Board 1 Game 3 from the 2019 World Crokinole Championship Top 6 Doubles Playoffs between Jason and Ray Beierling, and Jon Conrad and Connor Reinman.
Board 1 Game 3 from the 2019 World Crokinole Championship Top 6 Doubles Playoffs between Jason and Ray Beierling, and Jon Conrad and Connor Reinman.
If you read any publication other than the one and only competitive crokinole blog, you probably saw multiple year-in-review and decade-in-review pieces throughout December. This blog will be no different, except for the fact that we’ll actually wait for the decade to end before we recap all that it had to offer.
But is it possible to simply summarize an entire 10 years? Even in a super niche avocation there’s a dense story to tell.
On January 1st 2010 the game of crokinole really did feel like it was in the midst of a strong upward swing in popularity, at least in a domestic sense. The World Crokinole Championship had just had another year with a strong attendance record. The tournament was drawing crowds from neighbouring communities, and still riding the wave of interest roused by The Crokinole Movle in 2006. The National Crokinole Association had just began their second year of operation after an exceptional premier season that garnered media attention and successfully united and spurred the creation of dozens of crokinole clubs in Ontario.
And it wasn’t just in Ontario that crokinole seemed to be experiencing a rebirth. Communities either began to pop up, or at least use the internet to advertise their long-standing existence, in far away places like mainland British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Prince Edward Island.
The game was thriving as people who fondly remembered crokinole from their youth rediscovered the game as they learned the existence of clubs and tournaments.
At the start of the 2010s, outside of Canada, the crokinole community was a vast empty chamber. At the time there were supposedly some players in Germany, but little information seemed to float around to confirm this fact. Meanwhile, a Chinese Crokinole Championship was held for a couple of years, which seemed to indicate crokinole was growing into new markets with new players. But closer inspection revealed this event took place among Canadian-Expatriates who were looking to bring a piece of Canada with them to a foreign country.
The online crokinole community was new, fresh, raw and uncertain of itself. The NCA (and the now defunct CrokinoleDepot forum) capitalized in the early days to build connections between new clubs and tournaments. This online community also experienced, rather fervently, a tall tale of a supposedly masterful group of crokinole players. The Eagan and Fitzgeralds, a group so superior in crokinole ability that they wouldn’t dare stoop to the lows of competing outside their own mysterious inner circle. A lens of hindsight reveals numerous flags that expose the story as ludicrous, but also comical how the tale grew ever larger thanks to the intricate exertion of one member of the crokinole community who is no longer active.
The general feeling among crokinole promoters at the start of the decade was that awareness of the game would only spread further, and it would grow on the backs of nostalgia and word of mouth.
But that wasn’t the case. While dedicated crokinole players in the NCA and WCC developed friendships and forged a collective, only in small numbers were new people finding the game and the competitive landscape. At times the numbers joining were smaller than those who unfortunately left the game, be it for health reasons or a general decline in interest.
Even as cool things began to happen abroad and online, the game was dipping in popularity, and it was hard not to be pessimistic about it. By the time 2014 came around, numbers in club attendance and NCA tournaments had declined from prior years. The World Crokinole Championship actually hit lower attendance than it had in the previous 10 years.
That negative feeling was partially offset by intriguing developments globally. If one looked hard enough online, and frequently used translator applications, one could find facebook posts that declared Dennis Vrints and Bert Costermans champions in a crokinole tournament in Belgium, or find Áron Deme was winning an event in Budapest, Hungary.
Meanwhile in the USA there was palpable interest in the game in Ohio, Conneticut, Kentucky, LA, Massachusetts and New York. Crokinole even took centre stage at a popular gaming convention known as PAX East.
But with the flame of crokinole dwindling in its very own birthplace, it felt like it would only be a couple of years until the pillars of competitive crokinole ceased to exist.
In June of 2014, Public Radio International did a story on crokinole. Again, another very cool moment for the game, but Nathan Walsh, who was interviewed in the piece, found it hard to smile in a moment of sunshine when gloomy clouds dominated the future, and practically predicted the end was near.
In the way of controversial decisions, a long debate was seemingly completed at the beginning of the decade, while another started brewing at the end.
In the Fall of 2010, the collective braintrust of crokinole minds that made up the NCA successfully lobbied the WCC to align rulebooks, which most significantly resulted in the world of competitive crokinole definitively switching to damage-done rather than damage-repaired.
And to close the decade we heard some voices grow louder to exclaim their preference to reduce, or eliminate entirely, the use of powder wax. Voices carrying this same message have been around since powder wax was first used, but the improved quality and consistency of both boards and discs lay additional credence to these arguments. Nothing has been solved yet, but perhaps The Wax Wars will rage on in the 2020s.
In the 2010s a number of previously key figures stepped away from the game. While the facilitation of many individual clubs would change throughout the decade, NCA founder, Greg Matthison, resigned in his role as NCA Chair. The World Crokinole Championship committee experienced nearly a complete turnover, with only two committee members remaining for the entirety of the decade. Additionally the voice of the WCC, emcee Ken Wettlaufer, the long-time trophy-maker, Ken Roth, and iconic board-maker, Willard Martin, retired from their roles. There were even big changes on the player front as the two dominant players of the 2000s, Joe Fulop and Brian Cook, stepped out of the spotlight in the 2010s for different reasons.
And in time there was mourning as well, as prominent members, players and builders of the game were lost. With due respect to all those who enjoyed crokinole and blessed the game with their participation, some special regard will be given to Wayne Kelly whose efforts led to a best-selling book on the game, Dr. Bruce Halliday, who along with Kelly can be credited in part for the creation of the World Championships, and to Clif Antypowich and Roy Younker who inspired much of the crokinole interest that can still be found today in BC and PEI respectively.
Even in their loss, their spirit for crokinole was carried on in new innovations and energy for the game. CrokinoleCentre chronicled the highlights of the competitive circuit through articles and video. CrokinoleDepot became globally renown, inventing the concept of 20-holders and supplying the game with disc colours that stretched beyond the traditional black and unpainted. Peter Tarle unloaded a burden on all tournament organizers by inventing a reliable game clock. And Jeremy Tracey took the baton of board building and quickly became arguably the most prominent crokinole board maker.
From the gloom of the mid-decade, interest in the game came in the form of new faces and players who didn’t have familiarity with crokinole from a classic rural Canadian upbringing. These faces seemed to come out of nowhere and contributed greatly to growing the game. Dale Henry attended a Hamilton event on a whim, and soon after had invited the entire community of crokinole to the Tuscarora Nation. Daniel Létay and Zsolt Rimár tirelessly promoted the game in Hungary, and later welcomed Europe and the World to Budapest. A group from upstate New York adopted the game and have created a remarkably unique crokinole experience. Meanwhile in Europe new groups of English, Spaniards, Italians, Germans and Dutch have all create their own crokinole events to be envied.
In it all, crokinole’s interest has reached levels never before seen. Registrations in many crokinole tournaments, particularly the World Championships, have reached historically high levels. Not one, but two famous Youtubers made videos about the game (one has since been deleted, and viewer discretion is advised for the other). Meanwhile popular board game reviewers have added greater legitimacy to the enjoyment of crokinole. And multiple competitive videos reached unbelievable viewership numbers. While the game will never see big payouts, as corporate sponsors are unlikely to flock to this game, some players have become relative celebrities with online fandoms.
In the 10 years the game dipped in popularity and then slowly built anew. It’s a bit astonishing in retrospect.
As much as the game stands stronger today, challenges are still existent and daunting.
With interest in anything there will always be those who attempt to grab easy profits from honest enthusiasm. It takes little effort to find those selling products at outlandish prices to individuals naively unaware that a more reasonable price exists. They’ll mistake their good fortunes as rightfully earned, rather than well earned on the backs of others. They are heroes of ruthless capitalism, but in little way are they good adverts for the game, and the risk of this activity will only grow if Crokinole continues to find a wider and more captivated audience.
And while this audience does grow, it is easy to see it is largely populated by caucasian males. Crokinole isn’t politics, Hollywood or a corporate executive office, which are all places where a healthy does of diversity would certainly have a substantially greater societal impact than could be seen from crokinole. But it is a cautionary flag that should bring thoughts towards whether the crokinole community is every bit as welcoming as it can be.
Lastly, the competitive crokinole world has, and likely will always, survive on the efforts of volunteers. It’s easy to take these efforts for granted. Some of those volunteers have been at this for a long time, and are strained through several years of trying endeavours, no longer energized by fresh eyes and aspirational hopes. Even with the energy for crokinole today, many tournaments and clubs stand the risk of folding should one or two of these dedicated individuals, long since having given their fair share back to game, withdraw from their posts.
In some ways this crokinole decade begins just like the last one, with a feeling of optimism that the game is burgeoning to become something like it never has before. One never truly knows what the future will bring, and those claiming to know should be met with skepticism. The game of crokinole could expand beyond expectations, or its popularity may dip ever more violently than before.
Regardless of your leniency to the old glass-half-full/half-empty analogy, an objective view would reveal that never before has the game of crokinole been so well known world-wide. Never before has crokinole had so many clubs, tournaments and avenues for which enthusiasts can exercise their enjoyment of the game. Never before has there been so many boards being produced. Never before has the game of crokinole been so accessible to reach out to new players.
Never before has the game of crokinole had so much potential.
The final days of 2019 saw a new crokinole tournament, The Excelling Eight, come to formation. And it was Jeremy Tracey who won the exclusive event following a tiebreaker, later found to be unnecessary, over Nathan Walsh.
The idea for this event was conceived by Ray Beierling, who had long wished to have an event on the crokinole calendar be part-showcase and part-exhibition. The showcase criteria was fulfilled by limiting the event to the top 8 players on the current NCA Tour standings, and there’s some desire from Beierling that, should this event recur in the future, players will be more incentivized to attend events earlier in the NCA calendar.
Unfortunately for some, and to the fortune of others, the late notice of this inaugural edition left some of the top 8 players unavailable. However the event’s 8 spots were ultimately filled among the ranks of the NCA’s top 11.
The exhibition element of the event came in the format, as the tournament was broken into three separate stages, which included 4-Player-Singles, Doubles, and 2-Player-Singles (with a variation).
Each stage was played in a round robin format with players earnings points based on how they ranked within each stage. Points were allocated as shown in the table below, with the final tournament ranking being determined the addition of the points earned in each stage (20 points being the maximum possible).
The 4-Player-Singles stage kicked off the tournament, marking the first time this format had been tested out in a competitive fashion. Previously players had only experienced the format during club play or in recreational settings, so there was a lot curiosity surrounding what plays and strategies would prove to be successful.
A 7-game rotation was used, where each game involved a different combination of 4 players. The rotation worked out so that each opposing player was met 3 times throughout the 7 games.
The scoring was modified from regular competitive play to allot points depending on whether a player finished 1st (8 points), 2nd (6 points), 3rd (4 points) or 4th (2 points) in a particular round. In the case of any ties the points for those respective positions would be split.
While in 2-player-singles the best possible shot is a takeout-20, all players either knew, or learned quickly, that this isn’t the case in the 4-player game. As there are three opponents to consider, scoring a touch-20 is much more effective as it eliminates the opportunity for your opponent on the left to score a 20 on their next shot. This strategy became so popular that you frequently had opponents (usually the two opponents not occupying the seat to the left of the shooter) reminding others to utilize it.
In addition to touch-20s, the importance of open-20s is magnified in the 4-player game. A missed open-20 in the 2-player game could result in your opponent failing to make a takeout, and thus allowing you to perhaps place two discs on the board and overcome a 20 deficit. However in 4-player-singles, a missed open-20 means there are three opponents to shoot in succession who can eliminate your disc from play.
While 2-player-singles can allow for chances to hide discs, there really is no hiding in 4-player-singles. There was the rare case where a player was able to accumulate two or three discs on the board, and threaten to win the round because of it. But this was never due to superior strategy, and rather the result of opponents focussing narrowly on touch-20 attempts.
After 4 games the scores were pretty tight with Andrew Hutchinson and Jeremy Tracey sharing the lead at 90 points, followed by Ray Beierling and Roy Campbell at 87 and 86 points. To put the 90 points in perspective, that’s 10 points higher than the average through 4 games, and equates to 5.6 points per round (so just under finishing 2nd in each round).
Hutchinson and Campbell’s scores would fall to the average of the pack, while Jeremy Tracey’s would soar as he averaged 6.7 points per round in the final 3 games. Tracey would finish first by a margin of 14 points, which appears like a massive lead to an eye trained under the common format of 2 points available per round. However individual game scores varied from as high as 29 points, to as low as 9. So a 14 point victory, while strong, isn’t shockingly large. The final scores ended as such:
|Rank||Name||4-Player-Singles Points||Tournament Points|
It was only discovered following the event that Hutchinson’s score from the 4-Player-Singles stage was actually 144 points, which would have propelled him higher up the tournament standings by 1.5 points. It also would have pushed down other players, namely Nathan Walsh, by 0.5 points. It will become clear why this was substantial later on.
The second stage was Doubles play, using a rotation that involved each player partnering once, and competing against each other twice over 7 games. The same format is used each night at the renowned St. Jacobs Crokinole Club.
Prior to play beginning there was a vote on whether utilize a rule variation that would restrict players from attempting any combination shot to strike an opposing disc, and thus requiring that opposing discs be contacted directly by the shooting disc. This same rule is used in the game of snooker, and was also famously used by the legendary Cameron Heights Teachers Club. Players mused about potential strategy choices as a result of the rule, but ultimately voted in majority against playing with it.
The standard doubles rules meant players weren’t required to formulate never-before-conceived strategies, unlike in the 4-player-singles and 2-player singles to come. However, the progressive format of doubles pairing allowed for some brand new partnerships to display their combined skills in a competitive fashion.
At the end of the stage though, there was little evidence to show that the new partnerships fared any better than older established partnerships. The Beierling brothers paired up to win 6-2 over Tracey/Langill, but the Beierlings would score a combined three more 6-2 victories in the round robin. Connor Reinman and Nathan Walsh (one previous tournament together) won 6-2 over Tracey/R. Beierling, but both would score equally as well or better in later games. Andrew Hutchinson and Reinman (also one previous tournament) tied Walsh/Campbell 4-4. And finally, the established team of Tracey/Campbell drew Reinman/J. Beierling 4-4.
Those middle-of-the-pack scores underline the main theme of this stage, which was that all of the scores were pretty tight. Across all 14 games that were played, only once did a team score better than a 6-2 victory, and one-third of the time the head-to-head matchup resulted in a 4-4 draw.
Nathan Walsh ended the stage with the top score, being the only player to not receive a loss in the round robin. That was the critical difference between 1st and 2nd, as Ray Beierling missed the top spot by two points, due to a single 6-2 loss over 7 games.
|Rank||Name||Doubles Points||Tournament Points|
After the first two stages, Ray Beierling led the event with 10.5 points, followed closely by Walsh at 10 points. Reinman (9), Tracey (8) and Jason Beierling (7.5) still had opportunities to win the event going into the final stage.
The final stage involved a 7-game round robin of 2-Player-Singles, with a substantial rule modification.
There have been infrequent discussions over the years about the proficiency of open-20 scoring in competitive crokinole. How much to too much? Is it boring or exciting? If it is boring, what can be done about it?
Players and spectators have brainstormed modifications to the game, ranging from subtle to extreme, that alter the number of discs used, alter the commonly accepted dimensions of a crokinole board, restrict the type and quantity of wax, and change the rulebook. Generally these ideas had been discussed far more than they had been tested, so this event provided an excellent opportunity for one potential modification to be exhibited.
The one rule modification was that players would place (with their hands) rather than shoot their first disc in each round. The stipulations on placing the disc were as follows:
Obviously with discs already positioned on the board, the impact of open-20s is greatly reduced, and replaced by the intrigue of strategic choices of the players regarding their disc placement.
The players did vote on which player (the player shooting first, or the one with the hammer) should be the first to “place their disc.” It was mentioned that should the player with the hammer place first, then the player shooting first has a good chance of scoring a 20 as they get the opportunity to place a disc and then immediately shoot, thus reducing the advantage of the hammer. This idea was voted down by a score of 6-1 (one abstention). Walsh was the sole proponent of the “hammer places first” argument, suggesting that if disc placements followed the “regular order of play,” that strategy choices would become boring with players ultimately selecting the same location every time.
That particular argument from Walsh was thoroughly proved incorrect. While Walsh continually placed his first disc in front of a near peg, this was not frequently used by the rest of the field. Walsh’s line of thinking of course was to make it difficult for the opponent to remove the disc. Reinman consistently tried the same, but often chose a peg on the side, rather than directly in front.
Langill also often used a near peg, but made sure to leave some space, with the goal of being less exposed to the risk of a bounce-back-20 being scored by the opponent. Ray Beierling and Andrew Hutchinson reportedly “got burned” by so many opponents scoring bounce-back-20s that they were forced to change tactics.
The most interesting strategy choice was used by Campbell, Tracey and Jason Beierling on occasion. At times they set up their disc on the far side of the 20 hole, thus stopping the opponent from placing a disc on their near side of the 15 circle to not leave an easy combo-hanger-20. However, results of strategy did not come back conclusively.
There were two conclusive results though. Firstly, 20s scores drop substantially with open-20s opportunities greatly reduced. And secondly, there were many more instances of complex boards with several discs in play.
After 7 games, few players walked away thinking they had deciphered any optimal strategies to be used. There was also mixed reviews on whether the variation was worthy of subsequent trials, with some enjoying the format, and others quick to offer alternative versions they’d like to play.
Getting to the tournament play, there were some rather strange results. Nathan Walsh, Connor Reinman and Jason Beierling both had a game where they lost 0-8 and a game where they won 8-0. Jason even joked that he earned the rare “tank” on his scorecard (while the term “snowman” is used by players to indicate a round with 0 points and 0 20s scored, a “tank” is a full four rounds of 0 points and 0 20s).
Jeremy Tracey was the class of the field, going undefeated and only drawing two games (to Langill and Hutchinson). He’d earn 38 points in 7 games to finish first by a massive 7 points. Jason Beierling and Walsh both made late pushes to score 31 points, but second place went to Beierling due to his 8-0 win over Walsh in the round.
|Rank||Name||2-Player-Singles Points||Tournament Points|
That left the final tournament standings at 16 points for Tracey, and 16 points for Walsh, setting up a tiebreaker, for which the Tracey invented drill was used. The linked video describes it in video form, but the drill involves 8 shots to shot off 8 opposing discs and get the highest possible score.
Both players were allowed two attempts to get the best score to win the tournament. Walsh went first, and could have attempted 50 times to no avail, because his initial attempt of 65 and secondary attempt of 85, were blown away by Tracey’s achievement of 110 on his first and only try.
The tiebreaker victory gave Tracey the title as inaugural Excelling 8 Champion.
Although, as mentioned earlier, some later scorecard investigation revealed a higher placement for Hutchinson in the 4-player-singles should have lowered Walsh’s score from 16 to 15.5 points, ultimately making the tiebreaker unnecessary. Fortunately, the final rankings from the tournament remained unaffected.