Once we get about halfway through the Kubb season (yeah, I know, there is no ‘off season’, but you know what I mean), people tend to start talking about what this is the ‘year of’.  Well, reaching back to the end of 2013 in Chaska, I think it’s clear that this is the Year of the Opening.

More and more tournaments are getting on board with the idea of a modified Turn One in order balance the game. Here are some of the ideas that have been implemented recently, and my take on how they have played out:

Chaska 1v1: The King toss was modified to a best-of-three. While this doesn’t necessarily alter the advantage in throwing first, it at least spreads out the value of winning the king toss over multiple throws. In a 6 baton opener winning the toss is equal to a little over 3 in-game batons, so by making that toss a best-of-three each winning king toss throw gains about a baton & a half in the actual match. While I think it DOES address the issue of “The King Toss is TOO important!”, it doesn’t make the actual games any more balanced.

Kettle Moraine’s Cabin Fever: The Opening Kubb Surrender (or OKS). All matches at Cabin Fever were best-of-one due to time restrictions, so in the interest of fairness the team throwing first would start the game by picking up one of their opponents base kubbs and tossing it into play. I like this variant for a couple reasons; First, it makes turn one just like almost every other turn ever played. There is a kubb throwing phase, a kubb raising phase, and field kubbs must be attacked prior to advancing to the baseline. That’s Kubb! Secondly, it appeals to me mathematically, because on the whole base kubbs are worth about 3 batons. Surrendering one is essentially the same as simulating a first turn where the other team opened with 3 batons and shot 33% - you’re just skipping that part and getting into the middle game more quickly (which makes it a PERFECT fit for formats like Cabin Fever where time is of the essence). Unfortunately, that mathematical appeal loses some of it’s luster in matches where the average 8m hit rate deviates a lot from that 33% number. For really, really good teams, the value of that surrendered base kubb can drop to less than 2 batons, and for teams that struggle to hit 8’s it might be worth well over 4. I think OKS is a great fit for most games in most situations (and I think it will ALWAYS be more fair than a 6 baton opening), but the outliers could be something of an issue over time.

Rockford SHS Kubb Tournament: This year Rockford adopted the “Basel-3” opening for any match that went to a 3rd game. Games 1 and 2 would use the current 6 baton opening, then if teams were tied 1-1 there would be a 2nd king toss, with the winner having the option to choose their side as well as determining which team would start the game with three batons. Unfortunately the wind was a large factor at this tournament, so it was hard to judge this format on its own.  Starting 3 batons into the wind ‘felt’ very unfair to some players, and to some extent that is absolutely true: the purpose of reducing the opening is to make both sides equal, and there was therefore nothing to offset the ‘unfairness’ of the wind.

Madison Midsommar and the Des Moines Kubb Co-ed Challenge both used the same rule as Rockford, with the  modification that the 3rd game would have 4 batons rather than 3, and the winner of the toss could choose side OR order - not both. The US National Kubb Championship, Iowa Summer Games, and the US Midwest Championship in Decorah took that one step farther and kept the 4 baton opening in game three but removed the 2nd king toss – the winner of the initial king toss to start the game would have the option to choose side or throwing order before the third game.

I am in favor of all of the above – they are all methods of ensuring that the net advantage over the course of the match is as limited as possible. However, in my opinion, they all suffer from the same half-measure: The turn one advantage is still having a huge impact on the first two games. Yes, both teams have the opportunity to play with the advantage, and yes, if both teams can protect the ‘serve’ (or neither can) then the advantage will be mitigated in the third game. But what if all three games were on near-equal footing?

Having a 4 baton opening in every game hasn’t been tried in a regional tournament yet (neither have openings of 3 or 5 for that matter). My recent experiences with three game matches at Nationals, the Iowa Games, and the Midwest Championship have served to remind me how much I like a 4 baton start. Each of those games were tight and exciting, filled with lead changes and momentum shifts. Everything that makes up a great game of Kubb. I want more of that! I would absolutely be in favor of a 4 baton start across the board. Every game, every match, every time. Starting with 4 batons confers a ‘slight’ advantage, which can offset the ‘slight’ advantage that exists on most pitches due to the environment.

But I think we can do even better.

I know I threw out a "12%" number in my blog post as a value for the turn one advantage, but that is only valid given many other variables remaining constant at (or at least averaging around) the values I was using. In reality, Kubb is a complex system always in flux, and a whole host of different factors are affecting the outcome in one way or another, so the advantage conferred by throwing first can vary greatly. 

So if the conditions are always changing, relative skill levels are always changing, and the resulting 1st turn advantage is always changing, then it is impossible to declare that a given number of turn one batons will always be 'fair'. 6 seems to be, in most cases, too much, and 3 is too few (unless conditions are near ideal).  While I like the idea of switching to a 4 opener across the board, I could easily imagine conditions where choosing the advantageous side far outweighs a 4 baton open. So what if we had an opening round that varied based on conditions?

Two kids each want the last piece of cake, so they decide to split it. To ensure they each get a fair share, they decide that one will cut it and the other will get first pick of the slices. The same idea can be applied to the first turn. First kid cuts the cake, (says, “5 batons”), second kid chooses his slice (says “sure I’ll start with 5, pick your side”, or “I’ll play from over here – you can throw 5 if you want”). The winner of the king toss may choose to “make the cut”, or force their opponent to so they get can pick the tastier slice.

The main thing I like about this idea is that it self-corrects for conditions. Let the players choose how much going first is worth, they'll know how to make it fair. Continuing with the ‘self-correcting’ theme, I’d even take the concept one step further and say that the teams shouldn’t automatically switch side and order after each game, but instead they should ‘recut the cake’. Loser of the prior game can choose to cut or force their opponent to instead. 

I think that our club has earned a bit of a reputation for being innovators, so let’s try something a little radical for our 5th year jubilee! We want to hear from you – our members and our players – about what you would like to see at the Fall Klassic this year. Which format do YOU like best? Stop by our Facebook poll (or shoot us an email if you don’t have a FB account) and let us know!

1)      Keep the same 6-baton opening and rules as previous years. Tradition is important!

2)      Keep the 6 batons in all games, but make the king toss best-of-three. I think Chaska may be on to something there…

3)      Modified Start in the third game only – Serve, serve, overtime! (Please see our secondary poll to determine 3 batons, 4 batons, OKS, or Cut the Cake)

4)      Modified Start all the time! Heck yeah I like close games! (Please see our secondary poll to determine 3, 4, OKS, or Cut the Cake)