by Jeff Soo
Croquet is that rare sport in which two players of widely different abilities can play a truly competitive and interactive game. The key is handicap play. Bisques do a remarkably good job of equalizing the game, effectively improving the shotmaking ability of the player receiving bisques.
Of course, shotmaking is only half the croquet equation, and bisques have no effect on the other half — tactics. You only get so far using your normal (non-handicap) tactics and taking bisques to correct execution errors. This may work when the handicap difference is small, but to beat a player with a much lower handicap you need to bring your tactics up to your opponent’s level. The better you are able to do this, the better your chances of winning.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that you need to have some idea of what your opponent is likely to do next. The second is that you need to get as much as possible out of your bisques, and the way to do this is to think like an advanced player. If your opponent is playing three- and four-ball breaks, you aren’t going to win by playing Aunt Emma, two-ball croquet. You need to use your bisques to go after four-ball breaks.
It is a cruel paradox of croquet that the easiest scoring play — the four-ball break — is also the hardest to get started. Hence beginning and low-intermediate players get very little practice at the very play that would be most helpful to them. That is, unless they are given bisques, and some instruction in how best to use them. Here follow some simple guidelines:
1. Don’t waste them
Two-ball breaks are hard, even for the best players. Using bisques in support of two-ball breaks typically yields less than one point per bisque. This is not a winning strategy. Do not use bisques to play two-ball croquet.
2. Don’t hoard them
While it can be helpful to have a bisque or two left standing near the end of the game, most players overvalue this. If you see a good opportunity to use your bisques in pursuit of a four-ball break, use them. You may not get such a good opportunity later.
3. Beware the “windshield wiper”
Picture a player trying a five-yard roquet, missing and going five yards past. The player takes a bisque, shoots back, and again misses and goes five yards past. And again, and again. This is known as the windshield wiper, proof that while confidence is generally helpful in croquet, pessimism is not always out of place. Shoot gently, then if you miss you can take a bisque for an easy roquet.
4. Stay in the present
Once you’ve used a bisque, you aren’t getting it back. Don’t worry how many you’ve used, but look at how many you have left and what you can do with them. You may feel like you’re playing terribly, but even so you’re best bet is to keep using bisques in support of four-ball breaks. Because if you really are playing terribly, any other play is only going to be worse.
To see all articles in this series, browse the Reference: Handicap Play topic