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Dr Ian Plummer

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Which Ball to Hit?

In this section some of the thoughts going through an experienced croquet player's head as they walk on to a lawn to take their turn are discussed. The opportunity also is taken to consider the opponent's options and break building manoeuvres.

At the start of your turn you have the choice of which of your two balls to play and where. In simple terms, in the absence of bisques, there are six basic shots: each of your balls could be hit towards any of the other three on the lawn. For each of those shots you have to weigh up what you will gain and lose if you hit or miss. This will depend heavily on the ability of yourself and your opponent.

Factors which weight your decision are:


  • your ability to hit
  • whether any ball is close to an obstruction
  • your expectation of the opponent hitting
  • whether any ball has a double target?
  • whether the opponents are joined up?
  • whether the opponents are close to your hoop?
  • whether they have a rush to one of your balls ?
  • whether your ball is by one of their hoops?
  • whether bisques are involved on either side?

If you miss ...

  • will you leave an easy break?
  • will you leave a double target?
  • will you end up wired from your partner ball?
  • will the opponent have a rush to that ball ?

General Aphorisms

These should be heavily diluted with common sense. The following are generally true

  • shoot at a ball right through to a boundary
  • do not join up if the opponents are joined up
  • do not take your partner ball off the boundary unless you are sure of a break
  • try not to roquet your partner ball immediately after making your last hoop
  • a good leave is worth a break

Shots without shooting at a ball.

If none of the options looks safe then you would consider hitting to the boundary - giving up the opportunity to roquet. When doing this there are a few pointers:
  • shoot "behind the opponent's break".
    Say that all the opponent's balls were for hoop 2. It is much better to place a ball around corner 1 than corner 3. They will have to either have to wait until they are on hoops 4 or 5 before it can be picked up or they will have to do very difficult manoeuvres to pick it up earlier.
  • always shoot right through to the boundary.
    A ball on the boundary is much more difficult to get into play than one a little way off it.
  • shoot off at a point on a boundary which frustrates an easy approach down a rush line on another ball on the lawn to where the opponent wants to go.
  • do not shoot off to where your opponent has a rush.
  • if your partner ball is on the boundary create a wide join (6-8 foot depending on the speed of the lawn, shorter for faster lawns).
    This leaves a threat that if they do not come and do something you have a high expectation of hitting in. Normally they will be unable to get both balls usefully out into the lawn.
  • unless absolutely necessary do not shoot off to a boundary adjacent to a boundary where you already have a ball.
    For example if you have a ball on the South boundary near hoop 1 and put your second one on the West boundary, you cannot shoot at either ball and miss without leaving two balls close together - this is a weak position if your opponent is already joined up as it generally means that the opponent will get a rush wherever he wants.
  • If you already have a ball on a boundary think carefully before putting a ball into a corner shared by that boundary when making a wide join.
    This almost forces you to play the ball in the corner next turn. If you shoot at your partner in the corner you will leave two balls together with the possibility of a cannon. As described above this is undesirable. Leave a wide join so that either ball can shoot at the other without leaving the balls paired up.

With experience a glance will tell you which shots are not worth considering and then you start to weigh up the pros and cons of the remaining ones.


balls in positions for example Blue and Black (Bu and Bk) are to play with all balls for hoop one (see figure). What are Blue and Black's options?

The key thing to consider is what will the opponent (Red and Yellow) do with the standing arrangement of balls and then, what with the arrangement of balls after you have taken your shot. By analysing the standing arrangement you work out which is the most useful ball to him and unless there are other weighting factors you would tend to want to move that ball.

Were Red and Yellow to Play.

Firstly the most useful ball for Red and Yellow (R and Y) is Blue - because Red has a rush on Yellow close to Blue. Once Yellow is close to Blue a simple take-off shot will give Red a rush on Blue to hoop 1. If Red is more competent he will rush Yellow beyond Blue to near the boundary then stop Yellow somewhere in the region of hoop 2 whilst getting the rush on Blue to hoop 1 - three-ball break results. In either case above if the position for the rush on Blue to hoop 1 fails a rush on Blue to Black might be obtained. If Blue is rushed to the right of Black then it can be cast back to the centre of the lawn with a stop shot whilst Red gets a rush on Black to hoop 1.

Having run through the lines of thought above we should realise that if Red follows the last course it will have a four-ball break waiting to be taken around.

In summary:

  1. Yellow is rushed past Blue, then
  2. Yellow stopped to hoop 2 whilst a rush is obtained on Blue to Black.
  3. Blue is rushed to the right of Black then
  4. Blue is stopped back to the middle whilst a rush is obtained on Black to hoop 1.

Whilst the other options initially considered are simpler (fewer rushes, etc.) the result is not a direct four-ball break. As a minus player playing Red I would try the rush Yellow past Blue, then send Yellow to hoop 2 whilst attempting to get a rush on Blue to hoop 1, rather than go through the full manoeuvre (1-4) above. This is because after running hoop 1 I would hope to be able to get a rush to near corner 3 and then cast Blue up to hoop 3 whilst approaching Black to rush it toward Yellow on hoop 2. There is the four-ball break again but made after hoop 1. This line of approach offers two contingencies: if I did not get the rush on Blue to hoop 1 in the first instance I could firstly attempt to rush Blue to Black as in (1-4) above or in the worst case take-off from Blue to get a rush on Black to hoop 1. If in any case I failed to get the rush on Black I would attempt either the long roll into hoop 1 or a take-off for hoop running position. Yellow is left safe out of the centre of the lawn and not by an opponent's hoop.

My prejudice therefore is that Blue should be moved unless Black has an advantage. The two obvious shots are Black at Blue and Black at Red and Yellow.

Black at Blue.

If the shot is missed, Red rushes Yellow close to hoop 2 and takes off to Black. Black is not far off the rush line of Blue to hoop 1. Black is then stopped some way into the centre of the lawn whilst a rush is gained on Blue to hoop 1 ... four-ball break!

If the shot is hit then there is a take-off to corner 3, roquet, little stop shot then a rush obtained from corner 3 to hoop 1. Not easy.

Black at Red or Yellow.

Red is the better ball to go for since it is not partially obscured by a hoop and hitting Red allows Red to be levered out from the boundary whilst getting a rush on Yellow.

If Red is missed ? Having three balls close usually means that the player will only be able to get two balls away from the boundary leaving one behind. As an example Red hits Black, then plays a small stop shot to get Black a little way out whilst getting a rush on Yellow to beyond Blue. Yellow is then sent in the direction of hoop 2 and the rush obtained on Blue to hoop 1. Result 3-ball break. The bad news is that the enemy ball, Black, is left in a quite a cosy position on the boundary if the manoeuvre fails and Yellow is left out in the open.

Having thought this through - it would be better to perhaps initially hit Red with Yellow, take off to get a rush on Black to beyond Blue and then complete the manoeuvre as before. If things do not work out Black will be around hoop 2 and Blue around hoop 1 and you can shoot back to partner in corner 3.

If Red is hit? The same routine as described above take place but with Black doing the work - Red is eased into the lawn, a rush gained on Yellow past Blue ...

Black at Red and Yellow is still a reasonable shot to consider at the moment because the opponent has to work hard and only gains a three-ball break.

Blue at Black.

This is a short shot.

If Black is missed?. The advantage of this shot is that, if Black is missed, Blue lies across the rush line of Black to hoop 1. You force the opponent to either risk getting rushing position by coming across the rush line, or to leave balls on boundaries. For example: Red will either gently hit Yellow, take-off to Blue on the boundary then cast Blue towards the centre of the lawn whilst trying to get the (difficult) rush on Black to hoop 1. Alternatively Red could rush Yellow towards hoop 2 then take off to Blue and cast Blue to the centre of the lawn whilst getting a rush (difficult) on Black. The alternative in either of these cases would be to hit Yellow with Red, take-off West of Black and rush Black to Blue. A take-off give the rush on Blue to hoop 1 but Black is left on the boundary. In any case Red and Yellow will have to work hard to get a break.

If Black is hit?. Depending on your ability to play rolls and given a clear view of hoop 2 from where Black ends up, the tactic would be to play a roll shot to place Black near (or slightly beyond for defence) hoop 2 whilst getting Blue in the region of Red and Yellow. Blue does not need to be accurate: having two balls close together, one can be hit and a take-off yields a rush on the other. Say Yellow is hit, then a small stop or take-off gets a (difficult) rush on Red to hoop 1.

It might be argued that the roll shot is risky since the partner ball is taken from the safety of the boundary with only a speculative break in prospect. If however you were ambitious and hit Black, take-off to Red and Yellow all you would probably be able to do would be to rush one ball down to hoop 1. Certainly you may get hoop 1, but one ball would be stuck on East boundary and the other somewhere near corner 3 - difficult to build a break from.

Blue at Red and Yellow.

There is a disincentive to take this shot as the approach on Red and Yellow is hindered by hoop 3.

If Red and Yellow are missed?. Assuming that Blue ends up adjacent to Red and Yellow rather than being scattered by the hoops, Yellow would roquet Red closer to the Blue, a take-off would yield a rush on Blue to a point on the East boundary lying on the Black - hoop 1 rush line. Blue would then be cast towards the centre of the lawn whilst a rush was obtained on Black to hoop 1. There is a poor three-ball break but with the partner ball safe in corner 3 to retreat to if anything goes wrong.

If Red or Yellow is hit? The same recipe is carried out as above but with Blue in place of Yellow. A poor three-ball break results, one of the opponent's balls is still safely on the boundary.

What would I do?

Blue at Black appears the optimum stroke - there is something to gain and a difficult break is given away should I miss.

Author: Dr Ian Plummer
All rights reserved © 2004
All rights reserved © 2004-2018

Updated 28.i.16
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