It was cold in La Baule on the final Sunday. Large sports arenas usually don’t have sophisticated temperature control, and sometimes they lack capacity, so warming up takes time. The weather on the French coast changed, the temperature dropped and the billiard arena was 17 degrees Celsius, at best. As a result, the tables changed. Most, if not all lines became shorter, and the players needed to adjust. Sounds easy, but it is one of the hardest things to do in our sport.
Before I go on about that, a word about the tables, and the general conditions. They were superb. I can understand that you watched on Sunday, saw balls coming out of corners, and thought: “My goodness, why must the best players in the world perform on tables THIS short? What brand is this, who was the mechanic, have they cleaned those balls properly?” But you would be wrong to blame the equipment.
La Baule 2018 had a main draw (last 32) grand average of 1.731, making it the fourth best World Cup in history. (top 3: Guri 2015, 1.787, Blankenberge 2018, 1.780, Ho Chi Minh 2015, 1.776). No other World Cup has broken the 1.7 barrier. The level of play was awesome, and on Saturday a Turkish and a Dutch gentleman gave us a show that will never be forgotten. Sayginer beat Jaspers 40-25 in 6, for 6.666 versus 4.166 and a combined average of 5.417.
Best. Match. Ever.
In conclusion, conditions were wonderful in La Baule. Until that temperature drop, and then everything became difficult. Why is that, what makes it so hard to adjust your shot an inch here and there? These guys are professionals, they have done this for twenty years. They are just making excuses, they should not be troubled by different table conditions, right?
Hitting a ball in a certain way is a very abstract thing. No player will ever be able to quantify what he is doing. “I am hitting the second ball 27 % left, with 14 mm of right hand english, 7 mm of draw and a speed of 19 km/h.” You don’t even have to be a player to see that is utter nonsense. We can’t define in numbers what we do with the cue ball.
What do we work with, if it’s not numbers? This is the first of our tools: auto-pilot. Example: walking. If you had to make a conscious decision: left foot forward, then right foot, you’d go nuts. You don’t think about it, you leave it to your auto-pilot. Ten-finger typing? Same thing, there’s never a “decision” involved.
Second tool: instinct, but you can also call it “feel” or experience. Example: overtaking on a two-lane road. You are behind a lorry, there’s a car coming your way in the other lane, can you make it? That’s an extremely complicated calculation involving three different speeds. But you don’t calculate, you don’t do the numbers. You take a look, and you somehow know. Your brain did the work for you. If you are alive today, your brain got it right every time.
Back to billiards. Auto pilot is: where to stand when you are about to shoot. You don’t make a conscious decision, you walk to the table and somehow find the correct spots for your feet. Hand on the table: auto-pilot. Stay out of the miscue area on the cue ball: auto pilot. And then there is instinct: how much ball to hit, with a touch of draw and some left-hand side, at a certain speed. For most players, not even these are conscious decisions. You leave that to the same part of your brain that decides on overtaking or staying behind the lorry. Why? Because that part of your brain is a lot smarter than you are.
I promised you that all this had something to do with the cold in Baule. It does. When table conditions change, it messes with our auto-pilot and our instincts. Things that are supposed to happen, don’t happen, and as a result, we get insecure. Example: I switch the turn signal in your car from left to right and your window washer from right to left. I promise you, you’ll use the wrong one not once or twice, but 137 times. Your auto-pilot is broken. Another example: I let you drive wearing your grandmothers’ glasses. You are not going to overtake any lorry, because you will not trust your own judgment, you’ll be too insecure.
Playing on a table that is extremely long or extremely short is difficult enough. But having a table CHANGE on you is even worse. Yesterday you could trust it, now it is lying to you. Yesterday you could predict results, now you wait, watch and hope. Yesterday you played on instinct and you were right almost every time. Now your main tools are broken, and you have to make decisions about everything. Left foot forward, then right foot…
If you are serious about your 3-cushion, remember this: unconscious decisions are almost always better than conscious ones, and they are more precise.
I was not too surprised to see Horn doing well in difficult conditions. He has understood long ago that you should never argue with a table. Semih suffered the most from the change, because he was so perfectly in tune with the conditions on Saturday. What a comeback the Turk has made: two bronzes at world championships, a silver in a World Cup, and now a world record. You know what? I am rooting for him to win at least one more big prize in his career.