One of the most talked about things in the world of kubb this year is likely to be the rule changes handed down from the U.S. National Kubb Championship.

The biggest change, which Eric Anderson, organizer of U.S. National Kubb, described as “significant” is the decision to legally allow a baton to travel at 45 degrees off vertical as opposed to 10 degrees before.“This matches the World Championship rules and rules in a host of other countries, as well,” he said. “I say ‘legally’ as before this rules change, many baton tosses outside of 10 degrees were not disallowed during a match. It would just depend on the two teams if it was called or not.”

Eric Anderson, watching a semi-final match at the U.S. National Championship PHOTO: Courtesy

Anderson said it was believed 45 degrees would make more games less uncomfortable, though he acknowledged it could make games between two good teams more uncomfortable as players push the envelope on what 45 degrees looks like.

“I think it will allow players to get more creative and take more risks,” he said. “An impossible double with your last baton in 2012 might become a double that has a 20 percent chance if you tilt the baton a little in 2013.”

Also, among the changes are better explanations of rules and how the game is played, which has led to the most complete rules document in the world or one that would rival others, Anderson said.

One of those explanations is what can be done to stand a kubb.

“Over the past year, we have seen more and more people putting grass under a kubb to keep it vertical even though it would not fall down without the grass,” Anderson said. “This has never been allowed, and it was starting to generate questions at tournaments.”

He said this rule clarification is designed to limit the need for a referee or tournament director at the pitch, and to limit the opportunities for two teams to disagree.

Grass from outside the pitch can be used to make a kubb stand, but that can only be done if the kubb will not stand on its own – leaning kubbs don’t count – and placing grass under the kubb cannot move the angle of it.

Another addition to the rules is the use of a coin flip if teams have a disagreement about which side to stand for the opening toss. Anderson said he could remember one time when there was a disagreement because both teams wanted the wind at their back when throwing.

“To be honest, I don’t expect it to come up much,” he said. “However, as more and more teams get better, the team that goes first has an advantage. So, perhaps we will see it in the future, but I don’t think it will be common at all. Just aim at the king and get it there. If you are thinking about what side to be on when throwing at the king, you are already beat.”

The term “kubb footprint” also has been added to the glossary. The footprint is the potential area that contacts with the ground when a field kubb is raised. All kubbs have two potential footprints. A graphic has been added that better explains how a kubb can be raised.

Anderson said the rules document was created with both recreational teams and competitive teams in mind, so that beginners can learn and understand the basic rules of kubb, while it clarifies some issues that have arisen during competition play.

Since the first U.S. National Kubb Championship in 2007, there have been very few rule changes. Anderson said any changes that have been made were designed to refine and better explain the game, and to follow the World Championship as closely as possible. In some cases, hours of research took place that included talks with people in Sweden about World Championship rules and policies that are not stated in the English or Swedish version of their rules.

Des Moines Kubb interviewed Anderson about the rule changes, what factors go into changing a rule, other information related to Nationals, and asked him a few random questions about kubb play. Here’s what he had to say (answers have been edited for length):

 If you would like to follow along with the rules document, click here.

Q: What information do you use when considering changes to the rules?

A: For the change from 10 degrees to 45 degrees, we did very extensive research. We discussed at length with other tournament organizers, we talked with a variety of players and teams at all levels and experience in the U.S., and we also had discussions with players and tournament organizers in Europe.

For the format and environment at the tournament, one thing we look at is the surveys that we have received since 2008. We have actually gotten hundreds of surveys over the past years from the Championship. If we see a common theme, then we look at how we might change the tournament. Also, we are continuously talking to all types of players to hear their comments. This includes long-time players, new players, young players and old players, players from out of town, and players from in town. Our intent from day one was to give people a kubb tournament that they like and that they want to come back to and play.

Q: What do you say to those who think the 45 degree rule should not have been changed?

A: I guess what I would say is that I would hope that they give it a chance. If I think about it, and I have a lot, I am not so certain it will make things that different. We have all played in many matches against all levels of teams where a baton gets away from us. How many times do we call it on somebody? Not much, and some of us probably never. As a player, I still think the most accurate throw is a vertical throw, and I think most players will still play that way.

The bottom line is that it should have been 45 degrees from Day 1. However, when I learned the game in Sweden, it was just recreational kubb with friends and family, and the common thought was that the baton had to be vertical, so that is how we started back in 2007.

Q: What was the reason behind the addition of Etiquette and Spirit of the Game rules?

A: I just think we wanted to put down on paper what we all already feel and know. I have to think that the overwhelming majority of people don’t just know this, but they are proud to be in a sport that encompasses this feeling and environment. It makes it more open and friendly to new players, young players, players that are just out to have fun and not care about their finish, and players that might be a little more reserved. All of our goals should be to create an environment where kids and all types of other players feel comfortable.

The intent of the tournament has always been to be the most inclusive as possible, and part of that is creating an environment that promotes inclusiveness.

Q: What do you expect the community to get from those additions?

A: I am not sure they will get much from the words on the paper. In society we have a lot of things that say one thing but are a different thing when you experience it. I think one cannot help but feel it and experience it when they go to tournaments. One can feel all the different great things of kubb.

Is the environment and feel on Sunday morning a little different? Of course it is, and that is what makes Sunday morning and even late on Saturday afternoon special. Those are the top teams playing a sport for their name on The Stapp King. At the same time, you will see sportsmanship and high levels of etiquette and courtesy there as well. I am proud to say that we have often heard from new teams that have been grouped with a top team in the Saturday round robin that they could not believe how nice the top teams are and how open they are with sharing strategies. In essence these teams are one of the “welcomers” of the U.S. Championship and kubb as a whole, and their respect for the game and the U.S. Championship goes a long way. Perhaps they didn’t know that, but they do now.

On the other end, and I don’t want people to think that there is taunting or yelling at opponents at all, but there are a couple of teams that like to try to get an advantage by pushing the envelope a little. So with these teams, I guess that I hope that it might help to reinforce the etiquette and spirit of the game. Also that it makes them realize that if they are pushing the envelope that is hurting the sport and the work that a tournament organizer puts in, which for the U.S. Championship is numerous 100s of hours.

Q: I noticed when reading through the new rules that there was an addition on non-penalized actions that are mistakes, such as accidentally picking up a standing field kubb. Can you think of any situations in past tournaments where this rule would have changed the way it was played or called? If so, can you elaborate on what happened?

A: Not really. Most of us at one time or another have accidently kicked over a baseline kubb or something. There should be no penalties for something like that. We are all human and it is just a game.

Q: When will the U.S. Nationals referees be selected and start studying these rules?

A: We had two referees that worked at the 2012 Championship, in addition to me. We are in the process of looking to get at least two more. We would like to have at least two or three at the Championship at all time, especially if it continues to grow. We will be going over the new rules document with them in the early spring. However, they are pretty well versed on them already. If anyone out there is interested in being a referee, just let me know. We have to say that the shirts are pretty sweet.

Q: How do you choose the U.S. Nationals referees?

A: First of all, they have to want to do it. This may sound not so difficult, but most people want to play. Other than that, they have to be willing to learn the rules document and attend training sessions. We also look for people that are welcoming, polite, and can explain things well. For us, that is equally important. The referees are one of the faces of the U.S. Championship, so it is important for us that there are good experiences with them.

Side note: Anderson said the referees are usually from Eau Claire, Wisc.; however, he would like to get refs from out of town, so call or e-mail him.

Q: How does someone become certified to referee at the U.S. Nationals?

A: At this time, we do not have an official certification process. If you are willing, know the rules, are able to explain the rules to me in a good way, can pass a couple trick questions, and are a polite person, we will give you a U.S. Championship referee shirt and free food at the U.S. Championship.

U.S. National Referees PHOTO: Courtesy

Q: Is it legal for players to throw from a knee?

A: The rules do not state that it is illegal. So with that, if someone wanted to get down on a knee or two, that is up to them. I do have a feeling that if that did happen the person would be pretty famous, not sure if it would be in a good way though.

Q: Can another player hold on to the thrower's belt loop to stretch in a favorable position?

A: No.

Q: Can a player on a team only throw kubbs, or do they have to throw a baton as well?

A: It is our understanding that at the WC a player who throws kubbs in a turn needs to throw at least one baton in that turn. We follow their rule on this.

Q: I hear a lot about the “rescue play.” Where is that exactly defined in the rules?

A: What some are calling the “rescue play” has become a more popular tactic by some teams and clubs. Perhaps a club will put a “how-to and why” video out about this for the players and teams that are not familiar with it.

The process is explained in detail in the Kubb Tossing Phase. The term “rescue play” is not specifically defined. This is an example of a local term that is spreading in the kubb community, which adds to the growth and culture of the game. I would like to see more of that.

If a punishment kubb from a previous turn is in play when a team starts to throw their kubbs, the team will use the new kubbs to try to knock out the standing punishment kubb. If the punishment kubb is knocked out of play, then it is returned to the team tossing the kubbs. They get two new throws with that kubb. If the kubb that was tossed at the existing punishment kubb goes out of play, then the team gets to toss that one more time. What is interesting for me is that it is putting more strategy in where a team places a punishment kubb, as putting it along the sidelines and baseline of the pitch will make it easier to “rescue” that kubb. 

I will say this, when this strategy is implemented, it is good for the kubb tossing team to notify the other team that they are going to do it. Often, these kubbs can come in quick and hard if the punishment kubb is on the baseline. In addition, it is not uncommon for one kubb to stay in and the other to go out. It is important for both teams to know which kubb stays in and which stays out, as the results are quite different.

Side note: Anderson said it would be a good idea for the team that is not throwing to be at least a meter behind the baseline when their opponent is attempting to rescue a kubb.