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Dr Ian Plummer

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Intermediate Coaching Notes

Section 5. Openings

An opening refers to the positioning of the four balls on the lawn at the start of the game. The intention is to place your balls in a position where if one should be hit by an opponent it is difficult for them to build a break. The position should still give you the upper hand should they miss.

Given that there are options after every ball is placed on the lawn, it is not possible to carry the analysis very far without it becoming complex and irrelevant.

5.1. It is important at the start of the game not to give your opponent an easy start. This can boost their confidence and make them play better. Consequently do not try heroics which will give away an easy break.

5.2. Winning or losing the toss is no guarantee of gaining an early innings. It is a matter of personal choice and the conditions which dictate your decision. In a handicap game however with a large bisque difference who goes in is significant. See the sections on Tactics against Better Players, Giving Bisques and Using Bisques.

5.3. The opening may be the first time that you have the opportunity to gauge the speed of the lawn. When hitting your first ball you should attempt to get it to stop somewhere specific, say on the boundary line or some distance behind it (if there is space).

5.4. The Standard Opening (figure 5.4). This consists of :-

The standard opening
Figure 5.4. The Standard Opening.
  1. Ball to East boundary level with hoop 4 (i)
  2. Ball to West boundary between first hoop and Rover (ii)
  3. Second ball near to first ball on East boundary (iii)
  4. Shoot from corner I through the ball on the West boundary to corner II (iv).

The point behind each of these shots is now considered.

5.5. First Turn. Ball to East boundary level with hoop 4. The intention here is to obtain a position remote from hoop 1 where, even if the opponent hits in they have a most difficult time getting first hoop. The shot is normally taken from the right hand end of A-baulk.

5.6. The position of the ball is not arbitrary. You want to be close enough to fourth corner so that you can hit a ball there. If you are too far up (North of) the East boundary your opponent can shoot at you from corner III to corner IV. You must guard fourth corner.

5.7. Conversely if you place your ball too near to fourth corner it is awkward shooting at it in the third turn since a near miss means that you will leave a large two-ball target on the East boundary. The further North along East boundary that you are the further apart the balls will end up after a miss.

5.8. Second Turn. Ball to West boundary between first hoop and Rover - Laying a Tice. You have an option to shoot at the first ball on East boundary, but this course is discussed below. The intention is to place a ball on the West boundary beyond hoop 1. This ensure that if it is hit it will move further away from the first hoop. The distance up the West boundary should be at a length where you reckon you could hit the ball say 50% of the time. If you are playing a strong player you would increase the distance.

5.9. The ball is called a Tice - an enticement for your opponent to shoot at it and give up the innings they would have gained after the fourth turn. The tice is 'laid' by shooting from A-baulk in front of hoop 1 to the West boundary. This guarantees the position of the tice. If you were to shoot along the boundary from corner I the length the ball would travel on an unknown lawn would be uncertain.

5.10. Third Turn. Second ball to East boundary. An option is to shoot at the tice - see below. If you doubt that your opponent can hit their tice, then you can shoot at your partner ball on the East boundary. If you think that they will hit their tice then you should join up wide on the East boundary.

5.11. If you hit in third turn you can lay up a rush, hidden behind hoop 4, to the opponent's tice. You also have the option of taking off to it, if you feel confident, and moving their ball further from the baulk, before returning to your partner ball leaving a rush.

5.12. If you are concerned that your opponent will hit their tice in fourth turn then you should make a wide join on the East boundary. You must remain close enough to your partner to be sure of hitting in and consequently remain a threat to the opponent.

5.13. Fourth Turn. Shoot at the tice. As your opponent is joined up you cannot afford to join up yourself (this would give them a rush to anywhere on the lawn). Consequently you shoot from corner I through the tice to corner II. If you hit you take off to the opponents, get a rush to hoop 1 and build the break. If you miss the opponent has a lot of work to do to get a break going.

5.14. A suggested improvement to shooting through to corner II is to shoot at the tice from 9-12" outside of corner I so that if the ball fails to hit the tice it leaves the lawn level with hoop 2. The intention is to improve your chances of hitting your tice when you shoot back at it (in sixth turn) and therefore discourage your opponent, joined up by hoop 4, just using the fifth turn to set up a wired rush to hoop 1.

5.15. If your opponent has left a double on the East boundary then you have the option of shooting at them. The disadvantage, should you miss, is that they will be able to use your ball to get a perfect rush to hoop 1.

5.16. Fifth Turn. The player joined up on the East boundary has two choices. The less aggressive is to roquet their partner ball and leave a rush to hoop 1 guarding corner IV. The opponents will normally then shoot back at their tice from around corner II as described previously.

5.17. The bolder scheme is to rush your partner up to the centre of the North boundary, take off and roquet the ball in corner II and use a thick take-off to approach the tice from the North. This is then rushed if possible to hoop 1 and the hoop attempted.

5.18. We now consider some of the alternatives which can take place during the first four turns. It depends on how you rate your opponent's abilities as to which shots you choose.

5.19. Second Turn. Shooting at the ball on the East boundary. Should you miss it is likely that you will not be giving away much. You have the choice of shooting from the centre of the South boundary on A-baulk or from corner III. If the opponent is close to corner IV, shooting from corner III will not leave a double. If they are North of hoop 4 then either position will not leave a double.

5.20. If you hit during the second turn there are a number of possibilities. The usual response is to stop the opponent's ball to the South-West of hoop 2 so that it is shadowed from the centre of the North boundary by hoop 2. You then take the position on the East boundary by hoop 4 as you would have done had you played the first turn.

5.21. There is more to be gained if you aim to place the opponent's ball midway between hoops 1 and 2 with a roll shot, trying to get hoop position on hoop 1 in the process. You have nothing to lose. If you fail to get a good hoop position you retreat back to the East boundary as before.

5.22. A more amusing response is to stop shot the opponent to a tice distance from corner III by hoop 3, then shoot your ball accurately off into corner I. The opponent has to get both balls away from baulk in the third turn.

5.23. An alternative manoeuvre, best carried out against weaker players, is to roll both balls to the peg and cross peg them, leaving a double target from baulk. The opponent gains a three ball break if they hit but they cannot afford to hit firmly otherwise they will feed a ball to the other baulk ready for you in fourth turn. If they shoot gently then there will be an even larger target waiting for you come fourth turn. Obviously an 'A' class player stands a good chance of going around given just three balls.

5.24. Duffers Tice. An alternative position for a tice, named after Duff Matthews, is about level with hoop six a foot or so to the East of it. The principle behind this position is that the opponent cannot afford to shoot hard at the tice otherwise they will feed a ball to the opposite baulk line. They therefore have to shoot gently at it which will leave a double target come the fourth turn.

5.25. Third Turn. Shooting at the tice. The comments written about shooting at the tice in fourth turn apply again here. You should shoot through the tice from near corner I so that your ball travels to the boundary near hoop 2 or to corner II. This means that you threaten the opponents if they join up and discourage them from shooting at the tice from corner I in the fourth turn.

5.26. Shooting at East boundary balls if in second turn the opponent shot to East boundary. If the balls do not form a two ball target it is reasonable to shoot from corner III since, come fifth turn, you will have some space to get the balls out. If you shoot straight at the balls from A-baulk then you are likely to leave a very large target. If the balls already constitute a large target, which if you miss the opponent likely won't, then you may as well shoot from A-baulk at the balls and let the opponent fight to get the balls away from the boundaries.

5.27. If you hit in third turn at this stage, you would get one ball off the boundary slightly North of hoop 4 whilst getting a rush on the other to hoop 1. If the hoop approach is certain the croqueted ball becomes your reception ball for the hoop. Otherwise you send it up to the boundary near hoop 2 and retreat to the first other ball and leave a rush straight to the ball by hoop 2. Note this rush can be on the opponent's ball as they are obliged to play with the remaining ball in hand in the fourth turn.

5.28. Other openings. There are no other openings as common as the standard opening. There is the standard opening layout but played with the lawn turned through 180 degrees hence 1st ball level with hoop 2 on the West boundary, tice between hoops three and six on the East boundary etc. ... If the second player is confused by this and set a normal tice on the West boundary there is a free shot from corner I to II with two balls to hit.

5.29. If someone plays a silly first shot and you hit it, then you could do worse than play their ball to the middle of the lawn and retreat to the normal East boundary position.

For further information on openings see Article 4, Expert Croquet Tactics, Keith Wylie, Eastern Rose Publishing, ISBN 1 874135 00 2

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Updated 28.i.16
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