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A View on Croquet Tactics; the Pegged-Out Game

An article by Leslie Riggall on the merits of pegging out an opponent's ball from the Croquet Gazette, No. 170, p. 1

While watching some tournament games it seemed to me that most players would benefit from a serious study of tactics.

One of the most common but erroneous ideas is the belief that a player has only to peg out one of the opponent's balls to ensure victory. And when, as so often happens, the result goes the other way and the single ball wins, the first player feels that the result was unfair.

But what has really happened is that the result reflects the fact that the odds were in favour of the single ball. The following is a very common example. Blue goes to four-back, red or yellow misses the lift and black goes round to the peg. Red hits in or takes a bisque and goes to the peg and pegs out black. This is very dangerous, because blue has only a very easy sequence of three hoops to make. Yellow has much greater need of the black ball than blue, because he has to make twelve hoops. In fact I have often seen players peg out an opponent's ball when the other opponent ball has only one hoop to make (one for rover and one for peg is a common situation). A player who pegs out his opponent in such a situation simply deserves to lose.

When I first propounded this theory in England many years ago it was received with scepticism. So I arranged a series of test part-games with Maurice Reckitt, a "grand-master" of croquet. The results surprised him and proved that in the four-back example given above, the odds were heavily in favour of the single ball. Other tests indicated that the odds favoured the single ball if it was for three-back, and that pegging-out the opponent was generally not worthwhile unless the backward ball was only half way round or less.

The corollary of this urge to peg out an opponent ball, is a commonly-observed reluctance to peg out one's own ball. There was an extraordinary example of this in one of the games referred to in the first paragraph, between two top players.

The player of black and blue was in deep trouble, his black had made only two hoops, and blue had a few more to make. Red and yellow were pegging out but the rush did not take the balls to within a safe distance from the peg. Red missed the peg and travelled to between the boundary and the second hoop, while yellow came to rest about three feet from the peg. If yellow had been pegged out the opponent's chance of completing the course would have been remote. But yellow was sent to red, black near the first hoop hit in on blue which was near the fourth, and it was easy to make the third hoop off red and yellow, with a four-ball break to follow. Thus red and yellow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, by not taking the opportunity to eliminate all possibility of a four-ball break.

lf a player is pegging out an opponent ball it is often important for him to peg out his own ball at the same time. If your backward ball has about a four-hoop lead over the opponent's ball it is essential to peg out your own forward ball as well. Because virtually the only hope your opponent has of catching up is a three-ball break, and he cannot make this with only two balls. A more precise assessment of the lead required might be as follows.

If the opponent has eleven or twelve hoops to make, a safe lead to enable you to peg out your own ball would be five hoops. If nine or ten hoops remain, a safe lead for you would be four hoops. Less than nine hoops means that three hoops is a safe lead. The score should be watched carefully. Suppose that you start with only a four-hoop lead and your opponent has twelve hoops to make. If you make two hoops and your opponent is still four hoops behind, leave your backward ball at its hoop and peg out your forward ball immediately, and thus eliminate the possibility of a three-ball break.

Thanks to Elizabeth Larsson in the CA office for the transcription.

Comments from the Nottingham List

Nick Parish comments:

Really interesting stuff. I would like to hear what the top players have to say, but I would disagree with quite a lot of this.
My first observation - I think much of this is too broad brush. An awful lot depends on whether or not it is handicap or advanced, and if the latter whether or not you are giving away a lift.

I don't agree with the argument that you shouldn't peg out the opponent unless his backward ball is for 1-back or earlier. I would have no hesitation in pegging out an opponent if his backward ball was for 2-back or 3-back and I think I am on the conservative side here as many would peg out an opponent if his other ball was for 4-back.

When talking about when to peg out one of your balls alone, Riggall doesn't mention that you give up your right to a lift if you do that. And given that top players can do a 3-ball break almost as easily as a 4-ball break, pegging out one of your balls may not right. Obviously some of the time it will still be right to peg out one of your balls (especially if playing handicap when there are no lifts to lose), but it is not nearly as clear-cut as he suggests.

I agree it can often be right to peg out both you and your opponent if your backward ball has a substantial lead over opponent's, but I don't think three hoops is enough. E.g. if opponent is for 3-back and you are for rover, I think it would often be folly to peg out the other two balls. It depends where the remaining balls are, but if opponent gets in front of 3-back then you can't take position at rover until he's through it, and if he then gets in front of 4-back before you are in front of rover you are in serious trouble. I'd much sooner peg opponent alone off, and have my two balls in Corner 1 (assuming no lift - else maximum position on the West Boundary) with a rush to rover giving away a 35 yard shot.

Jonathan Kirby responds:

The Riggall article was written a long time ago (30 years?) and looks reasonably appropriate for the B and C class now. I doubt it was ever intended for the top level, but in any case the game at the top level has moved on.

Samir Patel:

I think it's a perfectly reasonable analysis, but one that has to be adjusted for applicability to the modern game. Whether this is because of the increase in standard of play or decrease in difficulty of conditions is harder to judge.  However, the basic premise that pegging out opponent doesn't give you any automatic right to win is still sound, as is the common error of not reconsidering pegging out the second ball either immediately or as the situation evolves.

The article may stand with less alteration for B class play, but for A class, I suggest that some of the references to four balls breaks should probably now be three ball breaks, and references to three ball breaks become two ball breaks.

Jeff Soo  moots

In advanced play, pegging out the opponent when the other opponent ball  is for 4-back is sailing rather close to the wind, unless your own back  ball is already past 4-back. There will usually be a lift coming, and if  you join and the opponent hits, that could be the game. Or if you  separate, the opponent gets a free shot at your rover ball, or can  simply set up at 4-back, then bide time waiting for the next lift.

Jonathan Kirby:

I don't agree with this. We suppose opponent  is 4-back and peg, and you are on a break to the peg with one ball, conceding a lift, but not a contact. If you don't peg out the opponent, you have to join up and he has a lift shot with four balls on the lawn and hitting the lift more or less wins the game. If you do peg out the opponent, then, even if you join up, he is less certain to win if he hits. If you separate, he should have two shots but is much less likely to finish if he hits them and the second will be longer (probably much longer). After those two shots, you would hope to establish a break without giving away another good chance, whatever hoop your backward ball is for.

If you are not conceding a lift, it is even more important to peg out one opponent ‘s ball so you can leave a 35 yard suicide shot. If you are conceding a contact, you probably also want to peg one out and separate, to give you a better chance of having another turn.

Author: Leslie Riggall
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Updated 28.i.16
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