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Croquet is a game that can be played by all ages, with men and women competing on equal terms. (For he, his in this article read he/she, his/her). A handicapping system also ensures that beginners can play experts and enjoy an even match. There are two forms of croquet, Association Croquet and Golf Croquet. They are both played on the same court and with the same equipment but have different scoring systems and different rules.
The modern game of Association Croquet has many similarities to snooker, and indeed has sometimes been referred to as snooker on grass. The most obvious thing it shares with snooker is the idea of striking a ball so that it hits another ball to make it go to a particular place. But it also shares some of the less obvious things, such as the concept of a break, in which more than one point is scored in a turn, and safety shots, in which a player will simply try to make things difficult for the opponent rather than try something difficult himself.
Whereas in snooker compiling a decent-sized break is not easy, a good club croquet player will be able to score a significant break if the balls are well set up. The player's difficulty is in getting the balls set up into a good position in the first place. It's worth noting here that although the largest break under normal circumstances is 12 hoops, this is likely to need 80 or more strokes.
The object of croquet is to put your balls through the hoops in a particular order (see diagram) and then hit the centre peg with them before your opponent does so with his balls. The winner scores 26 points (one for each ball through its course of hoops and one for hitting it on to the centre peg). The loser scores anything from 0 to 25.
One player has the red and yellow balls and the other the blue and black. (In order that two games can be played at once on the same lawn, a secondary set of colours can also be used, green and brown playing pink and white).
The players take it in turns to play, as in snooker, with the "outplayer" sitting on the sidelines waiting for the opponent to finish, either by making a mistake or by playing a safety shot.
At the start of a turn a player may play whichever of his two balls he likes. A turn consists basically of one shot, but just as in snooker, a player can earn extra shots. In snooker there is only one way to do this (by potting a ball of the right colour) but in croquet there are two quite different ways of earning extra strokes: by hitting your ball through its hoop or by making your ball hit one of the others - a roquet.
A roquet is made when a player makes his ball hit one of the others. He earns two extra strokes by making a roquet: a croquet and a continuation shot.
When he has made a roquet the player picks up the ball he's been playing (let's say red) and puts it down in contact with the ball he has roqueted (let's say blue) wherever it has come to rest. He follows this with a croquet stroke in which he again hits red with his mallet, moving both red and blue.
He then takes one further shot called a continuation stroke, in which he may either run his hoop or else make another roquet. However a player cannot go like this forever, because he is not allowed to roquet the same ball again until either he has run his hoop or his opponent has had a turn.
The full laws of Association Croquet can be found here.
Golf Croquet can be played by up to four players. If only two are playing, one takes red and yellow and the other blue and black. Four players would take one ball each and would play in partnership, again red and yellow against blue and black. Play is in strict rotation - blue, red, black, yellow; the order is shown on the centre peg. (The alternate coloured balls play in the order green, pink, brown, white.) Each turn consists of one stroke only.
At the start of the game, a coin is tossed, and the winner can choose which pair of colours to take. Blue (or green) always plays first.
You start from anywhere within one yard of corner four (you can measure it with your mallet) and play first towards hoop 1. The first person to run the hoop scores the point and ALL move on to hoop 2, playing their balls from where they lie (with an important exception - see "offside penalty" below). And so on. Normally you play until one side has scored seven points. If the scores are level after 12 hoops you then play hoop 3 again as the 13th and last hoop.
You do not have to run a hoop completely in one turn to score it. If your ball starts to run the hoop but sticks part way through, it is up to your opponent to try to knock it back out before you make it finish running the hoop. (A ball starts to run a hoop when it protrudes beyond the non-playing side of the hoop, and completes running the hoop when it cannot be touched by a straight edge placed against the uprights on the playing side.)
You may play towards the next hoop if you think another ball (even your partner ball) is certain to score this hoop, but only as far as "halfway" - that is an imaginary line across your path, parallel to a lawn boundary and halfway towards your next hoop.
If a ball goes off the court it is replaced on the boundary at the point where it went off - not on a "yard line".
If a ball is played towards the next hoop and goes beyond the halfway line, once the current hoop is scored that ball comes back to a "penalty area". There are two semi-circular penalty areas with a radius of a yard - one on each of the East and West boundaries half way along - opposite the peg. The opponent of the player of the penalised ball chooses which area is to be used. However, if the ball has struck an opponent's ball on the way, it is not penalised and is allowed to stay where it is.
You are allowed to cause your ball to jump (normally by hitting down on it so that it leaps up in the air) over another ball to run your hoop. You may hamper your opponent by playing into the hoop (possibly from behind) so that he will have more difficulty in going through. Or you can play your ball so close behind his that he cannot hit his ball cleanly in the desired direction without touching yours (which would be a fault). You can nudge your partner ball into position to run the hoop; or if your partner ball has stuck in the jaws of the hoop you can use your ball to knock it right through, thereby scoring the point. You can use your ball (say red) to drive away an opponent (black) who is in position to run the hoop, or who is in a position where he could knock away your partner (yellow) who is in position to run the hoop.
The full rules of Golf Croquet can be found here.