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Dr Ian Plummer

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Technical
Break Design: Retro-Synthetic Break Building*

A competent croquet player should be thinking five or more strokes ahead of their play in order to configure the positions of the balls to their advantage. The aim of this short article is to demonstrate how, by looking at the positions of the balls ahead of your route, you make the decision on the placing of the balls you are about to play. The technique is to ask where you need to be at some point in the future and from that position work back to where you are now.

Example:

starting position on lawn

You are on hoop 2 striking black (k), just having roqueted your pioneer (blue). You now need to look ahead to decide where to place the roqueted ball in the subsequent croquet stroke. The positions of the balls are shown opposite. Yellow, the pivot, lies between hoops 3 and 4 with a reasonable pioneer on hoop 3.

Obviously, playing a four-ball break, we would make hoop 2, roquet the reception ball and then croquet it down to hoop 4 getting close to pivot. After roqueting the pivot we would then take-off to the pioneer on hoop 3 and rush it to the playing side of the hoop.

It is from this point that we start to work back to get an idea of our next stroke. That is now six strokes away from where we are standing in front of hoop 2.

Working Backwards ...

1. First we note where the ideal rush line lies for rushing the hoop 3 pioneer to the playing side of hoop 3 (red line marked 1).

first consideration

2. We would like the pivot to lie on this line so that we can take-off along the rush line toward the pioneer on hoop 3. It means that we will get a straight rush to hoop 3 even if our take-off is not quite the correct length. If we leave the pivot where it is we will be taking off across the rush line and a small error in length can result in a difficult cut rush to the hoop. Consequently we need to start on the east (right) of the pivot when we come to roquet it so that we have the opportunity of driving it toward the rush line. A suitable track for the pivot is indicated in the figure.

second consideration

3. As we are playing a four-ball break, in the same stroke as we approach the pivot we need to cast the old reception ball to our next-but-one hoop (hoop 4) as a pioneer. It is always desirable to play 'narrow' croquet strokes where the two balls travel in a similar direction rather than 'wide' where they travel away from each other. Narrow strokes are much easier to play successfully. Normally we would like to take this croquet stroke from the position where we are moving both balls down rush lines to their next objective: hoop 4 and pivot in this case.

There are two options - one where croquet is taken near hoop 2 (lines 2 and 3 in the figure) giving a narrow croquet stroke but it requires the striker's ball to pass the pivot to gain the rush on it. There is the possibility of an unintentional roquet, and anyway the reception ball has to pass very close to the peg. Not an ideal position therefore to take croquet from.

third consideration

4. If however we rush the reception ball after hoop 2 to the east boundary as indicated opposite, (line 4) then the pioneer can be sent to hoop 4 with a stop shot giving good control on the back ball. The slight weakness with this stroke is that we are driving black across the rush line on the pivot. However given that a stop shot is required from this position there will be good control on the black. Perhaps a sub-rule of thumb should be "you can approach a ball across its rush line provided you use a stop shot"

fourth consideration

5. We are now getting close to home. After running hoop 2 we need to rush the reception ball to the position indicated above hence we now know to put the reception ball to the right of hoop 2 about a foot beyond the hoop. You should always design your break so that you can run the hoops soundly rather than doing keyhole surgery. If you tentatively poke a ball into a hoop, trying to run it by an inch or so, it is likely to stick. Hence we now know where to put the ball and have a good idea of our next six strokes. If any stroke fails to go exactly where required then we have a simple four ball break without the luxuries of straight rushes and narrow croquet strokes or stop shots.

fifth consideration

In summary (a) you croquet the reception ball so that it can be rushed (b) to the east boundary. You then stop (c) the reception ball as a pioneer on hoop 4 whilst getting the rush (d) on the pivot to the rush line of the pioneer on hoop 3.

What is aimed for is to gradually shepherd the balls into better and better positions as you take the break around. Whilst all of this takes pages to write about, in practice it just takes a glance around the lawn.


* Retro-synthesis is a procedure in organic chemistry where the manufacture of a complex molecule is approached by considering the end product and what two constituents would react together to make it, then what sub-constituents would make each of those constituents, etc., right back to simple precursors.

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Updated 28.i.16
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