Break Design: Retro-Synthetic
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
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).
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.
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.
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"
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.
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
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