The most successful international TV franchise of all time has aired in more than a hundred countries. Yet, it is nothing more than a quiz show: a guy in a chair gets tested with questions of increasing difficulty. We, 3-cushion players often find ourselves in a chair too, because we were unable to come up with the right answers. What are we doing wrong? A closer look at “WWTBAM” gave me some clues.
The candidates on the show have three “lifelines”, to help them along when their knowledge falls short. Here they are: a) the 50/50 chance b) poll the audience c) phone a friend. My easy-to-remember tip for billiard players is: Think about WWTBAM, and AVOID all those lifelines. They do to your 3-cushion play what a warm greasy glass does to good cold beer.
We’ve discussed the 50/50 chance before, on these pages. It is that decision you are unwilling to make at the table, and you end up playing the “in-between” shot. You dislike the 3-rail line (LSL) because it is not a natural (will usually end up too long) but then the 5-railer (LSLSL) is not a natural either (it will come short). You could play off four rails, but it’s so sensitive and you only play those well when you’re brimming with confidence. Try an entirely different solution? Nah, they are all intimidating and difficult. The angel on your left shoulder tells you to do the mature thing, and play SLSL. But the devil on your right shoulder wins, with his classic whisper: “maybe you were wrong, and it will come a bit shorter than you thought… or longer. At least you’ll get it close this way, and you won’t look like a fool”. And there you are, on the fence, playing the bad shot you know you will miss.
Poll the audience, that is when you start to look around you for support. Do these people in the room understand that the universe is conspiring against you today? Have they SEEN the positions you’ve been getting? And please, teammate, tell me you have counted the flukes my opponent has made. I’ve seen 6 now, and he’s made another 13 easy points from them. You look at the scoreboard: you’re 19 points behind. Then you man up and try hard on that next tough shot, only to miss by a hair. Here come the theatrics: you stay at the table just a few seconds too long, looking at the spectators. “Could I have hit that any better?” is written on your forehead in block letters. Then you sit, like a man who is sentenced to “the chair”. Teammates are no help. The ref is no help, the audience is no help. Life is so unfair.
Phone a friend, that is what you do when you are in the middle of a match and you are losing. You are rehearsing the story you will tell him (or her) tomorrow. “No, I could not possibly win that match. No run of the ball whatsoever. Nothing but bank shots is what I got, and never the ones where second and third ball are close. When I played defense, he had a ticky. When he shot 100 miles an hour and missed, all three were frozen to a rail. Maybe Caudron can turn a match like that around, but I couldn’t”. Or this version, if you are less of a lying crybaby and more of a gentleman billiard player: “The guy was just too good for me on the day. He made a beautiful run of 9 followed by a 7. What was I supposed to do? I did not play that bad, but he certainly deserved to win”. These phone conversations are taking place in your head, remember? And from your chair, there is one thing you always forget to tell your friend, practice partner or spouse.
The match isn’t over yet.
To win tough 3-cushion battles, you need to be in the present, in the moment, at all time. If you start analyzing a match while you are still playing it, you are in the past (and you can’t win there). If you skip ahead and start explaining to yourself why you’ve lost, you’re in the future (and you can’t win there). Either way, the chance that you will indeed lose, triples. Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes you’ve made earlier in the match. There is a time and a place for that: in your car on the way home, or at the practice table, tomorrow. For now, try to make the point that is on the table, and then the next one: THAT is your only lifeline. Forget about the scoreboard, the teammates, the annoying kid with the bag of potato chips, even the opponent. Yes, he is of second-degree importance at most. The only thing that is relevant in your life, right here, right now, is the problem on the table. And you can solve it, you have the tools. Who’s going to stop you? The opponent is in the chair. It’s your turn to play.