A-class croquet is all about breaks. How to pick them up, how to keep them going, and how to avoid giving them to the opponent. So an essential element of A-class tactics is knowing how to recognize and take advantage of break opportunities.
But most American-rules players seem to know just a couple of basic methods: “attacking”—going dead to arrange a three-ball break for the partner ball, and what might be termed “scavenging”—waiting for the opponent to leave a ball on court. These are good ways of picking up breaks, but there are other opportunities that players often overlook. Some of these are common and should be in every aspiring champion’s repertoire. Others are rare, but even so are useful additions to your bag of tricks.
Picking up a break when the opponents are joined on the line
Which would you rather do: go three-ball dead to set up a break for your partner ball, or try a slightly more difficult play to get an immediate four-ball break? From what I see in tournaments, it seems that many players prefer being three-ball dead. Unless they simply don’t see the breaks that are often there for the taking.
If the opponent balls are joined near your pioneer hoop (i.e., the one after your current hoop) and you have a rush to it, then you have an excellent break opportunity. Rush to the pioneer hoop and take off to the opponents. Roquet one of them, then play a little croquet stroke to get a rush on the second ball. If you can split the first ball into the court at least a few inches so much the better. Rush to your hoop and now you have a break.
The advantage of this play over the traditional attack is that you get a break without incurring any deadness with the partner ball, and without allowing your opponent a chance to hit in and steal your break. Unless your partner ball already had deadness, there’s no need to peel it. On the negative side, the play is a bit more difficult than the standard attack. Usually you have to play a longer take-off to get to the boundary balls, and you then have some moderately difficult shots to arrange and execute a good rush to your hoop. Failure at any point may give the opponent a chance for an immediate break.
The play is easiest when the rushes are relatively short, and when the opponent balls are aligned so that arranging the rush to your hoop is easy. Diagram 1a shows a setup I saw as a spectator in a recent tournament. It’s almost the classic example of an easy chance to pick up a break off the line, the only drawback being that the alignment of the opponent balls is nearly perpendicular to the rush line to #6. That gives only a small margin for error on the little croquet shot used for getting the rush, but on easy an easy lawn this wouldn’t be much of a problem. I was surprised when the player rushed directly to the opponents to play a traditional attack to set up the partner ball. He could just as easily have sent black to 1-back and tried for an immediate break.
Diagram 1aBlue has just scored #5. A four-ball break is there for the taking; all that’s required is some mildly aggressive play.
Learning this play will add a new dimension to your tactics. Not only will you see more break opportunities, you’ll also play better defense.
If you find yourself in “no-man’s land”, a swap is sometimes the best way out. You’re in no-man’s land when you have roqueted a ball and can’t send it all the way to the pioneer hoop, either because you are too close to the ball at your hoop, or because the angle is too wide. One solution is to play a swap: place the first ball as a reception ball behind your hoop, rush the second ball a bit away from the hoop, then stop-shot it towards the pioneer hoop while getting into position to run your hoop. Of course this works best when the distance between the two hoops is small, as when you are for #4, #6 or 4-back. It is riskier when you are for #2, #5, or 2-back or penult, and it is downright speculative if you are for #3, 1-back or 3-back.
The diagram sequence below shows an example of a setup where a swap is the key to establishing a break.
Diagram 1b (corner IV detail)Blue already had a rush to #4, when yellow shot in and missed.
Diagram 1cStop-shot yellow toward #4, keeping a rush on black to #4.
Diagram 1dRush black to two or three feet east of #4.
Diagram 1eStop-shot black toward #5, holding blue in position to run #4. Run the hoop and you have a pretty good three-ball break laid out.
Copyright 2002–2008 by Jeff Soo.
Posted December 1, 2002