How to Play
Expert Croquet Tactics
By Keith F Wylie
Second Edition 1991
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Text Copyright © The Croquet Association, 2014. Typesetting & diagrams © Dr Ian Plummer, 2014.
For my parents, an inadequate explanation of time misspent.
[Web Editors' note: the index has been expanded and numbered to assist with referencing.]
Next article: Article 1: The Triple Peel
In the First Edition the first three Articles were largely restricted to advice of which, after 20 years of croquet, I felt reasonably sure. They are republished in the Second Edition with only minor changes and corrections. The Article on openings was different. In a subject given as much to opinion as to objective analysis it is difficult to be sure of anything. It has been largely re-written. I am indebted to many current British players for their helpful comments on it.
A subject of criticism of the First Edition was that, while I aim to address the real or aspiring expert, I sometimes suppose a certain lack of expertise in the reader or his opponent. I have not attempted to change this. This book is a guide, not a catechism. Nor is it a narrative. The detailed treatment of the triple peel, which occupies so much space, is not intended to be read straight through. The first-time reader is expected to find on most pages something to make him pause from reading for reflection, criticism, discussion with friends or experimentation on a lawn or on paper. Such pauses play a vital part in understanding the text and provide relief from some fairly concentrated material.
There has been a major development in croquet tactics - or at least in my appreciation of them - since the First Edition, as a result of the new heights of skill achieved by Bob Jackson of New Zealand, especially in his single-ball strokes. When he is on form his outstanding ability is remarkable even in this game of idiosyncratic virtuosi. 10-yard roquets and 2-yard hoops seem to flow inexorably from his mallet. A consequence is that he is less concerned than most players to give himself short hoop strokes (and so can afford to approach hoops from further away) and that he often runs uncontrolled hoops confident of finding a ball within roqueting range afterwards.
Whereas Cotter wrote “If I have a rush to my hoop and am playing well, I can go round, irrespective of where the opposing balls are”, Jackson has almost done away with the need for the initial rush. He has demonstrated a [vi] range of skills that potentially turns the traditional approach to tactics - including much of this book - on its head. He has been known to ignore a wide join and to trundle round on a rough-and-ready 2-ball break until he reached the hoop where the balls were waiting. For an opponent of such a player in form, no corner is safe.
Jackson is strong at all kinds of strokes, but what is interesting to me is that in theory one might largely make up for being not particularly good at rushes or croquet strokes so long as one’s roquets and hoop strokes were reliable enough. Those who attempt this approach will quickly come unstuck if their single-ball strokes are not good enough, and they will also suffer if their croquet strokes are only moderately good. “Go-for-every-shot, go-for-every-hoop” tactics are appropriate only for the very best.
The reader may care to speculate on the probable progress of a match between two such players when they are in form, and on the extent to which this book may have to be revised. 1-back tactics seem strongly indicated. Any reader spurred to attain the necessary skill himself should be warned that a punishing practice schedule is an unavoidable price to pay. Perhaps, despite this, there will emerge a large enough number of such players in due course for a coherent approach to the relevant tactics to be assembled. It is too soon to make a start yet, and I do not think that Jackson himself would claim to have worked out a regular system. His monument, to date, must be his two match-play octuples, though these probably depended more on his all-round skill than on the particular aspects I have mentioned. I gather that he used the leave which I published as an insert to the First Edition (Fig. A) - the nearest I shall ever get to doing one.
First, a few words for those who have opened this book knowing nothing about croquet. This book is not for you. All the same, I invite you to dip into it in order to satisfy yourselves that, contrary to what you may have thought, croquet is a game of some depth. It is not played by obsessed fanatics (well, not many) but by perfectly sensible men and women from many walks of life. There is no literature to help the improving player climb from the bottom of the A class to the top of it and this book is an uncompromising attempt to fill part of that gap. Anticipating a knowledgeable readership, I have left out a good deal of detailed explanation. As each Article is written on a specific subject, the book as a whole has a certain unevenness. Articles 1 and 4 and Part II of Article 3 are aimed more at the minus player. Readers who are well below that standard may find the book heavy going.
Among my readers there will inevitably be a great diversity of temperament and of kinds of skill. Players quite legitimately tend to rely on those skills in which they excel and to model their tactics according to their temperament. For me to cater expressly for such diversity would lead only to blandness or to the tedious repetition of exceptions and qualifications. That would not do. I have therefore adopted a fairly didactic style and it is up to the reader to give these Articles an intelligent and not too literal reading. Where I say “should”, read “could”; where “must”, “may”.
Everyone knows that the winner of a match between experts is likely to be the one who hits in more often and breaks down less. The best recipe for winning croquet is: “Hit in and go round”. Nothing in these Articles will make the reader shoot more accurately or stop him from sticking in hoops. At the same time I have seen many important matches lost (and have lost a few myself) by bad tactics. Sound tactics are not merely ornamental.
The author of a book like this necessarily “stands on the shoulders of giants”. Not only have I had the benefit of the accumulated croquet wisdom of perhaps six decades, but I have been inspired by the play of many current players, both British and from the Commonwealth, and enlightened by their advice. It would be invidious to identify individuals from among those who have helped me. I thank them all. I am also grateful to John Prince for letting [viii] me reproduce the cartoon of his on the last page of Article 2. With the kind permission of Patrick Cotter and John Solomon I make frequent reference to their respective books. Their opinions are always illuminating and more than once John Solomon has deftly restrained my excesses of exuberance.
I have adopted certain jargon which is not universally used in print, such as “dolly rush” (i.e. extremely simple, as in “dolly catch”), “to jaws”, “to go out” (i.e. to win), “to go round” (whether to 4-back or the peg), “to have had” (i.e. croqueted), “to make [a hoop]” (i.e. to run it), “the furniture” (peg, hoops and balls when regarded as obstacles) and “triple” (for “triple peel”). I have unashamedly revived the old-fashioned word “to finesse” in preference to its less accurate modern counterpart “to corner”. At the cost of some awkwardness I have preferred “peeled ball” to “peelee” and, except in the phrases “split shot” and “stop shot”, I have generally used “stroke” where common parlance would have had “shot”, reserving “shot” itself to denote an attempt at a long roquet. In the Second Edition I have preferred to use “escape ball” instead of “getaway ball”. [ix]
Readers in Australia, New Zealand and the United States may find that my use of British terminology causes difficulty. For instance, the British use the word “cannon” indiscriminately to cover almost any unusual collision between balls. In some parts of the world “bombard”, is used when the croqueted ball moves a third ball and “carom” where one ball ricochets off another. Is the Fig. 1.102 cannon a “bombardment”, a “carom” or both? I have thought it best to stick to the language I know - “English” English, with all its insularity and linguistic poverty.
I find that the use of unabbreviated prose in the existing literature makes many of the passages describing breaks difficult to digest. I have therefore pursued a policy of breaking up the text by the use of the following abbreviations:
I use square brackets to indicate a stroke, usually a single-ball stroke: [Y to IV] means shot to, or near, the fourth corner by Yellow and [Y at K] means shot by Yellow at Black.
The diagrams are all in the usual direction, with South at the bottom.
A convention that runs through the first three Articles is that the reader is RY (that is, he is playing Red and Yellow), playing the first break with R and the second with Y. 
Next article: Article 1: The Triple Peel
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