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Dr Ian Plummer

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Beginners' Coaching Notes 3

1 The Three-Ball Break
  1.1 Three-Ball Break with Roll Shots
  1.2 Three-Ball Break with Stop Shots
2 Basic Tactics
3 Bisques
4 Break Building with Bisques

1 The Three-Ball Break

When starting to build a four ball break you will probably have to begin by scrabbling to get one hoop, then get a three-ball break going and finally get the fourth ball into play. The three-ball break is also the basic mechanism about which the more elaborate manoeuvres are based.

The main difference between a three and four-ball break is that two balls must be accurately positioned in each croquet stroke. The ball positions for a three-ball break is as for a four-ball break except there is no pivot ball; you have a pioneer at your hoop and one at your next hoop.

1.1 Three-Ball Break with Rolls

Consider a basic three-ball break starting at hoop one: you have pioneers on hoops one and two.

  • You roquet the pioneer at hoop one and hopefully rush it closer to the hoop. In the croquet stroke the croqueted ball is sent to the far side of the hoop as a reception ball and the striker's ball takes hoop running position.
  • In the continuation stroke the hoop is run earning a further continuation stroke and the right to roquet all of the other balls on the lawn once again.
  • The reception ball is roqueted. This ball now may not be roqueted again until after hoop two so the intention now is to cast it ahead of the break as a pioneer by hoop three. In the same stroke the striker's ball must be sent up to the pioneer by hoop two. This requires a full roll shot across the length of the lawn.
  • Following the roll the pioneer at hoop two is roqueted and the three-ball break mechanism is ready to be started again.

The weakness of this method of executing a three-ball break is that you have difficult long roll shots between the hoops.

Practice: On a half size or small lawn players practice a three-ball break around six hoops.

1.2 Three-Ball Break with Stop Shots

You can play a three-ball break more easily if instead of using roll shots between hoops you use rushes and stop shots. Consider the same route as before from hoop one to two:

  • When approaching hoop one you place the reception ball well north of the hoop whilst obtaining hoop running position. You run the hoop to get a rush up the lawn towards hoop two.
  • After running the hoop you want to rush the reception ball close to the pioneer at hoop two but certainly to its left (west). This rush reduces the length of approach on the pioneer by hoop two in the subsequent croquet stroke.
  • In the croquet stroke the old reception ball is sent to hoop three with a stop shot and the striker's ball to the pioneer at two.

Practice: On a half size or small lawn players practice a three-ball break around six hoops.

2 Basic Tactics

There are a few useful 'rules of thumb' tactics to be borne in mind when playing.

  • When you start your turn you have basically six shots to consider; each of your balls can shoot at the other three on the lawn (in the absence of bisques - see below). In each case you have weigh up what you gain if you hit and what you lose should you miss.
  • It is advantageous to join up with your partner ball, provided that your opponent is not also joined up.
  • Do not join up in the middle of the lawn if it can be avoided.
  • You should try not to leave your balls as a 'double target' to either of your opponent's balls. A pair of balls separated by about another ball's width represents a target of four balls width.
  • You must identify which is the important ball in a croquet stroke to place accurately in position. It is generally the striker's ball. It is pointless getting a nicely placed reception ball behind a hoop if the striker's ball cannot run the hoop. Likewise a beautifully placed advanced pioneer will never be used if you fail to roquet the pivot.
  • Whenever taking off from a ball in the croquet stroke, take off from the 'safest side'. Thus if you take off from a ball on the yard line - take off so that the croqueted ball moves into the lawn and is not pushed off the lawn.
  • In croquet strokes always give obstacles a wide berth. The balls do not always travel where you expect them to so do not plan to just squeeze past a hoop or the peg.
  • Always take to time to confirm precisely where balls are positioned. Often a ball may appear to be on the yard line or in a corner from a distance, which, when you actually get to it, may actually be a foot away from it.
  • If balls jump when you hit them you are either standing too far forward or back

3 Bisques

Croquet has a very efficient handicapping scheme whereby it is not possible to predict the outcome of a game between players of widely dissimilar ability. It works by giving the weaker player a number of extra turns against the stronger player. There is a limitation that you can only play one of these handicap or bisque turns immediately following one of your normal turns or directly following a previous bisque turn. You also have to continue playing with the same colour ball as in the turn you have just finished.

A bisque turn is just like any fresh normal turn. The striker's ball is brought on to the yard line if necessary and you can re-roquet all of the other balls on the lawn once again. You can play bisque turn followed by bisque turn until they are all used up without allowing your opponent to play.

In normal handicap play the number of bisque turns given to the weaker player is the difference in the numerical handicaps of the players. Hence if a 7 handicap plays a 16, the 16 handicap player has 9 bisque turns. White sticks called bisques are stuck into the side of the lawn to indicate the number of bisque turns remaining, and are drawn out as the bisques are used up.

Conventionally you catch your opponent's eye and raise a finger or call "bisque" to indicate that you are taking a bisque.

Handicaps range from -2½ for the best players in the world up to 28 or 30 for absolute beginners. To slightly complicate matters the handicaps step in half units from 5 handicap downwards (in the UK). Hence what happens if a 3.5 plays an 8? There should be 4.5 bisques involved - what is a half bisque? This is a fresh turn like all others except that no points (hoop or peg) are allowed to be scored for any ball. If a ball runs through a hoop it does not score that hoop. The half bisque is mainly used to position balls - normally before taking a full bisque to then take advantage of the ball positions.

There is also a style of handicapping called the full bisque system. Rather than giving the weaker player the difference in the handicaps, each player receives the number of bisques equal to their handicap, or their handicaps minus some equal number for each player. This is a very good system when first using bisques as each player gets the experience of using them. As an example if a full bisque game with a "base of 5" were played between an 8 and a 12 the stronger player would receive 3 bisques and the weaker 7.

4 Break Building With Bisques

Bisques can be used in three ways: to repair a mistake, to attack and build a break and finally, defensively to prevent an opponent gaining a strong position.

In repair, bisques are used to have a second attempt at roqueting a ball or running a hoop. This modifies how you play the game - you would not shoot hard at a ball you wanted to roquet, since if you missed you would have a long shot when you take a bisque to roquet the ball again. If you aim gently at the ball to be roqueted and miss, you would then have a short roquet when taking the bisque.

Greatest value is obtained from a bisque when it is used attackingly to build a break. To set up a four-ball break it is generally reckoned that two bisques should be all that you need from any scattering of the four balls on the lawn! It is a problem which practice can help to solve. Fortunately there are general guidelines.

The basic outline is:

  • Use the first shot of a proper turn to get near a ball.
  • Take a bisque and roquet that ball. In this bisque turn the aim is to leave any ball near a boundary (the bisque ball - the ball which you will use first in you next bisque turn) and also accurately position a ball as a pioneer on your hoop (the hoop ball). You complete the first bisque turn by shooting near your bisque ball, ideally getting a useful rush into the lawn.
  • Take the second bisque and rush the bisque ball into the lawn and, depending on the ball positions, leave it as a pivot and take off to your hoop ball, or stop it as an advance pioneer to your next-hoop-but-one and then roquet your pivot and take off to your hoop ball.
  • The key thing is to get a ball accurately positioned as a pioneer on your hoop during the first bisque turn.

Like many puzzles however there can be a variety of solutions, some better than others, e.g. they use simpler croquet stroke and all balls are approached along their rush lines. An example is given below; the solution is probably not the optimal one. Can you see other ways?

Example of using two bisques to set up a four-ball break

Fourth turn and you are playing red and yellow and the balls are in the positions in A below. You are about to play red.

using bisques to set up a 4-ball break

The first stroke is to deliberately miss yellow to the south (A) so that you gain a rush up the lawn when you take a bisque (B). The first bisque is taken. Yellow is rushed so that it is 4-5 foot from the boundary, so that you can finish this turn by shooting off behind it to give yourself a rush into the court. Yellow is the bisque ball.

using bisques continued

A take-off from yellow places red near black and blue and you then roquet one of them blue in this case (A). Blue is then sent towards hoop two as a pioneer with a stop shot. The primary thing in this croquet stroke is to keep red within easy striking distance of black. Black is then roqueted (B).

using bisques continued

In the following croquet stroke black is accurately stopped down as a pioneer on hoop 1, this is the hoop ball. It does not matter particularly where red goes. On the continuation stroke red is sent off the lawn behind the bisque ball (B). The first bisque turn finishes and red is brought on to the yard line. The second bisque is then taken. Yellow is rushed towards the centre of the lawn to act as a future pivot.

using bisques - the 4-ball break built

A take-off from yellow towards the pioneer (black) on hoop 1 completes the setting up of the four-ball break.

Practice: On a half size lawn get players to play with about 8 bisques each around 6 hoops encouraging break-building manoeuvres rather than gratuitous snatching of hoops. This can be done on a small lawn. The aim is to get the players thinking about building breaks.

Contest: Organise a game of One Ball Croquet around six hoops. This is a fun game of croquet played with each side only having one ball each but all the normal rules of croquet apply. This should take at most 20 minutes.

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Updated 28.i.16
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