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SIX-WICKET CROQUET
AMERICAN RULES SYNOPSIS

  • For 2, 3, or 4 players (singles or doubles)
  • Played on a six-wicket, one-stake court
  • 4 balls (Blue/Black opposing Red/Yellow)
  • Short grass and level surface preferred
  • Narrow wickets openings recommended
  • Useful auxiliary equipment: boundary string,
    wicket clips, and deadness board

6-wicket game
This four-ball game is the form of croquet played most often in the United States in tournaments and in most croquet clubs. This synopsis is intended to help interested players begin to learn this complex game. The USCA RULEBOOK contains all the rules in complete and codified form. The six-wicket court, with the stake in the middle, is officially 84' by 105'. However, on long grass and for beginning play, the court should be much smaller. A 40' by 50' starter court is recommended. The six wickets are run through twice by each ball in the order and direction shown in the illustration. Each wicket and the center Stake counts for a point, for a total of 13 points maximum for one ball, or 26 points maximum for a side.


THE SIDES
Blue and Black always play against Red and Yellow. In singles, there is one person on each side, who plays both balls. In doubles, each of the four players plays the same ball throughout the game. In three-player games, one side has only one player, who plays both balls of the side.

STARTING THE GAME
A coin-toss gives the winning side the choice of first or second. If you choose first, your side plays Blue and Black, the other side Red and Yellow. Each ball plays the first shot from the starting tee, one mallet's length (or three feet) directly in front of Wicket #1.

THE TURN
There is only one stroke per turn, unless you earn bonus strokes. The balls play in the sequence of colors shown on the stake: Blue/Red/Black/Yellow. At the conclusion of a turn in which a wicket point is scored, the wicket clip of the color corresponding to the ball is placed on the next wicket or stake to be scored by that ball. (Wicket clips are placed on the TOP of the first six wickets scored, and on the SIDE of the final six wickets.)

BONUS STROKES
There are two ways to earn additional strokes: by scoring a wicket or by hitting (roqueting) another ball with the striker's ball.

WICKET BONUS STROKE.
One bonus stroke is earned for passing through your wicket in the proper order and direction. A ball is considered through a wicket if the ball does not break the plane of the playing side, judged by looking at it from the side.

ROQUET BONUS STROKES.
When you roquet (hit) another ball with your own ball, you earn two consecutive bonus strokes. For the first, the CROQUET STROKE, you place your ball in contact with the ball you hit, and then strike your ball in such a way that both balls move - either a little or a lot. (In this game, you are NOT allowed to place your hand or foot on the ball during the stroke.)

The second Roquet Bonus Stroke is the CONTINUATION STROKE, played from wherever the striker's ball lies after the Croquet Stroke.

A player may roquet each of the other balls only once in a turn, unless the player scores a wicket, thereby earning the right to roquet each of the balls once again. The cycle may be repeated many times in a good turn, allowing a successful player to potentially score all the wickets in a single turn.

Bonus strokes may not be accumulated; only the last-earned bonus stroke(s) may be played. For example, if a ball scores a wicket and in the same stroke hits another ball beyond the wicket scored, this does not count as a roquet; the balls remain, however, in their new positions, and the striker continues play with the earned Wicket Bonus Stroke, which he may use to roquet the other ball.

"DEADNESS" AND "ALIVENESS"
In American Rules Six-Wicket Croquet, once you roquet a ball, you are considered "dead" on that ball, and you may not hit it again until you score your next wicket, thereby "clearing" your deadness. Whenever you score a wicket, you are "alive" on all the other balls - that is, you are again eligible to hit them to earn bonus strokes.

You may clear the deadness of either ball on your side when the opponent scores Wicket #7 (also called "One-Back") with each of the opponent balls. You must announce to the opponent(s) the clearing of one your balls BEFORE your side plays the next turn, i.e., "We are clearing Blue."

(American Six-Wicket Croquet is the only game in which deadness "carries over" to the next turn. At USCA clubs, "deadness boards" are an essential part of the equipment stock, used in every game to keep track of constantly changing combinations of deadness. Deadness boards are an arrangement of sixteen colored flaps - the four colors in the left column indicating the ball in play, and three other columns indicating balls which may or may not be struck for bonus strokes. Typically, sliding or hinged flaps are used to cover and uncover colors to show deadness and aliveness, and the players are responsible for seeing that the board is accurate at the end of every turn. Deadness boards are sold by the major equipment companies, and often club members make their own of painted wood and hinges.)

ROVER BALLS
A ball that has run through all 12 wickets is called a Rover. A Rover may roquet any other ball in the game NO MORE THAN ONCE PER TURN. A Rover may "clear" itself of deadness ONLY AFTER IT HAS ROQUETED AT LEAST TWO BALLS, after which it clears its deadness by passing through ANY WICKET IN ANY DIRECTION.

Even after it has cleared itself, however, A ROVER MAY NOT ROQUET THE SAME BALL TWICE IN SUCCESSION - not even in a later turn. A Rover is said to be "last dead" on the last ball it roqueted. (For example, if Blue, as Rover, cleared itself by passing through a wicket after roqueting Red, Blue is not dead on Red, but nevertheless may not roquet Red again until Blue roquets another ball first. Blue must roquet either Black or Yellow to restore eligibility to roquet Red again.

A Rover goes out of the game by hitting itself into the center Stake or by being driven into the Stake by another Rover. In both cases, the Rover exiting the game scores the stake point.

BOUNDARIES AND OUT-OF-BOUNDS BALLS
The Boundary Line is usually marked by a string. The Boundary Margin is an imaginary line 9 inches (or one mallet-head) inside the line, where boundary balls are replaced.

A ball is considered out of bounds if more than half of it is over the boundary line. When a ball goes out of bonds, the player's turn ends. The only exception to this is the STRIKER'S "BALL-IN-HAND" FOLLOWING A ROQUET, which must be brought into contact with the roqueted ball to continue play. All out-of-bounds balls must be properly placed by the shooter before play continues.

Every ball that comes to rest within the 9-inch Boundary Margin but not out bounds is immediately replaced on the Boundary Margin, with the exception of THE STRIKER'S BALL ON THE CONTINUATION STROKE OR WICKET BONUS STROKE, which is played from wherever it lies within the Boundary Margin.

If you ROQUET a ball out of bounds, your turn ends, but you incur no deadness. If you CROQUET a ball out of bounds, your turn ends, and you lose your Continuation Stroke. If you score a wicket and in the same stroke go out of bounds, your turn ends and you lose the Wicket Bonus Stroke.

If two balls go out of bounds in the same place, striker may choose which ball to replace first on the Boundary Margin, and then must place the second ball on the Boundary Margin anywhere up to nine inches from the first ball, but not in contact.

WINNING THE GAME
The game is won by the side that hits both its Rover balls into the center Stake first.

In timed games, when time is called, each of the four balls may play a final turn, beginning with the ball in play, which is said to be "the first last ball." When the last ball in the rotation is played, the side with the most points wins. If the score is still tied, complete rotations continue until one side has more points after a completed sequence of turns.

FAULTS AND PENALTIES
Civility and good sportsmanship are an integral part of the croquet tradition. No kidding! Players are encouraged to call faults on themselves, and - unless a referee is called to watch a shot before it is made - the striker's word is always taken. In cases of uncertainty, the positive position (assuming no fault) is preferred.

The penalty for the following faults numbered 1 through 4 is an immediate end of turn and replacement of all balls to where they were immediately before the fault or foul was committed.

(1) ROQUETING A BALL YOU'RE DEAD ON.
Exception: If an opponent ball has blocked the striker's dead ball from a clear shot on striker's wicket twice consecutively, the striker's ball is considered alive on the obstructing ball at the beginning of the second turn.

(2) NOT MOVING THE ROQUETED BALL ON THE CROQUET STROKE.

(3) CRUSHING A BALL AGAINST A WICKET OR STAKE.
If the mallet is in contact with a ball at the same instant that the ball is in contact with the wicket, the stroke is deemed a crush.

(4) NOT HITTING THE BALL PROPERLY.
The stroke must not push, shove, or double-tap the ball. The ball must be struck with one of the two striking faces of the mallet - not with the side of the mallet or the handle. Holding any ball with foot or hand during a stroke is a fault.

(5) PLAYING THE WRONG BALL DURING A TURN.

SENDING A BALL OUT OF BOUNDS
is not a fault, but the player's turn ends and all out-of-bounds balls are placed on the Boundary Margin before the next player's turn begins. (The exception is the striker's ball following a roquet, which is a ball-in-hand placed in contact with the roqueted ball. If the roqueted ball is in bounds, there is no loss of turn and play continues.)

The following faults numbered 6 through 7 incur no penalties. After appropriate correction, play resumes from point where the fault occurred.

(6) PLAYING OUT OF TURN.

(7) PLAYING A BALL FROM THE WRONG POSITION.

TACTICS AND STRATEGY
The basic objective is to score all the wicket and stake points with both balls of your side first, employing the offensive and defensive moves that will best thwart the progress of the opponent. What those moves are depends largely upon the level of your play. If you and your opponent have never studied or witnessed the game as it is played at tournaments or by good players at USCA clubs, you are unlikely to quickly grasp the elements of tactics and strategy which distinguish this game from the many garden varieties of Backyard Croquet.

While Backyard Croquet is usually played in a fairly straightforward manner, with emphasis on getting each of your balls to the next wicket and scoring them as quickly as possible, you will find that this will not work at all in American Rules Six-Wicket Croquet against a knowledgeable and experienced opponent - no matter how good your shooting skills are. The more you play, the more you learn, and the better your opponent is, the more you will understand and apply the kind of tactical and strategic thinking that carries over for many turns, which anticipates many alternative futures, which takes into account complex probabilities of risk-versus-gain - the "chess" of the game of croquet at its best.

But don't despair. Begin at the beginning, knowing that at every level, there is a winning combination of offensive and defensive strategy. With a weak player, you can get away with excessive boldness and risky maneuvers that a stronger player would turn against you with fatal consequences!

Offensive tactics are aimed at grasping and retaining control of the game - by separating the opponent balls to deny him any but the remotest chance of hitting a long shot on his turn; and/or by arranging the balls on the court to make possible the scoring of many wickets in one turn. The scoring of many wickets in one turn utilizing one's own as well as the opponent balls is called a "break," and good players in top competition often score ALL the wickets of a ball in one turn, then set up the partner ball to score its wickets in the next turn, and thus win the game in six or fewer turns and shut out the opponent.

Setting up and playing breaks is the foundation of winning offensive strategy, and a principle topic of books and tapes on the play of croquet, too complex to attempt here. If you don't understand it right away, don't despair. Many croquet players happily hack away for years before the light begins to dawn!

Defensive strategy is often the best recipe for success in beginning play. Let your opponent make the mistakes which you can capitalize on. Let the opponent go dead and punish him for it. When the opponent, dead on his partner, desperately sets up in front of his wicket to score and clear in the next turn, put him out of position on your attack and use your bonus strokes to set up at your own wicket, so you can clear your deadness first - and then repeat this malicious action again and again. (But do not chortle or crow - that is bad manners!)

By playing the game, you will gradually learn more sophisticated moves, along with your opponent(s). And fortunately, this is a game that can be enjoyed even at the lower levels of play.

Jack Osborn, the founding father of USCA croquet, ends a brief article on beginner tactics and strategy with the emphasis on defensive play: "Defensive strategy frequently involves partners' balls joining up on the boundary line far from their opponents to avoid giving the opponents an opportunity to pick up a break for their side. This move often baffles spectators since it appears that no one is attempting to go for wicket points. it is often the case of discretion being the better part of valor. All tactical decisions involve weighing the risk of each move (in terms of each player's ability) against the reward if the move succeeds. To many this is the essential challenge of Croquet."

Link to the COMPLETE RULES, with search engine.

(This synopsis of American Rules Six-Wicket Croquet was written by Bob Alman for the United States Croquet Association.)



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