by Jeff Soo
Bisque play works, finally. It’s been thirty years coming.
Handicap play has never been widely popular in the USCA. A major reason for this is that, until now, bisques have been too weak to really equalize the game. Equalizing the game is, after all, the whole point of bisques.
When the bisque was first introduced to American Six-Wicket Croquet, it was as the “replay bisque” only. A replay bisque typically offers two unattractive options: repeat the difficult shot you just failed, or shoot off the court, with deadness, to make the situation slightly less bad than otherwise. The replay bisque, by itself, is nearly useless as an equalizer.
In 1992 the “continuation bisque” was added. This was a big improvement, allowing one to use a bisque to set up an easier shot. But it was still too limited. The original continuation bisque could only be taken following a continuation shot, i.e., after running a wicket or taking croquet. A player might have lots of bisques left but no easy way to use them, because of deadness or position.
But finally we have an effective bisque. The 2006 edition of the USCA rulebook (with the dark green cover) allows a continuation bisque to be used even after a turn consisting of only one shot. Also new in the 2006 rules, continuation bisques may be taken in succession. (The only restriction is that, as before, a continuation bisque may not be taken at the end of a turn in which there is a fault or a ball out of bounds, and in these cases a replay bisque is still allowed.)
These two simple changes completely transform handicap play. Not only are handicap games much more of an equal contest, they are more interesting and complex as well. The player receiving bisques has new, powerful options for how to use them. Consequently, the player giving (i.e. defending against) bisques faces new tactical challenges.
Handicap play has always been challenging for the high-handicap player. One must not only learn to use bisques intelligently, one must also adjust tactics to match those of the opponent. For example, when a second-flight player plays a championship player in a handicap game, the second-flight player must have some understanding of championship-level tactics to have much of a chance of winning. The new rules maintain this interesting challenge.
Meanwhile, the new rules add tactical interest for the low-handicap player. The conventional tactics of attacking and setting leaves take on a different aspect when the opponent can use bisques to “hit in” from anywhere. The low-handicap player must be willing to try riskier, more difficult plays. There are also interesting possibilities for bluffing, either to try to convince the opponent to use bisques, or not to use them.
The Stoneridge Croquet Club recently held its club championship as a handicap tournament. This was the perfect solution for a tournament with nine players ranging from handicap -2 to 18. And the new bisque rules were an unqualified success. Many games were very close. Every player won at least once and lost at least once. Half of the games were won by the player receiving bisques, and half by the player giving bisques. The tournament winner had a handicap of 5. This is only a small sample of games and players, but it is a most encouraging result.
Why play handicap? There are many reasons.
- There are more options for club and tournament play. Whether yours is a small or large club or tournament, with handicap play there are many more possibilities for arranging pairings and formats.
- New and improving players can improve more quickly. With enough bisques even a novice can pick up and maintain four-ball breaks. This gives excellent practice in all kinds of strokes and in managing breaks.
- It increases tactical interest and challenge, even for low-handicap players, as described above.
- Nobody need be left out — there’s no need to segregate players by handicap. More fun for everyone!
In short, handicap play adds to the possibilities for improving and having fun. Isn’t that what croquet is all about?
To see all articles in this series, browse the Reference: Handicap Play topic