by Louis Nel
If you are not yet in the habit of playing 4-ball breaks, this is of special interest to you.


Article Date : July 04, 1999

If you are not yet in the habit of playing 4-ball breaks, this is of special interest to you.

There is a version of croquet that is particularly conducive to learning of 4-ball break play, even for players whose shotmaking is not yet well developed. It is called International Rules Handicap Singles, with full bisques to the base 0. This unfamiliar phrase means each player gets a number of bisques equal to the player's handicap. In International Rules, a bisque is an extra turn. If an 18-handicap plays against a 20-handicap, the first gets 18 bisques and the second gets 20.

With so many bisques, even a beginner can effectively set up and run a 4-ball break. Indeed, that is the beginner's best strategy. It is also quite effective in a game where one player is much stronger than the other.

Look at how a game between a 16-handicap player, Ned Newcomer, and scratch player Sally Sharp might typically unfold. Ned will have 16 bisques, Sally none. Suppose that Ned plays first and that after the first four turns both players are for the first hoop, with Ned near his partner ball. A great many games begin like that. Sally parks herself on the bench facing 16 white sticks (made out of 3/8" doweling) planted in the turf. These sticks visibly represent the bisques remaining available to Ned. He uses a bisque or two to set up a 4-ball break: a pioneer near the 2nd, a pivot near the peg and a ball near 1, off which to make that hoop. Using his bisques, Ned maintains a 4-ball break until he has made 4-back, say. (To make more would be too risky: Sally could peg out his ball if she gets the next innings.)

He leaves Sally a long shot of 75 feet (there are no bauk line lifts in International Rules Handicap Singles). If Ned is accurately handicapped, Sally will by now have pulled about 7 of Ned's 16 white sticks out of the turf. Sally misses the hit-in (even scratch players often miss at 75 feet). So Ned can pursue a 4-ball break with his second ball, aided by his remaining bisques. If Ned runs out of bisques before winning the game, Sally will begin to dominate. She may or may not overtake Ned in a tight finish.

If Ned plays against another 16 handicapper, both players get 16 bisques. So both players could run 4-ball breaks, even though they are not advanced players. They get very good shotmaking practice while playing and are preparing themselves for the day they could run a 4-ball break without any bisques.

As you can see from the above, International Rules Handicap Singles is very kind and instructive to beginners.

The situation under USCA rules is different. Here a bisque means an extra continuation shot or a replay. If the strong player gets in first and leaves the weak player a 90' roquet, that weak player is faced with a dilemma. He might use all his remaining bisques in a futile effort to hit in. An extra continuation shot does not become available until he has made a roquet. Alternatively, if he hits defensively into a corner, the strong player may peg out in the next turn and win the match before the beginner has used a single bisque! Another difference is that "full bisque base 0" is not an available option under USCA rules. When two 16-handicappers play each other, neither gets bisques and it becomes a game of level play.

International Rules with differential bisques — only the weaker player gets bisques, equal to the difference in the handicaps — is again different. In a match between equally handicapped beginners, neither will have a bisque. This format is not conducive to break play. On the contrary, beginners often develop into Aunt Emmas, cautiously making hoops one by one after separating their opponents. They can do this over and over, uninhibited by carry-over deadness. Some never outgrow this way of playing.

So, even if USCA rules play is your preference, International Rules Handicap Singles with full bisques to base 0 can be a wholesome supplement to your croquet diet. It can help you become a better USCA rules player and also prepare you for Advance Singles play in International Rules (the rules of the World Championships). Why not give it a try?

How to Get Started

1. Make sure you know how a 4-ball break works. You won't find "4-ball breaks for dummies" in a local bookstore, but advanced players will be glad to help you. A Croquet Canada clinic could tell you all you need to get started. Or you may prefer the hi-tech route: the Bob and Ted videos obtainable from the USCA include one with an excellent introduction to 4-ball break play. Just give them a call at 561 753 9141 and have your Visa or MasterCard ready (or get your club to do this for all its members).

2. Your club should invest in a rule book for International Rules — it is little red book titled "The Laws of Association Croquet". Even better, order a personal copy from the USCA at the number just mentioned. Most of the rules are quite similar to the USCA rules you already know, but note in particular the following crucial differences.

The balls are not played in a fixed rotation: after first turns, you can play either of your two balls to start a new turn. At the beginning of a new turn you may roquet every other ball (no deadness carried over). If you roquet a ball out of bounds, your turn does not end. A boundary ball has its center 36" from the boundary line. The start of the game is quite different.

In International Rules, Handicap Singles are played like Ordinary Singles. The rules about bisques are just added on (and appear near the end of the rule book).

3. A club tournament under the mentioned rules ought to be great fun. You could play against advanced members of your club with an even chance of beating them! Such a tournament is probably best to be spread over a few days or weeks rather than all on one day. Sanction the tournament or enter the results on your Sanctioned Game Cards.

4. An interclub match under the mentioned rules is an interesting idea. No matter which two clubs are involved, the outcome will be uncertain. Indeed, every individual game under these rules has an unpredictable outcome. Sanction the match or enter the games separately on your Sanctioned Game Cards.

5. "But I don't have a handicap in International Rules", I hear you saying, and you are right! Don't make the mistake of just using your handicap in USCA rules for this purpose. As you might gather from the above, when a beginner plays against a scratch player, the beginner (to have an even chance of winning) needs enough bisques to play two all round 4-ball breaks. So your handicap ought to be roughly 2 times the number of bisques you typically require to run all 12 hoops on a 4-ball break. In International Rules, beginners typically start with a handicap of about 24. The highest handicap in USCA rules is 20. USCA handicaps are quite different from International Rules handicaps.

The Handicapping Committee is now introducing handicaps in International Rules. We are doing this with the mentioned rules in mind. It is to be one of the options you can use on your Sanctioned Game Cards. If you don't have an International Rules ranking of 85.0 or higher, we are asking you to determine your own initial International Rules handicap by a simple procedure (see Regulations for Handicap play, elsewhere in this issue).

6. Once your initial International Rules handicap is established, play as many games under the above rules as you can fit in and enter them on your Sanctioned Game Cards. The more games you play, the more accurate your handicap will become.

Louis Nel