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Gavin Greig [userpic]

Carrom

September 2nd, 2006 (09:42 pm)
current location: KY16 8SX

For the last few days, msinvisfem and I have been playing Carrom, which has turned out to be quite good fun. I bought a cheap and nasty board some time ago out of curiosity (I seem to have printed out the rules for myself in 2000), but have never, until now, really got round to playing it.

The board is square and made of plywood, with a solid frame around it and a pocket in each corner. The pieces are mostly like wooden draughts (checkers), with one slightly larger but slimmer plastic disc which is known as the striker. The remainder is made up of one red piece (the queen), and nine each black and white.

The aim is to use your fingers to flick the striker across the board and pocket all your pieces before your opponent pockets all theirs. Although mechanically there are a number of differences, conceptually it's a lot like billiards.

The game starts with all the pieces except the striker arranged in a standard pattern in the board's central circle. The white player breaks, and then the goal is to pot all of your own colour as quickly as possible.

The red queen starts at the centre of the circle and it's also quite desirable to pot it. It can't be potted before you've sunk the first piece of your own colour, but you're not allowed to sink your last piece until the queen has gone. Achieving this is complicated slightly by the need to pot one of your own colour immediately after the queen - if you don't, she's returned to the centre of the table.

If you're first to clear your pieces from the table, you score a point for each of your opponent's pieces still on the table, and an additional three if you were the one who potted the queen. The winner is the highest scorer after eight games, or the first to score 25. Once you've reached 22, you don't score for potting the queen although you can still deprive your opponent of the points by doing so.

A key difference from billiards is that you don't follow the striker around the table as play proceeds. Instead, each player sits at a side of the table, and flicks the striker from a bar painted most of the way across the playing surface in front of them. In fact, when playing the striker, no part of the player except their hand is allowed to cross the table's diagonals.

It is possible to play doubles, with all four sides of the table being occupied.

One aspect of the game that we're missing is the powder. The plywood playing surface is painted, and I've also had a go at polishing it, but even so the co-efficient of friction between wooden playing pieces and a wooden playing surface is significant. You tend to bash your fingernails flicking the pieces hard enough to get them moving, and it's a job getting them to bounce off more than one cushion.

The way this problem is traditionally addressed is by putting a light layer of powder on the board to reduce the friction. The usual thing to use is boric acid. Oddly enough, I don't have any of this stuff just lying around the house, but msinvisfem had the bright idea of using baking powder. I don't know how it compares to boric acid, but it does certainly improve the play. Both of us played better with the powder on the table, as the pieces required less effort to get moving and ran truer once they did. Once the powder was added, it was possible to get the striker to make two and a half runs across the table when hit with the maximum force - not too bad, though a bit short of the official rules recommendation that it should be possible to make three and a half runs.

If you enjoy games like billiards, but don't have the space or the cash for a table, it might be worth taking a look at carrom. A good board (unlike mine!) could set you back over £100, but it's still a lot cheaper than a billiards table and easier to pack away. The bottom end of the market seems to start at about £24 for a "junior" set. Carrom UK have a list of suppliers. Must get some some proper powder...