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.
- 1. (tied) Andrew Hutchinson
- 1. (tied) Jason Beierling
- 3. Ray Beierling
- 5. Connor Reinman
- 6. Jeremy Tracey
- 7. Roy Campbell
- 9. Nathan Walsh
- 11. Ron Langill
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.
2-Player-Singles (With a Twist)
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:
- the disc must sit flat on the surface of board on or within the 10/15 circle (no leaners against pegs or in the 20 hole)
- the disc cannot be placed as a 20
- the player placing second cannot move or touch the disc that’s already been placed
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.