American Croquet 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 nine wickets croquet.
While nine wickets 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."
If you want to read articles about croquet tactics and strategy in general, use the library for All Croquet. If you want to read articles about another types of croquet, use the libraries for American Croquet, Assocation Croquet, or Golf Croquet.