Back to
The Front Page
The Game
International Rules for American Rules players: A summary and commentary on the rule differences

by Robert Fulford
Posted April 16,1998
Synopsis of the International rules game, Oxford Croquet Website
Synopsis of the American rules game, USCA Website
"Arizona Open a Showcase for World Champion Robert Fulford"
Interview with Robert Fulford, Croquet World Online Magazine

Four-time world champion Robert Fulford is perhaps the player most qualified in all the world to introduce American rules players to International rules. The young Englishman has played and taught in America for several years, winning many major tournaments while demonstrating a consummate mastery of American rules tactics and strategy. This is the first of a series of articles written especially by Robert Fulford for American players.
This article is simply an attempt to sift through the laws of "Association" croquet (International rules) and outline for American rules players the most pertinent differences. With reference only to this article, you can probably complete friendly games without a hitch. However, for tournament play, there should be a referee on hand with a printed copy of the laws.

I am not going to discuss tactics in any depth, but an important thing to mention is that the overriding best tactics of both games are aimed at obtaining and then running a break. Break play is identical in both games.

For each subhead topic, the applicable International rules law is noted in parentheses.

The toss (covered under law 5)
The winner of the toss may choose to play first or second or choose colors. If the winner chooses colors the loser has the choice of playing first or second and vice versa. (Blue and black only go first by chance.)

Bringing balls into the game and baulk-lines (laws 6 and 1(e))
The first stroke is played with either of the first player's balls from one yard inside the court on either A-baulk or B-baulk. A-baulk extends from first corner to the middle of the south boundary and B-baulk extends from third corner to the middle of the north boundary. At the end of the first turn the adversary does likewise, and so on for the third and fourth turns.

Ball in play (law 7)
As soon as a ball enters the game (without necessarily having made hoop 1) it can roquet and be roqueted as well as score hoops.

So the first stroke of the second turn could be to roquet the first ball, regardless of whether that ball has made hoop 1.

In the American game, players tend to make the first hoop and go to a defensive position, in International Rules the first player tends to go straight to a defensive position. Shooting for hoop 1 is unnecessary and distinctly dubious.

A consequence of this law is that the 'perfect' score in International rules is 26-0, not 26-2. There is no equivalent in International rules to a ball not through hoop one in the USCA game.

Either ball may be played (law 8)
On any turn after the fourth the striker may play in that turn either of his balls.

In other words, rather than the sequence of play always being blue, red, black, yellow, a valid sequence in International might be red, blue, red, blue, red, black - anything as long as the two sides play alternately. I can almost guarantee that as a USCA player learning the game, at some point you will forget this to your detriment. Remember to think about what BOTH your balls can do each turn or what EITHER of your opponent's balls can do next turn.

In International rules there is no such thing as a 'cold' ball, so you can not lay out a three-ball break for your partner in the same way. Unless your opponent makes a mistake, you will probably have to make a long rush to your hoop to establish a break.

A player left with only one ball plays that ball on every one of his turns and so receives a turn for each of his adversary's. Pegging out the opponent is still desirable in International rules, but you don't gain half as strong the advantage this gives you in American rules.

No deadness (law 16(a))
At the start of a turn the striker's ball may roquet each of the other three balls once.

In the International game you start each turn alive on everything, irrespective of what you did on any previous turn. There is no deadness board to keep track of. Within a turn you cannot roquet a ball a second time before scoring a hoop, but as soon as another turn comes along you are allowed to roquet all three balls again.

This difference calls for more attacking in the International game; if you hit all the balls in one turn and then fail your hoop it does not cripple you for the next turn. An easy roquet is virtually never turned down.

International rules is definitely a much simpler game. If you walk up to an International rules game and you can see the clips and position of the balls you know exactly what's happening, but in USCA rules you need to see the board as well.

Half-Jump and Scatter Shots
In American rules if the striker's ball hits a ball it is dead on, the shot is a fault and both balls are replaced to where they were when the shot began and the turn ends. There is no such rule in International.

In International rules if the striker's ball hits another ball for a second time before scoring a new hoop it is not a fault, the striker's ball can go on and roquet another ball or score a hoop after the deflection and neither ball is ever replaced.

In American rules when a ball sticks in hoop 1 the following player can attempt to play a half-jump shot. In a half-jump shot rather than completely clearing the ball in the hoop you attempt to hit the ball in the hoop about half way up and thus not only run the hoop but bring the other ball into the game.

This type of shot can be played at any hoop in International rules. The shot is played most commonly when a player has tried to finish the game that turn by peeling partner through rover, but the peel has stuck in front of him. The player is now in a position where he could try a half-jump. If the striker's ball hits the ball in the hoop but doesn't score the hoop itself, the shot is valid and the peel counts, though the players turn ends because he hasn't earned a continuation stroke by clearing his hoop.

A scatter shot in the USCA game is often played when a player wants to get the balls off the court without picking up any deadness. In International, a scatter shot is played on a ball that has already been used with the intention of getting balls off the court or trying to separate an opponent's ball from another ball upon which it has an easy roquet.

If a ball having made a roquet then moves another ball, that ball is not replaced, although it would replaced in American rules.

Hoop and roquet in the same stroke (law 17)
If the striker's ball runs a hoop in order and then hits a ball, a roquet is made. Exception: if the striker's ball hits a ball which is not a roquet (i.e. in a half-jump stroke or in a croquet stroke sending both balls through a hoop), scores the hoop and in the same stroke hits that ball again, then a roquet is not made.

If, before completing the running of a hoop in order, the striker's ball hits a ball that was clear of the hoop on the non-playing side before the shot and finally completes the running of the hoop, it is deemed that the hoop point is scored and a roquet has been made.

Sometimes you can see that when you run your hoop you will definitely roquet a ball on the other side. In this case you can choose to run the hoop hard and rush the ball up the court. If you are approaching a hoop with a short backward take-off you can deliberately send the croqueted ball directly behind the hoop, in the hope of then rushing it some distance forward with the hoop shot.

Boundaries (law 10)
In the International game a ball is out of bounds if the outside edge of the ball overhangs the inner edge of the line.

Ball out of bounds (law 20(c))
In American rules if the striker sends any ball out of bounds, (except a ball-in-hand or due to a ball-in-hand) the turn ends.

However, in International rules the striker's turn ends in a croquet stroke only if either the croqueted ball goes out, or if the striker's ball goes out having not made a roquet or run a hoop.

This is the only time the turn ends through sending a ball off the court. Rushing a ball out of bounds or running a hoop out of bounds are things that are often done on purpose. Even if you cannon a third ball out of bounds it doesn't end the turn.

The yard-line and replacement (laws 1(d) and 12)
In International rules the yard-line is the perimeter of a rectangle one yard inside the boundary running the whole way around the court. The area between the boundaries and the yard-line is called the yard-line area. The corners of the yard-line are the corner spots, a ball on a corner spot is called a corner ball.

Any ball that goes off is replaced with the centre of the ball on the yard-line level with where it first reached the boundary.

If a ball cannot be replaced on the yard-line because of the presence of one or more balls on or near the yard-line, the ball is replaced on the yard-line in contact with that ball or one of them. If the ball to be replaced would otherwise be a corner ball it must in addition be replaced on the yard-line as near as possible to the corner.

The mallet is used to measure the ball back in. Traditionally the standard length for a mallet was 36 inches. Find an accurate yard measure and then see how to best use your mallet to reproduce it.

The rules for when a ball is replaced on the yard-line when it finishes inside the yard-line are exactly the same as dealing with the 9-inch line in American rules. (If the striker's ball finishes in the yard-line area and has a continuation shot to play after a croquet stroke or a hoop stroke, the ball is not replaced.)

When a roquet is deemed to have been made (law 16(c))
At the start of a turn, if the striker's ball is in contact with another ball and he elects to play that ball, a roquet is deemed to have been made. (see advanced laws).

After a hoop stroke if the striker's ball finishes in contact with a ball in a circumstance where it would not normally be a hoop and roquet (i.e. after a half jump), a roquet is deemed to have been made.

In either of these circumstances an American player can easily make the mistake of casually taking what would have been his rush in USCA rules, only to realize he has in fact played a very poor choice of croquet stroke; he could have picked up the striker's ball and moved it around the ball deemed to be roqueted BEFORE playing his croquet stroke.

Groups of balls (laws 16(c)(1) and (d))
A 3-ball group is three balls all in contact with at least one ball on the yard-line. A 4-ball group is the obvious extension.

If the striker elects to play a ball at the start of his turn that is part of a 3-ball or 4-ball group, a roquet may be deemed to have been made on any ball in the group.

Cannons (law 19(b))
When the striker is entitled to take croquet off one ball of a group, all the other balls become ball-in-hand and are temporarily removed.

The striker's ball and the third ball must be placed in contact with the roqueted ball but not with each other. A fourth ball - if there is one - must not be placed in contact with the striker's ball, but in contact with one or both of the other two balls.

When you get a three-ball group, you can choose to play a cannon. Cannons are shots where rather than merely moving two balls in a stroke, a third and maybe even a fourth ball are also moved. With a three-ball group it is easy to play a croquet stroke where the striker's ball immediately goes into the third ball and makes a roquet. Such a roquet can often be made an accurate rush.

Advanced lifts (law 36 (optional))
If the striker's ball scored 1-back or 4-back for itself in the preceding turn, the adversary can choose to start his turn by lifting either of his balls, even if it is in contact with one or more balls, and playing it from any point on either baulk-line. The adversary is said to have received a lift.

If the striker's ball scored 1-back and 4-back on the preceding turn and its partner had not scored 1-back before that turn, the adversary may start his turn by lifting a ball to a baulk-line as above, or by lifting either of his balls, even if it is in contact with one or more balls, placing it in contact with any other ball and taking croquet forthwith. The adversary is said to have received a contact.

If you receive a lift or contact on the third or fourth turn of the game you have to play with the ball not yet in the game, but if you have a contact, this overrides the rule that states that this turn should be played from a baulk-line.

If you peg out a ball - either your own or an adversary's - your opponent no longer concedes these lifts to you.

Peeling partner through 1-back or 4-back without scoring one of those hoops with the striker's ball does not concede a lift.

The fact that going through 1-back and 4-back on your first break would concede a contact means that most good players deliberately stop after making 3-back and lay up. The best players will then look to do a triple peel (peeling partner through the last three hoops and pegging out).

If you peg out a ball you still concede lifts to the opponent.

(Association Croquet is usually played in one of three different variations, advanced play, level play and handicap play. When the words 'International rules" are applied in America, they tend to imply advanced play, because that is generally the only variation played in America and in top-level international events. Level play and handicap play do not use law 36. Handicap play has some additional differences described at the end of this article)

Wiring (law 13)
The means of judging if one ball is wired from another is the same in both games. In International rules if the adversary is responsible for the position of a ball and it is wired from the rest of the balls on the court, the striker can choose to lift that ball and play it from either baulk-line.

It does not matter if it is not the turn immediately after your ball has got to this position; if the opponent is responsible for that ball's position, you are entitled to a lift to a baulk-line.

Rover (law 1(b))
Rover is run in the opposite direction, away from the peg.

International rules has no equivalent to the American rover (ball). A ball that has made rover can roquet each ball once in a turn and is simply alive again when it starts its next turn, like any other ball. A ball that has made rover in the International game cannot gain a continuation stroke by running a hoop.

Rushing onto the peg (law 18(a)(3))
If the striker's ball, being a rover, roquets another rover and that ball hits the peg, that ball is pegged out and the striker's ball has no ball upon which to take croquet, so the turn ends.

So if you rush to the peg in International rules, you should try to hit it slightly short and off-line to avoid rushing into the peg.

Time (law 48 and tournament regulation 13)
In International rules there is no shot clock, though there is a rule known as 'expedition in play' that says it is the players' responsibility to get on with the game. Game time limits should be long, at the very least two and a half hours. If the game is double banked the time limit is normally made 15 minutes longer. The game clock is not stopped for any reason.

If time does run out, the striker gets to finish the turn he is on and the adversary then gets one turn, after which the player with the most points wins. If the scores are tied, the game then goes into sudden death and the game ends on the stroke that puts one side ahead.

Stalling of any kind for any reason is strictly against the International rules (because of the 'expedition in play' rule).

If time is called during the last stroke of the striker's turn, the striker receives another turn if he has already struck the ball, (unlike USCA rules where the ball would have had to have gone out of bounds or stopped rolling).

If time is about to be called and you are ahead, check to determine if only one of the opponent's balls can score the required number of points to catch up. If this is the case you don't have to worry about the other ball playing and you can probably make a more effective leave.

Handicap play and bisques (law 38)
A bisque in International rules is taken at would normally be the end of the striker's turn before he quits the court. It allows the striker a complete new turn with the same ball, starting where the last turn ended. It does not matter if the striker didn't make a roquet in the last turn or that he just croqueted a ball out of bounds; he still takes his bisque from where he finished. The striker can roquet all the balls again before making his hoop.

Half-bisques also entitle the striker to an extra turn, but the striker cannot score a point that turn.

The only situation where you would prefer the USCA bisque is when you would like a replay. Otherwise, an International bisque is a much more powerful weapon.

Timed endings and bisque play
No bisques can be used after time is called. Exception: if at the point where the game would normally be over the score is tied, bisques can be used in the remainder of the game.

Use your bisques early; don't ever get beaten with bisques still standing.

Pegging out in handicap play (law 39)
The striker's ball cannot be pegged out unless partner ball has already passed through rover or an adversary has already been pegged out. This is only a handicap rule. In level and advanced play you can peg out a rover at any time, either striking that ball or with another rover.

[The preceding article is the first of a series by Robert Fulford written especially for American players learning International rules. Look for upcoming topics on "Some Openings" and "The Concept of the Innings.]

Back to Top   Copyright © 1996-2023 Croquet World Online Magazine. All rights reserved.