Croquet: an international rules primer

for USCA players

Opening statement

If you already know the rules of USCA (“American Six-Wicket”) Croquet, and you want to learn the International Rules game (“Association Croquet”), then this article is for you. However, if what you need is a complete Association Croquet tutorial, try the Oxford Croquet website.

This is the full version of the International Rules Primer. There is also a short version available.


If you are reading this article, I presume that you are a USCA player and are about to play an International Rules tournament (See the USCA calendar for a schedule of International Rules tournaments in North America). Perhaps this will be your first experience with that game. Or perhaps you’ve played one or two International Rules tournaments, and have realized that you still have a lot to learn about the rules.

This article will help you to get started with the game. I have attempted to explain all of the major points of difference between International and USCA Rules croquet, and many of the minor ones as well. It is by no means a complete listing, but it should be enough to get you through most games.

If you have a good grasp of the rules of USCA Croquet, then you already know most of the terms and concepts used in International Rules. The two games share the same court and equipment, have the same object, and follow the same basic outline. In general, this article deals only with those rules that are significantly different in the two games. Common areas, such as the basic rules governing croquet strokes, are not discussed.

Of course an official copy of the rules is an invaluable reference, which no player should be without. Note that the 6th Edition of the Laws of Association Croquet went into effect on 1/1/2001; the “red book” (5th Edition) is now out of date. An online version of the 6th Edition is available on the Oxford Croquet website. Additional articles discussing the implications of the new edition are available on the Croquet NSW website.

What this article is not:

This is not an article about tactics. Moving from USCA Rules to International Rules requires a completely different approach to tactics, which you are better off learning from square one. You can find articles on this subject at the aforementioned Oxford Croquet website.


You have arrived at the tournament site, the schedules have been handed out, and you are about to start your first game. First you’d like to hit a few balls to get a feel for the court. Before you do, make sure you understand the tournament’s practice policy. This is particularly important if you are playing outside the US, where it is often the custom that pre-game practice is completely forbidden.

Practice is usually allowed at tournaments in the US, but the particulars vary and you can avoid a potentially embarrassing reprimand by finding out the policy in advance.

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The coin toss

Your opponent has won the coin toss, announced “I’ll take first play,” and is now staring expectantly at you, as though you are supposed to say something back. Do not take this as evidence that your opponent is going dotty, because you are supposed to say something back. Namely, in this case, whether you will play red and yellow or blue and black.

The rules put it this way: the winner of the toss has the right of choice, and may take either the choice of lead (i.e., whether to play first or second) or the choice of colors (whether to play red and yellow or blue and black). The opponent then has the remaining choice.

So playing first does not necessarily mean that you will play blue and black.

In a match consisting of more than one game, the right of choice alternates after the first game. For example, in a best-of-three-games match, if you win the toss you have right of choice for the first game, your opponent has right of choice for the second game, and you have right of choice for the third game, if there is one.

The court and setting

The court and setting are exactly the same in both games. However, International Rules has no deadness board. Also, there is a corner peg at each of the eight points on the boundary that are one yard distant from a corner.

There are also some invisible differences in the setting. First is the yard-line, an inner rectangle (not marked) that runs parallel to and one yard inside the boundary rectangle. It is equivalent to the nine-inch-line in USCA Rules, in that out-of-bounds balls are replaced on the yard-line at the point nearest to where they went out. Also, balls that stop in the yard-line area (which is the area between the boundary and the yard-line) are replaced on the yard-line at the point nearest to where they came to rest. The corners of the yard-line are called the corner spots. In each corner, the one-yard square enclosed by the corner, the corner pegs and the corner spot is called the corner square.

When replacing a ball on the yard-line, you must place the ball so that the center of the ball is 36 inches from the boundary. Before starting a game, it is a good idea to check with your opponent to make sure that both of you are measuring balls in to the same distance.

The baulk-lines are portions of the yard-line. The A baulk-line is the section of the yard-line that runs from the corner I corner spot to the mid-point of the South yard-line. Similarly, the B baulk-line follows the yard-line from the corner III corner spot to the mid-point of the North yard-line. The baulk-lines are used at the start of the game. They also come into play when a wire is claimed, and in advanced play.

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Starting the game

You do not start from three feet in front of the first hoop. Instead, you play the balls into the game from the baulk-lines. When it is your first turn, you take either of your balls and place it at any point on either baulk-line, and play it from there. On your second turn you must play your other ball, again from any point on either baulk-line.

Note that a ball becomes live as soon as it is played into the game.

Live and dead balls

This is one of the fundamental differences between the two games. In International Rules, the striker’s ball is automatically alive on all other balls at the start of every turn. This naturally leads to a more restrictive meaning for the terms live ball and dead ball.

A dead ball is a ball from which the striker’s ball has taken croquet during the current turn, and since the striker’s ball last scored a hoop. A live ball is any ball other than the striker’s ball or a dead ball.

Note that these terms always refer to balls other than the striker’s ball.

Consequences of hitting a dead ball:

It is perfectly legal for the striker’s ball to hit a dead ball, at any time. It isn’t a roquet, and of course you aren’t allowed to take croquet from the dead ball. However, hitting a dead ball is not a fault, and does not of itself end the turn. All balls remain where they come to rest at the end of the stroke. If the striker’s ball hits a dead ball, and then on the same stroke happens to run its hoop or hit a live ball, the turn continues. Or if the striker’s ball hits a dead ball during a croquet stroke, the striker is still entitled to a continuation stroke.

Note that because hitting a dead ball is not a roquet, the exemption for the double-tap fault does not apply. In other words, a double-tap is a fault when caused by contact with a dead ball. So that, for example, it is a fault to play a double-tap during a “scatter-shot”.

Non-sequential play

Another fundamental difference between the two games is that International Rules play is not required to follow the blue-red-black-yellow sequence. Turns alternate between the two sides, and on your turn you may choose to play either ball.

The only exception to this is that in the first four turns of the game, all four balls must be put into play. If you started the game with black, then you must play blue on your second turn.

Note that in a three-ball game (where one ball has been pegged out) the sides still alternate turns. If black has been pegged out, then after red or yellow plays, blue plays, then red or yellow plays, then blue plays, etc.

Otherwise you can play either ball. This also applies in doubles, however note that as in USCA doubles each player always plays the same ball.

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Boundary rules

The third fundamental difference in the two games is in the area of boundary and out-of-bounds rules. In International Rules, sending a ball out of bounds does not usually end the turn. The only time an out-of-bounds ball ends the turn is when, on the croquet stroke, either the croqueted ball goes out, or the striker’s ball goes out without having first made a roquet or scored its hoop on that stroke.

Otherwise, any ball that goes out of bounds is replaced on the yard-line nearest to where it went out, and the turn continues. Roqueting a ball out of bounds does not end the turn. Running a hoop out of bounds does not end the turn. Cannoning a ball out of bounds does not end the turn.

The boundary:

A ball crosses the boundary as soon as any part of the ball lies directly over the boundary. A ball that comes to rest against a string boundary, or rolls along a string boundary and then back into the court, has clearly gone out of bounds.

Functions of the yard-line:

As described above, the yard-line is analogous to the nine-inch-line of USCA Croquet. Balls that go out of bounds, or that come to rest in the yard-line-area, are replaced on the yard-line. Remember that balls are replaced so that the center of the ball lies directly over the yard-line.

Another important point about replacing balls on the yard-line is that if a ball cannot be placed in directly due to interference by another ball, the ball is replaced on the yard-line in contact with the interfering ball.

Also, by rule and custom, you must keep your back to the court while you are replacing a ball on the yard-line.

Roquet rules

As noted above, roqueting a ball out of bounds does not end the turn. Put the roqueted ball on the yard-line at the point closest to where it went out, and continue the turn.

The striker’s ball remains a ball in play until the end of the roquet stroke (although after a roquet the striker’s ball may not score a hoop or peg point on that stroke). If blue roquets black, and then on the same stroke blue hits yellow, yellow is not replaced, but retains its position at the end of the stroke. Blue does not become a ball in hand until it comes to rest.

If the striker’s ball hits two balls simultaneously, you elect which ball was roqueted by taking croquet from it. The third ball is not replaced.

If, at the start of a turn, you elect to play a ball that is in contact with another ball, the roquet is deemed and you must take croquet directly. You do not actually play a roquet stroke. This occurs quite often, because of the rule that an out-of-bounds ball is replaced in contact with an interfering ball.

Hoop and roquet situations:

If the striker’s ball runs its hoop and then hits a ball lying beyond the hoop, it has both scored the hoop and made a roquet.

If the striker’s ball both runs its hoop and hits a ball that was encroaching on that hoop, then:

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Rover and the peg

The rover hoop is scored in the “natural” direction, i.e., away from the peg.

A rover ball may roquet the other balls once per turn, but does not earn a continuation shot by running a hoop.

If the striker’s ball is a rover ball, and roquets another rover ball into the peg, the roqueted ball is pegged out and the turn ends. The striker’s ball remains where it came to rest.


The wiring rules are essentially the same. The two differences are:

Of course the striker’s ball is always alive on all other balls at the start of a turn. So you must be wired from all other balls to claim a wiring lift.

Faults and errors

The International Rules term fault is used in a restricted sense, equivalent to the USCA Rules term “mallet fault”. The list of faults in International Rules is essentially identical to the list of mallet faults in USCA Rules, with one notable exception: it is a fault to play a stroke in which the mallet is likely to and does in fact cause significant damage to the court. In other words, it is a fault to take a large divot with your mallet on a jump shot, hammer shot, or golf-style shot.

The limit of claims for a fault ends after the striker has played two additional strokes, or when the opponent plays a stroke. If a fault is discovered within the limit of claims, the turn ends.

The opponent must then declare whether or not the fault is to be rectified. If so, the balls are replaced to their positions at the start of the fault stroke. If not, the balls remain in their positions at the end of the fault stroke.

In either case, any points scored since the start of the fault stroke are cancelled.

Other turn-ending errors:

*  The term “purporting to take croquet” is used in the new edition of the rules to describe an illegal croquet stroke. This term encompasses the previously used terms “taking croquet from a wrong ball” and “taking croquet when not entitled to do so”.

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Groups of balls

Interesting things happen when three or four balls end up in contact. This can arise because of the boundary rule governing the replacement of balls on the yard-line. Such 3- or 4-ball groups are most likely to occur in a corner, but can also occur at other points on the yard-line.

This is easiest to explain by examples.

Example 1:

Your opponent’s red ball is on the Corner 4 corner spot. You have just rushed black out of bounds in that corner. Before continuing, you must first place black on the yard-line in contact with red (as per the boundary rules). There are two positions that will satisfy this requirement: on the east line just to the north of red, and on the south line just to the west of red.

Having placed black (the roqueted ball), you now place blue in contact with it, in preparation for the croquet stroke. Red also becomes a ball in hand, and must also be placed in contact with black. Red and blue can be in any such positions, so long as they do not touch each other.

On the ensuing croquet stroke, it is not necessary to move or shake the red ball. (Nor does it end the turn if red goes out of bounds.)

Example 2:

Your blue ball is on the Corner 4 corner spot. You shoot black at blue but miss into the corner, so black must be replaced on the yard-line in contact with blue. You have two choices for where to place black, and you decide to put it on the north side of blue.

Your opponent now shoots red at black and blue. Red also misses into the corner. Your opponent can replace red on the south line in contact with blue, or on the east line in contact with black. He chooses the former option, so that the three balls form an “L”.

It is now your turn again. Because each of your balls is in contact with another ball, whichever ball you play you will have to start the turn with a croquet stroke (remember, the roquet is deemed in such cases). But first you must arrange the balls in accordance with the rule on 3-ball groups. This rule says that when there is a 3-ball group at the start of a turn, it is the striker’s choice as to which ball is the roqueted ball. Also, any ball in the group may be deemed to roquet any other ball in the group. So even though black and red are not in contact, because they are part of a 3-ball group the striker may declare that black has roqueted red.

Play now proceeds as in Example 1. You have nominated black as the striker’s ball and red as the roqueted ball. So red retains its position, and black and blue are arranged in contact with red, however you choose, so long as they are not touching each other. On the croquet stroke, you must move or shake red, but it is not necessary to move or shake blue.

Example 3: 4-Ball Groups:

4-ball groups are quite rare. The procedure is the same as for the 3-ball group, with the additional requirement that the fourth ball is then placed in contact with either the roqueted ball, the third ball, or both, however you choose so long as it is not touching the striker’s ball.

Practical application of 3- and 4-ball groups:

A demonstration is worth a thousand words. Otherwise, try that virtual British Museum of croquet, the Oxford Croquet website. Look for the phrase corner cannons.

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Advanced play

This is an optional variation that was invented to make games more difficult (and therefore more interesting and interactive) for Championship-level players. There is less point in playing Advanced outside this class, although in some tournaments all flights use Advanced Play.

Advanced Play differs from Ordinary Play only in that Law 36 is in effect. This rule states that if it is the start of your turn, and on the previous turn your opponent scored either 1-back or 4-back (or both), then you may either play as the balls lie, or you may lift either ball (not both) to any point on either baulk-line and then play it from there.

Any time your opponent scores 1-back or 4-back with either ball, you are entitled to this lift. The ball scoring 1-back or 4-back must be the opponent’s striker’s ball; peeled balls don’t count. Got it? Any time the opponent’s striker’s ball scores 1-back or 4-back, you have the option of a lift to baulk to start your next turn.

Furthermore, if your opponent’s striker’s ball scores 1-back and 4-back on the same turn, and if at the start of that turn, his partner ball had not yet scored 1-back, then you have three choices: you may play as the balls lie, you may lift either of your balls to baulk and then play it, or you may lift either ball and place it in contact with any other ball, and then take croquet directly. If the opponent peeled his partner ball through 1-back during that turn, you still have the option of the contact, since the ball had not yet scored 1-back at the start of that turn.

However, if you have caused any ball to score the peg point during the game, then you are no longer entitled to a lift or contact under Law 36. If you have pegged out a rover ball, whether your own or your opponent’s, then you no longer get a lift (or contact) when your opponent scores 1-back and/or 4-back. If your opponent has pegged out one of your balls, then you are still entitled to such lifts, but your opponent is not. Note that this does not affect wiring lifts.

Handicap play

Handicap play is so unpopular in USCA croquet as to be essentially non-existent. However, in some other countries (particularly the UK) handicap play appears to be the dominant form of the game for most players. There may be many reasons for this, but undoubtedly a strong one is that the USCA bisque rules and handicapping system are so ineffective at equalizing play, which is of course the purpose of handicap play.

If used with a sensible handicapping system, International Rules handicap play can do a very good job of creating an equal match between two players of unequal ability. The key is the International Rules bisque, which is much more powerful than its USCA counterpart.

An International Rules bisque is a complete extra turn (using the same striker’s ball used on the just-completed turn), instead of a continuation of the current turn. This has some significant advantages:

The tactical implications are revelatory. If you have a bisque, you can regain the innings at any time. Once you have the innings, another bisque allows you to easily create a four-ball break, from almost any configuration. If you break down, a properly-used bisque will immediately get the break back in order.

A half bisque is a restricted bisque in which you cannot score points for any ball. However, immediately after taking a half bisque you may take a full bisque and score points. You cannot divide a full bisque into two half bisques, so a half bisque is available only when the handicap difference is not a whole number.

In handicap doubles, either player of a side receiving bisques may play some or all of the bisques, no matter what the handicaps of the players.

Some further points to note:

Full bisque handicap play is a variation in which each side receives a number of bisques equal to the difference between that side’s handicap (or aggregate handicap in the case of doubles) and the base handicap. The base handicap is usually zero, but it can be a higher number.

Alternate stroke handicap doubles is another interesting variation. This is particularly worthwhile in a “high-low” situation.

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Other variations

There are still other official variations on the standard game, which in combination result in a staggering range of possible variations. The vast majority of these combinations are seldom played. In fact, one variation metatype (“semi-advanced play”) has been eliminated from the 6th Edition due to lack of use.

The primary variations are:

any of which can be played as a full game (26-point) or as a shortened game:

and of course any of these can be played as singles or doubles (except for 18-point version 4, which is singles only). That makes 39 different versions of the game. But there are still more possibilities, because there are variations on Handicap Play:

which, combined with the possible full or shortened games, gives another 32 versions.

Finally, there are three more variations: Short Croquet (singles only), and 14-point Advanced Play, Lift or Contact version (singles or doubles). Hence a grand total of 74 different official variations. And perhaps I’ve missed some.


The rules include a section titled “Conduct of the Game”. Note that this is an actual part of the rules. Of particular note to USCA players:

Expedition in Play:

Expeditious play is required at all times. Deliberate time-wasting is absolutely improper. This applies even to games played without a time limit. Note that shot clocks are never used.

Overriding Law:

The rules in the “Conduct” section do not usually have specific penalties. However, Law 55 (the “Overriding Law”) gives the referee or tournament manager carte blanche to impose penalties as may be necessary in such cases. A deliberate violation of one of the rules of conduct could reasonably be punished by immediate ejection from the tournament.

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Tournament regulations

Tournament Regulations are completely separate from the actual rules (laws) of the game, and are maintained separately by each national association. Of particular interest to players are the regulations for time-limited games and for refereeing.

As of March 1, 2003, the USCA now has its own set of regulations for International Rules tournament play.

Time Limits, standard procedure:

The time-keeper, if any, announces when the time has expired. Other time announcements should be made only in response to player requests. Otherwise you are giving advice.

The last turns rotation is only two turns long, and is called the extension period. The second turn of the extension period ends immediately if the striker has the lead, ending the game. If the score is tied at the end of the extension period, the game becomes “sudden death”, i.e. the next point scored decides the game.

Optional extra turns:

Some tournaments have a 4-turn extension period, essentially an additional last turns rotation.

Time outs:

Double-banking time-outs are allowed in the last 15 minutes of a game. (At some tournaments, double-banking time-outs are allowed at any time; this should be announced in the tournament program.)

Unless announced otherwise in the entry announcement and the tournament program, personal time-outs are not allowed.


Unsolicited referee intervention is a no-no. Referees do not get involved in games until called by the players. While officially “on call” a referee may call attention to any error or irregularity that occurs. But if, as a referee on call, you happen to know of an error that occurred while you were not on call, you must keep quiet about it.

Copyright notice

Copyright 1997–2008 by Jeff Soo.

You may make and distribute paper copies of this article, under the following conditions:

  1. each copy must include the complete text of the article, unmodified, including this copyright notice.
  2. the copies must be distributed free of charge.

Electronic distribution or re-publication is prohibited. However, you are welcome to publish links to this article via email or WWW. Link to

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Initial publication 4/April/2001
Minor corrections 5/Feb/2002
Minor update reflecting new USCA regulations 17/Mar/2003