharp edge, then you have an excellent set of Laska counters. The white chips shouldn't show the scratching, but the black chips may benefit from e.g. light brush of black ink. A counter-diameter of 40mm looks good on a 50mm square.

Lasker suggested using different colours for promoted counters (green for white counters, red for black counters). This has the advantage that both players can see the promotion-status of every counter in a column. But it involves exchanging a promoted counter rather than just turning it over, which can lead to mistakes in which one player is left with more than eleven counters on the board. So if Lasker's colours are being used, I suggest keeping the unused white and green counters and the unused black and red counters in two neat columns side-by-side close to the board; these columns should always have the same height. If the usual turn-over promotion is being used, then the player on move should have the right to look through a column to check the promotion-status of its buried counters.

The board is 7x7 (a chess-board is 8x8). The colour of the corner-squares should be chosen to present the two counters with as equal a contrast as possible. One option is to cut one row and one file off an 8x8 chessboard, especially one of those flexible vinyl roll-up boards. For symmetry you could also cut off any border around the other two sides.

Or, you can leave the chess-board unharmed and hide the extra row and column during play; most simply with a couple of strips e.g. of leather, cardboard or plastic, or, if the chess-board has a wide border, through a 7x7-hole cut in a 9x9 sheet.

You can play laska at the command-line using this Perl script, which in turn uses the Term::Clui CPAN module. To install, just save it to somewhere in your $PATH, call it laska, make it executable, and if necessary edit the first line to reflect where perl is on your system.

Or, you can play laska right here in the JavaScript of your web-browser, using play_laska.html.


Notation


Openings

The starting position is symmetric, so there are only three distinct first moves: 1. a3-b4 (or g3-f4), 1. c3-b4 (or e3-f4) and 1. c3-d4 (or e3-d4). In the opening, the board is crowded, and there are no officers able to move to and fro, so waiting-moves are scarce. Since waiting-moves often make the difference between survival and immediate defeat, they should not be squandered; attacking a bare counter is better, and attacking a weak column better still.


Endings

In the endgame, the play tends to be dominated by officers; the following study-examples use only officers. The oppostion is very important, as with King-endings in chess. In these examples, White has the advantage.


Advice

A 7x7 board (since 7 is odd) has a centre-file, a middle-rank, and a centre-square (d4).


See Also