A tabletop game for two to four players, carrom is thought to have been invented as an indoor sport in India around the eighteenth century. While there is little information on the game’s precise origins or its early historical development, it remains a very popular household and neighbourhood game in South and Southeast Asia, played by people of all ages. It is a game of skill, involving a high level of hand-eye coordination, dexterity, strategy and spatial visualisation. Having reached the West in the twentieth century, it is also played professionally at an international level.
Carrom is played using coin-like discs on a square wooden board that has a pocket at each corner. The objective is to pocket coins by hitting them with a striker disc that is flicked along the board using the fingers. There are nine black coins and nine white (or unpainted) ones, together called the carrom men, and a singular red coin called the queen. These are about 3 centimetres in diameter and 7–9 millimetres thick. A larger and usually heavier coin, measuring about 4 centimetres and made of smoother material, is used as the striker. While the carrom men and queen are traditionally made of wood, the striker may be made from material such as bone or ivory.
A typical carrom board is a 70–74-centimetre plywood square with raised edges (also called bumpers) that not only keep the coins from sliding off the board, but are also used to create rebounds as the coins are struck. It features cutouts at each corner, equipped with cloth or mesh pockets to catch the coins dropped into them. According to international rules, the board must be placed at a height of 60–70 centimetres from the floor, and players must always play seated. It is printed with markings that serve as a framework for the arrangement of coins and for gameplay. At the centre is a red circle surrounded by a medallion comprising two concentric circles, in which the coins are arranged at the start of the game. Four bars are marked on the board along the sides of the square, each terminating in a red circle on either end. These form the baselines and a player must always place their striker on the bar on their side of the board to flick it. Foul lines are marked as diagonals from the inner square’s corners: they define each player’s respective quadrant, which no part of their body is allowed to cross in the process of making a shot. The board is usually sprinkled with boric acid powder to help the coins slide easily across it.
The game begins with the black and white coins arranged in the medallion at the centre of the board, in an alternating pattern around the queen. One of the players takes the first shot to break this arrangement and commence gameplay. Players alternate turns unless one of them pockets a coin, in which case they continue with their turn until they fail to pocket any coins with a strike. Although various ‘grips’ are used to launch the striker, the rule is that it must be flicked rather than pushed; conventionally players lock the index finger behind the thumb, build pressure, and flick the striker with the nail of the index finger.
There are two broad variations of carrom: the official game as defined by the International Carrom Federation (ICF), and a point-based one that is played more casually. The official version is a two-player game, with a doubles version with four players. Each player or team chooses either white or black carrom men, and aims to pocket all of their respective coins while leaving as many of their opponent’s coins on the board as possible. White takes the first shot. Additional points are conferred for pocketing the queen. In the points-based variation of the game, a player can pocket both black and white carrom men. In this version too, the queen is especially valuable, followed by the white and, lastly, the black carrom men. Such a game ends when one of the players has reached a target score, or once all the coins have been pocketed, with the winner determined by their total points. This version is common among children and beginners, and also allows the game to be played by three players.
A number of additional rules and regulations control the gameplay, including special rules for pocketing the queen. While it is only possible to secure the queen after pocketing at least one other coin, it is only considered pocketed if the player pockets another of their own coins immediately after — otherwise the queen is returned to the board. According to another rule, pocketing the striker itself incurs a penalty for the shooting player. A variation of carrom popular in Pakistan, where it is sometimes called dubbo, is played on a larger board measuring 1 metre or more. It also uses a larger striker, with more lenient rules for flicking or pushing it.
Carrom gained popularity in the West, particularly the UK and USA, after the First World War. The ICF was founded in Madras (now Chennai), India, in 1988, with the aim of regularising the game’s rules and organising tournaments. At the time of writing, it is headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland. Other organisations with similar functions include the Asian Carrom Confederation, the European Carrom Confederation and the US Carrom Association. These in turn regulate activities of national-level carrom organisations, such as the All India Carrom Federation.
The Indian government officially recognises carrom as a sport, and offers grants and support to organise state- and national-level competitions. Since 1991, professional carrom players in India are also eligible to be considered within the sports quota for recruitment in public sector organisations. Notable Indian carrom players include Anthony Maria Irudayam, who is a recipient of the 1997 Arjuna Award for sportsmanship, and the only athlete to win it for carrom; S Ilavazhagi, who has won three Carrom World Championships since 2008; and K Srinivas, who won the 2014 championship for India in singles and doubles.
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