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This article is based on a series of correspondence in November 2003 on the Nottingham mailing list which took place following the 2003 MacRobertson Shield. Original postings have been edited for clarity.

When and Who to TPO?

Jonathan Kirby

On the whole I think that a TPO is only a good tactic if you have a very high probability of success and your opponent is good enough that just going to 4-back with a leave is not particularly strong.

Robert Fulford

From my perspective the ideal person to TPO is a relatively weak player. e.g. someone who poses a real threat to hit the lift and hold on to the innings for the rest of the game, but who offers little threat of finishing either off a contact/squeeze or after hitting-in when my balls are joined up defensively well behind their break.


These tables were extracted by Chris Williams from the rankings database.

Table A. Players who have completed more than 5 TPO/OTPs. On average, 71% resulted in a win.

Name Total % Won
Clarke C 76 68%
Fulford 76 83%
Mulliner 74 69%
Maugham 60 68%
Aiton 48 63%
Jackson 48 81%
Cunningham 36 75%
Dawson J 26 69%
Bamford 24 67%
Irwin 22 91%
Brown 22 77%
Goacher 16 88%
Comish 16 88%
Bryant 16 81%
Prince 14 64%
Kibble 12 58%
Trimmer 12 75%
Watson L 11 82%
Hawkins 10 80%
Westerby 9 78%
Burridge 8 63%
Avery 8 75%
Burrow 8 50%
Tibble 8 50%
Noble 8 50%
Hort 8 50%
Soo 8 50%
Openshaw 7 100%
Williams S 7 57%
Garrison 7 86%
Landrebe 7 86%
Cornelius 6 33%
Pickering 6 67%

Table B. Players who have been TPOed more than 5 times.

Name Total % Won
Clarke C 33 45%
Fulford 30 47%
Maugham 29 69%
Irwin 28 25%
Goacher 23 43%
Cordingley 21 38%
Mulliner 19 53%
Comish 19 37%
Aiton 18 22%
H-Wood 18 33%
Burridge 14 36%
Openshaw 14 21%
Dawson J 12 33%
Avery 12 25%
Burrow 11 45%
Stark 11 27%
Bamford 10 40%
Bassett T 10 30%
Cunningham 9 11%
Westerby 9 67%
Williams S 9 44%
Cornelius 9 33%
Burge 9 11%
Skinley 9 33%
Dyer 9 33%
Parkinson 9 22%
Gaunt 9 33%
Brown 8 13%
Kibble 8 13%
Garrison 8 13%
McInerney R 8 75%
Jackson 7 43%
Trimmer 7 57%
Tibble 7 43%
McInerney M 7 86%
Hallam 7 29%
Pickering 6 33%
Beijderwellen 6 17%

Why is a TPO Harder than a TP?

Jonathan Kirby Wrote

Except for the very best peelers a TPO is much more difficult

To Which Kevin Carter Asked

Why? Riskier definitely, but surely organising the three peels is exactly the same, and the peg-out afterwards should not be too onerous.

Jonathan Replied

Well, you don't have to do a triple if you take the first ball to 4-back. Secondly, you need a leave after a TPO, and not after a TP. This is important as if you leave the balls off the boundaries giving away a contact then just one reasonably good stroke can give a three ball break to your opponent.

There are other reasons why a TPO can be a bad tactic. If you do attempt a triple then you don't lose anything if you subsequently run out of position and abandon it, whereas you lose more if you abandon a TPO. Then if you do complete a TPO, just one subsequent mistake on your part can give away an easy three-ball break and finish, whereas if oppo. is still for 1 and 4-back they have to do either two breaks or a triple, which is harder for most A class players in most conditions. Finally if you do complete a TPO, the single ball player often has a psychological advantage in that they can just go for things, whereas the two ball player has to weigh up aggression and defence. This can cause indecisiveness, which often causes mistakes.

These are less of a problem for experienced TPOers, but [Table A] shows there aren't many of these - only 14 people have done 10 or more winning TPOs over the past 12 years! Jonathan

How to Play the Three Ball Ending?

Rob Edlin-White Asked

What tactics are normally adopted at the top level for the 2 ball player? What factors determine this? I ask because when I was once pegged out by an A class player, he proceeded to beat me a hoop at a time off partner, always laying up perfectly wired from my ball. On the one occasion when his croqueted ball wasn't wired, his final stroke was into a remote and useless corner. I noticed in the MacRobertson Shield reports a couple of games in which the 2-ball player played a 3-ball break. Some players of A class (but not international class) regard this as an unnecessary risk.

Robert Fulford Replied

Presumably you were playing handicap, as otherwise he would have two lifts to negotiate. [Rob Edlin-White later confirmed this]

In practice at minus level in the UK you would be mad to turn down a laid 3-ball break and accept giving these lifts away. If you end up with a difficult hoop on the 3 ball often you can play to a corner relatively safely.

In a game between two players ranked around 2300 [this is approximately world top 60]the player with two balls should be happy to lay up completely open to the opponent at a distance of 20 yards where he will get an immediate break and the opponent will not.

Where the single ball is for the same hoop more effort is likely to be made to get wired, but most players would be happy to leave an open shot if it is 30+ yards.

The complexity comes in how you progress where the opponent doesn't shoot into these positions. The two ball player can play one hoop at a time with a mixture of wiring and making the above leaves until 1-back (you can't peel 1-back without giving away a free shot from corner 3). After making 1-back the best leave will probably be a 10 yard join near corner 2 or 4.

If the two ball player is relatively strong the single-ball player may be happy to get to this position. In this case it makes sense to play the early part of the game hiding in the corner furthest behind the opponents break. Otherwise it may be wise to put your ball in places where the opponent is likely to come and move you and hope this generates a full blown error or at least a relatively free shot. This second option runs a much greater risk the opponent will finish without a shot being taken.

Once the TPOer is through 1-back the single ball has much greater license to shoot as the TPOer has good prospects of 2-balling out from 4-back (getting to peg alone will almost certainly be good enough).

In games involving stronger players than this you are more likely to see finishes even when the single ball is in the deepest darkest corner. This makes the 'suicide shot' more attractive. There are two important ideas for the two ball player in making his leaves more defensive.

One important last thing for the two ball player to bear in mind is that there is no hurry. If you play a slightly imperfect rush to your hoop it often makes a lot of sense to retire and go for a perfect one next time, particularly if you can go somewhere wired or where you would be happy for the opponent to shoot. If you then rush badly again, retire again, why not?

Example A

The Position

The 2-ball side (for hoop 2) was laid up on the west boundary just south of hoop 2 with a rush pointing towards corner 4. The single ball (Jerry) played from corner 4 to four foot position at hoop 1 (a very good shot!).

The 2-ball side took a cut rush to four yards south of hoop 2, rolled up to about four feet in front, then had a discussion and decided to retire to corner 4.

The single ball ran hoop 1, roqueted the ball north of hoop 2, took off and made hoop 2, rolled up to hoop 3, made it, rolled down to collect the ball in corner 4, hit it and then stuffed it towards hoop 2 (luckily it hit the peg!), ran hoop 4 and finished.

Keith Aiton

Two points arise.

With the benefit of hindsight the 2-ball side should have moved the single ball away from hoop 1 if they were not guaranteed to make hoop 2. As Robert Fulford wrote, [see above] the 2-ball player need not hurry.

The other point is that when approaching hoop 4 the single-ball player should have been pioneering hoop 5 (he had rolled the other oppo. south of hoop 4) as by that stage he was one good shot away from a break and shouldn't have been thinking defensively.

Robert Fulford

Rushing to hoop 2 is the play of someone who thinks they might finish with Jerry having put his ball in court. If you go and move it Jerry may not be generous enough to give you his ball again. OK in this case they were made to look stupid but it seems equally plausible that they may finish and make Jerry look like the stupid one.

I agree about approaching 4 hoop aggressively.

Example B

The Position

The single ball and the backward ball were both for hoop 4. The single ball was down in the region of corner 4 and the 2-ball side was taking croquet (having already used the oppo.) near corner 2.

The striker decided to leave his balls on the west boundary a couple of yards apart and just south of corner 2.

Keith Aiton

I am not completely sure what the 2-ball side should have done.

I agreed with this play at the time, but someone else suggested that he should have "guarded" corner 2, i.e. come out a few yards from the corner in order to be able to croquet the oppo. as far as hoop 6 (say) obtaining a rush on partner to hoop 4. I disagreed on the basis that it left a shorter shot (by a few yards), made it easier for the oppo. if he hit, and (for me personally) I would have been happier getting a good rush to hoop 4 leaving the oppo. a few yards west of hoop 2, rather than a worse rush to hoop 4 albeit with the oppo. out at hoop 6. I would be interested to hear what other people would have done.

Robert Fulford

I would be looking to leave the backward ball on the boundary wired from the single ball probably by hoop 2 a couple of yards E of C2 with say a 3 yard rush pointing south. If the single ball hits on the left side he will tend to have less space than Keith's original option; on the right he will have a more difficult croquet stroke. Hoop 2 will also be in play on the single ball's rush to 4. If the single ball misses the croquet stroke, getting a rush to 4 is debatably easier than in Keith's option as it is played up the rush line rather than across it.

Whether you want to send the single ball to 6 when you are uncertain of making 4 is another question, probably best answered by the person who has to pick up the break.