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American Rules 2006 revision explained

by Stuart Lawrence,
member, USCA Rules Committee
Layout by Reuben Edwards
Posted October 19, 2006

Related Links
Complete American Rules 2006 edition
Complete American Rules 2001 edition


After three years of work, the USCA Rules Committee has released the first new edition of the official rules of American Six Wicket Croquet since 2001. The new rules take effect on November 21, 2006. Many will find the article below dense reading, indeed. However, a careful review - if not outright study - is a MUST for anyone who wants to learn what all the substantive changes are about and how they work before rather than in the middle of a sanctioned tournament.

Highlights of the 2006 edition

This revision of the rules features a number of significant, but non-substantive, editorial changes aimed at reducing redundancies, improving the consistency of wording and style, and clarifying the intended meaning of the rules. An expanded table of contents lists the individual rules, and a new rule numbering system has been introduced along with a reordering of rules for a more logical arrangement. The handicap point system description has been updated. In addition, a few more substantive changes have been made.

Significant changes in normal play

Roquet Shots (Rule 6.2 [formerly Rule 27])

The 2006 rulebook's most significant substantive change in normal play is the change in the status of the striker ball and balls hit by the striker ball, after the striker makes a roquet. Following a roquet, the striker ball now remains in play and is ball in hand only at the conclusion of the shot. This change, while simplifying the rules governing the results of a roquet shot, should make roquet shots more rewarding and interesting to play and open up new tactical possibilities.

Following a roquet, the striker ball now remains in play…

Under the prior rule, immediately after the striker ball hit a live ball, the striker ball became a "ball in hand," theoretically lifted off the court and out of play, but only if the hit ball finally stayed in bounds. Upon becoming a ball in hand, the striker ball could not cause any other ball to move, and if it did, any ball so moved was replaced. No penalty applied to the hitting of a dead ball by a "ball in hand." If, however, the striker ball hit a live ball and that ball (the "attempted roqueted ball") went out of bounds, the striker ball never became a "ball in hand." Instead, the striker ball remained in play, eligible to cause other balls to move or to score a wicket or stake point for itself. (See Rules Committee Opinion 7-2001.) Under the former rule, no roquet was said to occur unless the roqueted ball stayed in bounds. Paradoxically, the status of the striker ball in motion after a roquet attempt was therefore unknown until the attempted roqueted ball came to rest.

As a result of the former rule, it was often necessary to mark the location of a nearby ball before a roquet attempt so as to be able to replace it if it was hit by the striker ball in the shot. If the roqueted ball remained in bounds, a third ball hit by the striker ball would be replaced and the contact between the striker ball after the roquet and the third ball would have no effect in terms of deadness, scoring, or responsibility for position. If the attempted roqueted ball went out of bounds, however, the striker ball after the roquet attempt would be treated as a ball in play, and the effect of any contact with a third or fourth ball would be counted.

Under the revised rules, a roquet is now defined as occurring whenever the striker ball hits a ball it is alive on, whether or not the ball hit remains in bounds - unless the striker ball first scored a wicket or made a roquet in the same shot. If the roqueted ball remains in bounds, the striker ball becomes a "ball in hand" at the conclusion of the shot and becomes dead on the roqueted ball, and the striker earns a croquet shot. The revised rule provides that the striker ball does not become a "ball in hand" until the roquet shot ends. The striker ball remains a ball in play following a roquet:

"After a roquet occurs, the striker ball may cause any other ball to move, either by a direct hit, with no penalty for hitting a dead ball, or a cannon. The striker becomes responsible for the other ball's position. A ball that is hit or cannoned by the striker ball after a roquet:

  1. is not considered to have been roqueted,
  2. retains its new position,
  3. is placed in bounds, without penalty to the striker, if it goes out of bounds or is within nine inches of the boundary (see rule 8.3), and
  4. is credited with any wicket or stake points that it scored during the shot." Roquet shots (Rule 6.2b)

This change eliminates the problem of the striker ball's status being unknown until the conclusion of the shot, since the striker ball can become a "ball in hand" only after the conclusion of the roquet shot.

ABOUT THE USCA RULES COMMITTEE

The USCA Rules Committee who prepared the new revision included at least one member from each of the regions of the USCA: Rich Curtis, Garth Eliassen, Jimmy Huff, Steve Johnston, Bob Kroeger, Stuart Lawrence, Len Lyon, John C. Osborn, and Art Ruffing. The new edition is dedicated to John Taylor of California, who passed away last year. Taylor made a substantial contribution to the 2001 rules as well as the new 2006 revision.

Another result of the changed roquet shot rule is that the striker ball can no longer hit a live ball, causing it to go out of bounds, and thereafter score a wicket point or the stake for itself. (Compare Rule 6.2 [d] with Rules Committee Opinion 7-2001.) A striker ball can now cause any third or fourth ball, whether live or dead, to move by hitting or cannoning it after a roquet. If a ball hit by the striker ball after a roquet goes out of bounds, it is placed in bounds without penalty.

The new rule attempts to streamline play by reducing the need to replace balls during ordinary play. With this change, it is no longer necessary, before a roquet attempt, to mark the location of a nearby ball so as to be able to replace it if it is hit by the striker ball. Nor is it necessary to mark the striker ball before a roquet attempt that might send the target ball out of bounds and the striker ball into contact with a dead ball.

The decision to permit the striker ball after a roquet to hit a dead ball without penalty, or to hit or cannon a ball out of bounds, simply recognizes that the alternatives would unduly constrict the striker, especially in making a boundary-line attack.

Consider a common scenario in which Blue, having roqueted Red on the line a few inches from Yellow, takes off to a position behind Yellow and cut-rushes Yellow into the court. Whereas under the former rule, the striker could simply ignore the trajectory of Blue after the roquet, knowing that Red would be replaced, under the new rule, where Blue goes after the roquet can affect the final outcome of the shot. Making Blue a ball in play after the roquet while prohibiting it from striking Red or imposing an end-of-turn penalty for sending Red out of bounds would make the attack significantly more challenging than it already is. The adopted rule avoids this result, while encouraging creative tactical use of roquet shots to gain otherwise unachievable results. A carefully planned shot in this case could be used to promote Red into the court, for example.

Key points to remember in applying the revised rule are

(1) In a roquet shot, a ball going out of bounds ends the turn only if it is the roqueted ball, a ball that is struck (cannoned) by the roqueted ball, or a croqueted ball (if the roquet shot was also a croquet shot). If any other balls go out of bounds, they are placed in bounds, and the striker continues the turn.

(2) In a roquet shot, there's no penalty if the striker ball hits a dead ball after hitting a ball it is alive on -- whether or not the roqueted ball remains in bounds.

Minor changes in normal play

Time-outs (Rule 13.9 [a], formerly Rule 60 [a])

In a timed game, each side is now entitled to three time-outs that may be taken at any point during the game. Formerly, each side was entitled to two time-outs, which could be taken at any point during the game, and one additional time out that could be taken after "match time" was called. This change was felt by the Rules Committee to provide greater flexibility to players in using and managing their allotted time throughout the game.

Last turn (Rule 13.11 [a], formerly Rule 62 [a])

The rules now permit tournament guidelines to specify that "when the side playing the final ball in the rotation of last turn is ahead during that ball's turn, play shall stop and the match shall be declared over." For many tournament players, it may come as a surprise that this "no piling on" option wasn't actually provided for in the rules before now. The revised rule simply recognizes what has become a fairly common time-saving local rule at tournaments. The new rule clarifies that the option applies only "[i]f the tournament's guidelines so provide"; otherwise, last turns are played to completion as provided in Rule 13.11 (b).

Errors in play

Starting the game with the opponent's ball (Rule 1.3 [d])

In the new rulebook, starting the game with an opponent's ball is treated as a wrong ball fault:

"If the striker places an opponent's ball in the starting area and strikes it, the striker has played the wrong ball (rule 11.2) and the striker's turn ends. In addition, the opponent's ball played in error is removed from the court, all other balls are replaced in the positions they were at the beginning of the turn and the striker shall place the correct ball anywhere in the starting area."

Rule 1.3 (d)

Previously, it was unclear whether placing an opponent's ball in the starting area constituted a misplacement error, which would have taken precedence over the wrong ball fault that occurred when the ball was struck (see former Rule 51 and Rules Committee Opinion 1-2001). The revised rule clarifies that the penalty for a wrong ball fault applies in this situation despite the fact that balls are also not properly placed.

3.2 (a) - striking period and shot

The "striking period" is the period during which the striker can commit a mallet fault under Rule 11.5. The basic rule, carried forward from the 2001 rulebook (former Rule 12 [a]), is that "[t]he 'striking period' begins when a striker starts the backswing, with intent to strike the ball, and ends at the conclusion of the follow through." One reason why this definition needed attention from the Rules Committee was the increasing popularity in recent years of "casting," the technique in which the striker takes several continuous practice swings over the ball before lowering the mallet when ready to shoot. It's not uncommon for a striker who is casting to unintentionally touch the striker ball with the mallet during a practice swing or while lowering the mallet in the final backward swing. Is this a fault or a non-fatal error? To answer this, the new rulebook expands the definition of the beginning of the striking period to address casting:

"When the striker repeatedly swings or casts the mallet over the ball, the backswing starts when the mallet head has passed the ball on the final backswing the striker intends to make before striking the ball."

(Rule 3.2 [a].) Under this rule, nothing the striker does before the final backswing passes the ball can result in a mallet fault. The new rule thus provides that inadvertent contact with the striker ball while casting is a non-fatal error, because it occurs prior to the beginning of the striking period.

Also addressed in the revised Rule 3.2 (a) is the question of whether the striker, after having started the backswing with intent to strike the ball, may stop the mallet before contacting the ball and start over. Rule 3.2 (a) provides that he or she may:

"If the striker deliberately interrupts the swing after the striking period has begun, and before the mallet reaches the ball or a fault is committed, the striker has not made a shot and may begin the striking period again."
Note that this provision only applies to deliberately stopping the mallet short of contact with the ball - it does not give the striker another chance after making an "air shot" or hitting the ground rather than the ball. Those are turn-ending events under Rule 2.1 (b) (4).

Blocking a wicket (Rule 9.2 [formerly Rule 20])

The purpose of the blocking rule (formerly Rule 20, now Rule 9.2) is to prevent one side from exploiting an opponent's deadness turn after turn by using a dead ball to obstruct any possible wicket shot, except a jump shot. The basic idea is that an opponent can leave the striker ball's wicket shot blocked by a dead ball for one turn, but may not block the striker ball at the beginning of its next turn. If the opponent causes the striker to be blocked for two consecutive turns, the striker becomes alive on the blocking ball.

ABOVE: The striker, Yellow, is dead on all other balls but is not blocked by any other ball. BELOW: the striker, Yellow, is dead on each of the other balls and is blocked by each of the other balls.
The rules on blocking and wiring are not changed in the new edition; however, the Rules Committee has provided substantial amplification on many potential blocking issues that are not covered sufficiently by the illustration above. The newly offered official distinctions and "clarifications" are probably the most difficult to understand of all the changes in the 2006 edition.

Simple, right? Yes, but only until you consider the variety of ways in which a "block," involving the relative positions of several balls and the wicket, can occur and recur over eight turns of a croquet game.

The Rules Committee confronted a number of ambiguities in the former Rule 20 as it attempted to pin down the precise meaning of the phrases "direct path," "possible shot," and "responsible for the block." While there was near-unanimous agreement about the need to rewrite the rule to remove these ambiguities, sharp differences emerged over which way to resolve them. Some of the questions that proved most difficult included:

  1. Can a block exist if both a dead ball and a live ball lie between the striker ball and the wicket?

    Under revised Rule 9.2 (a) (1), the answer is "sometimes." If both a dead ball and a live ball are intruding in the striker ball's path to the wicket, and if the striker ball is wired from the live ball, the striker is considered blocked if the opponent created the block as provided in Rule 9.2 (a) (2). For example, suppose Blue is alive on Yellow and dead on Red, and both Red and Yellow are intruding onto the path that Blue would travel to make Blue's wicket. A block exists if the opponent places Red between Blue and the wicket and Yellow between Red and the wicket, so that Blue is wired from Yellow. On the other hand, if Yellow lies closer to Blue, leaving Blue open on Yellow, the presence of Red in Blue's path to the wicket will not give rise to a block.

  2. Can an opponent be deemed responsible for a block if the opponent is responsible for the striker ball's position, but not the position of a blocking dead ball?

    Under revised Rule 9.2 (a) (2), the opponent can be considered to have created the block if it becomes responsible for placing the striker ball in a blocked position, even if the striker's side had previously placed one or more blocking balls. But the opponent is not considered to have created the block if the opponent becomes responsible for the striker ball's position, and the striker's side then becomes responsible for the position of a blocking ball.

    Note the contrasting outcomes in these examples:

    1. Yellow places Blue where Blue's wicket shot is blocked by Black, which is responsible for its own position. Blue has a block that was created by Yellow.

    2. Yellow places Black where it has a wicket shot blocked by Blue. Blue passes. Red is in a distant corner. Yellow is not considered to have created the block because, after Yellow became responsible for Black's position, the Blue/Black side became responsible for the position of Blue, a blocking ball. Blue is therefore not entitled to claim relief under the rule.

  3. Should a side be allowed to create a block for itself, by placing the striker ball, during the partner ball's turn, so that it is blocked by the opponent ball that just played?

    Under revised Rule 9.2 (a) (2), a striker ball cannot be placed by its partner into a blocked position and then claim relief, if the opponent does not thereafter strike, move, or waive the turn of the blocking ball.

    For example, suppose Red ends its turn in front of Blue's wicket. Black then croquets Blue into a position in front of the wicket, where both Yellow and Red intrudes in Blue's path to make the wicket. Yellow shoots away. The opponent is not deemed to have created a block of Blue, because the striker's side became responsible for Blue's position after the opponent became responsible for the position of Red, the blocking ball. Neither condition in Rule 9.2 (a) (2) is satisfied, so there is no block.

(Because responsibility for the position of a ball is a factor in both the blocking and wiring rules, it was felt that defining "Responsible for Position" under its own heading was warranted; see Rule 9.1, at the start of Part 9, "Blocking and Wiring.") Other questions about Rule 20 that are answered in revised Rule 9.2 include whether calling a first block should be required (it now is) and whether a blocked striker may decline a clearing (the rule now provide that the striker "may clean the blocked ball" -- but need not).

Although it's unlikely that anyone will be toasting the Rules Committee for the elegance and simplicity of the revised blocking rule, we did the best we could given the variety of situations that the rule must cover, and the need to target the clearing remedy to the situations where it is warranted.

Interference with a Ball or Between Games

(Rule 11.4 [formerly Rule 7]; Rule 14.2 [formerly Rule 66])

In the 2001 rulebook, Rule 7 covered interference with a ball during a shot in general, and Rule 66 specifically covered double-banking interference. Rule 7's general rule stated, "If the opponent or an outside agency interferes with a ball during a shot and materially affects the outcome, the shot shall be replayed. Otherwise, the ball shall be placed where it would have come to rest." (emphasis added) Under the general rule, therefore, whether a shot would be replayed depended on whether the interference had "materially affected the outcome" -- a term that was not defined in the rules.

A differently worded rule applied if a ball in motion was interfered with by a ball or player in another game during double banking. Rule 66 stated that the ball interfered with "shall be placed in its probable finishing position with the mutual consent of the players. If mutual consent is not possible, the shot shall be replayed." (emphasis added) Under this rule, a player who believed a replay was warranted could obtain on one by withholding consent to the other player's estimation of the probable finishing position.

In the revised rulebook, the Rules Committee sought to make the rules governing interference uniform, so that the same principles applied whether or not the interference was caused by double-banking. In doing so, concerns about the reliance on mutual consent of the players, and the potential abuse of this requirement, led to a change in the interference rules that lets a third-party referee decide any dispute about whether a replay is necessary.

The new, uniform interference rules appear in Part 11, Errors in Play, Rules 11.4, and in Part 14, Double Banking, Rules 14.2. Their repetition in the Double Banking section is mosly for convenience. Both rules now provide that if a ball that suffers interference during a shot, other than interference by the striker, the shot is to be replayed only if the probable final position of the ball "cannot be reasonably determined." (emphasis added) Each rule further provides, "In the event there is a dispute over the placement of a ball after interference or whether a shot should be replayed, a referee shall decide."

COMMENT: Under the revised rule, referees may be asked to decide whether a ball's probable finishing position can be reasonably determined. If the referee did not witness the shot in question, and there seems to be a good-faith dispute between the players about what would have happened had the interference not occurred, the referee may want to tread cautiously. A ruling that in effect credits one player's account of what happened and discredits the other's may appear to be a negative judgment about the latter player's credibility. Granting a replay where there's a genuine dispute, on the other hand, simply says, "I don't know what would have happened and I don't claim to know which one of you knows better."

Players should also keep in mind that consulting witnesses to resolve a difference of opinion between players is permissible if both players consent. (See "When Players' Opinions Differ" in the Croquet Customs and Court Etiquette section.)

Players should also keep in mind that consulting a spectator to resolve a difference of opinion between players is always permissible if both players consent. (See "When Players' Opinions Differ" in the Croquet Customs and Court Etiquette section.)

Misplaced balls (Rule 11.6 [formerly Rules 50 and 51)

The misplacement rules in the 2001 rulebook were awkwardly spread over two different numbered rules (50 and 51) with overlapping and inconsistent provisions, particularly as to the limit of claims. The new edition combines these provisions into one hopefully more coherent rule (Rule 11.6), and for the first time expressly addresses misplacement errors that occur simultaneously with another fault.

A misplaced ball error occurs whenever the striker plays a shot while any ball that is relevant to the shot is not properly placed (see Rule 11.6 [b]). Misplacement of the striker ball is also considered to occur when one of the events listed in Rule 11.6 (c) occurs. "Failing to take croquet when entitled to" is a new addition to this list of events, which is not exhaustive.

Rule 11.6 (e) sets forth distinct limits of claims for misplacement errors that involve misplacement of the striker ball, which must be called before the first shot of the opponent's turn; and those that do not involve the striker ball, which must be called before the next shot of the striker's turn.

So-called "compound errors" in which two or more different rules apply, each with its own remedy, create difficult challenges unless the rules specify that one or the other takes precedence. One of the most common compound errors involves misplacement of one or more balls along with a wrong ball or other fault. The 2006 rulebook for the first time includes a provision that squarely addresses cases when both the misplacement error and a fault occur in at the same time. The general rule is that the remedy for the misplacement error applies - not the penalty for the fault. Under Rule 11.6 (f), if a relevant ball is misplaced during a shot in which the striker commits a fault - including a wrong ball fault - the misplacement is corrected and the shot is retaken without penalty.

Playing the opponent's ball at the start of the game (Rule 1.3 [e])

Under newly added Rule 1.3 (e), if the striker places an opponent's ball in the starting area and strikes it, the striker has played the wrong ball, the striker's turn ends, the opponent's ball played in error is removed from the court, all other balls are replaced in the positions they were in at the beginning of the turn, and the striker places the correct ball anywhere in the starting area.

The new rulebook thus settles the question - left open under the prior edition - of whether placing the opponent's ball in the starting area constitutes playing a wrong ball, a fault, or a misplaced ball, a non-fatal error. The answer is that this is a fault, not a misplacement error.

Keeping the deadness board when a dead ball fault occurs (Former Rule 54 [d])

The new rulebook eliminates the former rule (Rule 54 [d], introduced in the 2001 edition) that required the board keeper to freeze the deadness board following a dead-ball fault, and to announce that a fault had occurred if questioned about the failure to change the deadness board. The reversion to the pre-2001 rule reflects the principle that a board keeper, by changing the board to reflect the accumulation and clearing of deadness, conveys no official judgment that the play reflected on the board is lawful. A second principle motivating this change is that in the absence of a referee called by the players to adjudicate a shot, it is solely the players' responsibility to call attention to any faults that may occur (see Rules 13.3 and 13.5). Because requiring the freezing of the deadness board after a dead ball implied that the deadness board reflected the board keeper's judgment about whether a fault had occurred, the Rules Committee voted to drop the requirement with the new edition.

Recognizing the need to provide guidance to players and board keepers about the board keeper's role, the Rules Committee issued the following clarification after the new rulebook went to press:

If a board keeper (including a referee serving as a board keeper) suspects that a fault has occurred, such as the roquet of a dead ball, the official will continue to keep the deadness board as play proceeds, both adding to and clearing deadness from the board accordingly. Until the fault is called or condoned, such a board is correct. The official should also take note of the status of the game (ball placement, clips and deadness) should the fault be recognized within the limit of claims. Verbal confirmation of the correctness of the board by an opponent or official does not further prohibit the calling of the fault or error within the applicable limit of claims.

Players and board keepers should recognize that the deadness board and the board keeper are there to assist the players in keeping track of what has occurred on the court, not to verify that what occurred on the court was lawful play. Unless and until it is called by a player within the applicable limit of claims, any fault observed by a board keeper (or other official who is not requested by the players to judge a shot) has no effect on the game. Therefore, the board is correct as long as it reflects the roquets and wicket points that are actually made. Recognizing the player's role as joint referees of the game, a board keeper should not intervene or call attention to a suspected fault, either through action or inaction. An observant board keeper who knows when and where a fault occurred can indeed be extremely helpful to the players - but must wait until the players recognize what has happened and request assistance in reconstructing the state of the game as of the time of the fault.

…a board keeper should not intervene or call attention to a suspected fault...

Resetting equipment (Rule 13.4)

Although it has long been customary for referees and tournament directors as well as players to correct improperly set equipment during a game (such as tight, loose, or crooked wickets, a leaning stake, or displaced boundary string), and to grant other relief when the improper setting affected play, the USCA Six-Wicket rules have never covered the topic. Newly added Rule 13.4 is the first attempt to fill this gap, clarifying the role of players, referees, and tournament directors in correcting equipment problems. The rule authorizes the players on a court to reset any improperly set of equipment themselves if they are in agreement with each other, and specifically permits the boundary string to be straightened by a player whenever necessary, except during a shot. The new rule prescribes a replay as the remedy given in case a ball sticks in a wicket, resolving what had been an unsettled issue under prior editions of the rules.

Changes in handicap play and other variations

Continuation bisques (Rule 15.1, formerly Rules 69, 72)

Aiming to make the American bisque a more formidable weapon, the Rules Committee approved two changes to make continuation bisques easier to use in any turn. Under revised Rule 15.1 (a) (2), a continuation shot is not required before taking a continuation bisque, and under Rule 15.1 (b), multiple continuation bisques can be taken consecutively. With this change, a player can use one or more bisques to get a play going even if there is no chance to earn a continuation shot at the start of the turn by scoring a wicket or roqueting a ball.

Base method handicap play (Rule 15.5)

The new rulebook offers an alternative method of assigning bisques - the "base method," in which both sides in a game receive a number of bisques calculated by subtracting a fixed base number from each side's handicap. The concepts behind "base method handicap play" are that both sides in a game can learn from and enjoy using bisques, not just the side that happens to have the higher handicap; and that assigning a number of bisques closer to a player's handicap provides greater playing opportunities than does the conventional "difference" method of calculating bisques.

Fourteen point game (Rule 16.1)

In this edition, the USCA Six-Wicket rules include a shortened version of the game for the first time. In a 14-point game, each ball scores only the first six wickets, all in the usual direction, becoming a rover after wicket 6. The "1-back clearing" is given upon scoring wicket 4.

The 14-point game is especially intended to provide an alternative to 26-point games with short time limits, which very frequently result in winning scores well below 26 points. Because of the prevalence of 75- to 90-minute time limits, many players lack familiarity with the risks and rewards of becoming a rover and do not view staking out both balls as a realistic goal. A 14-point game offers a great opportunity for novice and intermediate players to take a game from start to finish within the time limits commonly used in USCA tournament play.

New experimental rule

Immediately in the game (Experimental Rule 17.1)

Like every recent USCA rulebook, the 2006 edition includes an experimental rule to permit testing by USCA players for future consideration by the USCA Rules Committee and Management Committee for adoption as official rules. Experimental rules "may be used in USCA sanctioned events if written notice of the intention to use one or more of these rules is given on all player notification and entry forms prior to a tournament."

The only experimental rule in the 2006 rulebook, Rule 17.1, provides that all balls are alive and "in the game" when placed in the starting area, eliminating the concept of balls that are not yet "in the game" because they have not yet scored wicket #1.

Under the new experimental rule, there is no change in the designated Starting Area as illustrated above; the change - and it is a huge one - is that all balls will be live beginning with the first stroke of their first turn.

Since this is an experimental rule, the only way it will have an impact is if players and tournament directors experiment with it and share the results of their experiences with the Rules Committee and other USCA members and officials.

Like most experimental rules, this one has both advocates and detractors. The advocates argue that it addresses the distaste of many beginning and intermediate players for games that end up with a Golf Croquet-like battle for position at #1 and/or a one-ball race around the court, or for "out-game" tactics that involve deliberately holding balls back from making the first wicket. The detractors, of course, adore all of these tactics and outcomes and don't want to see them disappear from the American game.

Putting aside the merits of that debate, what is the likely practical result be of making all balls alive on each other at the start of the game?

First, the experimental rule would markedly change the risk-reward calculation regarding the initial wicket shot at #1. This calculation is currently strongly weighted in favor of shooting (assuming that scoring #1 is desired) regardless of the shooter's chances of failure, because there is relatively little downside to missing. Players who can not be certain of scoring a wicket from three feet would have to think twice about shooting. The risk of giving a ball to the opponent to roquet and take croquet on may very well outweigh the marginal gain of a single wicket point. On the other hand, the reward of hitting a ball that happens to be left near #1 may not be great enough to warrant incurring deadness, particularly when only two balls are on the court (e.g., where blue is left in the jaws of #1, or just beyond #1, wired from the starting area).

Currently, the worst-case result of a failure at #1 may be that the opponent peels the jawsed ball and uses it to commence a break or set it for partner. But this usually requires a lucky position and the ability to execute a half-jump. Opportunities to make such a play are infrequent. With the experimental rule in effect, the greatly magnified downside of a failure at #1 may well intensify the pressure that often causes errors early in a game, even on the part of capable players.

…the magnified downside of a failure at #1 may well intensify the pressure…

Even players who can be confident about scoring will face an immediate tactical calculation regarding the advantages and disadvantages of being for #1 rather than #2. The side that has both balls for #1 while the opponent has both balls for #2 has the advantage of playing from behind the opponent's break. The side that has a ball for #1 also has an advantage if the opponent joins in corners I or IV.

Finally, creative players would certainly come up with interesting position plays to take advantage of the experimental rule. Some players may find it most advantageous to have one ball score #1 while the other does not, in order to put maximum pressure on the opponent's choices. Another tactic that comes to mind would be to shoot into or near corner I with Blue or Red and subsequently attempt a roquet with Black or Yellow, respectively, instead of scoring #1. Compared to the shot into corner I from the non-playing side of wicket #1, the shot from the starting area to corner I is at least a yard shorter and offers a potential two-ball break if #1 has not been scored yet. The opponent would of course have to weigh the risk and reward of shooting at this tice.

The "immediately in the game" experimental rule confronts players right from the beginning of the game with some of the essential tactical challenges they need to master in order to win in the USCA American game of croquet - risk-reward calculations for wicket and roquet shots, ball positioning on the boundaries, and rotation. Despite the concerns some have expressed, tactical complexity is in no way going to disappear from the USCA game if this experimental rule is employed.

A NOTE ON THE AUTHOR: Stuart Lawrence has served on the USCA Rules Committee since 2001. He got his start in USCA croquet in 1990 at the Delaware Croquet Club and has been a member of the New York Croquet Club since he returned to his hometown in 1991. The highlight of his 17 years as a serious player came in 1993 when, paired with croquet legend John Oehrle, he won the Amateur Doubles National Championship at PGA National. He recently graduated with a law degree from New York University and now works for a New York City legal services provider as an advocate for low-income tenants.


 
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