Fault vs. Blackjack: Round One!

  • Posted on: 5 November 2009
  • By: sean

Recently, our members threw down about the fault rules for the receiver. The big dispute based on this scenario:

Special rule in play was "black jack" which means that players may attempt to catch a ball before it bounces in their square in order to eject the player who last hit it. On the serve, the player in four square serves the ball cleanly into the one square. The player in one square hits the ball into two square. The player in two square catches the ball using the black jack rule which would imply that player number one is out. The player in one square claims this was a fault (we call it "one bad") and asks for the ball to be served again.

I understand where the confusion comes from. We make the fault rule here to give a little extra protection for the newest player on the court by allowing them to make a limited number of errors on their first round after a long wait in line. These errors are usually because a rule was broken, as we can read in the rules section:

"The receiver can fault on a return if she hits the ball out of bounds, into her own square or on to an inside court line. The receiver has a second chance for a serve. Both the server and the receiver are allowed only one fault, referred to as "one bad". However, if a player faults a second time then they are out. You can also remember it this way: Two bad = too bad for you!"

The way these are written, and have been published for years, it's actually pretty clear that the receiver can fault on boundaries. But there is no mention here about the player just playing poorly and not using a strategy that would prevent other players from exercising the rules of the game.

I might have to say in this case that the player in square one made no fault error, but just played poorly and allowed another player to get the better of him or her.

Making and enforcing rules in four square, a game that has one million home court rules, is tricky. It's good to poke at the rules now and then to make sure that they are clear and grow less ambiguous over time. And while reading up on the rules for this specific issue, it became clear there is a huge area which is totally ambiguous that will shortly need to be clarified. This section of the rules immediately precedes the receiver fault rules:

"Faults are allowed only once for both the server or the receiver. The server can fault if the serve into one square is too high, too low, too fast or otherwise unreturnable by the receiver. The receiver may send the ball back to be served again."

Too high, too low, too fast are subject to wide interpretation and this potentially leaves picky players with an advantage over the server and opens up too much opportunity for abuse. If any of you have some suggestions about how to create finite criteria for a "good serve" then I would love to hear it.

Until then, play nice.

Comments

Jason McG's picture

Without additional context, this is poor play from the player in second square.

From a perspective of "winning the game", any point won by fourth square is a loss for every other player.

From a purist perspective, fourth square should be forced to employ every trick, every act of malice and misdirection, and any feat of athleticism to retain the right to keep serving. The other squares should be unified in the goal of destroying fourth square.

I never understood why more people did not embrace this credo. I firmly believe that this leads philosophy leads to the best rallies. A case study would be Cody's performance in the 2008 World championships.

Tiger Claw's picture

The Claw likes the service rule of the International Four Square League out of LA, where an interior square (that is formed by the midpoints of the 4th square) is the target for the serve from the one square to the four square. If the ball lands within the target, it is a "good" serve. If the ball lands outside of the target, it is a "bad" serve. This solution doesn't solve low or high serves, but does force the ball to be put in play in a consistent area. Combined with the "one-bad/two-bad" rule, it could help codify things a bit.

(The Claw also likes the "Strike Zone", though this rule really has more to do with the space available to play than anything . . .)

Check out these alternative rules here:
http://tessarose.net/4squaresite/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&...

jonathan_be's picture

I think the fact that black jacking the 1 square for anyone other than the 4 square is generally a poor idea makes it an interesting question. In a way, it gets to the heart of purpose of rule making.

As has been pointed out, from the perspective of "good play", the rules should be set such that only 4 square should be able to black jack a return. Anyone who black jacks a return that is not the server has just scored a point for the 4 square without advancing.

You could also argue that treating black jacking 1 square after a return as a one bad fault is 'simpler' and more consistent. There is no other way to get the 1 square out on the first return that doesn't give them a chance to defend themselves. A poor hit that goes out gets a one bad. A poorly aimed hit that sets them up for a meaty spike still gives them the chance to chase down the ball. Only in getting black jacket can on the return can result in you being out with no chance for redemption.

All of that said, as an enthusiastic (if not always skilled) black jacker, I prefer black jacking 1 square leading to 1 square being out. While black jacking a lower square tends to be poor form, I'm not above opportunistically taking out a square lower than me if I feel that I am removing a skilled threat. Generally, if 1 square gets black jacked it is because, frankly, they had it coming. Either they are skilled and need to be knocked down a peg, or they lobbed the ball back to 4 square. The quirk that 1 square can now get out on the return I can happily chalk up to a quirk in how the rule changes the game.