The Hnefatafl English National Championships.

by Pete Jennings

The game of Hnefatafl (or King’s Table) was played by both Anglo Saxons and Vikings in the early Mediaeval period. It consists of a squared board, and two sets of gaming pieces: the King and his white men initially occupy the central space whilst the black pieces occupy spaces on the 4 sides of the board. Pieces move horizontally or vertically, but not diagonally. The King has to reach a corner to win, whilst the black side has to stop them. Each can take the others pieces by surrounding them on two sides, or in the case of the king, all 4 sides.

There are usually twice as many black pieces as there are white. The game can be learnt in minutes but the tactics and strategy can hold ones interest for years.

Tafl games (of which there are many named variants) seem to have been spread by the Scandinavian races, before the popularity of chess. Gaming boards and pieces believed to be associated with the game have been found in several graves that have been excavated. E.g. Sutton Hoo & Taplow in England, Gokstad in Norway. Some boards have another game, 9 Mans Morris on the reverse side.

In 2008, the World Hnefatafl Quickplay Championship was organised on Fetlar in the Orkney Isles by Grandmaster Peter Kelly. It was won by Wendy Sutherland. Since then, some championships have been held on line across the world on the internet. Tim Millar, the Senior World Quickplay Champion from both 2009 & 2010 visited Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge Suffolk on 17th – 18th August 2013 to act as coach and umpire for the Hnefatafl English National Championships, 2013, sponsored by Ealdfaeder Anglo Saxons and the National Trust. Coaching took place on the Saturday with both the Senior & Junior English Championships competed for on the Sunday. All equipment was provided. The World Championships gave great support and encouragement to the event, and a version of their rules for the 11X 11 square boards with 24 black and 12 white + king was used.

Ealdfaeder member Pete Jennings actually won the Senior title, with a young lady called Guinevere Ferry-Swain from Hampshire taking the Junior prize.

Children hnefatafl players

The 2nd English National Hnefatafl Championships was held on 9-10th August 2014. The Champion was Dr. Tim Bullen of Formby Lancs. Reserve Champion was last year’s winner Pete Jennings. Junior Champion was Shane Wilson. The 3rd event will be held at Sutton Hoo on the weekend of August 8-9th 2015 (tbc) and is likely to be using the Stockholm Rules for the first time.

There is no entry fee to the competition but competitors must pay normal admission charges to Sutton Hoo unless they are members of the National Trust. Limited camping is available for the weekend, and competitors are encouraged to wear Anglo Saxon or Viking costume if possible.

For entry forms, rules and registration, please apply with an A4 stamped self- addressed envelope to:

  • Hnefatafl English Championships
  • 12, Carlton Close, Gt. Yeldham Essex CO9 4QJ
  • Alternatively e mail
  • For more information on the site visit Sutton Hoo

The sponsors Ealdfaeder will be carrying out other costumed activities on the weekend. They will also be running a Skalds Challenge, so bring your stories, riddles and poetry.