Saturday 13 September 2014

Once you try doubles like this, you'll never go back

The Waterloo Crokinole Club has entered its 6th season since starting in 2009 (playing on 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month from 6:30-9:30pm at the Waterloo Adult Recreation Centre - all are welcome!)

I’ve been a part of the club every year since I began attending school there in 2011. It’s a truly great atmosphere for crokinole that really builds to a high level of play as the season progresses. It is always a great time and each night is filled with a lot of camaraderie. Even with the club’s short history, there are a few notable and unique things that new players learn quickly.

1. The mission statement - “To Play crokinole well with enthusiasm and sportsmanship.”

2. King Street Starts - The player closest to King Street shoots 1st in the first round.

3. Shot of the Night! - a term coined by Jon Conrad and awarded no less than 10 times throughout each evening

4. Unofficial Champion - This deserves it’s own blog post, so the explanation is saved for a later date.

But last Thursday the club tried something new in the game of doubles. And now that we’ve had a taste, we might never go back.

It was the season opener for the club, and with most members busy and trying to enjoy the last remaining glimpses of the summer, we were limited to 5 members. With anywhere between 8 and 12 members most nights we typically try to get 2 full round robins of singles action in during the evening. With only 5, we quickly raced through 2 full rounds and then decided to play some doubles, rotating one player out.

Doubles is always a lot of fun. Partners talk strategy, opponents talk about the other teams strategy, even the person sitting out chimes in with their input.

Nearing the end of the first doubles game a funny quip was thrown out about letting your partner shoot in place of your own shot. In doubles there is often the scenario when the opposing team leaves a hanger, but for the person shooting next making a 20 involves a tough follow-through, while the partner (if they were allowed to shoot), would see an easy takeout and 20.

A few hypothetical comments later and we found ourselves setting the rule and deciding to experiment with a few games. There would be no clockwise order that had to be followed, so long as the teams alternated shooting and each player shot 6 times, which partner shot next was up to the discretion of the team.

And before I get into more detail of this first night of experimental Waterloo doubles, let me just say - it was a thrilling.

Starting the first round Alex made a 20, then so did Jon. I joked that maybe Alex should shoot again, rather than myself. I ended up shooting, and missed. 

The round continued and at first it was simple. Follow-through 20 shots and discs that would normally require a treacherous pass through the pegs became simple hangar 20s and short takeouts. Sure we have had the option of switching, but it was only exercised when it seemed obvious too, and so the standard clockwise rule mostly maintained itself.

To start the second round Jon and Barry discussed which one of them should shoot. Until it was decided that whoever would start the round under regular conditions would do so even in this new variation of doubles crokinole. If we were putting it down in a rule book, we already had the first hint of nuance.

Before shooting one out of turn, one really had to ask permission of his partner. A few rounds later and everyone felt more comfortable jumping up and taking charge.

               “How about I take this one partner, I’m feeling good.”

Now with the option of taking the shot, rather than your partner, you really had to make sure you didn't miss.

It’s amazing how much things changed. All of the sudden angles appear off every disc. You tend to forget about your opponents’ shots and focus on your partner’s and your own. The left-handedness of Barry added another wrinkle to the game is does not usually get a chance to be explored.

It took a couple of games before some teams accidentally went to the extreme. Barry and Alex partnered up, and the early part of the round gave Barry so many chances at a 20 that Alex ended having to shoot the last 5 discs for his team.

So more advanced strategy kicked in. Including hiding the number of shots you had left so your opponents couldn’t see you were close to being out of discs. That led to even more thinking in keeping track of who had shot what.

It’s true that more 20’s are scored in singles than in doubles, and one of the reasons for that is the waiting in between shots. It’s much easier to score 20 after 20 and get into a rhythm when you only have to wait for one other shooter. Soon the waiting aspect of doubles went out the window too. Roy and myself exchanged 3 20s each consecutively at the start of the round, while our partners egged us on.

Some common phrases popped up throughout the games.
             “Why don’t you take this, you’re on a roll.”
             “I don’t feel good about this one, you can have it.”
             “How many shots do you have left?”
             “You take it, I need a break.”

It was an all around great experiment, with a lot of laughs. The topic of whether we should ever try it again led to a positive response. Everyone agreed it was a fun time, but as one member said, “Might need to play with a case of beer to reduce the massive headache.” If you have played crokinole for many years, changing the fundamental order of play is quite the twist.

I could even see a further variation of play where the opposition teams gets to choose which player must shoot the next shot. But that might be a little too cut-throat as opposed to fun.

Alex went further to ask if it could work in a competitive format. While both fun and interesting, it takes one of competitive crokinole’s biggest problems and enlarges it. That problem is of course time. Doubles can already be dragged out with extended talk of strategy, and perhaps it was due to a learning curve, but we found the play to take longer than normal.

So it’s probably not something that should be incorporated into the Ontario Doubles Crokinole Championship in October, but if you have a chance to play “Waterloo style doubles” at your club, it’s well worth the experiment. 

All I can say is - it was wild and it was brilliant, it was crokinole in Waterloo.

In one week’s time the NCA Tour stops in Belleville for the 4th annual Belleville Crokinole Challenge. If you can make it there is even a social on Friday evening at the Belleville Club.

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