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Yelling at a Crokinole Board - Irreparable Damage

Nathan Walsh May 12, 2020


“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly – they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” - Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Under quarantine my typically long list of hobbies and interests has been reduced significantly to the point that two of my proclivities, reading and griping, have come to dominate my daily conduct. Griping, I’ve learned many times over, is not an endearing trait that makes others want to spend more time in your company, so frequently I try to spare the public and channel pent-up frustrations into silent arguments I play over in my mind as I sit flicking crokinole discs from every conceivable angle on my board.

I became inspired though, partly by the words of Aldous Huxley, to consider voicing some of these gripes. Could something good come from uttering loudly that which I’ve only previously muttered to a finely waxed cut of Canadian Maple? Possibly. Perhaps with the right words.

And so today I introduce a new series of posts Yelling at a Crokinole Board and I’m beginning with a topic that’s been grinding my gears crokinole discs for a decade: The Damage Stays Rule.

Note to Readers - Many a truth has been said in jest. The following has been written in a manner to elicit some joy, so as to not come across as incessantly annoying. At the core these elements do represent my true feelings, but please remember I am embellishing aspects, and taking some playful jabs, to attempt to border on entertainment.


The damage stays rule.

Screen cap of NCA Damage Rule

The Damage Stays Rule - lf a disc touches or crosses the outer boundary line, strikes the backboard and/or out-of-play discs, then re-enters the playing surface this disc is out-of-play, but the altered position of any discs struck shall remain and any 20s made shall count. (except for an out-of-play disc)

Source: NCA Rules - Retrieved May 2020

I have never been a fan of this rule. At every opportunity — years ago when those opportunities existed — I’ve always voted against it, and I would fight all day — especially now considering I literally have all day available — to go back to “Damage Repaired” in a heartbeat if I felt like I could get more than just myself to join the cause.

The Days of Old

While it feels like the damage stays rule has been in existence forever, it is still about a decade old (time flies when you’re having fun, and the exact opposite is also true). Unfortunately, countless hours of crokinole footage don’t exist for those damage repair years, so video evidence of the superior rule in action isn’t available. I assure you tournaments at that time were not crokinole’s version of the Wild West with heated debates at every table, like my damage stays opponents would have you believe.

House rules have always been something that applied well to crokinole, and in the days prior to the complete reliance of the internet, it wasn’t unusual to see an April tournament in Kitchener play with one set of rules, and a June tournament in Tavistock play with another. Thankfully for the first 12 years of the World Championships, sanity prevailed as rule 10 (listed below) firmly stated that in the most prestigious crokinole tournament in the world we play with Damage Repaired:

Screen cap of WCC Damage Rule from 2007

*A disc, that at any time, leaves the board must be placed in the ditch and remain there until the end of the round. Any disc that leaves the playing surface is determined to be officially out of bounds. **If it comes back onto the playing surface and makes contact with other discs in play, it will be removed from play and any discs that were moved after the shooting disc re-entered the playing surface will be put back to their original location, as agreed by both players.***

Source: Web Archive - WCC - August 2007

Ahhhh, breathe that in, the sweet smell of reasonableness (or maybe that’s the smell because I finally showered and did laundry). Oh the glorious logic, how I long to go back to those days.

But even then, some still shunned their eyes from the light and escaped enlightenment. The historic clubs of St. Jacobs and Varna played with unrepaired damage, and unrepaired damage was used in the Joe Fulop Invitational Crokinole Tournaments, first played in Exeter in 2006.

Every year the WCC suggestion box would include at least a few recommendations to leave damage as it were. I know because I was there. I used to attend the WCC meetings as a teenager while my mother served as the WCC Secretary (a role I’d begin to occupy about 10 years later).

The damage rule came up often, and to this day I still remember Barry Raymer, the WCC Chair at the time, ominously saying, “If we were to change the rule, one of these days a 20 is going to be scored in the final that determines the World Champion.”

The horror of the thought should be enough to scare anyone away from the Damage Stays ideas, but those in favour of Damage Stays gleefully ignore this possibility. (This is actually a well known behavioural finance trait called the Ostrich Effect where investors purposely avoid negative information so they can feel good about their decisions. The name comes from the false idea that ostriches avoid dander by burying their heads in sand. Although today you may be inclined to replace Ostrich with the name of whichever government official you can’t stomach who looked at global pandemic data a few months ago and declared publicly that it wouldn’t be a concern.)

Perhaps in hopes of ending the debate once and for all, in 2004 the WCC just came right out and asked the players in question 3 of the following questionnaire.

WCC Questionnaire results from 2004

Source: Web Archive - WCC - March 2005

68.5% to 27.9% voted to repair damage. In 1980 René Lévesque lost the Quebec Referendum by a much closer margin, 60-40, and the sovereigntists didn’t try again until 15 years later. (Yeah I’ve been reading up on Canadian political history.) So now roughly 15 years after a decisive victory for the Repair side, somehow the crokinole world lives in a Damage Stays world.

Somehow more people voted to be allowed to move their chairs then not replace damage, and that rule hasn’t been debated since. Although that could be because some elite crokinole players have stretched the definition of “one-cheek” to include the three-eighths of an inch of denim fibre around the back of your knee that grip the chair as your entire torso and behind finds itself somewhere West of the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border.

Wait, am I angry about this too? This may come up in a future instalment.

Getting back to the damage rule. In 2004 there was overwhelming support for Damage Repair, but the rules would be changed anyway. What happened?

Louder Voices

In 2008 crokinole took a big step, thanks in large part to the work of Greg Matthison and an advisory group of crokinole enthusiasts. In 2009 the World Crokinole League was launched, and you know the rest. Clubs and tournaments were founded, and new players not only found the game, but became parts of the community of dedicated crokinole fans. Cheers to those who played such a big part in the formation of what we now call the National Crokinole Association.

But unfortunately, this new association didn’t have a perfect record. While we were all celebrating and praising the early success of the WCL/NCA, we didn’t realize how much power we were entrusting to a small concentrated group. A group with some nefarious items hidden on its agenda.

August 8th, 2009. The first season of the World Crokinole League is in the books, and the brain trust is holding their Annual General Meeting to determine how to continue the success in the second season. Among the decisions made in the August meeting is to rename the WCL as the National Crokinole Association, and to begin each NCA season with the World Championships and end the season the following May.

Also decided on that day, the NCA makes their first decision to contradict the WCC, and decide once and for all that “Damage Stays”. They also clarify that in the case of a table being bumped accidentally, that moved discs will be replaced upon agreement of both players.

Now you may be wondering, “Hey, if you’re such a strong opponent to the Damage Stays rule, where were you on this day to protect the game of crokinole and warn that such a decision will one day lead to the impending doom forecasted by Barry Raymer?”

Well, I wasn’t there.

I couldn’t make it as I was playing in the Stratford Tennis Club Championship U18 Mixed Doubles Final (we won on the tennis court, but unbeknownst to me, we lost on the crokinole board). Never stay home on election day kids. Decisions are made by those who show up.

At that point an unstoppable machine had been set in motion. The influence of the newly formed NCA persists and infects the WCC. In the Fall of 2010, the WCC placates NCA representatives who had been literally dogging committee meetings with what must have seemed like trivial matters from players who contribute relatively little effort to actually helping to run a massive tournament, and arguably making the job of organizing the event even harder by extending meeting lengths. After the 2010 capitulation the rules are synchronized between the NCA and the WCC, and the Damage Repaired version of crokinole was never seen again.

That’s right folks, something only 28% of people wanted got passed. I don’t know which way you lean politically, but for those Canadians out there, chances are you weren’t happy either when the Conservatives won a majority government with 39% of the vote in 2011, or when the Liberals won a majority with 36% in 2015. Well step aside Plurality and First Past the Post, there’s a new decision making system that gives power to 28% rather than the opposed 69%. (Once again, I have been reading a lot.)

The Rationale

So with the full context of history present, now we can move on and examine the arguments for Damage Stays vs Damage Repaired, and determine if the correct decision was made (it wasn’t) 10 years ago.

Reason #1 for Damage Stays: It’s impossible to replace the damaged discs exactly back to their original location.

This is an example of a argument that uses a logical fact, and applies it in a completely illogical way.

Yes it is true that you can’t replace a moved disc to the atomically original place it rested before the damage occurred. But the Damage Stays side goes a step further over the edge of sanity and into the crevasse of lunacy, by saying that since exact repair isn’t possible that you shouldn’t try at all.

How is taking absolutely zero action to correct an injustice a more appropriate response than at least attempting to apply a remedy?

When someone accidentally bumps the table, nearly 100% of the time we can replace that disc into a location that is agreeable between all players (remember the NCA even stated this as a rule in 2009). We all know it’s not the perfect spot, but we are all much more satisfied with the attempt to repair the situation, then we would be to just shrug our shoulders, and say “oh well.” The same logic should easily apply to damage.

As a detour I should address the suggestion from some Damage Stays proponents who go one step further to say that players should not even be allowed to stop damage from occurring. That is to say they would prefer if players let the discs stop naturally, rather than preventing (by using your hand) a disc that left the playing surface from returning to impact other discs that are currently in play. Here’s an example of such an instance, although these guys were probably just having a laugh.

Come to think of it, this makes a lot of sense. When I’m driving down the 401 on my way to the Belleville Crokinole Challenge and invariably see break-lights up ahead as I hit 6am traffic in Milton, I never do slow down. I always plough into the back of that Honda Civic in front of me like an Al Fuhr steam-hammer, because when I see trouble brewing, I do absolutely nothing to stop it.

By the way, that last paragraph was sarcastic. I usually go to the step of preventing people from having the opportunity of purposely manifesting damage.

Reason #2 for Damage Stays: Okay, but how do you repair damage with regard to a moving disc? There’s a lot of variation based on perception about where a disc was going to end up when it’s still in motion as it is contacted.

Anytime you weaken the number one argument of the Damage Stays enthusiasts, they always deflect to the moving disc scenario. They may even have an example of a time when things got controversial or drawn out because two teams couldn’t agree on final placement.

The same scenario applies to the competitive pursuit of curling, where it’s frequently possible that rocks are accidentally altered. While major federations have extensive rulebooks that are not entirely straightforward, the sport of curling allows for the option of replacing stones to where they would have reasonably ended up.

R8. b) iii) If a moving stone is touched, or is caused to be touched, by an external force, all stones are allowed to come to rest, and then placed where they would have come to rest if the incident had not occurred. . . .

R8. d) If a moving stone is touched by a stone deflecting off the sheet dividers, the non-delivering team shall place the stone where it reasonably considers the stone would have come to rest had the moving stone not been touched.

Source: World Curling Federation - October 2019

It’s worth noting that they accomplish this feat of reason despite often playing for sums of money that greatly surpass those that can be found in a lifetime of crokinole tournaments. How can crokinole, frequently touted for the civility it encourages, not rise to the same level of practicality?

Reason #3 for Damage Stays: I don’t know kid, it’s just so much easier to eliminate any chance of confusion and discussion by just saying damage stays.

Yeah, so much easier, like there’s never a case of when the damage stays rule doesn’t cause confusion that wouldn’t occur under the ruling of repaired damage. Note that in this case the italicized font means I’m rolling my eyes. Take a look at this case:

In a Damage Repaired world we all 100% agree the black disc is off the board. In a Damage Stays world we are left in the grey area. Ask 10 players how to handle this even with the benefit of slow motion replay and you won’t get a clear consensus, as exhibited by the debates that broke out in the youtube comments of that video, and also here and here.

It’s a fallacy that Damage Stays removes all confusion and discussion.

A Word from the Wise

You are probably tired of hearing my voice, so at this point I’ll pass things over to 3-time World Crokinole Champion Joe Fulop:

The clubs (St. Jacobs vs Varna) have allowed any damage done to stand while the persons running Tavistock try to reestablish the board as it was before the shot was made. I now favour the Tavistock version of the rule. It is fair, even if the players do argue a bit to reestablish their buttons. Crokinole players are usually fair minded individuals and do work things out.

Excerpt from It’s Only Crokinole But I Like It, 2007, page 81, by Joe Fulop

The Way Forward

If you’ve read this far, you might be thinking, “If it’s this easy, how come we haven’t found enlightenment and switched back?

That’s a good question. To me, it feels like switching back to damage replaced would be a burden too hard for us to overcome. Would we be able to transform our mindsets back 10 years and remember to think before accepting the results of the damage? It’s almost like if you removed GPS from my phone; suddenly I wouldn’t be able to navigate myself to the First United Church in Owen Sound on a November Saturday morning.

Or perhaps it’s an issue of momentum. I can attest to the fact that the issue of damage never does show up anymore in the WCC suggestion box. No one seems to be fighting for the Damage Repaired side. We were worn down by the incessant annual call of the Damage Stays side to yield to their will. When they finally prevailed they snuffed the torch, and the flame of logic. But the coals are still warm, and there still exists a hope that the fire of sanity will burn bright in the future.

And if I’m the one to lose the WCC final on a damaged 20, as God as my witness, I will use that flame to burn the arena to the ground.