2016/10 – Karma is a bitch

No, I’m not talking about Karma, the cue manufacturer. I am sure they are decent people who make fine sticks. This is about things from your past, that jump up and bite you in the neck. It may be something you do, it may be something you say. It could take twenty years, it could take ten minutes. 

August Tiedtke (1913 – 1972) was one of the finest billiard players Germany has ever had, but on this particular Sunday afternoon, he was not a happy man. It was in Düsseldorf, in 1960, and Tiedtke had just won the silver medal in the European 3-cushion championship. Why was he unhappy? Because he had never won this title. Because he had already finished second before: for the first time in 1936. He was second again in ’52 and ’53. Then 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, all silver medals at the EC. And again in 1960, when the gold went to Rene Vingerhoedt from Belgium, who finished one place ahead of Tiedtke on SIX of these eight occasions. Can you imagine the German’s frustration? It’s as if your entire career is weighed down, held back, crippled by this one “verdammte” guy from Belgium.     

Johann Scherz (1932 – 2004) from Austria, nineteen years younger than Tiedtke and the supremely talented coming man at that time, spoke Tiedtke’s language and was there to comfort him. I am not sure if the two were friends. What he said could have been genuine, it could also have been an attempt to rub some salt into the wound. We’ll never know. But Scherz’s words are immortal: “With eight second place finishes, at least you have a record that will never be broken.” 

How was young and cocky Scherz to know that in 1962, a certain Raymond Ceulemans would arrive on the scene? How often will Scherz have looked back on that Sunday afternoon in Düsseldorf, wishing he could take back what he said to Tiedtke? At least ELEVEN times, because the Austrian would go on to win the silver at European 3-cushion championships in ’62, ’63, ’64, ’65, ’66, ’68, ’70, ’71, ’79, ’80 and ’82. And every single time, the gold went to Raymond Ceulemans. Another verdammte Belgian.  

Thankfully, and in spite of the Belgians, both Tiedtke and Scherz had the great careers they deserved. The German won 32 national titles (still a record, shared with Dieter Müller), and he was once world champion in both the pentathlon and artistic billiards. Scherz won a world title in 71/2, and was European champion in 3-cushion twice: in ’61 and ’68. Quite astonishing is his collection of Austrian titles in various disciplines: 92.   

Obviously, I’ve never met Tiedtke. My one and only match against Scherz is unforgettable for me, and again karma plays a major role. It was a BWA Grand Prix in 1997, in the casino of Velden, Austria. I had qualified for the main tournament, Scherz had received a wildcard. He was then 65 years old, still very capable of 1 average, and immensely popular in Austria. There was a 200+ crowd when we played, and I felt they were absurdly partisan. Deadly silence when I made a difficult shot, thunderous applause for the easiest of Scherz’s points.   

The Austrian veteran won the first and third sets (15-4 and 15-4), I had won the second (4-15). It was 10-4 in the 4th, and my blood was boiling. Scherz had done nothing wrong, but the audience had gotten under my skin, and I hated them. I ran eleven and out to win the 4th set, again in absolute silence. Not a single person clapping for the tenth, no snap of a finger for the eleventh, nothing. Before I sat down, I looked up into the stands. Then I made a gesture. The type that is internationally understood, and for which you only need one of your fingers.  

There is no excuse for that. I regret it, it was stupid and unsportsmanlike. But at that moment in 1997, at half past three in the afternoon, I was quite ready to declare war on Austria. Karma put me in my place before it was even four o’ clock.    

We played the tightest 5th set ever: 4-4, 7-8, 11-10, in fourteen or fifteen extremely defensive innings. The audience (surprise, surprise) had doubled down on their efforts, and they loudly cheered and applauded when I missed. That was too much for Scherz, who walked over to my chair, pointed at the crowd and said “Meine Entschuldigung” (sorry about that). 10-10 became 14-14, and we both missed match point twice. Then Scherz came to the table, facing a next-to impossible position, and he made an outrageous fluke. It all meant nothing, of course. Scherz went out in the next round – as I would have – against Burgman. Jaspers beat Blomdahl in the final (2.538 for TB, 3.500 for DJ). I drove back from Velden, with plenty of time to think about karma’s wicked ways.   

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