Principles of Handicapping
Many sports incorporate a handicapping system in order to allow competitive games between players of different abilities. Most are simpler to achieve than croquet, as the games are not interactive, e.g. golf, where the handicap is set against the course. In croquet, we must allow for interaction between opponents, which comes at the end of each turn. In Association Croquet the out-player then has the chance to make a roquet, play a few strokes and score a few points until their turn ends. In Golf Croquet, each turn lasts for just one stroke, after which the opponent gets a turn in which to play one stroke and, hopefully, run a hoop.
To help the weaker croquet player, the idea of “extra turns” is introduced. This allows a player to prolong their innings or turn, thereby delaying the opponent's turn and reducing the possibility of the stronger player getting ahead and winning the game quickly. The number of extra turns allowed in a game should be based on the relative strength of the 2 opponents.
Any handicapping system will be subject to limitations. The system in croquet is designed to give all players an equal chance of winning half of the games they play over a period of time. It is not designed to guarantee that any single game is equal, as the consistency, or form, of a player will vary from game to game. A player who is playing better than his handicap on a particular occasion will be more likely to win that game.
Association Croquet (AC) and Bisques
All players are given a handicap; a relatively new player might be playing with a handicap of 24 and over time their handicap could reduce as far as 0, or even to a negative value. The game of AC is a race between the players to peg out, even though play is not simultaneous. Without using handicaps, the better player (with the lower handicap) should peg out first and win the game. However, if the weaker (higher handicap) player is allowed to continue some turns after they would normally end, the odds can be evened and both players should have the same chance of winning.
If a handicap 24 plays a full game (26 points) against a handicap 0 player, then the game should be balanced if the weaker player has 24 extra turns (24 minus 0, the difference between their handicaps). These extra turns are monitored by putting short sticks in the ground near where the out-player sits. These sticks are called Bisques. At the end of any of their turns, a player with Bisques can indicate that they want to use one of their Bisques, the out-player then removes one Bisque from the ground, and the in-player effectively starts a new turn (playing with the same ball as previously). This can continue until no Bisques are left standing.
If a handicap 12 player competes against a handicap 10 player, then the former would normally get 2 Bisques. However, the game could be played “Full Bisque” - in which case the former would get 12 Bisques and the latter 10 Bisques. If the game is played “Full Bisque to base 6” (for example), then the first player gets 12 minus 6 or 6 Bisques, while the second gets 10 minus 6 i.e. 4 Bisques.
If the game is a shorter one, for example an 18 point or a 14 point game, then after calculating numbers of Bisques for a 26 point game, a table is used (found elsewhere in the Croquet Information Book or the mallet cupboard) to give a reduced number of Bisques for the shorter game.
In doubles play, each side has an effective handicap (based on the handicaps of the 2 players in the side). These effective handicaps are used to calculate Bisque allocations. See elsewhere for how to calculate the effective handicap of a doubles side.
AC Handicaps range between 26 and -3 and the steps are: 26, 24, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4½, 4, 3½, 3, 2½, 2, 1½, 1, ½, 0, -½, -1, -1½, -2, -2½ and -3. Hence a player might receive a half bisque. These are used in the same way as a full Bisque, except that a point cannot be scored (e.g. by running a hoop) during a half-Bisque extra turn. Sometimes a half bisque will be used to help set up a break, after which a full Bisque is used before the first hoop is run.
There are various other rules about using Bisques (e.g. when a time limited game reaches the time limit) which will be learned as a player progresses.
If players do not play a handicap game (i.e. extra turns are not used) then the game is said to be played as a “Level Game”. There are a number of subtle differences between the laws for handicap games and level games (e.g. with respect to pegging out).
Golf Croquet (GC) and Extra Turns
All players are given a handicap; a relatively new player might be playing with a handicap of 10 and, over time, their handicap could reduce as far as 0, or even to -6. The game of GC is a race between the sides to be the first to score a certain number of hoops (e.g. 7 in a 13 point game) Usually the better player (with the lower handicap) would be expected to be the first to run 7 hoops and win the game. However, if the weaker (higher handicap) player is allowed to add a second (or even more) stroke to their normal one stroke turn, then the odds can be evened and both players should have the same chance of winning.
If a handicap 10 plays a 13 point game against a handicap 4 player, then the game should be balanced if the weaker player has 6 extra strokes (10 minus 4, i.e. the difference between their handicaps). These extra strokes are often monitored by an opponent keeping the appropriate number of small items (pegs, marbles, discs, etc), each of which represents an extra stroke. After playing any stroke, a player with extra strokes can indicate that they want to use one of them, the opponent hands over one of the small items to the player, and the extra stroke is taken (playing with the same ball as previously). The only limitation is that a hoop point cannot be scored as a result of an extra stroke.
If the game is a different length (i.e. not 13 points), then after calculating the number of extra strokes for a 13 point game, a table is used (found on the handicap card) to give a different number for the different game.
In doubles play, the 2 players with the highest handicaps will receive extra strokes (even if they are on the same side). The required calculation is given in GC Rule 20.3. Resulting extra strokes cannot be transferred between players of a side.
Setting an Initial Handicap (AC and GC)
While initial starting handicaps can be used (24 for someone capable of playing a game of AC without help and 10 for GC), a more accurate initial handicap can be assessed by getting the player to follow a particular sequence of shots. These assessments can be conducted by official handicappers, who also are allowed to modify existing handicaps under certain circumstances. For an established AC player (with a handicap) subsequently taking up GC, there is a table showing what their initial GC handicap should be.
The Automatic Handicapping System (AC and GC)
Once a player's initial handicap has been set, then that handicap equates to a number – called an Index. The player is given a Handicap Card (white for AC, green for GC) which shows the player's handicap and the corresponding initial index number (e.g. for a GC handicap of 10 the index is 100). Whenever an “official” game is played, details are entered on the handicap card and the index is changed, depending on the result. A player who wins a handicap game increases their index by 10; the loser reduces their index by 10. If a game is played “Level” (ie without extra strokes or bisques) then a table in the handicap card shows how many index points are won or lost, depending on the actual handicaps of the 2 players and which one won. After each game (or, in a tournament, at the end of the tournament) the new index is inspected and if it is greater or equal to that for the next lower handicap then the handicap is reduced. Similarly if the index has slipped to or below that of the next higher handicap, the handicap moves up. This generates an automatic system which should allow players' handicaps to rise or fall according to their ability. For example, if the handicap 10 GC player's index (that started at 100) reaches or passes 150, then their handicap automatically drops to 9. If the index falls to 50, then their handicap increases to 11. Doubles games and most “friendly” games are not entered on handicap cards. All Croquet Ladder games played at East Dorset are recorded on handicap cards.
Within our Club we have two categories of handicapper, both approved (for either AC or GC) by the Croquet Association Handicap Committee (or, at a future date, by our Federation Handicapper). A CA Handicapper can set or amend the handicap of any CA member, within laid down limits. A Club Handicapper can set or amend the handicap of any Club member, within laid down limits. Our Handicappers are identified on the notice board list of members. All new members are allocated handicaps appropriately and are also given handicap cards. These cards should be checked, at intervals (at least annually) by our Club Handicappers.
The World Croquet Federation (WCF) arranged for a trial to be carried out during 2021 of a possible new GC handicap game, called Advantage GC, in which rather than giving the weaker player extra strokes, the number of hoops that have to be run by each player is amended, based on their handicap.
Results of the trial (held within the Southern Croquet Federation (SCF) and at clubs around the world) were reported to the WCF. The SCF trial report can be found here and the latest WCF position here.
Further trials were carried out in 2022. The WCF considered the trials to be a success and is encouraging more widespread adoption of Advantage Golf Croquet. The CA’s handicap tournaments and inter-club events will change from Extra Turns to Advantage GC in 2023 and 2024. Our internal GC handicap competitions will use Advantage GC from 2023 onwards