A "leave" in croquet is the culmination of the process of arranging the balls at the end of your turn. The idea is that you keep the "innings", which normally means laying the court in an adventageous way for your partner ball, and that the opponent balls will be far apart, or at least wired from each other, with no short shots available.
When all four balls are on the lawn, there are really two golden rules to leave-making that you should try to adhere to at all times. Firstly, you should ensure that the very final ball you roquet in your turn should be your partner ball - this helps to organise a good rush for starting your next turn. Secondly, you should try and ensure to always make your final hoop of the turn off an opponent's ball. These two points are somewhat interrelated in that if you make your final hoop off the opponent, you will be roqueting it first after making the hoop, leaving partner ball "live" to be roqueted in a few strokes' time.
The diagonal spread leave, or DSL for short, is probably the most commonly-attempted leave in croquet. The reasons for this are that it is relatively easy to make, it is relatively forgiving if it goes horribly wrong, and doesn't leave any short shots from any baulk line. It is a fairly hoop-agnostic leave, meaning that it is generally pretty easy to pick up a break from a DSL after a miss by the opponent, regardless of the hoop you are for. In the example below, a DSL has been made after a break to 4-back by blue, with partner ball (black) for hoop 1.
As discussed in the golden rules above, the opponent ball is sent to 3-back (the final hoop of the turn). Interestingly a good way to help achieve this is to organise earlier in the break to send partner to 2-back as an early pioneer after hoop 5 - if you send partner to 2-back then the 3-back pioneer will naturally be one of the opponent balls.
Before making 3-back you should organise the other opponent ball near the peg, fairly close to where you want its final position to be, and organise your partner ball 1-2 yards east of it to act as the escape ball. After making 3-back and croqueting the reception ball out towards the west boundary, you should try and rush the opponent ball by the peg into a wired spot immediately - the closer you can get it to the wired spot using a rush, the easier your job will be to wire it with the croquet stroke. Once the ball at the peg has been placed in the wired spot, you rush your escape ball (partner) out to the east boundary and lay a rush into the court for your partner ball, with both balls being wired from the ball at the peg, and ideally also wired from the ball near the west boundary.
A reverse diagonal spread is made in exactly the same way, but just organising the balls in a mirror-image, as in the diagram below. Actually this can be quite a useful leave after a break to the peg when your partner ball is on 2-back, 3-back or 4-back as it makes picking up a break from any of these hoops fairly straightforward - certainly easier than a normal DSL.
If the diagonal spread is the most commonly-attempted leave, the "B" spread is probably the most commonly-completed leave. Basically a "B" spread is a diagonal spread that has gone wrong when it comes to the wiring of the opponent balls at the peg. Because the peg is narrow, the margins for error are fairly small.
Taking a step back, it is important to identify one of the most crucial parts of setting a DSL, and where a DSL is liable to go wrong - running 3-back. Because of the distance between 3-back and the peg, it is quite important to get a forward rush out of 3-back to ensure that you are playing the crucial croquet stroke to place one oppo ball near the west boundary while approaching the other, from fairly close range. It is very easy to lose control of the striker's ball when sending it more than a few yards in a croquet stroke and so any inaccuracies with the croquet stroke after 3-back stroke will compound in the placement of the ball near the peg. All too often, players will fail to get a rush out of 3-back, play a croquet stroke that leaves them a 2-yard roquet on the ball near the peg, and then roquet it so far out of position that they are unable to reliably croquet it back to the wired spot at the peg - this is by far the most common cause of the "B" spread. If the ball near the peg is left open on the other opponent ball near the west boundary it generally results in leaving a 10-yard shot for the opponent.
If you have gotten into a position whereby the opponent balls are left open across the peg, then it is worth considering not laying a rush for your partner, but instead wide-joining near corner 4, or in some cases even splitting up your balls completely, with one on the east boundary and the other in or near corner 2.
Do keep in mind that, although the "B" spread is a bad leave, a 10-yard shot still requires hitting, and it is a shot that is missed surprisingly frequently, even by strong players. This is the advantage of attempting a diagonal spread - if it does go badly wrong and balls are left open, the opponent will still not have any shorter shot than around 10 yards.
If your DSL is headed towards being a "B" spread then you have options to back out of it. After making 3-back and sending an opponent ball towards the west boundary, it is at this point that you need to make a decision to continue with the DSL and risk a "B" spread or to back out and set an OSL - which we will look at further down this article.
The Old Standard Leave, or OSL, was popular in earlier times, particularly in the 1960s. Traditionally, the standard first-break tactic was to play your break to 4-back, peeling your partner through hoop 1 after 2-back, then after making 3-back to set an OSL (or "standard leave", as they were referred to at that time). These days, the tactic of peeling partner through hoop 1 after 2-back is almost entirely extinct, as it is generally considered unhelpful - but the OSL is still a strong leave in its own right, whether partner is for H1 or H2. The leave is very simple to make and leaves a 13-yard shot for the opponent ball at your balls in C4 from A Baulk. There is no defensive option shot for the opponent to consider and they will have a fairly simple break pickup if they hit.
A new leave became popular in the 1990s in favour of the OSL, and is somewhat originally named the "New Standard Leave". This leave is still one of the most popular leaves done today at the end of a break to 4-back.
There are 2 popular methods of making this leave:
The first method has the advantage of giving good control over the placement of the west boundary ball whereas the second method has the advantage of not requiring an easterly rush out of 2-back. Whichever method you choose, it is imperative that the 3-back pioneer is the opponent ball, because after making 3-back, the reception ball will need to be left in a very specific spot a few inches north-east of the hoop.
The trickiest part of setting the NSL is getting the ball at H4 accurately placed - you need to place it close enough to H4 that the ball will not have a backswing to shoot at your two balls on the east boundary. You must also ensure that none of the ball is visible from A Baulk - even if an edge is visible it is sometimes possible for the opponent to shoot from A Baulk at a pseudo-double target with the edge of the ball at H4 and one of your balls in the background on the east boundary. Finally, the ball must not be positioned in such a way that it does not rush to H1
In order to place the ball in the best spot, it is quite important that the approach is played from close-by and slightly south-east of the hoop. The hoop approach should ideally place the opponent ball just north of the ideal wired spot so that the hoop can be run past the reception ball and then roquet it back onto the perfect wired line - see the animation below:
In the animation above, the grey circle indicates the ideal wired spot for red and the diagonal lines show the area which is wired from A Baulk. It is perfectly reasonable to try and place the opponent ball in the ideal spot with the hoop approach - doing so will mean that you don't need to roquet it at all after the hoop and can instead just roquet black, leaving red where it is; but beware that trying to place red ideally in the hoop approach and leaving it short will make correcting the wiring more difficult - any roquet on a short red will only be sending it further away from the ideal spot.
Unlike the diagonal spread, there is a certain amount of polarity in a NSL, meaning that you can influence the opponent's decision of which ball to play (or at least gain an easier break if they miss with the ball that they want to play) based on whether you place their backward or forward ball at H4 after 3-back. This is more of an important decision in a game between stronger players who are capable of TP'ing, and also particularly in doubles this can be a critical tactical choice - for example if one of the opponents is a much weaker shot than the other, you would probably want to influence them to take the lift.
If the opponent chooses to lift their ball from H4 and take the "long" lift and misses from C3 to C4, then it is quite difficult for you to dig that ball out of C4 and into your break until you are for H4 yourself; on the other hand if the opponent lifts their ball from the west boundary and shoots from C3 to C4, it gives you the opportunity to establish a 4-ball break before you've even made H1 - you can do this by roqueting partner with your first shot, taking off to the C4 ball and playing a drive from C4, sending a pioneer to H2 while gaining a rush to H1 on the ball near H4.
Now consider that the opponent's clips are on penult and peg for example - it is highly likely in this scenario that the opponent will play their penult ball regardless of the ball positions. Bearing this in mind, if you place the opponent's penult ball near the west boundary and their peg ball at H4, any missed lift with the penult ball will give you a greater chance at a 4-ball break and a possible TP.
A counter argument on the above scenario may be this: if the opponent (peg and penult) is bound to play their penult ball regardless of the ball positions, placing their penult ball on the west boundary may influence them to take the shorter lift shot from A Baulk instead of the longer shot from B Baulk, as they may correctly decide that missing any shot with their penult ball will give you a 4-ball break before H1. Consider, instead, that placing the balls the "wrong" way round (peg ball on west boundary; penult ball at H4) and you may find your opponent will ultimately decide to take a longer shot with the penult ball than they may otherwise have done. There is a balance of probabilities to be made between your expectation of the opponent hitting the long shot vs the short shot, and your reduced chances of making a game-winning break if they miss a more defensive shot into C4.
This is a variation on the NSL and was popularised by David Maugham, a leading player in the UK. Compared to the NSL, instead of leaving a ball floating near the west boundary, after running 1-back under control you will croquet one of the opponent balls onto the middle of the west upright of H2. In this position it cannot be rushed to H1 but acts as a perfect pioneer for H2. As the ball at H2 is not rushable to H1, the rush is left for your partner ball to H1.
This leave is more difficult to make than a NSL as it requires very good control of your break, particularly around 1-back, but there is a strong case to be made for it. Assuming all the other clips are for H1, if the opponent lifts the ball from H4 and hits one of your balls down the east boundary from C3, then they will need to get a rush to H1 immediately. Unless they just managed to snick the lift shot, then they are probably going to be faced with a long and difficult croquet stroke in order to obtain the rush to H1 on your other ball.
The exact placement of the opponent ball onto the wire of H2 after running 1-back is shown in the animation below - tap on it to play.
Blue makes 1-back off yellow with red as the escape ball for the southwards rush; partner (black) is the pioneer at 2-back. When placing the ball on the wire of H2 after 1-back, you should endeavour to arrange the balls so that the placement is done from close range and can be done with a straight, gentle stop shot; playing this shot with any amount of split will mean that both the pace and the line will be much harder to judge. Because you want to place the ball using a small straight stop shot, you should give some thought to the placement of the escape ball so that you will automatically gain a rush down the court on it without having to do anything with the striker's ball.
Another advantage is that if the opponent lifts the ball from H4 and misses the long lift, you will be making H1 off partner (which is always comforting) and will have a perfect H2 pioneer. This will pretty much guarantee that you are approaching H2 from a matter of inches away, and you can even look to get a dolly rush out of H2 towards C4 to develop the C4 ball before you have made H3. Additionally, if you are looking at TPs, then having made H1 off partner, it will naturally be sent to H3 / 4b as a pioneer and potential peeling opportunity.
This leave is named after NZ player Greg Bryant, who first started performing it regularly in 1993. It is really the ultimate in aggressive leaves and is very difficult to make. One ball is placed in the NSL position at H4, and the other is placed ideally about 1cm directly north of H1, or alternatively against the inside of one of the uprights, on the northern side. Placement of this ball is difficult to get right and it is very important that none of the ball is showing through H1 on the southern side where it may be easy to hit from A Baulk.
If you are preparing to make a Bryant Leave, then you must have an opponent ball as your 2-back pioneer. Having a very close pioneer is important here, and you may consider placing it at 2-back from close range after H5 - ideally the pioneer will be 12 inches or less from 2-back. You should also have the other opponent ball at 1-back as the pioneer, which will naturally be sent out afterwards as the 3-back pioneer
This is the crucial part of the Bryant leave. After making 1-back and loading the opponent ball to 3-back, you need a good rush on the pivot ball towards 2-back. The pivot should then be placed around 1 yard east and 1 foot north of 2-back as an escape ball before you make 2-back off the opponent ball.
After 2-back, roquet the opponent reception ball back in front of 2-back as close as possible and then place it into the required position with a delicate stop shot. After that, you can roquet your escape ball (partner) towards 3-back and make the hoop off the other opponent ball, setting it in the NSL position afterwards.
A very good, and probably under-used, leave. This leave is great if you are the stronger player playing against a weaker player. While it only leaves a 13-yard lift shot, it gives very poor break prospects if the lift is hit.
The leave above is one variation of the defensive spread - a mirror image of the same leave can also be made, with blue/black laid up in C4 and one opponent ball near C2 and the other peg-high on the east boundary.
The variation where blue and black are laid up in C2 is an incredibly strong leave when red is for H3 (either by breaking down or by POPs during blue's break) and yellow is for 4-back - if red hits any lift shot whatsoever, its break prospects are slim at best; on the other hand, a miss by red gives black strong prospects of starting a second break. Even a more defensive miss of yellow at black gives fairly good break prospects for black.
This leave is perhaps at its best on a difficult lawn where picking up breaks is more challenging, and so you do not want to gift the opponent a break with balls in the middle of the court if they happen to hit your lift.
The vertical spread is generally thought of as a second-break leave, meaning that you would look to make this leave at the end of a break to the peg, normally when your partner has well advanced clips. It is quite common to see players make this leave when their partner ball is for 4-back, however I would not advise doing so - it can be very difficult to finish from 4-back and peg after a miss by the opponent, and there are generally better leave options available for these clips.
The Vertical Spread is actually quite easy to make, because the opponent balls can be placed from close range after running penult and rover without having to play any difficult shots. The exact placement of the two balls at penult and rover is also not as crucial as it is when placing a ball on the back of H1 for example, because penult and rover are further from baulk. Still, you should aim to achieve ideal position of the two opponent balls as it will give greater flexibility when deciding where to lay your own balls up at the conclusion of the turn. The ball at penult should be placed in the front of the jaws of H6 - it is also fine to be up against one wire or the other, so long as it is on the inside of the wire and not visible from baulk, and the ball should ideally not be showing through the hoop on the non-playing side of H6. The position for the ball at rover is essentially the same, but mirrored.
The most obvious use case for this leave is when partner (black in this case) is for penult, as it will give you an easy finishing turn from any missed lift. Please note the diagram above has the opponent balls laid up on the east boundary, but you can just as easily lay up on the west boundary, which may enable an easier rush to penult.
You can also think of this leave as a fairly defensive leave. If the opponent already has an advanced clip, e.g. they are for 4-back and H1, then you should try and arrange their forward ball to be the ball left south of penult. Doing this will encourage them to lift their forward ball, however if they do decide to shoot and hit with their backward ball, their break pick-up will be very difficult indeed, because the ball left in penult cannot be rushed to either H1 or H2.
You can think of the cross-peg leave a bit like a diagonal spread, but with the west boundary ball about 12 yards further in court than normal. The way you go about making the cross-peg is the essentially the same as that of the DSL, but after making your final hoop of the turn, you need to get a good rush to the peg where the other two balls are waiting.
Because the rush out of your final hoop is so crucial to getting a good cross-peg, you would not frequently see this leave after a break to 4-back - making 3-back with control and a dolly rush to the peg is relatively difficult for relatively little gain in having a cross-peg instead of a DSL. It is much more common to set this leave after running rover when your partner is for 4-back or penult. Running rover and obtaining a dolly rush to the peg is significantly easier than the same out of 3-back, and what's more, rover is significantly closer to the peg than 3-back is. The benefit of a cross-peg over a DSL is also more evident when for 4-back, because at the start of your next turn you will avoid the slightly tricky cross-court rushes from the east boundary to the west boundary, and also from there to 4-back.
The crucial thing to remember when setting the cross-peg leave (aside from the actual wiring itself) is that you should make sure the two opponent balls are placed slightly off horizontal to each other; the westerly ball should be just north of the peg and the easterly ball just south of the peg. If this is not achieved, then it is likely that the opponent will have a 13-yard shot from somewhere on the court.
A cross-wiring leave is where you leave both opponent balls close together at a hoop, wired from each other. Cross-wiring can be done at any hoop, although it is not considered a lift leave - you should only plan to cross-wire if you have not made a lift hoop during your turn, otherwise the opponent will probably have a very short shot from one of the baulk lines.
There is a sequence you should try to follow when making most cross-wires, which is:
Cross-wiring is not a lift leave, so unless you are planning on laying for sextuples, most of the opportunities to do so tend to arise more by chance. For example, if your clips are for penult and 3-back, and you hit in with your ball for penult, you can safely make your last two hoops without conceding a lift. In the example below, blue is for penult, black for 3-back; yellow has just broken down at H6 on a break. Click the solution button below the image to see how blue might go about playing its next turn.
As you can see, the cross-wire is an incredibly strong leave and you should always be on the lookout for opportunities to make it - it will give a very long shot to your opponent, and an easy break if they miss, putting you in a very strong game position.
The main reasoning for playing for sextuples at all is to avoid the conceding of a lift, and so it is here where we can take advantage of cross-wiring as a standard part of a leave. Below is a common leave seen when laying for a sextuple, leaving red and yellow the longest possible shot on the court:
To set this leave, you follow the same pattern outlined further above. Before making hoop 6 (the final hoop of your turn), you should arrange one opponent and partner ball at hoop 1 (the cross-wiring hoop). Make H6 with a rush back to H1 and cross-wire the opponent balls across the hoop, preferably diagonally, and gain a rush on partner ball towards C3.
Despite the name, this sextuple leave is rarely seen, both because it is much harder to get right, and also leaves a significantly shorter shot for the opponent. The benefits of this leave as far as the sextuple goes is that it makes the sextuple turn a great deal easier, essentially nothing more than a quadruple peel. The standard sextuple leave is as follows:
As you can see, when setting this leave, you actually complete the cross-wiring after H5, then rush partner to H6 to score that hoop, afterwards gaining a rush to 1-back. The reason this method is favoured for this particular leave is so that you can be rushing to 1-back from close range (near H6) instead of from near 2-back as you would have to do when performing the cross-wire after H6. Rushing to 1-back from close range helps you to obtain a good position for the jawsing of your ball in 1-back.
In reality, leaving both opponent balls together (albeit wired from each other) means that there is little-to-no polarity to be had; however, there are some things you can do to still encourage one ball to play over the other. Imagine that blue has cross-wired red and yellow at H1 (black's hoop). Red is for 4-back and yellow is for peg, and as such, the striker of blue and black would want to encourage yellow to play by substantially lengthening red's shot - the following leave is able to achieve this:
Red is placed very near the south boundary as a deliberately poor pioneer at H1, and the length of red's shot is increased by 5-6 yards over what it would be in a normal cross-wire. Placing red as a deliberately poor pioneer at H1 may encourage yellow to play. Be aware, of course, that placing balls deliberately close to the boundary should only be done if you are confident of picking up a break from those positions afterwards, particularly bearing in mind that yellow may choose to corner.
Generally when referring to a third-turn leave we are referring to when a player has hit on the third turn of the game and played a break to 4-back with 3 balls, then set a leave. Bearing in mind that the fourth ball is not yet played into the game, the opponent does not have the option of which ball to play with their fourth-turn shot - they must play the remaining ball. As such, there are opportunities to set a leave utilising the opponent's ball in close proximity to your own.
This leave is probably the most popular of all the third-turn leaves after a break to 4-back.
The Three Ducks is so named because the balls are arranged like "ducks in a row", near the west boundary. The best way to arrange this leave is to have your H1 ball near/on the west boundary, with the opponent ball about 1 yard further in-court and your 4-back ball another yard further in again - assuming an opponent miss, this then enables you to set an opponent ball as the H2 pioneer and take partner ball to H1 - which in turn will be sent to H3 / 4b for potential peeling opportunities later.
The Three Ducks is the most aggressive of the third-turn leaves and doesn't really leave any defensive option for the opponent. Having said that, if the opponent takes the longer lift shot from C1 through to C2, it can be a bit tricky to dig the C2 ball out if you do not get a forward rush out of H1. If no forward rush is achieved, you may choose to take off to C2 instead of croquet partner ball to H3.
A perfectly valid option, but far less frequently used. This is a mirror image of the regular Three Ducks, although it is probably a bit more difficult to pick up a break from a missed lift. It is easier to make than the regular Three Ducks as it doesn't require control out of 3b.
If the opponent misses the shot from C3 to C4 there is an interesting opportunity to play a bombard on the in-lawn ball to H1 while approaching the ball in C4 - certainly it is not the kind of shot you would want to approach without having practised it, but if played successfully, gives an immediate 4-ball break.
This leave is just like a regular NSL but obviously with a ball missing. Again it's best to have your 4-back ball in the NSL position at H4, so the way you go about making this leave is slightly different than a normal NSL.
After making 3-back you can rush partner out to the east boundary, then rush the opponent's ball back slightly south of 3-back. A little stop shot is then played to send the opponent ball out towards partner while approaching the intended wired spot at H4 with striker's ball.
Another method would be to rush both partner and opponent out towards their east boundary positions, and then takeoff back to place your ball in the wired spot at H4.
The fourth turn shot from the opponent is the exact equivalent of them lifting the ball from the west boundary and taking their lift shot.
The third-turn leave favoured by stronger players - this looks a lot like a DSL but with the peg ball missing.
After a fourth-turn miss from the opponent, the break pickup is similar to that of a DSL, but ideally the initial rush is left for the H1 ball on the opponent's ball, and your 4-back ball is placed on or near the west boundary. This gives the advantage of taking the rush to H1 with partner.
When making this leave, very strong players will likely play their 4-back ball all the way to the west boundary with their final shot for blue, instead of lagging the ball a yard or two from the yardline - this adds more defence to the leave, and means that if the opponent does hit the long lift their break pick-up will be even more difficult.Back to top
The Super Advanced game is a slightly modified version of association croquet that is played at championship level in England. It incorporates an additional lift (at hoop 4) when compared to normal advanced rules, and hence changes the tactics and first-break leaves quite considerably. As a result, all the golden rules for leave-making go out the window. A separate article about super advanced first-break tactics and leaves is available hereBack to top