Know American rules but not “International rules”? Here's a short guide.
The two games are the same in most essential aspects. The court and equipment, the object of the game, and the basic strokes are all the same. But the rules differ on three fundamental points:
The out-of-bounds rules are much more forgiving. A ball going out of bounds doesn’t end the turn unless it’s one of the two balls in a croquet stroke. Hoops may be run out of bounds and balls may be roqueted or cannoned out of bounds without penalty. Also, balls are replaced one yard in from the boundary (i.e., on the yard-line).
Effect: There is no such thing as hiding on the boundary. Boundary balls can be safely picked up from anywhere, even corner to corner. So “joining up” is not in itself a good tactic unless the opponent balls are well separated. Also, the chances of hitting in with a long roquet are much better, and this “shooting ability” is an essential part of the game.
There is no carry-over deadness. All balls are live at the start of every turn. (Consequently the deadness board is not used.)
Effect: This demands a more aggressive style of play. If the opponents are joined you must, at the least, separate them if you can. You are free to try difficult break pick-ups without worrying about deadness.
The blue–red–black–yellow sequence is not used. Turns alternate between sides, and except for the third and fourth turns of the game, the side to play may choose either ball as the striker's ball for that turn.
Effect: The concept of “hot ball” and “spent ball” does not apply—both opponent balls are always hot! Setting up a break for your next turn is more difficult, and starting a break usually requires some long rushes and accurate croquet strokes.
Minor rules differences
- The rover hoop is run in the “natural” direction—away from the peg
- Balls are played into the game from the baulk-lines—the western half of the south yard-line and the eastern half of the north yard-line
- Wiring lift is to either baulk-line, not to contact
- Running a hoop and then hitting a ball on the same stroke is hoop and roquet
- When one ball goes out directly behind another, it is replaced in contact with the other ball
- When starting a turn from two balls in contact, you take croquet directly
This is a variation for championship-level play, and all games in the Series will use it. When the striker’s ball scores 1-back or 4-back, on the next turn the opponent may lift a ball to either baulk-line and play it from there. If the striker’s ball scores both 1-back and 4-back in one turn, and its partner ball had not yet scored 1-back at the start of that turn, on the next turn the opponent may lift to baulk as above, or may take a contact lift.
Effect: This rule gives the out-player a better chance of gaining the innings, by making the in-player's breaks more difficult and by giving the out-player shorter shots. Players will usually stop their first break at 4-back, as otherwise they would automatically cede the innings to the opponent. Players will routinely attempt the triple peel, peeling the partner ball through the final three hoops during the course of a break. Expert players will even triple peel an opponent ball in order to peg it out.
Players will attempt breaks at every reasonable opportunity. A player without the innings—that is, facing only long shots at the start of a turn—will almost always attempt to hit in. A player with the innings will usually attempt to create a four-ball break even from what may seem to be an unpromising position.
The second break of the game typically involves peeling, whether on the partner ball (to finish the game without giving the opponent another shot) or the opponent ball (to peg it out of the game and leave the opponent one-legged). At this level players very often succeed at the triple peel, and many games will finish in as few as five, six or seven total turns. There are no time limits so all games will end only at the peg.
A misnomer at this level, where it is seldom used. The first ball is played to the east boundary several yards north of corner IV. The second ball is a tice, played to about 13 yards north of corner I. The player of the third ball will usually attempt to roquet one of the first two balls, hoping to set up a break for the fifth turn (sometimes even attempting a break on this turn). The player of the fourth ball will usually take the shortest available shot.
As above, except that the tice ball is played to a position near the sixth hoop. This can be quite a bit shorter than the standard tice, because the player of the third ball can hardly afford to shoot at it and miss—look where the ball will end up.
Corner II opening
In response to the standard opening with the first ball, the second ball is played to a position just outside corner II. More defensive than the other openings, this often results in a difficult break-building turn for whichever side gains the first innings.
The first ball of the game is played to mid-court. This side will attempt to hit in on the third turn of the game (hence the name) and make a three-ball break to 4-back.
At the end of a break the striker aims to arrange the balls so as to leave the opponent with only long shots, and so that the partner ball has a good break opportunity for the next turn. The opponent will usually have a lift (that is, be allowed to pick up either ball and play it from one of the baulk-lines), adding to the challenge of making a good leave. Note the precision with which balls are placed for the leave. Some of the leaves you will see during the Series:
Diagonal Spread Leave
One opponent ball is very near the peg, the other is somewhere between hoop 2 and the west boundary. The in-player’s two balls are at the east boundary near hoop 4, so that the partner ball has a rush toward the opponent balls. All four balls are in a straight line with the peg, and each opponent ball is wired from all other balls. A popular leave that is appropriate to many situations.
Old Standard Leave
Similar to the Diagonal Spread, but with the ball at the peg a few yards east, and the in-player’s balls closer to corner IV. Easy to make but offers the opponent a relatively short shot.
New Standard Leave
The in-player’s balls are on the east boundary, as in the Diagonal Spread. One opponent ball is a few inches from hoop 4 (hidden from A-baulk and wired from the balls on the east boundary), the other opponent ball is in a similar position at hoop 2.
Vertical Spread Leave
Sometimes seen when the partner ball is for 4-back or penult, the opponent balls are placed in or very near penult and rover.
After a TPO (triple peeling and pegging out an opponent ball), the opponent will have a contact lift, so the striker and partner balls are placed in different corners.
World-class players are very good at hitting long roquets, so it is worth taking some extra risk to avoid giving the opponent another shot. A player’s second break will usually include an attempt to peel the partner ball through the final three hoops to peg out both balls and win the game on this turn. This is the triple peel.
The standard triple
The first two peels are performed as back peels, i.e., when the striker’s ball and the peeled ball are for different sides of the same hoop. To do this the striker must establish a good four-ball break immediately.
The delayed triple
If the opponent has missed the long lift shot down the east boundary, the standard triple is difficult to establish and the delayed triple is called for. There are endless variations on the delayed triple, but commonly the 4-back peel is made just before the striker’s ball scores 6, and the penult peel is made just before the striker’s ball scores 4-back. This is more difficult than the standard triple.
The straight triple
Each peel is made just before the striker’s ball runs the same hoop. This is typically a last resort and is the most difficult triple peel to perform.
Tactics become less predictable when a ball has been pegged out. Being “one-legged” is a disadvantage, although not to the degree it is in American rules. After a TPO (triple peel on opponent) the one-ball player will usually have at least a couple of difficult chances to pick up a three-ball break, and it is surprising how often this succeeds. But otherwise there may be several interesting turns in which the two-ball player lays traps or attempts to stay hidden, while the one-ball player bides his time waiting for a good opportunity to attempt a roquet.
Occasionally there will be a two-ball finish, in which each side has only one ball. The player who pegs out both rover balls does so to avoid giving the opponent a chance to finish with a three-ball break. This is elemental croquet, a race to the finish.