The Swiss Gambit

02 Apr 2021

Wit and intelligence are the name of the game

By Mandy Murry

Croquet could be described as a form of chess standing up. If you have seen “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix, you understand the thought, skill, and mental dexterity it takes to successfully beat your opponent(s) at a game of chess. One move can entirely decide an outcome, win or loss. Just as chess is more than a board with a fancy king’s court, croquet is more than a mallet knocking wooden balls through hoops. 

Croquet dates back to the 1400s; however, it first became a recreational activity in the United States in the 1860s. On the plateau and for many East Coast families, croquet is a time-honored tradition. A game played for fun, sport, comradery and healthy competition. Players adorned in all white from head-to-toe take their place on manicured greens to put their mental toughness and mallet skills to the test. 

The most common form of the game is known as golf, requiring only a few basic skills and understanding of the rules. It is perfect for social settings and no doubt part of its summertime allure in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Burlingame describes it as, “This easily learned game combines golf putting skills, pool shot skills and chess strategies in a very social atmosphere.”  What attracts many to the game is the strategic thinking croquet requires. Players are trying to both score goals and defend the goal at the same time. They must think many moves in advance in order to score the most points and outmaneuver their opponents.

A croquet lawn 100 ft long by 50 ft wide, set with six hoops, often referred to as wickets, is where the game is played. Each player takes one turn at a time, playing from hoop to hoop, striking a ball with a mallet with the goal to ‘run a hoop.’ Not as easy as it seems. Running a hoop is similar to a putt in miniature golf. In mini-golf, the ball is placed into a hole. In croquet, running a hoop and earning a score is placing the ball where it does not protrude beyond the side of the hoop from which it started. It sounds complicated, yet once you’ve experienced it once or twice, you get the hang of it. It’s more social and strategy than anything. 

A hoop is won by the first ball to go through each hoop. There are no additional turns for hitting other balls. Each player takes a stroke in turn, each trying to hit a ball through the same hoop. The sequence of play is blue, red, black, yellow. Blue and black balls play against red and yellow. When a hoop is won, the sequence of play continues as before. The winner of the game is the player/team who wins the most hoops.

Your approach to how you play the game is a key factor. Many would think that something such as knocking your opponent’s ball away from a hoop would be the answer. But playing the ‘Aunt Emma’ card, a term for being more concerned about preventing the progress of your competition than competing and taking your own risk, can be considered dull. Learning the croquet jargon is part of the fun. The game language and strategy keep you on your toes.

The game can be played in singles or in doubles.  

Clubs across the plateau offer a variety of croquet gatherings, from serious to laid back; this game is a staple summertime activity. A perfect way to pick up the game is at a weekly club event, such as Wine and Wickets, Croquet and Rosé, or Mallets and Martinis. Most clubs on the plateau offer a social event such as this. What is better than sipping your favorite wine or adult beverage in between turns swinging a mallet at a ball? 

Having fun under the sun never looked so good on the mountain. Croquet is a hoot. Bring your cleverness and your take on the ‘Swiss Gambit’- an intentional loss of one’s first game to get into the easier bracket. I feel a television series coming on, or at least an episode of “The Kominsky Method.”

Fun Facts: 

There are three different grips, Solomon, Standard grip, and Irish grip. 

The sport has different types of gameplay; the two main forms of gameplay are Golf Croquet and Six Wicket. The most popular gameplay on the plateau is Golf Croquet. 

Mallets weigh 2 to 3 pounds, and the length of the shaft varies from 30 - 38 inches.

All players are required to be dressed in white. 

Watching the game as a spectator can be as much fun as playing!

Captions and Credits are in file name, I’m hoping to hear back from two of the country clubs for captions. If not, I will create based on what you pull.

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