Sjoelbak van het leven

The Shuffleboard of life

I have to acknowledge that the Corona crisis also has positive aspects. Not that these outweigh the many emotionally taxing, often one-sided and not always useful measures that we have to endure in these tunnel vision times, but still… I want to be positive nonetheless. So, these days we learn to live without the distractions of nightlife activities, such as going out to dinner or getting drunk in a way too crowded bar. The living room becomes cozy and comfortable again now that we are not allowed to go to the cinema or theater. We gain more appreciation for nature in the immediate vicinity instead of the money-consuming shopping street or the holiday colonies full of compatriots in Farawayistan. The air is cleaner without all those daily traffic jams, employers are forced to think about alternative working conditions, and the school system now sees other options than what the civil service has long prescribed as a rule. Although there will always be so-called smart guys who try to abuse situations, petty crime has also decreased: fewer burglaries, robberies, traffic offences, drug trafficking and so on. Because we spend a lot of time inside, we can no longer ignore each other. We learn to listen better, to take others into account, and to organize ourselves. We again enjoy a book, games, musical instruments and small group activities. It happens out of necessity, but we reconsider the obviousness of the old standard and rightly ask ourselves whether all the mass entertainment, aimed at big money making, really makes sense.

For some time now, the shuffleboard permanently lies on the kitchen table. A couple of times a day we play a few rounds, without really keeping score. It’s those short moments of doing something together, not having to talk about political and socio-economic issues, or think about the potential concerns of other family members. In the game, your energy comes out playfully. You focus on the wooden discs that make their way across the board. Your game shows your character, your playing style, and how you handle winning and losing. In fact it accurately shows how you are, and how you stand in life. The shuffleboard as your life, and you firing the discs as intentions at your goals.

About Shuffleboard:

The game is actually genius in all its simplicity. The board consists of an elongated, smooth wooden tray and 30 hollow ground round wooden discs. At the end of the box are 4 sections, each with a rectangular slot through which the shuffleboard discs can pass. Each compartment represents a value, namely 2, 3, 4 and 1. The middle ones have the highest value because they are the hardest to hit. Furthermore, the left half is just as valuable as the right half, namely 5 points.

The game is simple: from the start of the shuffleboard, using enough force, you slide a disc towards the opening of the compartments, with the aim of collecting as many points as possible. That’s not easy! Regardless of your own skill, you also have to deal with imperfections in the material: not all discs are ideally round, so they wobble a bit, and the sliding area is not perfectly flat or has areas that are rougher than elsewhere.
The concave surface of the disc provides an air cushion for less frictional resistance. You will probably have to play around a bit to find the right balance, depending on the smoothness of the material used. Perhaps a good brushing or some talcum powder may help.

Each player gets 3 turns to pass as many of the 30 discs as possible into the compartments; between turns, the ones that have not fully passed the front boundary of the opening are returned to the player. In the boxes, the checkers are stacked in the back to make room for new hits. The compartment values add up to 10, but if there is one disc in each compartment, that counts double, ie 20 points. So with 2 checkers in each compartment, that becomes 40 points, to finally come to 140 with 7 discs. If at the end of the last turn all checkers are gone, the player gets one back as a bonus. With 30 pieces, the maximum achievable score is therefore 140 (7 in each box) + 8 (remaining two in the 4) + 4 (bonus in the 4) = 152 points. If all checkers are gone before your last turn, you have played well, but your round is over.

Most players stand upright at the front of the box because that gives you more control over your posture and position. If you have the exact same position and posture, and launch a disc in the same way, 9 times out of 10 the same result will be achieved. That’s good if you had a direct hit the first time, but if you missed, it helps to change and stand a little differently.
At the cost of some flexibility, It is also possible to play sitting on a chair. You’ll have a bad bird’s eye view during the game, which also makes you miss some oversight.

Experienced players know how to use the side edges of the box to hit the outer pockets: lightly graze the disc in the middle. Because that’s easier than hitting 3 or 4, they often focus on the middle boxes first. Moreover, experience shows that the 1 and 2 are often hit as “by-catch” when discs carom. Especially when it gets a bit full in front of the openings, it is important, just like with billiards, to look carefully at how you can cause a kind of pile-up to get checkers into the pockets.

Sometimes the discs tumble over each other due to the force of a collision. A checker that is partly placed on top of another (a “buck”) is carefully taken away (without moving the remaining checkers) and returned to the player. This also happens with discs that unexpectedly fly out of the box. An accident lurks in a small corner, and such a violently played wooden disc is quite hard when hitting your body, so be careful, even when stacking the checkers in the compartments!

On top of all this we have our own special ReRuBabs rule: if you have at least 100 points at the end of the second turn, you get 2 encores (so 5 turns in total). If you get 100 points pnly after the third turn, you get one encore. This rule forces you to follow a certain strategy, which is to distribute your hits evenly to all squares. The achievement of an encore always feels good as a hopeful interim reward! Of course, this is independent from the bonus checker once you get all checkers in the boxes at the end of the game, regardless of the number of turns you were entitled to.

How someone shuffles reveals a lot about that person. Character, temperament and blind spots become visible throughout the game. For example, someone can slide the discs over the surface at high speed (= a lot of force), often in the hope that the misses will bounce back to the beginning of the playboard, or that a buck is created. Such a technique rarely leads to direct hits, as the checkers bounce off in random directions with minimal contact with another checker or the corner of an opening. However, it causes a lot of coincidences, especially if multiple discs are collected at the end of the board. That is symbolic of someone who initiates a lot of things at the same time, whose energy blows away others in the neighborhood, and thereby achieves a lot, but in a somewhat uncontrolled and exhausting way.
Opposite is the player who tries to place disc by disc with precision and measured force, filling the compartments almost according to a plan. Such a person tries to understand the game, the dynamics of possible collisions and the behavior of the game material. That works pretty well up to a point where a few disks form a blockage in front of the openings. Then brute force is needed to break the case open.

Related to this is the difference between eagerness and efficiency. Some players want to take advantage of every opportunity to score immediately, and lose sight of the end result. This way, the distribution of the hits over the boxes isn’t optimal. Others try to play efficiently, passing some imposed chances to prepare for a better option, or to save checkers for the next turn.

Which of the two techniques described is the best?
In general, the quiet game yields better results, but it’s even better to adjust your style situationally. Importantly, while random shooting results in fluke, it also increases the chance that too many checkers will end up in one space. In that case there is too much focus on one aspect of the game. That’s a shame, because you might need those discs later… Therefore, control over your style and behavior is key, just like in everyday life.

Another example is about having confidence in the outcome.
Sometimes almost half of a disk lies in an opening. If you still have enough discs to go, you can safely turn your attention to other subjects, knowing that sooner or later this disc will naturally be pushed through by pile-up collisions. Here too you have to work in consultation: if that disk is important for the total, it is better to err on the side of caution, but that doesn’t happen often. You can rest assured that the random movement of all checkers with each collision will eventually round out about half a hit. Some players are unable to distance themselves and focus on other options. They suffer from tunnel vision, as it were, and try to force that one disk in after all. The result is usually a loss of many checkers, and few points. It clearly makes no sense to fix attention on something that is not yet finished and that seems difficult. Then it’s good to seek other opportunities, and afterwards often find out that the previous problem also has been solved.

How the boxes are filled also shows how much confidence a player has in own capabilities.
At the end of the game, you want to have all checkers evenly distributed across all boxes, in order to achieve as many 20 scores as possible. Someone who is sure that the sides are not a real problem, can concentrate quietly on the middle compartments in the beginning. The hardest first, save the easiest for the lock. But that doesn’t always work: sometimes you’re unlucky, and the side pockets block as soon as you start filling, and then it’s too late. So too much trust is counterproductive. Finding the right balance and really knowing your strengths and weaknesses is essential, and not just when playing shuffleboard.

If you do the same thing over and over, you will always get the same result. Physico-mechanically speaking, this is self-evident. Just like with darts: if you always stand in the same position, if you have the same arrows, and if you use the same posture / movement, your arrow will always end up (approximately) around the same spot. That is why you sometimes see professional darts players break free from their position and take a step to the left or right. It is no different with shuffling. For example, if you try to hit numbers 1 or 2 from the side, and that doesn’t work a few times, it is better to try something else, or to shake your stance for a while. If you come across a center box after deliberately aiming, it is best to repeat that movement: there is a good chance that you will hit a few more. In everyday life, too, a conscious choice between accurate repetition and application of variation is essential. Whether you’re in a discussion with someone, or you’re doing household chores… In any situation, you should avoid getting stuck in your behavior. You could call that “consciously rethinking”.

In any case, you should avoid being driven purely by fear: often you still have a second chance to place that one disc. Fear blocks, prevents free perception and good assessment of options. Then the motto is to calmly distance yourself. Don’t see the chaos in front of the openings as a mountain of obstructions, but try to predict promising chain reactions, and make use of the possibilities hidden in the chaos.

Very interesting is how the last checker is played in a turn. You can recognize the mood of the player by this: losing all hope, or looking for that one small chance. Angry or elated, and therefore careless, or cold-blooded until the last moment. Have you already given up and let it go, or are you trying to make the best of it?

Each player has a dedicated style and concept of the game. One plays like a machine gun, the other carefully slides each disc as if it were the first. That is what makes shuffleboard as a group game so interesting. How do the spectators behave? Do they encourage and cheer for good results? Or do they mainly laugh at misses and mistakes? Do they meddle in another’s game by giving abundant directions, preferably with fingers that obstruct the view? Or do they ask about the player’s plan? That also says something about how people treat others in everyday life.

Shuffleboard is really an honest mirror.
That is to say, if you’re open to that.

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