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Hints to High Bisquers


There are high bisquers at croquet who still have much to learn when playing against expert opponents. Nearly always the tactical shortcomings are of an obvious kind and are betrayed  in a weaker player over-much concerned with difficulties of execution. The only safeguard is to appreciate certain accepted maxims and on no condition to depart from them.

These “Hints” have been compiled with this end in view and are taken from the Croquet Association “Gazette”.

1.   The Opening

When receiving many bisques it is always better, should you win the toss, to put your strong opponent in. The justification for this being that had he won he would almost certainly have put you in, his object being to hit in (fourth ball) with a reasonable chance of going round having all the balls in play. Should you be compelled to start, play to near corner 4 and he will probably lay a tice on the west boundary. If he does,  aim at this! Don’t join your partner ball!  Missing him (not that you need do so) from corner 1 will land you in the vicinity of corner 2 and leave your opponent, if he hits, a difficult break to establish. A bisque of half-bisque (or both) may then almost certainly be used to advantage with your next succeeding turn, particularly should your opponent have failed in negotiating the first hoop.

2. The Half-Bisque

Where you have many bisques and also a half-bisque, don’t forget the half-bisque; use it early in the game, if possible. The best use you can put it to is to lay your first break, with a bisque immediately to follow. But this is by no means its only use. Bisques are too often expended where a half-bisque would serve just as well, e.g. where there is little prospect of you scoring even a point though it is essential to gain the innings. Avoid this mistake on the first occasion that arises. To leave your half-bisque to the very end may deprive you of most of its advantage should one of your balls get pegged-out. Use the half-bisque early! The earlier the better is a sound general rule. Remember that whole bisques always carry the value of half-bisques, but never vice versa.

A word about the half-bisque. This can often be used many times over if, when shooting at a ball you ought to hit and expect to hit, you do hit but dare to shoot at only because you have the half-bisque. No player should ever boast “I won without using my bisque”. It is an untrue boast, the bisque is always there and the opponent has had to fight it. Those who learn to use bisques without spending them will soon reach the coveted – Class.

3.   The Defensive Bisque

The value of a bisque may be two-fold: it may prevent your opponent from advancing his position or may serve to advance your own. Before deciding if a bisque will be useful, the first of these considerations, though often the more important, is frequently disregarded. The bisque or half-bisque has a defensive value and you have to consider what advantage your opponent might reasonably obtain should you decide against taking it. If his break is difficult to set up you may often afford to give him the innings, with a prospect of saving your bisque or using it to better advantage with your next-succeeding turn. Again, you may be letting in your opponent’s forward  ball which, having no more points to make, has been robbed of all its terrors. Conversely, of course, you may be letting in his backward ball with a chance of him finishing the game, in which case your bisque is essential. Do not, then, think only of the advantage that a bisque may bring to  your own playing ball. Consider just as carefully the position from your opponent’s point of view.  All of which illustrates the maxim: never take or refuse to take bisques in haste!

4.   The Offensive Bisque

What sort of a bisque has the greatest offensive value? Unless your break is perfectly laid, clearly not the bisque which you are forced to take on the nearest ball after missing a roquet or  hoop. Far more useful is the bisque deliberately anticipated while you have still a stroke in hand. Failure to appreciate this difference is the commonest and costliest mistake among high bisquers! The offensive bisque can be put to no better use than that of establishing a simple four-ball break, and this can seldom be done unless you first shoot at or play up to the most distant ball on the lawn; it rarely pays you to go with your bisque in mind to a nearer ball simply because it is nearer. Distant balls nearly always want tidying up. It is generally better to sacrifice a half-bisque and bisque (or even two bisques in succession) to get all the balls well placed than to take a single bisque, say, to make a single hoop. Remember that the well-laid four-ball break is the very essence of Croquet; it is the one thing above all others which your opponent dreads you establishing. There are few, if any, positions on the lawn from which, when all the balls are in play, a four-ball break cannot easily be collected with the use of (at most) two bisques. Time and again,  it will pay you to think this out carefully, while you have a stroke in hand. Go out to win the game in the easiest and quickest way, not in the longest and most difficult.

5.   The Leave

A long chapter might suitably be written on “How to leave the Balls” at the close of a successful turn but a short hint or two may be worth remembering.

      i.     It is better to leave your own two balls together near a boundary than at your next hoop so that the
             opponent’s ball, if he shoots at you and misses, may be used to advantage  with the first
roquet of your
             next turn.

      ii.        It is better to leave your opponent’s balls separated within or nearly within the hoop area than to
             dismiss them to remote boundaries; their positions, of course, should be determined with a
view to
             your next break. Put one at your next hoop and the other  where it can best be used for your break.
      iii.     If you are Blue and Black avoid leaving Red near Yellow’s hoop and Yellow near Red’s hoop. If your
             opponent’s balls are for different hoops it is generally wiser to send each ball to its own hoop – a
             simple tip and one often worth remembering. Avoid leaving your opponent a “sitting” break in the
             event of him hitting in.

6.   The Long Join-Up Against You

Your strong opponent, preferring not to shoot into your game, may join his partner-ball on a  boundary, say, seven yards wide of it; though this would be impossible (see Hint 5) had neither of his balls been “left” near boundaries. The manoeuvre is disconcerting: you can get no immediate break from this position, while it is unwise to leave him with a strong chance of him getting the innings. Unless making your hoop is relatively certain, take off first to one of his balls – the more distant ball is frequently the better one to choose. Even if your hoop is a certainty, it may be wiser to take off first with a view to a useful bisque since you leave your partner-ball at your hoop to be roqueted again with the bisque turn. The join-up being wide is against you getting an immediate break but is more in favour of you laying one since you have more room to get both opponent balls into the lawn and less need to leave one near to the boundary. Endeavour, then, to meet this manoeuvre by laying yourself a break; when done, take a bisque or not according to the number you have left.

7.   General Scheme of Play

Practise the four-ball break! Unless or until you can make headway with this it is useless to play in tournaments. Practise it diligently with unlimited bisques: find out the average number you require for an all-round break. The strong player aims at winning his game with two (or at most three) break-turns. With the aid of your bisques you ought to do the same. If you receive, say, 20 bisques from a strong player you should go all-out to beat him in three* successful break-turns. Provided that you have not (by disreagarding Hint 1) let him get round with his fourth ball in play, you have more than a good chance. A reasonable apportionment of bisques might be as follows: take, say, 2 bisques to lay your break perfectly with Blue and 7 more (in case of break-downs) to take that ball as far as 4-back – all this without leaving the lawn. Your opponent may now hit in: he possibly will. He may triple-peel your Blue and peg it out but he probably  won’t. Then, if necessary, again take 2 bisques to lay the ideal break with your Black and 7 more to get Black round to peg. Another shot is then risked which, if missed, leaves you a short finish with 2 bisques in hand to accomplish it.

* Current thinking is that you should go to the peg with your first ball and if you are reasonably confident that you have enough bisques left, leave all 4 balls on the boundary: you opponent’s  balls separated and yours  widely joined, so that if your opponent hits, the chances of him establishing a break and pegging out are minimised. The more adventurous will try to wire your opponent’s balls at hoop 1 and remove your own balls to near corner 3. This is not only the easiest method but, indeed, it saves you having to set up a third turn. But, above all, remember the importance of first taking bisques to lay four-ball breaks!

8.   Hoops

To eyes and fingers that are unpractised, the threading of a needle is no easy matter; but no one tries to do this by jabbing the thread against the needle eye. Threading hoops, until you know how to do it, is also ticklish business requiring practice and perseverance – but never, never jab/stab at your hoops! Take accurate and deliberate aim, then go slowly and quietly to work  hitting/stroking your ball smoothly with follow through, not forcibly but with a certain coaxing tilt  which, if the aim is true, is bound to send it through. Either you have discovered this particular stroke or you have not, but you can always discover it with practice and make it a matter of habit.  In the course of your break, when receiving bisques, you are faced with a difficult hoop, remember, before attempting it, the consequences of sticking against the dead wire with the necessity of expending two bisques before your break can be resumed. How often does one see this regrettable catastrophe happen?! It is, therefore, frequently better to use your last ordinary  stroke in again playing behind the ball off which you are making the hoop and so expending only  a single bisque – or, perhaps, better still going off first to some more distant ball to gather it more tidily into your break. Hoop nerves, with most of us an occasional affliction, need never become an obsession. Practice the hoop-running stroke! It is a “knack” which is readily acquired.

9. Roquets

For roquets, short or long, remember two golden rules:

i.         Keep as still as possible throughout the stroke: sufficient movement of the arms is, of course, essential
      but no movement whatever of feet, body, shoulders or head. If it seems natural for the eyes to follow
      the course of the stroke, this can still be done without raising the head. Strike your own ball in its centre
      with the centre of the face of your mallet and follow well through. Even with the longest of shots you
      should be able to remain in perfect poise at the finish of the stroke.

         ii.      Swing slowly back: the slower your backswing the better your aim will be controlled. Some experts
               swing back very little indeed, their shorter roquets being scarcely more than pokes. On fast
lawns very
               little swing back is necessary. In extent, curtail the backward swing to the minimum consistent with the
               strength of shot required: in pace, you can hardly reduce it too much. Make
up your mind that all
               roquets are easy, since confidence gives you a better chance of hitting them.

So don’t forget these two golden rules – Keep still! Slow back!

10.  Nerves

It is possible with some people that, if called upon to recite the alphabet to save their life, they would fail through excessive agitation. Be that as it may, one finds many less-experienced croquet players who fail simply because they are playing in tournaments with much appearing to depend upon the issue. The most effective cure is to bring oneself to realise that nothing  whatever depends upon the issue – nothing, that is to say, at all comparable in importance with the fact of having had a game well worth playing whatever its result may be. Play every game to win or it is useless to play at all. But of far greater importance is to play your best game always, which you will seldom do if you are perturbed as to its issue. Croquet is not worth a life-or-death affair but is a friendly pastime at which you cannot do better than to cultivate a sympathetic regard for your opponent. Cut out the “self” idea as much as possible and you will cut out “nerves” by so doing. Take the line that you must play your best out of  compliment to your opponent, to give him something to fight against and a game worth winning if he, and not you, is eventually to win it. This frame of mind is incomparably better  than a state of nervous apprehension due to mere selfish dread of defeat. Play the game for the sake of the game, not merely for yourself or for your handicap! Nerves are a form of selfishness; try to appreciate this. It is your surest way to overcome them.

11.  Etiquette, etc.

As a general rule, it is better to concentrate on the game and to speak to or interfere with your opponent as little as possible during its progress.This will almost always hold good in the case of a player who is unknown to you since you have no right to assume that he or she will not be “put off” by comments on your part. Congratulations or commiserations are often best left to the end. Remember that careful play need not mean slow play. If you keep alert with your wits about you, you are far less likely to play slowly. Learn to think quickly and cultivate a bright, quick style. This will make you a popular player and help to make you a good one. The ideal is to take the maximum of pains with the minimum of time expended.

For most of the time you are your own referee, therefore you should be conversant with the laws of the game particularly those referring to faults during the striking of the ball.

12.  How to Peg Out

Some players maintain that it easier to peg out another ball with a croquet stroke than to hit the peg from the same distance with a single ball. This may well be the case if proper care is taken in aligning the two balls and if the stroke is firmly played. If, when playing Blue, you wish to peg out both Black and Blue, arrange the balls approximately in line and step back from the peg along the correct alignment. In so doing, notice the crescent of the Black ball which appears above the Blue. For precise adjustment,

         i.         the line of the peg continued along the ground must exactly bisect this crescent, and       
         ii.      the crescent, so bisected, must be regular in form so that an imaginary line joining  the cusps of its
               inverted horns is truly at right angles to the line continued down the peg; by stooping low, the base
               of the peg itself may be sighted over the centre of the crescent. When this has been achieved strike
               firmly with a drive shot, stopping your Blue near the peg; never roll the balls together at the peg as
               pull will be implanted onto the front ball. On  reasonably true ground this method should never fail,
               though an attempt to peg out more gently may prove often a costly mistake. The most accurate
               method is to lie down on the ground to align the edges of the two balls so that they appear
               equidistant to either side of the peg.

Page last updated on 17th January 2005
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