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Rules of Nine-Wicket Croquet

The United States Croquet Association has created this special edition of the Rules of 9-Wicket Croquet for newcomers to the game or for anyone, young or old, who wants to play the traditional backyard sport Americans have enjoyed for over 150 years.

You can also visit the special 9-Wicket Website, and join the special 9-Wicket Group. And don't miss a set of videos titled Better Backyard Croquet.

These rules can also be downloaded as an Adobe Acrobat document Rules of 9-Wicket (Backyard) Croquet.

The game of croquet (pronounced "crow-KAY") is a tradition of backyard recreation in America, as well as a sport that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Whether you are a novice who plays the occasional friendly game or a determined competitor who gives opponents no quarter, you need to know the rules and have them handy for reference during a game. This special edition of the rules was prepared by the sport's governing body, the United States Croquet Association (USCA), as a guide for informal backyard play. The following rules are suggested for use in play, as it is the purpose of the USCA to standardize one set of basic rules.

What you need to play the game

  Court Diagram
  Figure 1: Court Setup

The Court
A backyard croquet court doesn't have to be a perfectly manicured lawn, but short grass provides the best playing surface. If you have room, the official full-size court is a rectangle, 100 feet long by 50 feet wide. For backyard play you can adjust the size and shape of the court to fit the available space. Use string or chalk to mark definite boundaries if you choose, or just mark the corners with flags or stakes.

The Wickets and Stakes
The nine wickets and two stakes are arranged in a double-diamond pattern as shown in the diagram. If you are playing on a smaller court, the distances shown should be scaled down in proportion to the length and width of the court. The wickets should be firmly planted in the ground, and the width of the wickets should be uniform throughout the court.

The Balls
For a two- or four-player, two-sided game, you need four balls. The colors usually used are blue, red, black, and yellow. One side (with one or two players) plays with blue and black, and the other with red and yellow. For a six-player team game, you need six balls. In team play, one side plays blue, black, and green, and the other side plays red, yellow, and orange. In "one-ball" games, you need one ball per player.

The Mallets
Each player uses a mallet. Only the striking (end) face may be used to strike a ball, unless the players have agreed to allow the use of "side" shots or other shot-making variations.

Optional Accessories
You can use colored clips or clothespins to mark the next wicket your ball must go through. The clip is picked up when a wicket is scored, then placed on the ball's next wicket at the end of the turn. You can use string or "chalk" to mark boundaries of the court, or just designate "off the grass" as a boundary.

Object of the game
The object of the game is to advance your ball through the course scoring points for each wicket and stake in the correct order and direction. The winner is the first side to score 14 wicket points and 2 stake points for each of its balls. In a timed game if the time expires, the team with the most points at the end of the time period wins.

The players take turns, and only one plays at a time. At the beginning of a turn the player (called the "striker") has one shot. After that shot the turn ends, unless a bonus shot is earned by scoring a wicket or stake or by hitting another ball. The turn ends when the player has no more bonus shots to play or has finished the course by scoring the finishing stake. The striker may directly hit with the mallet only the ball he or she is playing in that turn (the "striker ball").
  Court Diagram
  Figure 2: Course of Wickets

Order of play and starting the game

Starting point:
All balls are played into the game from a spot halfway between the finishing stake and wicket #1. The order of play is blue, red, black, and yellow.

When four balls are played with two players, the sides are blue/black against red/yellow; with four players (doubles) each player plays one color ball.

Order of Play
The sides should toss a coin or hit closest to the middle wicket to determine the order of play. The side winning the coin toss has the choice of playing first blue/black or second with red/yellow. The order of play throughout the game is blue, red, black, yellow.

When six balls are played, the order of play throughout the game is always blue, red, black, yellow, green, and orange. The sides can be played by teams of two consisting of blue/yellow, red/green, and black/orange or teams of three consisting of blue/black/green and red/yellow/orange.

Many croquet players like to play singles with only one ball per side, the winner being the player who advances his or her ball around the court first. This popular variation is played with the same rules as regular singles or doubles croquet, but any number of players from two to six can play. The colors may be drawn by lot to determine the order of play is blue, red, black, yellow, green, orange throughout the game.

After all balls have started the game, play continues in the same order until a ball is staked out. When a ball is out of the game, the remaining balls continue in the same order, skipping the ball that has finished the course.

If a player plays out of turn, there is no penalty. Any ball moved during the out-of-turn play is replaced to its position prior to the error and play recommences properly. If an out of turn is initially condoned (not discovered) but then later discovered, only the last ball played out of turn is replaced and the correct ball then proceeds. Example: if red plays, then blue plays, then yellow plays, yellow is replaced, and then red plays correctly.

If the striker takes a swing at his/her ball and misses entirely, the miss counts as a shot and the turn ends, unless the striker had a second "bonus" shot.

If the striker's mallet accidentally hits another ball other than the striker ball, the shot must be replayed, but with no loss of turn.

  Scoring a Wicket
Scoring a Wicket
A has not started to score the wicket.
B has started to score the wicket.
C has not scored the wicket.
D has scored the wicket.

Scoring Wicket and Stake Points
Each ball can score wicket and stake points for its side only by going through a wicket or hitting a stake in the proper order and direction. Going through a wicket out of order or in the wrong direction is not counted as a point gained or lost. A ball caused to score its wicket or stake during another ball’s turn earns the point for its side, but no bonus shot is earned as a result. A ball scores a wicket point only if it comes to rest clear of the playing side of the wicket. If a ball passes through a wicket but rolls back, it has not scored the wicket. If a ball travels backwards through its wicket to get position, it must be clear of the non-playing side to then score the wicket in the correct direction. Because wickets can be loose in the ground, it’s best not to run the side if the mallet head up or down either plane of the wicket. It’s always better to use your judgement sighting by eye.

Bonus shots
The striker earns one bonus shot if the striker ball scores a wicket or hits the turning stake. The striker earns two bonus shots if the striker ball hits another ball (a "roquet"). You are “dead” on a ball for extra shots until you clear your next wicket or on the start of your next turn whichever comes first.  However, the maximum number of bonus shots earned by a striker is two; there is never a time when a striker is allowed three shots. (See the "Exceptions" section below for examples.)

If two bonus shots are scored by striking another ball, the first of these two shots may be taken in any of four ways:

  1. From a mallet-head distance or less away from the ball that was hit ("taking a mallet-head").
  2. From a position in contact with the ball that was hit, with the striker ball held steady by the striker's foot or hand (a "foot shot" or "hand shot").
  3. From a position in contact with the ball that was hit, with the striker ball not held by foot or hand (a "croquet shot").
  4. From where the striker ball stopped after the roquet. (If a boundary is in use and the striker ball went out of bounds, the ball should be measured in one mallet length from where it crossed the boundary).

The second bonus shot after a roquet is an ordinary shot played from where the striker ball came to rest, called a "continuation shot".

Bonus shots may not be accumulated. Upon earning a bonus shot by scoring a wicket, hitting the turning stake, or roqueting another ball, any bonus shot previously earned is forfeited. For example, if a ball roquets a ball and in that same stroke the striker ball hits another ball, the second ball hit is not a roquet and remains where it comes to rest (with no deadness incurred on that ball).

EXCEPTIONS: Two extra shots are earned when the striker ball scores two wickets in one shot. If the ball also hits the turning stake after scoring two wickets, two strokes are earned, not three. Conversely, if the striker ball scores the seventh wicket and hits the turning stake in the same shot, it earns two shots. After the striker ball roquets another ball, it does not earn any extra shots for hitting it again in the same turn before scoring the next wicket in order. However, there is no penalty for hitting the ball again.

Wicket and Roquet
When the striker ball scores a wicket and then in the same shot hits another ball, only the wicket counts and the striker has earned only the one extra shot for scoring the wicket. The striker may then roquet any ball to earn two extra shots. When the striker ball roquets another ball and then goes through a wicket, the wicket has not been scored but the striker earns two extra shots for the roquet.

The Boundaries
If boundaries are established, whenever more than half of a ball (50%+) crosses the inside edge of a boundary, it is “Out of Bounds” and should be brought inbounds and placed one mallet length (or 36 inches) into the court. If players are using mallets of different lengths, agree to a common distance you'll measure in during the game. The ball should be placed 90 degrees inbounds and perpendicular to the line and not diagonally from the line. (Exception: When the striker ball has just roqueted (hit) another ball, the striker may choose to place it in contact with or up to a mallet-head from the ball that was roqueted.) All balls are also immediately brought in a mallet length from the boundary when they are less than that distance from the boundary, except for the striker's ball when the striker has an extra shot.

If more than one ball crosses the boundary on the same spot, the striker may measure any ball inbounds first and then place the other(s) up to a mallet-head's length away from it on either side.

Rover Balls
After a ball scores all of the wickets in the course, its player may choose to keep it in the game as a "rover" to help advance that side's remaining ball(s) and to prevent the opposing side from advancing. During this ball's turn, it may hit any other ball only once per turn, gaining extra shots accordingly, but it does not earn any extra shots or wicket points for running a wicket. Any player may put a rover out of the game by causing it to hit the finishing stake. The rover's side earns the point for the stake, and the order of play continues without the staked-out ball.

Time Limited Game
If time does not permit a game to be played to the stake, a time limit may be set beforehand. A kitchen timer works well to alert players to the end of the time limit. When the time limit is reached the game is over.  This is known as "sudden stop". If the score is tied in the "sudden stop" format, the ball closest to its contested wicket gets an extra point for the win.

Challenging Optional Rules

All players in the game must consent to these optional rules before the start of the game. Any combination of options (none to all) may be chosen.

National or American Croquet Options

Option 1. Using Deadness.
Deadness occurs after a roquet is made and the striker is unable to score his/her wicket. The consequences are that the striker is not allowed to roquet the ball(s) again until scoring the wicket. Once the wicket is scored, the striker becomes 'alive' and is able to roquet the ball(s) again. If a striker roquets a ball he/she is dead on, all balls are replaced to their positions before the shot, and the turn is over. Deadness carries over from turn to turn.

Option 1a. Special relief of deadness.
A side may clear one of its balls of deadness when the opponent makes the first wicket after the turning stake (the 8th wicket) so long as that side is behind in points (not tied) at the end of the opponent’s turn.

Option 1b. Clearing Deadness.
A side may clear one of its balls of deadness when the opponent makes the first wicket after the turning stake (the 8th wicket) regardless of score at the end of the opponent’s turn.

Option 2. Out of Bounds Play.

A) A ball is considered out-of-bounds if it is more than halfway over the boundary line which is considered to be the inside edge of the boundary marking. If a striker sends any ball(s) out-of-bounds as the result of their shot, all balls shall be measured in 9” from the spot where they crossed the boundary line and the turn ends.

The only exceptions to this are when the striker’s ball crosses the boundary line as the result of a roquet (where it is then lifted and placed either in contact or up to 9” from the roqueted ball) or a striker ball directly hits (not a cannon) any other ball out of bounds after it has roqueted a ball (any such ball is marked in and the striker takes croquet from the roqueted ball).

Additionally, any ball coming to rest within 9” of the boundary shall be marked in 9” prior to the next shot unless it is the striker ball and it has any remaining shots. Any balls within the 9” at the end of a turn shall be marked in 9” inches. A mallet head is normally 9” in length. Longer heads should have a 9” mark on it for the placing of balls.

B) If Option 1 is in effect and the striker roquets a ball out-of-bounds, the turn is over and the out-of-bounds ball is marked in 9". However, no deadness is incurred.

Option 3. Starting Deadness.
May be used in conjunction with Option 1 regarding deadness.  No extra shots are earned by hitting another ball until both the striker ball and the ball to be roqueted have cleared a designated wicket(typically #1, #2, or #3).  A ball “not in the game” may have a ball(s) “in the game” marked and lifted for a shot – and vice versa. Balls “out” of the game are dead on balls “in” the game- and visa versa.

Option 4. Wired.
If an opponent causes the striker ball to be blocked by a wicket or stake (wired) when the striker wishes to shoot at a ball it is alive on, the striker may move his/her ball a mallet head’s length or up to 9 inches in any direction from its wired position to enable a possible open shot on that ball.  The striker is not obligated to shoot at a ball from this new position and may take any shot he/she wishes. This optional rule does not apply if the striker’s side placed the striker ball in its current position, only if the opponent placed it there. If moving the ball 9 inches in any direction does not present an open shot, the striker may move the striker's ball a greater distance (but no greater distance than needed) to create an open shot but must do so without shortening the distance between the ball they were wired from and the original position of the striker's ball.  Additionally, they must shoot at the ball they are now open on.

Option 5. Blocked at a Wicket by a Dead Ball.
If an opponent causes a ball to be blocked from scoring its wicket by a dead ball(s) for two consecutive turns, the blocked ball becomes alive on the blocking ball(s). The opponent must be responsible for the block, not the side claiming a block. A block must be confirmed by the blocking side in order to be counted as a block, in order to avoid disputes. In addition, the proposed wicket shot that is claimed to be blocked must be possible to make to count as a block.

Option 6. Rover Play
A rover may hit all balls once per turn; however, once the rover is dead on a ball(s), it must go through any wicket in any direction to clear its deadness on that ball(s). The rover does not get an additional (bonus) shot after going through this clearing wicket. If the rover goes through any wicket in any direction while dead on one or more balls (intentionally or not), the turn is over regardless of any additional shots remaining. Once a clearing wicket is made, the rover is alive on all balls in its next turn and may hit them in any order.

Option 7. Poison
A poison ball is one that has scored all the wickets but hasn't hit the finishing stake. A poison ball may hit any opponent ball and have it removed from the game. Conversely, if an opponent ball hits a poison ball, the poison ball is removed from the game. If a poison ball fully passes through any wicket in any direction, it is removed from the game. A poison ball does not earn bonus shots for hitting other balls.

Option 8. Over Time Play
When a timed match has expired, each ball gets a last turn.  If a ball has played its last stroke of the turn and is still rolling on the court when time expires, it will get another turn.  If the losing side has played its last turns, the winning side may not play its last turn (aka last ball/last turn may not play). If the score is tied after the "last turn" round, the ball closest to its contested wicket gets an extra point for the win.  A tournament director may choose to use multiple last turns rounds (ideally, no more than two rounds).

Option 9. Ball in Hand
From where the striker ball stopped after the roquet. If the striker picks up the striker ball, way #4 is no longer available and the striker must proceed with ways #1, #2 or #3 for taking the first bonus shot.

Option 10. Non-Sequence Order of Play
On the opening turn the sequence is blue/red/black/yellow, after the opening turn a player may choose to play either of their balls on each turn.

Various Sets of 9 Wicket Backyard Rules Used In North America

Norwich Options (recommended you play options 21- 25 as a set)

Option 21. Non-Sequence Order of Play
On the opening turn the sequence is blue/red/black/yellow, after the opening turn a player may choose to play either of their balls on each turn.

Option 22. Deadness
A player’s ball is alive on all other balls at the start of every turn.  IIf a player hits a ball they are dead on, the turn is over and all balls are returned to the original positons.

Option 23. Out of Bounds
 A ball is out of bounds if it touches the boundary line.  If a player hits their ball or another ball out of bounds, the turn is over and all balls come back in perpendicular 9 inches from the boundary line.

Option 24. Lift
When a player hits the turning stake, the opponent on their next turn may choose to pick up one of their balls and play it a mallet head (9 inches) from the turning stake or from the center wicket.

Option 25. Timed Game
All games are timed for 1 hour with sudden stop when the clock expires and there are no extra turns. If the score is tied in the "sudden stop" format, the ball closest to its contested wicket gets an extra point for the win.

Claremont Options

Option 31.  Hand Roquet The Ball
Known as sending, the Claremont rules now prohibit footing the ball, but allow placing ones hand on the ball in the same fashion. If in so doing, the striker loses control of his ball, he is penalized by losing the rest of his turn.

Option 32. Wicketed Ball
When a ball, while proceeding in the direction of play, stops halfway through it object wicket, it is considered a wicketed ball.

The wicketed ball may be the player’s ball or a ball that has been propelled to the wicketed position by another player. If it is the player’s ball, the player loses the rest of his turn, a Minor Penalty. If the wicketed position has resulted from the play of another player, there is no penalty; all balls remain in the same position achieved by the play and play continues. If, in the ensuing play, another player strokes his ball into the wicketed ball, he loses the rest of his turn and his next turn, a Major Penalty. This other player may, however, displace the wicketed ball without penalty, either forward or backward, by hitting another ball with his ball, hand-holding his ball against the ball which has been hit and driving it against the wicketed ball. He might achieve the same result with a split-shot. A situation calling for such a play would be rare, however.

On his next turn, the player of the wicketed ball has three options;
(a) He may stroke his ball forward, thereby, making the wicket, but his turn stops there unless by his stroke he has make another wicket or hit another ball, in which case, he receives the usual additional stroke(s).
(b) He may stroke his ball backward. From the position thus attained he could, on his following turn, proceed through his wicket and get the usual stroke for so doing; or he might, on his backward stroke, achieve a hit on another ball and get the usual two additional strokes.
(c) Finally, he might consider it the best strategy to take a tap for a stroke.

Option 33. Deadness.
When a player’s ball hits a ball on which it is dead, the player loses the rest of his turn and all of his next turn. A player’s ball is cleared of its deadness on all balls at the beginning of a new turn or upon gaining a wicket.

Option 34. Rover Ball
A partner becomes a rover when he has completed the course, with the exception of hitting
the home stake. He continues to take his turn and can now devote his efforts to helping his
partner. As no wickets are left for him to make, the deadness rule limits him to one hit a turn on
the other three balls. . All the other balls are allowed to play off the rover and even send him through remaining wickets ( some players leave at least one wicket to make it harder for opponents to stake him out of the game) and into the stake removing him from the game.
Option 35. Shot Time Limits
Players should be reasonable in the amount of time taken to analyze a situation and take the next shot; one minute, 60 seconds, is considered the normal amount of time necessary. In tournament play, the referee will use his judgement and take whatever steps are necessary to keep the game moving along.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: "At the start of the game, is it better to go first or last?"
A: Generally, it's better to go last, because the more balls in front of you, the more options you have in playing your ball. So, unlike other games, it is not polite to insist that the other team/player goes first.

Q: "Is there any particular way that I must hold the mallet and hit the ball?"
A: No, except that you cannot "push" the balls, i.e., you keep swinging so that your mallet is really pushing the ball forward. However, it is advisable to use a traditional swing, where you swing the mallet in a straight line between your legs, as opposed to from the side like golf.

Q: "Do I have to go through the wickets in any particular order?"
A: Yes, you must follow the double-diamond pattern and go through the wickets in order of their numbers, i.e., wicket 1, then 2, then 3, etc. (See Diagram)

Q: "Can I really use my hand or foot to hold my ball while hitting it and knocking another ball away?"
A: Yes, if you have hit that other ball and have scored bonus shots. You may place your ball right next to that other ball and do so. This is called either a "hand roquet" or a "foot roquet." If the striker ball comes loose from the foot or hand after hitting it there is no penalty and you can simply play the striker ball from where it comes to rest.

Q: "If I send a ball over the boundary, is there a penalty?"
A: No (unless you use Option 2), sending a ball out of bounds does not end your turn. When a ball goes out of bounds, it is replaced a mallet length (or, on a small court, a mallet-head) in from the boundary, and if the striker has another shot, the turn continues.

Q: "If my ball hits another ball and then goes through its next wicket, what happens next?"
A: If your ball hits another ball, you immediately earn two extra shots (unless you have hit that ball in that turn since making your last wicket). In this situation, the wicket doesn't count, and you must take the extra shots earned.

Q: "If my ball goes through a wicket and then hits another ball on the same shot, what happens next?"
A: In this case, you have earned one extra shot for the wicket, but the roquet on the other ball is ignored. You may choose to hit that ball again on the continuation shot to earn two extra shots, but you aren't required to do so.

Q: "Don't I get 3 bonus shots if my ball hits another ball and goes through a wicket on the same shot?"
A: No. Bonus shots are not accumulated. One shot either results in one more bonus shot or two, depending on the shot. One shot can never result in 3 bonus shots.

Q: "What happens when, after receiving two bonus shots, my first bonus shot clears a wicket? Do I still have 2 bonus shots or just 1?"
A: You have one shot left, in that you lose your second bonus shot from the prior roquet, but you still have one stroke left for scoring the wicket.

Q: "If my ball is hit through a wicket by an opponent, do I get credit for scoring that wicket?"
A: Yes. You get credit for that wicket and you can move on to the next wicket. When it is your turn to shoot next, you still have only one shot from where your ball ended up.

Q: "When is a ball through a wicket?"
A: See the diagram and discussion in the "Scoring Wicket and Stake Points" section above.

Q: "What happens if I miss my ball entirely on a shot?"
A: It counts as a shot, and if you had only one shot when you missed, your turn ends.

Q: "What happens when someone plays out of turn? Is there a penalty?"
A: No, but once the out-of-turn play is discovered, you must replace the ball that last played out of turn and have the correct ball play. (See the out of turn rule in the main section for an example).

Q: "Is there a rule that says you are 'dead' on a ball you've hit (not allowed to hit it) until you make your next wicket?"
A: Yes, see Option 1. In the regular version of backyard croquet, however, there is no carryover of "deadness" from one turn to the next (unless using Option 1) and no penalty or reward for hitting a ball more than once between wickets. Once you hit a ball and earn the two extra shots for the roquet, you cannot earn any extra shots for hitting it again until you either a) make your next wicket or b) finish your turn. Playing with carryover deadness is optional in nine-wicket croquet but is very much a part of the American six-wicket game played in clubs and tournaments. The tournament rules available from the USCA cover the details of this and other aspects of advanced play.




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