By Marcus Evans - Issue 32 (2014)
As you may know, the top Association Croquet players have been debating over the last few years how to make the game more of a challenge. While this may seem irrelevant to the vast majority of us (and I include myself in this), who can blob a six-inch hoop or miss a 2-foot roquet without the slightest provocation, if you ever go to watch a top-level event you may find this article helpful in working out what is going on!
If you have watched A-class players in the past, you probably have some familiarity with 'Advanced' rules, whereby if a player runs either 1-back or 4-back, their opponent can start their next turn with a lift to anywhere on either baulk line (if they wish). If a player makes a break in which they run both 1-back and 4-back, and their other ball had not yet run 1-back at the start of that turn, the opponent can start their next turn by lifting one of their balls and placing it either at any point on either baulk line, or by placing it in contact with any of the other balls. In the latter case, this removes the normal need to begin a turn by making a roquet; the turn begins with a 'free' croquet stroke. The only exception to these rules is if a player has previously pegged a ball out in the game, they are not entitled to a lift or contact under these rules (they can still get a wiring lift though).
As a result of these rules, you will usually see a player deliberately ending their first break and making a leave before they run 4-back, as this avoids giving a contact. Sometimes you will even see a player deliberately stopping at 1-back, in order to avoid giving a lift. This then gives rise to a subsequent triple peel in the first case, and the much more difficult sextuple peel in the second case. However, it was felt that even these manoeuvres were becoming too easy for the very best players, which meant the whole game was effectively decided on whether or not the opponent hit a very long shot.
To counteract this, Super Advanced rules introduce a third 'lift hoop', to add to the existing lift hoops of 1-back and 4-back I have just described. In Super Advanced, if a player runs hoop 4 then their opponent can start their next turn with a lift. If a player runs 4 and 1-back in the same turn, and their partner ball had not yet run hoop 4 at the start of the turn, then their opponent can start their next turn with a lift or a contact. And if a player runs 4, 1-back, and 4-back in the same turn, and their partner ball had not yet run hoop 4 at the start of the turn, their opponent can start their next turn with a 'lift to position'. This means they can lift either of their balls and play it from literally anywhere on the court, including inside the yard-line.
The lift to position is, as you would expect, even more powerful than the contact. This is because if you are conceding a contact, you can make your leave with all the balls on boundaries or in corners. This makes it very difficult for the opponent to immediately get a break, even though they can start with a contact, because it is hard to get a rush behind balls in boundaries or in corners. But if you concede a lift to position, the opponent can place their ball behind another ball you have left in a corner, and start their turn by rushing it to their hoop or to another ball. This makes it much more likely they will get going. For this reason, deliberately conceding a lift to position is rare.
There is one further exception: a lift to position is NOT conceded if a player makes all the hoops that would normally result in a lift to position, but then pegs a ball out. This means that if you start your turn with your clips both on hoop 1 (for example), and your opponent already has a ball on 4-back, you can execute a triple peel on your opponent without fear of conceding a lift to position if you are successful. This rule was added because it would otherwise be too easy for the opponent who has been pegged out to make a winning break immediately. They still have access to a lift to baulk or a contact, though.
"Sounds complicated!" I hear you say. I must admit it seems that way at first reading, and those who are or aspire to be referees would do well to re-read the above a few times, and also consult the CA website where the formal wording of what I have just described can be found in Appendix 5 of the latest Tournament Regulations. For the rest of us, let's just have a look at what practical effect it has on the game, and it should become clearer.
In a typical game of Super Advanced, then, you will generally see one of three things from the player making the first break:
- They will look to make a leave after making hoop 4, leaving their clip on hoop 5, 6, or 1-back. They will leave a rush for their forward ball, hoping to get to 4-back on their next turn if the lift shot is missed, whereupon they will make another leave and then subsequently hope to finish with a triple peel by playing their backward ball. Stopping at 5 or 6 has the advantage that you have more time to organise your second leave if the lift is missed, but going to 1-back is more common nowadays as this tends to give you better chances if the lift is hit. This is because if you later get in with your hoop 1 ball, you have a chance at a sextuple, or possibly a triple peel on your opponent where the further round your partner ball is, the better.
- They will stop at 1-back and make a leave for the hoop 1 ball, looking to attempt a sextuple immediately if the lift shot is missed.
- They will take the break round to 4-back, thus conceding contact, and hence usually aim to leave all the balls on boundaries or in corners. They then hope to hit in again later in the game with their backward ball so as to attempt a winning triple peel.
An important point to note which makes things easier is that after the turn in which a player runs hoop 4, the rest of the game for that player is just like a normal game of Advanced play, except that when their partner ball runs hoop 4 this will give another lift. Note that running hoop 4 and 1-back in the same turn when partner ball is already past hoop 4 just concedes a lift, not a contact.
Got all that? Good, then there is just one more Super Advanced rule you need to know, which concerns the opening. In fact, it only affects the very first shot of the game. On the very first shot of the game, the ball must pass through any hoop, or hit a hoop (or the peg), or cross the boundary line. If the player fails to achieve any of these, his opponent can either leave the ball as it lies and proceed as normal, or ask their opponent to place the errant ball at any point on either baulk line. The player of the ball has the choice of position, not the opponent. If this happens, they will usually choose corner III (though a tricky reply is opponent deems in corner I on the second turn, making it difficult to move both balls out of baulk on the third turn of the game), or the end of B-baulk (to prevent this).
As a result of this extra rule, it is not uncommon to see the player of the first turn of a Super Advanced game lining up to hit their ball at hoop 5, hoping it will bounce off nearby and create the so-called "Supershot" opening - they hope to hit in on the third turn of the game and make a 3-ball break immediately.
I hope this helps you understand this new variation of the game, once you have watched a few examples it will all become clearer, especially if you can get a friendly A-class player (and that describes almost all of us!) to explain it while it all unfolds.