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LETTERS, OPINION, AND COMMENTARY
(7/3/96)


THE PATMOR DRAW AT SONOMA QUESTIONED

I have just read the final report of Sonoma in CROQUET WORLD.

I make my criticisms below with some trepidation as I have never even visited Sonoma let alone played there, indeed I have not played at any club in the USA.

I was not surprised to see criticism of the Patmor draw again. I fully agree. The event was dominated by several Americans who all fell at the last hurdle to a 'fastest loser', New Zealand's Aaron Westerby. Now Aaron is a truly world class player, but I don't think the Americans got a proper crack of the whip. The issue is the way the more successful players play fewer games (and so go cold and are put at a disadvantage).

To those of us watching from afar it is difficult to take seriously this event, which clearly has huge international prestige, when the final stages rest on sequences of single games in very easy conditions.

While I know that the tournament is very successful both in terms of attracting the top players and raising big money for charity, I have to think that it might be even better if the final stages were played as a regular knockout with best of 3 or best of 5 games. Surely that would be easier to explain to the substantial visiting public (the US Open Tennis has no such complexity, for instance).

I know that it is important to guarantee a certain number of games to those traveling from afar (even distances inside the USA are huge), so I would propose keeping blocks but then moving to a knockout (as the WCF world championship uses). I would propose that the places in that knockout would be seeded (i.e. a block winner playing a 4th place and 2nd playing 3rd) but that the actual places be drawn after the blocks are completed to prevent tactical losses (the players are far too clever).

It may be that I will be shot down on 'sameness', i.e. why not keep the unique format and not copy another event. In that case what about draw and process (D+P)? D+P can be double-seeded very easily. I do disapprove of marriage (thats another argument) so there is a risk of the last game not being 'the final'; it would be the playoff for 2nd if one player wins both lives.

-- Richard Hilditch, Nottingham Board


A CHAMPION REPLIES, 'DON'T MUCK AROUND WITH THE FORMAT"

I regard the Sonoma tournament as the Wimbledon of croquet, and its format is one of the things that makes it stand out. It's different, and much of its charm would disappear if the boring old block play followed by best-of-three knockout standard set in. Generally, of course, I much prefer best-of-threes. But a single-game, 2-hour time limit format is like one-day cricket - important in its own right but not to be compared to a 5-day test. As for not having a final - Brice [Jones, venue owner/manager] would go mad! (Although the other 1299 people would probably never notice!)

Speaking as someone who has won and lost a final "from the front", I can see both sides of the argument about the Patmor draw. However, I'm a firm believer in it, because it's unique and it gives everyone several chances to win. The waiting the medalist winner encounters can be difficult and nerve-racking and, yes, (s)he can go cold while the opponent is running hot. But this period can actually be worked into a definite advantage for the finalist if (s)he is able to use the time properly for relaxation and mental preparation.

I would not entirely agree that the conditions are easy at Sonoma. Certainly the lawn is a good pace and flat, and the hoops are easy. But the other part of the equation is playing in front of a crowd of 1300, which most players have never done and which makes things far from easy.

In short, I'd say don't muck about with the format of the most successful tournament in the world.

-- Steve Jones, Nottingham Board


IT'S ABOUT TIME:
THE CHESS CLOCK AND OTHER EXPERIMENTS

The problem of time in tournament play continues to be a subject of much discussion, complaint, and speculation around the courts of major tournaments. The editors of CROQUET WORLD have therefore resolved to play out some of these speculations in a series of one-day events at the Sonoma-Cutrer and San Francisco croquet clubs.

In July, an American Rules tournament in two flights at Sonoma-Cutrer will use a chess clock in one flight and in the other four complete rotations after the game time is called at 70 minutes. On August 4 in San Francisco, a top-flight International Rules singles event will also incorporate timing experiments.

After some discussion with British players on various alternatives for "punishing" the side who runs out of time on the chess clock, we have tentatively decided on what seems the most reasonable solution: allowing the player with no time to continue to have turns, but not to make points. After a side's time has elapsed, all the play of that side must be defensive only, and the game ends when the other side's time is exhausted.

We are not expecting to make any world-altering discoveries in these experiments. We would, however, like to make the most possible use of them to find out whatever we can to at least advance the conversation - or even to conclude it. If you have comments or suggestions to make on these experiments, label your E-Mail Subject "THE TIME EXPERIEMENTS" and send them to morgill@sonic.net. - Editor


CLOCK-BURNING AND SORE LOSERS

In your editorial response, you said that the clock-burning issue is one of ethics. I think it is an emotional issue. No game is exciting when one side gets a big lead. In American rules you have a big lead when your opponnent is six-ball dead and behind. Players that get frustrated when the opponent burns the clock are probably misplacing their frustration from their own bad play.

The American game is different from the Association game in that it requires more thinking. The 45-second clock is there to keep the game moving. Yes, it can be used to slow the game down, but so what? There is nothing frustrating about it. There IS something frustrating about playing worse than your opponent.

-- John Taves, member of USA International Team


SOLOMON'S METHOD OF MARKING ON THE PEG
SHOULD BE NEW WORLD STANDARD

It was a modest proposal that John Solomon made recently as a tournament official at Southwick, but we think its universal adoption would improve tournament play and direction everywhere.

As reported in England's Croquet Gazette, Solomon was "appalled at the way many players marked their balls." He posted this notice on the tournament board: "I would be grateful if players would give some thought to the way they mark balls in double-banked games. It seems to be common practice for the marker to be placed where the player thinks the center of the balls is. I have even seen some who press the ball down, presumably to make some impression in the grass to assist in this. Please do not do this."

"I would prefer," Solomon goes on, "to see balls marked in the golf fashion, that is, to place the marker under the edge of the ball. It is then only a question of deciding which edge. I always used to place the marker on the 'north' side of the ball, but I have recently come to the conclusion that it is better to face the peg and place the marker under the side farthest from the peg."

Arguing for accuracy as well as consistency, Solomon concludes, "Those who claim that it is only close to the hoops where one needs to take care have not thought out that in the middle of the court there could be a potentially wired position where an eighth of an inch could make a difference."

Need there be any further discussion? We've been trying it out. It works. If we all do it, consistently, we shall have improved, by at least a small increment, the play of the sport.

-- Editors


CULTURE CLASH IN CALIFORNIA

Dear CW:

You may be interested in some observations on croquet in America, drawn from a comparison with the game in Australia. I am currently the State Coach in Western Australia, having played there since 1978. But my work has brought me to the U.S. for some time, this year.

It is the social side of the two games which has struck me most, upon finding things so different here, in America. In part, I think, this reflects on the nature of the games themselves, since it is well known that games of different sorts appeal to different segments of the population, for fairly obvious socio-economic reasons. Symbolism is centrally involved, as one finds also, for instance, with pets: certain types of people go in for pit-bulls, others for French poodles, etc.

Thus Deadness is a focal concept in the American game, in contrast to the 'International Rules' i.e. Association game. And, as a result, in the American game there are distinctive, and continual retreats to the border, which, being much narrower, makes it much more difficult for the opponent to prise one off. All this reminds one of some aspects of the social position of the American game: the remote world of private courts, appealing to a minority fringe that relish withdrawn enjoyments. People in that world naturally will like games which are like them, in central features.

Other, broader features of the American social arrangements support this view: how few greens have a clubhouse, for instance, in which to entertain the members, or the larger congregation which might assemble at tournaments? Such buildings are an unthought-of commonplace in Australia and Britiain, and the club's social life does not just take place inside them, on playing days, but extends to such things as Progressive Dinners, and catered Xmas parties, even coach outings. Going with this are the very modest fees in the Association game structure, and that reflects on the more mainstream, if less sophisticated appeal of that game. It appeals to a wider cross-section of the intelligent population, including those with more active jobs, and lifestyles.

The absence of any organised infrastructure supervising coaching, and specifically youth programs, is another big difference in the American system. In South Australia there was a big venture into secondary schools some years ago, which resulted in many excellent players now at the top. In Western Australia we currently have a Junior Group of 8 teenagers, which we are hoping will come on in the same way. Without any organised introduction, at any level, induction into an always challenging, physical and mental sport becomes much more like gaining access to the arcane mysteries of a secret society. That is the image which is presented - possibly quite purposely - in America.

When I first played croquet, many years ago, on the 'Backs' at Cambridge, as an undergratuate, the game I then played had that kind of snobbery in it. But, back in the U.K., and playing at Edinburgh quite recently, I found none of that preciousness (and Edinburgh would be the place to find it, in Scotland, if it was there at all). So it would seem to have vanished from Great Britain, and certainly it is not present anywhere in Australia.

I have to say that my close aquaintance with the American game has been brief. Also, the San Francisco Croquet Club, which I have been most acquainted with, prides itself on being a thriving club, on public greens, with an open policy on admissions. But then, it is "the only club" in the U.S. of that kind, which reflects exactly on the sociological points I have been making.

But, please, do not read any of my observations as a "criticism". I am just an academic from a university, with an anthropological eye, used to reporting facts pretty dispassionately. And there are plenty of more professonal studies of the sociology of sport which will flesh out the picture, in much more fine and thoroughly researched detail. Nevertheless, at a time when the U.S. is entering the world croquet arena more, and especially right now, when enterprising San Franciscans have taken the great initiative of organising a world croquet forum on the Internet, it is perhaps a time to reflect, just anecdotally, on what may have kept such events from happening much earlier.

Hartley Slater
Perth, Australia


THE LAST WORD ON CLOCK-BURNING?

The threat of being defeated by a time-burning opponent in the final stages of a game looms over many players from early on. This is particularly true in doubles games, where the side ahead takes time deciding what to do, and the other side becomes irritated over their opponents' slowness. Players who believe it is totally appropriate to use the clock to their maximum advantage, and thus do so, are always potential targets of approbation from those on the other side of the issue.

I suggest a simple, unambiguous, rule-based solution. In the last five minutes of the game, the game clock runs only DURING A SHOT. That is, during the period the time-keeper starts the clock when the mallet strikes the ball, then stops it when the ball stops rolling or goes out of bounds, starts it again when the mallet strikes the ball for the next shot, and so on. Thus, it would make no difference whether a player takes one second between shots or the maximum allowable 44 seconds. (The shot clock could of course run as usual, as it does in last turns.)

There would no longer be pressure of any kind on any player to play faster or slower than their "natural" pace in that situation.

I suggest that players try this, and if they like it suggest that it be added as an experimental rule by the USCA for the next playing year.

Larry Stettner
Detroit (Michigan) Croquet Club


Yep, you could do that, or you could eliminate the time element altogether in top-flight competition (they usually go to the peg in the 90 minutes allotted anyway), and taking a clue from the World Croquet Federation's experimental 14-point game format or Australia's 18-pointer, we could play a shorter game to the peg in lower-level competitions as well. Or you could, after a certain allotted time, begin the final THREE rotations (which we estimate would average 20 minutes or more in top competition). But here's the essential question: Do we want to change the character of the game by trying to engineer mechanical solutions to an ethical problem? We think not.

-- Editors


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