Week 1: Shooters vs. Laggers

One week into the season and I’ve already come across two excellent cases for examination.

Our league is organized into three-man teams. Last night, both of our teams were missing a man, leaving us with an interesting situation. The bad guys were two players who are basically pure laggers, while we had one shooter and one pure lagger.

The first things that should have popped into my head:

  • Shooting accuracy decreases much more dramatically with distance than lagging accuracy.
  • More balls in play favors shooters over laggers (assuming roughly equal players otherwise).

The reason more balls favors shooters is that your effective shooting percentage will probably be significantly lower than your effective lagging percentage; more balls means more chances to hit, and also means you’re gambling with a smaller percentage of your total balls for that round with each shot. On the other hand, if the players are significantly mismatched, more balls favors the better player since more balls equals lower variance per round. It’s easier to get lucky when you’re only throwning one ball than when you’re throwing three or four.

So, the first adjustment we should have made, but didn’t, would be to place the pallino closer when we’re leading off. I generally lead off for our team, and I like lagging deep precisely to defend against better shooters, but in this case I should have been playing a significantly shorter game. I think over the long term, this strategy could be worth as much as two or three points per game, especially if your opponents are super-reluctant to shoot at all. That’s pretty huge.

The next adjustment we could have made is really due to a loophole in our club rules. When a three-man team plays a two-man team, either all players play both ends, with the three-man team getting two balls per man and the two-man team getting three per man, or one player from the three-man team plays both ends while the other two play a single end each. The rules don’t address the situation where both teams are missing a man; sometimes both teams play three balls per man and sometimes they play two per man. We should have pushed for three per man (although I suspect we didn’t really lose much here since I doubt our opponents would have gone for it).

Now, for an actual in-game situation. This play came up at the end of game two. Green to play with one ball left. Red is out of balls. Green needs two points to win the game and is currently sitting on one point.

7-Nov-2007 Figure 1

Figure 1. Click for larger image.

Green is looking at two possibilities:

  1. Lag off the board and slide in for one more point.
  2. Shoot the pallino and take two points off the nail.

There are pros and cons to both of those. Most obvious is that if you shoot you have a chance of missing completely, or even worse picking off the green A ball, giving red two or three points. On the other hand, if you lag and come in just a bit too hot you can just as easily pop the pallino back into the red balls. The image doesn’t do a good job of showing this (I’ll hopefully be improving my diagramming as this blog progresses), but at the time the red D ball was in a position that made a lag here trickier than it looks in the diagram. It was not an obvious call either way. In the end, my assessment was that shooting would more frequently result in two points and a victory, but would also more frequently result in giving points away, while lagging was much safer, but much less likely to gain additional points. Given these choices, the only time you’d go for the shot and the immediate victory is if you feel that you’re seriously outclassed by your opponent. Taking an 11-8 lead is huge, even if you’re a slight underdog.

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