The championship final from the 2019 Scenic City Crokinole Classic in Owen Sound between Jon Conrad and Andrew Hutchinson.
The championship final from the 2019 Scenic City Crokinole Classic in Owen Sound between Jon Conrad and Andrew Hutchinson.
There was a time not so long ago that videos from CrokinoleCentre did not have production quality as their worst characteristic, as hard as that is to imagine.
No, starting in 2013, and only ending around 2017, CrokinoleCentre's absolute biggest problem was extreme unpunctuality.
It's laughable that if you view the upload date of most videos from 2013 to 2017, you'll see they were generally uploaded 6-18 months after they were originally played. One might wonder how any viewer could put up with such delay, although judging based on the view count of most of those 2013-2017 videos it's clear few did. It might be coincidental, but CrokinoleCentre viewership did start to rise in 2017 once the videos became a tad more prompt.
Yes in those years CrokinoleCentre videos would have appeared to have been the work of a college or university student: bereft of urgency until the procrastination had finally come to halt from the force of impending deadlines. Regrettably, all deadlines in this business (whatever this business is) are self-imposed, so for a while the only desire was to ensure the World Championship videos from a past year appeared online before the following year's event. With great relief the CrokinoleCentre channel would heap 12 videos online in a day. Hey! You like crokinole right? How about 6 hours of it!
One day I was given a helpful tip from one of the game's great players, who suggested the work be spaced out and tackled incrementally. Like all good advice this was ignored initially, but fortunately this player offered the advice a second time. Once it set in it was found to be much easier to complete, and so this eventually led to the goal of uploading one video each week.
All of this preamble is to say that most of the time the schedule is followed, and sometimes a video is even prepared a couple weeks in advance, where it usually sits unviewed as the world of crokinole fans (slightly larger in number in 2020 then they were in 2014) simply waits.
So for loyal CrokinoleCentre readers, here is presented the gift of not waiting (as a recompense for having to wait so long in previous years).
The full list of soon to be released videos will be provided here. The listing will avoid using player names so as to prevent viewers from seeing spoilers about which players advance into the playoffs or win a semifinal match. Unfortunately viewers of this website can't be entirely safe from spoilers since you may very well stumble on a blog post detailing the latest tournament results.
It cannot be promised that list will always be filled with many videos to watch, but it's considered to be the best offer that can be provided at the moment. And right now you can watch the second semifinal and final of the Hamilton tournament should you be craving some more crokinole content.
The 2019-2020 NCA Tour battle heated to the point of boiling as the Tour’s co-leaders faced off in the championship final of the Golden Horseshoe tournament. Andrew Hutchinson and Jason Beierling, sharing the top spot on the Tour with 188 points, played down to the wire in a match that required extra rounds. When the dust settled from the boisterous atmosphere that developed in the final, it was Jason Beierling who came away victorious to move into sole possession of the NCA Tour lead.
A crowd of 54 made it to the Cornerstone Reformed Church on a mild Hamilton Saturday to set a tournament attendance record. Amongst the group of NCA regulars were a number of new faces who impressed both in terms of skill and enthusiasm, and certainly brought forward hope that they would one day become a part of the regular crowd.
The field was split into 5 groups for morning action, with a narrow advancement protocol being used for those wishing to make the Group A Second Round. Only the top 2 in each group, plus the next best score, would advance so there was little time to make errors even in the early action.
Defending Hamilton champion, Justin Slater, began strongly with 56 points in 9 games amongst Pool A for the top spot in the pool. Clare Kuepfer took the other Group A spot with 45 points, just ahead of four players: Reid Tracey (44), Abijah Jong (43), Mark Gallas (42), Ron Reesor (41). There was a similar log-jam in Pool C as Roy Campbell finished first with 59 points, in 10 games, followed by Roger Vaillancourt (58), Ron Langill (57) and Ray Beierling (55).
The top three scores in the morning all came from the same Pool B with Jeremy Tracey leading the way at 68 points, Jason Beierling in second at 65, and Peter Carter picking up the “next best score” position with 64 points in 10 games.
Andrew Hutchinson topped Pool D by a solid margin with 67 points, while James Medway’s inaugural tournament resulted in a Group A qualification with 56 points in 10 games, just beating out Eric Miltenburg at 54 points. Finally, in Pool E Fred Slater finished first at 57 points, with Nathan Walsh just behind at 56 points, while Jo-Ann Carter was third in the group at 49 points.
With the second round action split amongst 5 pools there was too much action to follow all results of the event. Dave King, known primarily for prowess in the pointed wooden sticks (aka Cues) category of crokinole, took home the Group E title, while Reuben Jong won in Group D. In Group C, two NCA debutants made the finals, where Mark Malecki prevailed over Vuth Vann.
Meanwhile in Group B, Ray Beierling had a storming performance to pick up 65 points in 10 games, and was joined in the finals by Ron Langill who had 55 points. Reid Tracey, Josh Carrafiello and Andrew Korchok rounded out the top 5 at 46, 44 and 43 points respectively. Ray Beierling prevailed over Langill in the finals to earn the Group B honours.
In Group A there was a little bit of buzz about possible 20s records attempts, being that the 2019 Hamilton tournament yielded a world record from Justin Slater that still stands today. That record score (181 20s in 11 games, averaging out to 16.4 20s in each game) was flirted with for a couple of games as Slater was averaging 14.2/game after 5 games, and both Andrew Hutchinson and Nathan Walsh had scored perfect rounds (against Slater). The 20s scores would temper off, although Justin Slater still finished with the top mark at 122 20s in 10 games.
Of greater importance of course were the number of points being scored, and very early on the top group of 4 emerged as Roy Campbell, Jason Beierling, Andrew Hutchinson and Justin Slater had all scored at least 26 points after 5 games. Clare Kuepfer and Jeremy Tracey were sitting in 5th place after 5 games, but a gap was already emerging as they had 22 points, trailing a playoff spot by 4. The gap only grew further with Justin Slater finishing first at 57 points, Roy Campbell and Jason Beierling at 50, and Andrew Hutchinson at 49, as Jeremy Tracey finished on the bubble with 43 points for 5th place.
That setup semifinals between Justin Slater and Andrew Hutchinson, and Roy Campbell and Jason Beierling. Both semifinal matchups had players coming in with undefeated head-to-head records against their opponents. Campbell had previously scored two victories over Beierling (2015 Owen Sound final, 2016 St. Jacobs semifinal), while Slater had recorded three wins against Hutchinson (2018 Hamilton, 2018 Turtle Island, 2018 Belleville - all semifinal matches).
Roy Campbell had also previously defeated Jason Beierling 8-0 in the round robin preceding the semifinal matchup. However, it was Beierling who took a running start in their semifinal as he steam-rolled through game one of the best-of-3 by a score of 6-0, as Beierling won the 20-race in each round and never did relinquish the advantage.
Campbell had better success on open-20s in game two, even winning a 20 race in round one, but then struggled by giving up multiple hanger-20s in each of the first two rounds, with Beierling converting all of the them on his way to a 4-0 lead and a strong chance to win the match. Jason Beierling would earn leads in both rounds 3 and 4 of the game two, and even had a chance to win the match with a double-takeout, but Campbell valiantly fought back to draw even at 4-4. All of the sudden Jason Beierling’s near victory saw him one round away from being all-tied-up with Campbell.
In round 5 Beierling missed his opening 20 attempt, but Campbell flashed his slice-20 shot, giving Beierling another open 20 opportunity. On the second chance Beierling succeeded, and then maintained the lead in the round to close out the match 6-0, 6-4 and earn his first ever victory over Roy Campbell.
The Hutchinson/Slater semifinal was also in stark contrast to their round robin game, being that 20s flowed precipitously in their earlier matchup, but were decidedly less plentiful to begin their semifinal. Game 1 saw Hutchinson come out on the better end of the low 20 scoring affair, seemingly comfortably winning all three rounds for a 6-0 victory.
At 2-2 in the second game, Hutchinson led in the 20 count, but a couple failed takeouts gave Slater two chances for an open 20, both of which were missed. Hutchinson was still not in an advantageous position as he faced two opposing discs. He attempted a tricky double, and failed to remove either disc, but was fortunate that his shooter rolled perfectly behind cover due to a combination of the pegs and Slater’s own disc. As a result, Slater couldn’t make the takeout and Hutchinson moved one step closer to victory at 4-2.
True to form, with his back against the wall Slater mounted a comeback. From down 4-2, Slater finally got ahead in the 20 races in each of the next two rounds, propelling him to a game 2 victory. Hutchinson would again be one step from victory as he jumped out to a 4-0 lead in game 3, but again Slater responded with perfection on open 20s to cut the lead to 4-2.
In the fourth round, after both players made their first 3 open 20s, Hutchinson missed long, giving Slater an edge. But Slater missed the ensuing takeout and Hutchinson scored a takeout-20 to lead the round. Down to the final shots Slater managed to hide a disc behind a peg, and needed Hutchinson to miss the shot as Slater required to score the full 2 points for the round. Finally Hutchinson seized the victorious opportunity and made the peel he needed to win the match 5-3, 4-6, 5-3. Amazingly, this was Slater’s first head-to-head singles loss in 2.5 years as he had a perfect streak stretching back to a semifinal loss to Jon Conrad at the 2017 Turtle Island event.
And so the final featured the only two players on the NCA Tour to have already racked up two tournament victories (both earning a singles and doubles title), with sole possession of the lead on the NCA Tour available for the victor.
Jason Beierling got the better start to the match, scoring a pressure open 20 on his hammer shot of the first round to get a tie, and then later got the lead to 3-1. Hutchinson played flawlessly in the next two rounds though, and Beierling eventually relented as Hutchinson won game one 5-3.
The second game saw four straight steals against the hammer to level the score at 4-4, and thus requiring a 5th round, with Hutchinson a win away from victory. Beierling missed his opening 20, but a failed takeout from Hutchinson left the door open. Beierling nailed a ricochet 20 on his next shot and maintained the lead to take game 2 6-4.
Flipping the script on game two, the final third game began with three straight holds of hammer for a 4-2 Beierling lead. Beierling missed his opening 20 in the 4th round, but was able to apply lots of pressure by scoring a ricochet 20 on his 6th shot. Hutchinson was up to the task this time, replying with an open 20, and when Beierling missed his open 20 attempt on shot 7, Hutchinson defended well to tie the match at 4-4.
The Hamilton event uses the Wimbledon rule, where a decisive game must give each player an equal number of hammer rounds. In the first tiebreak set, Beierling got ahead 2-0 as he was the first to successfully make a takeout-20 after both players boldly flirted with the 20 hole on numerous shots. Beierling needed one point in the next round to win the tournament, and got the edge with Hutchinson being the first to miss an open 20. The advantage would become insurmountable when Hutchinson missed an attempt at both a takeout and 20, and Beierling followed up by extending his 20 advantage to win the Golden Horseshoe Tournament 3-5, 6-4, 8-4.
The victory for Jason Beierling is his 3rd NCA singles title, to go along with 6 doubles titles. He now has 197 points on the 2019-2020 NCA Tour, which is already his best ever Tour performance even as three events remain on the calendar.
This blog will continue the CrokinoleCentre feature recapping crokinole in the 2010s, and this will be the first of three posts dissecting the competitive crokinole decade by way of the ruthlessly-click-baity and intentionally-controversial Top 10 lists. Today it’s the Top 10 CrokinoleCentre Matches of the Decade.
Any question of whether or not this list will be impacted by a biased author should be thrown out the window immediately. Because the answer is yes, as shown by the stipulation that all matches under consideration are CrokinoleCentre matches. That stipulation is there for two reasons:
Of course all matches in consideration must have occurred between January 1st 2010 and December 31st 2019. In all that makes for 223 full matches (including a couple from the previous NCA tournament that haven’t yet been published online).
So how will all 223 matches be graded, compared and ranked? A truly rigorous approach has been taken here with each match being ranked in 4 factors, that help quantify how intriguing, inspiring, enjoyable and exciting a crokinole match can be.
Hype: What was the excitement going into the match? What are the stakes of this match? This can work either in favour of and against a match.
Example: Consider the 2014 Golden Horseshoe Final between Ron Haymes and Ray Beierling. The quality of play and drama in this match makes it worthy of an honourable mention. Some terrific takeout-20 shots were made in pressure situations, and we even saw a winner-take-all round end in a tie, thus forcing the match into even more rounds of action. It was very exciting.
But some level of hype is needed just to get one interested enough to pay attention. Ron Haymes made a very rare appearance at the event (his only singles NCA tournament outside of the WCC), while a snow-storm in Ontario limited the tournament field on the day. When the finals were set, no one really knew what to expect. Ultimately the Haymes/Beierling match didn’t come with a high level of excitement or intrigue that compelled viewers to watch, so despite it being a good, nay, a great match, it doesn’t crack the Top 10 of the decade. The same can be said for many round robin games, despite the quality of the match, there’s just not enough hype to put it in the Top 10.
Quality of Play: Mistakes can add to intrigue, but too many makes matches memorable for the wrong reason. Big shots and sturdy play under pressure are what makes matches inspiring.
Example: The 2016 World Championship final had a decent amount of hype as two 23-year-olds in Justin Slater and Nathan Walsh faced off. They had previously played 3 times, with each match going the full 3 games. Needless to say there was excitement, but a myriad of errors from both sides repels this match from earning a label of inspirational.
Quality of Production: This one’s on the broadcast and the extra entertainment value added by players and spectators.
These are bad things.
These are good things.
I die a little from embarrassment every time I remember this video exists. Digital cameras made in the mid-2000s were just simply not designed to record video, and a crokinole-enthusiasts first crack at commentary makes watching in mute a necessity. But everything must start from somewhere and at least the quality is much better today.
This match was really good. Ray Beierling going for this 3rd-straight London title. Eric Miltenburg had made the final 4 in Tavistock the year prior and was gunning for his first NCA title. The match even went down to a 3rd-game 5th-round finish for the first time in recorded history. But the actual recording of this historic match cannot be redeemed by the valiant efforts of these two players. It was an alluring match if you were there to watch it. It’s an uninviting match to watch online.
Drama: The edge of your seat stuff usually reserved for real sports does occasionally find it’s way into crokinole. Maybe it’s a big comeback, a missed/made shot that turns everything around, or a tight match that goes down to the wire. If anything, the drama of a match is what makes it memorable, and there’s nothing that brings that out more than two players giving it everything they’ve got to win the match.
This was a high quality match, or at least one would assume it was being that it currently has 2.9 million views. But overall the match ended 6-4 6-2 for Hutchinson, and never reached a sustained level of tension where the final result seemed to hang in balance, well in reach for both players. Generally dramatic matches require a very tight finish, such going the full 3 games in a best-of-3, or going down to a winner-take-all round.
All four factors will be combined for an overall grade to determine the final rankings. And just in case you started to think this was a very scientific process, I’ll let you know that all 4 factors will be summarized into a final score using an algorithm that can be best described as completely arbitrary.
But don’t worry about those details. The thing is, if you can tick all 4 boxes, then you’ve got yourself a classic match to remember for the decade.
Enough with the details, let’s get to the list!
Overall Score: 7
There wasn’t much hype going into this match, as evidenced by the numerous empty chairs next to the table when the match began. Based on the possible championship combinations that could have developed that day, Conrad v Walsh was not as salivating as some others. Eventually Jeremy Tracey (Brisk Ice Tea in hand) occupied one of those seats next to the table and became a favourite figure for Youtube commenters.
There’s little explanation for why this match has achieved a truly shocking number of views online, but at least the two players filled the 16 minutes with a number of highlight worthy shots. The production is simple, with just one static camera, but the commentary is steady and clearly pleasing enough to maintain the attention of millions who’ve been curious enough to click the video link. The drama of the match was also pretty decent with the match being closely contested throughout each round, except for the anti-climatical finish that drags down the score slightly.
Overall Score: 7.5
The limited number of doubles events makes this the only doubles match appearing in the Top 10, but it’s certainly worthy of its rank. For doubles rivalries there was nothing better in the decade than Slaters v Beierlings, although the Hype score isn’t a perfect 10 as there was some trepidation that the match may fall into the exceedingly boring painstaking-analysis and slow-play that occurred in the 2016 ODCC matchup. There is a bit of that in this 2018 match, which pushes the match time to 45 minutes, and lowers the production quality to that of 7.
The quality of play was good, but doesn’t score highly when compared to the best matches of the decade. However the number of errors did allow the match to reach higher levels of drama, highlighted by a memorable strategic from Fred Slater that was the turning point of the match.
Overall Score: 7.6
The 2010 WCC final was the matchup we all wanted, with Brian Cook going for a record-4th-straight world title, and a young Justin Slater who was looking to conclude a break-out season where he had already won two NCA events (including one victory over Cook). There was a lot of excitement in the air.
As for how the match played out, well to steal a phrase from Daniel Létay, it was a 20s-parade. Players scored open 20s endlessly, as the pre-match analysis had expected, which included Brian Cook becoming the first to score a perfect round in a world final. The match also had many tense moments as the final scoreline of 4-6, 6-4, 5-3 would suggest. The main drawback on the match is just the production quality you might expect for a video from 2010. One single camera, in which I was constantly experimenting with framing, limits the re-watchability of the match.
Overall Score: 7.75
The 2011 WCC final has numerous similarities to 2010. A Beierling v Cook match was highly anticipated with Cook again going for title number 4, and Ray Beierling finally getting a crack at the championship by making his first final. The players brought their best stuff and spectators were treated to open 20s, long ricochet 20s and takeout 20s throughout. The match really hit its peak with Cook threatening to win in the second game, but the tension wasn’t quite as high throughout the match as the final score ended up 0-6, 6-4, 5-1.
What really makes this match earn one slot ahead of the 2010 final doesn’t have anything to do with editor/commentator (who produces a very similar quality video one year later). It’s simply the Ray Beierling celebration at the end of the match. Iconic, and still the most memorable match celebration CrokinoleCentre has recorded.
Overall Score: 8
Of course any recent match is likely to have high production values, and this is about as good as CrokinoleCentre is going to get. Triple camera coverage, commentary and a sleek scoreboard. Almost just as good as the production quality was the match itself.
Both Conrad and Hutchinson achieved a high-level of play, and the match really took off in the winner-take-all-10th round (which ended up being so exciting it ended in a draw, forcing one more round to be played). The only thing lacking from the match was the pre-game excitement, as an NCA event in October has a tougher time stacking up against a World Championship final.
With just 5 more matches to countdown in the decade, here’s some honourable mentions that didn’t make the Top 10:
Overall Score: 8.25
By this point the Ray Beierling/Justin Slater rivalry was by far the biggest in the game, and there was intrigue in this match as two months earlier Ray Beierling had ended a 6-match losing streak against Slater by winning the Hamilton final. The only thing limiting the Hype score on this match was that the rivalry was getting a bit over-played, with this being the 9th of 10 singles meetings between the two in the decade.
One mark against the match is the excessive background noise which surely distracts the viewer, as detailed in the comments section of the video.
But the play and drama of the match was spectacular, highlighted by a double-takeout-20 that Slater made to extend the match. In the tournament recap blog I wrote the following:
Perhaps one of the greatest crokinole matches ever, and it encapsulated everything that a thrilling sport match could have: top players facing off with a lot at stake, great shots made under pressure, and the odd mistake that makes every shot that much more exciting.
Overall Score: 8.75
This match is remembered fondly for the theatrical-worthy performances both players gave, but it’s easy to forget that there wasn’t much excitement headed into the match. The Top 16 action had eliminated many of the tournament favourites, leaving spectators with minimal expectations for the final.
And the match itself was shaping up to be a snoozer with Bonnett leading 5-1, 4-0, until Conrad mounted a tremendous comeback to send the game into a winner-take-all round in the 3rd game. It's only because of that comeback that conversations around that match still happen today.
Overall Score: 8.9
There’s some personal bias in this choice as I remember thinking that this match was the best commentary I had ever done. The players also contribute greatly to the entertainment value of the match with generally very steady play, along with a few highlight shots. And of course it excels up the rankings due to the very evenly played match that went down to the final round, with the last round featuring a terrific comeback.
Overall Score: 9
The 2012 World Championship final wasn’t quite the match all spectators were hoping to see come out of the star-studded Final 4. With Cook, Beierling, Conrad and Slater making up that penultimate stage, there was hope to see a rematch of either the 2010 or 2011 finals which both turned out to be nail-biters.
This being a match from 2012 means that the production quality isn’t as high, but the camera framing is pretty strong and captures several expressive moments from each player. It’s that characteristic alone that probably led a famous Youtuber to make a parody video of it (viewer discretion advised).
The first two games of the final don’t include much in the way of memorable moments, but the final game is something special to behold, including spectacular play, fascinating strategy, and a repartee-like interaction in the final round that launched this match into the category of legendary.
There was only one match that was better.
Overall Score: 9.9
This match had everything.
There was plenty of hype coming into the event as the World Championships celebrated 20 years. A high-quality final four round robin setup this championship rematch of the 2012 classic, while there was history on the line with Slater attempting to equals Cook’s feat of 4 World titles, and Conrad trying to equal Slater’s mark of 3.
The production quality is high with a dual live-commentary and dual camera setup. The one blemish being that the overhead camera picked up a rather large glare from the arena lighting. Fortunately the reactions of both the players and audience are captivating enough to overwhelm that imperfection.
A nervy and error-filled game one reminded everyone that these players were just humans prone to mistakes. Which is what made the heroics of games two and three so stunning.
There was unprecedented drama, as all three games of the best-of-3 match had winner-take-all rounds, and each of those included fantastic moments of brilliant shot making. Lastly, and most obviously, who could forget the epic final round of the contest that capped off a phenomenal match.
All of this means it was undoubtedly the best CrokinoleCentre match of the decade.
Looking back at the list it does seem to provide a nice summary of the 2010s, as Cook, Slater, Beierling, Conrad were the dominant crokinole forces of the decade, and all make numerous appearances on this list.
I’ve heard numerous times, particularly at the start of the decade, that crokinole was not and would never a spectator sport. I would have this said directly to my face, and even I believed it to be true if you excluded the small pocket of hardcore enthusiasts.
However looking at this list shows there is a clear argument to the contrary to be made. Thanks to the players and tournament organizers that helped give us these 10 matches to remember for years to come.
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.