The one-ball stroke is the first skill you need to develop in croquet. In the Par Course Contest, the touch shot you need for all forms of croquet - being able to read the turf and shoot to a specific point on an accurate line, often right in front of a wicket - is half the contest; the other half, equally important, is shooting the wicket.
This game is played by two people on each court, and half-courts work just fine for players at all levels.
* The players begin in opposite corners, scoring first the nearest wicket, then the other three corner wickets, and then the nearest center wicket, with the stake the final point - a total of six points for the winner.
* Each round is one stroke only. If there is no referee, the players are responsible for making sure each of them plays only one stroke each round. There is no need to keep score, as a glance at the court will always tell you who is ahead. This is also a benefit for spectators, who can easily follow the contest and - perhaps - lead the cheers for their champion.
* If one of the players catches up to the other - that is, if both are bound for the same wicket - the player who has scored the most wickets wins, and that game is over. If the players are in a tie after the stake, they continue play from where their balls lie (crossing paths in the center of the court) until one of them wins in "sudden death."
Add spectacle and drama to your "Club Olympics" or a private party or corporate event for novices with a "Par Course Horserace", playing four, eight, or more contestants simultaneously with strokes called by loudspeaker. Because the individual games are short, you can hold the spectators' interest in four or more game periods with irreverent loudspeaker commentary - just as in a real horserace.
The corner-to-corner boundary attack is one of the hallmarks of American Rules croquet. It requires two highly tuned and rather scary touch shots - scary because failure in either is so easy and brings a devastating result in a real game (but the reward for success can be huge): First, you have to make the croqueted ball move on your croquet stroke, and if you send it out of bounds your turn will end, disastrously, within shooting range of the opponent you were attacking; Second, you have to be close enough on your second stroke to hit the boundary ball of your opponent without sending it over the line, which also will end your turn in the American Rules game.
* Place the balls according to the flights levels of the players in the contest. For top-flight players, put the balls in the corners of either the East or West boundary. For weaker players, put the balls 12 feet closer together, or more, so the attack will not begin and end in the most-difficult-to-attack corners.
* With balls in contact, play a legal take-off stroke from your starting point on the boundary and shoot down the line to achieve the best possible position to hit the opponent ball on the boundary with your continuation stroke.
* A successful take-off and boundary roquet gives you a point; a failed attempt gives you nothing.
* Play in rotation with your opponent until one side reaches an agreed-upon number of points after the agreed-upon number of rotations. In case of a tie, continue rotations until the tie is broken.
This game should be played on reduced courts for novice and intermediate level players; only top-level players should be expected to play extended two-ball breaks on a court of any size. Although this is a simple contest, the greatest success will require decent execution in the whole range of two-ball croquet strokes, along with accurate rushes. In novice games, typically a single wicket point will win the round. Depending on the timeframe of your event, play anywhere from one round to seven rounds.
* Start each round with your two balls in the corner, with the rush pointed to the nearest side of the nearest wicket.
* If you don't score the wicket on your combination of rush/croquet/continuation, you turn ends and you don't get a point for that round. If you do score the first wicket, continue your two-ball break for as long as you can.
* The score of your round depends solely on how many wickets you got through on your break. The player with the highest number of wickets scored is awarded the differential. If there is a tie after the agreed-upon number of rounds, continue rotations in the current round until the tie is broken and a winner can be declared.
Hitting in on a long ball with a high accuracy rate is a skill you may never attain. But anyone can learn to play breaks with practice as they improve their shot skills as well as their shot-selection skills: knowing when you should take a high-risk shot, and when it is not worth the risk; learning which combination of shots will yield the highest probability of success. Those are vital lessons you learn by doing and by observing the masters of the game. In the meantime, you can have a lot of fun improving your break-making skills in this self-scoring game where, believe it or not, your average score will equate closely to your handicap!
* From the middle of the South Boundary, place red and yellow, the two opponent balls, anywhere on the court you'd like them to be, by single-ball shooting them into place. Position your partner balls for a perfect rush to the point of your choice. (Most people will set up their four-ball solitaire game as shown on the diagram, with one opponent ball in front of #2, the other in mid-court on the near side of the stake, and with partner balls pointed to a rush in front of #1.)
* Play the break with your blue ball as well as you can, and for as long as you can, and take an extra stroke or a replay of a failed stroke whenever you wish (adding a point to your score for each unearned stroke you take).
* When your blue ball hits the stake, the game is over, and your score is the total number of unearned strokes you took to complete the 13-point course.
* Advanced Variation #1: When you begin to achieve low scores in Four-Ball Solitaire, place one opponent ball in Corner Two and the other one in any position you choose and begin to play your break with three balls. The challenge here is to bring the boundary ball into the game at an early point, thus converting your 3-ball break into an easier 4-ball break. For subsequent games, place the boundary ball in Corner Three, Corner Four, and - for the most difficult challenge of all - Corner One.
* Advanced Variation #2: Instead of staking out your blue ball after it makes rover, groom for your partner ball's break to begin at #2 and start another game, this time playing the black ball. If you have left red (the "hot" ball, the one that plays next) more than 21 feet from the South Boundary or any of the other balls farther than 21 feet from the North Boundary, (either of which will leave you vulnerable to a red hit-it) penalize yourself one point. Place red in Corner Four (a reasonable retreat for red if you have left a good groom) and play a break with black in as few turns as possible. You are, of course, allowed to bring red into the break at any time you wish to attack Corner Four.
* Advanced Variation #3: This variation is actually "Three-Ball Solitaire." Pretend that black has been staked out and play a three-ball break all the way around using the same rules as for Four-Ball Solitaire. Achieving a score as low as your handicap will be a major victory for you.
Note: This article is the first of a series based on materials originally published in the Croquet Foundation of America's Monograph Series on Club Building, Organization, and Management, written/edited by Bob Alman and available from the U.S. Croquet Association website and on CroquetProshop.com.
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