Archive for December, 2007

Aggression vs. Dropping

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

The most frequent big mistake I see is a team playing “conservatively” (i.e. “scared”) when they are in scoring position and their opponent is out of balls. Teams will regularly drop their last ball instead of going for more points because they fear “selling out” (making a bad play that flips the position such that the opponents end up scoring). While the sellout is a huge turn of events, if the fear of it dominates your thinking you’re going to leave points on the table that will come back to bite you in the ass later.

Any time you have a chance to score multiples, you must look for every opportunity to capitalize. The difference just between scoring one and two points is enormous over the long term, and yet teams will pass up easy chances to go for an additional two or even three points even if their downside is giving up just a point or two a small fraction of the time.

2007-12-15 Figure 1

Green to play.

In this example, if green can move the pallino back just a bit (lagging along path A), the court would be wide open for scoring three or maybe four points. However, the position of the red balls makes the green player lag from the opposite side of the court, and in our league most players avoid these cross-court lags because the centers of the alleys are rough and bumpy, which totally wrecks accuracy. Shooting along A is no good since red has two decent balls down court on the nail. Shooting along path B is another possibility, though the outcome of such a shot is extremely hard to predict, even if it is perfectly executed. The pallino could end up down court, or the green A ball might get carried away leaving red with one point. Despite the risk, this choice shouldn’t be ruled out immediately since green has three balls left, leaving a good possibility to clean up any sellout if the shot does go wrong.

In the end, I decided to play along path A. The mistake I made was in lagging just hard enough to get to the pallino and maybe move it a foot or two. In this case there is plenty of room behind the green ball so even if the pallino goes too far for the A ball to remain in scoring position it should be possible to get three points. If I had come in a little harder, the increased momentum of the ball may have negated a bit of the variance from the bumps in the middle. As it turns out, my ball went off-course and didn’t have any significant effect.

The important part of this example, though, is that I’ve seen many players in this situation simply give up and “drop” their remaining balls and simply “take one point” because “it’s too tight in there.” Taking one point is “safe” since it avoids the sellout. But early in the game, a one point lead isn’t that big of a deal, while a three or four point lead is (my gut feeling here going on nothing but experience is that a 4-3 lead would hold up about 55% of the time, while a 7-3 lead would hold up closer to 70% of the time). On top of this, if your first ball does “sell out” you’ve still got two chances to recover! Grow a pair, get greedy, and load up!

Now, here’s another situation where dropping might make sense:


Green to play.

In this case, green can’t lag in along the normal routes off of the side boards since Red A and B are blocking. A lag along path A would probably be safe on a semi-regular court, but with the bumps and variances of our clay courts, it’s pretty risky. Red A could get bumped up into scoring position, or Green A could get bumped out of position. Shooting along path B (basically the same path) with the intent to pick the pallino out is worth considering, especially if the setup is a relatively short (shooting the pallino gets really hard as the distance increases). If the shot is successful, green can easily drop ball D in behind to pick up two points.

In this case, though, if green misses the shot, the downside is huge. A particularly bad outcome would have the shot pick the green A ball cleanly out, leaving red with four points and green with one ball to try to salvage something. Of course, green could try shooting the pallino again, with one less ball laying around to get in the way. Shooting your last ball when the opponent is sitting on four points is never a pleasant situation, though.

Dropping the last two balls is probably the way to go here. Green already has one ball in position, the best possible upside is to come out with two points, and the downside is catastrophic. Further, this is closer to the midway point of the game, where small edges are worth more than in the early stages.

Aggression is in general the best policy, but (just as with any other strategy) the difference between a journeyman and a master is knowing when the exceptions come up and it’s time to back off and play it safe.

More Thoughts on Statistics

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

So I’ve got two weeks of statistics now. I’ve basically been looking at how well my leadoff lags hold up (using number of balls the opponents have to throw at it as the measuring stick), how often my non-leadoff lags successfully make a point, and how often my shots connect (although my two teammates are better shots than I am, so I haven’t been shooting much at all this season). I think I’d like to keep track of how often my leadoffs touch the pallino, and how often I bump opponents’ balls for the point or drag the pallino away from their balls, but this sort of record keeping gets a little more involved and it’s probably more than I want to do while playing – trying to keep track of all of that and write it down as it happens is going to take my mind off the actual game.

While continuing my search for other bocce statistics collections (mostly to get an idea of what data other people think are important to keep track of) I found this Bocce Socrebook. The format is pretty elaborate, but one good point is that by keeping track of the game frame-by-frame and noting initial positioning of the pallino you can look for trends based on short games, long games, games up against the sideboard and games in the middle of the alley. I know my own strengths pretty instinctively (I like playing *very* close to the board, mostly because I’ve found I’m a lot better than most people at keeping the ball close to the side, since the shape of the alley tends to bring balls back to the middle – on the negative side, though, it’s generally a lot easier to shoot balls close to the sideboard), and I have a rough idea of where most of the guys in my league are strong and weak, but if I had real data on that type of performance based on pallino position I think I could really exploit it. Collecting that would be basically impossible without a league-wide effort.

On the wider scale, I’m watching how many balls I play compared to how many points we score and give up. A net points per ball thrown stat would be a pretty good indicator of a team’s league-wide dominance, but I’m not sure if it makes much sense for individuals since a strong player and a weak player together will tend to drag each other’s average to the middle.

So, along those lines it would be nice to come up with something similar to baseball RBIs. Points earned, or responsible for, or something. For example, if player A throws two junk balls, then player B makes a shot that suddenly makes A’s balls in scoring position, B should get some “RBIs.” Figuring out a meaningful way to score that is pretty tricky, though. For example, with the opponents out of balls, player A might play his last ball in a way that blows the pallino wide open, allowing B to drop two easy lags in for more points. B may not have made those without A’s good play. Should A or B get the credit? If B’s balls had already been there and out of scoring position, and A simply moved stuff around to bring them into scoring position, he would get the credit, so why should this be different just because the order was reversed? Perhaps these could be accounted for with “assists” or something, but now we’re getting into crazy complicated stuff. I’m going to just keep it simple for the rest of this year and see how it goes from there.

In the results-oriented world, we had a pretty good week. We went in Wednesday night tied for first place but behind a bit on the tiebreak, and we played the team we were tied with; we got blitzed in the first game 4-12 but came roaring back and took the next two 12-4, 12-1 to move into sole possession of first place. There’s a long way to go, though.