2016/7 – Know your opponent’s weakness

One of the things a billiard player loves, is scoring well. Every 0.500 guy has these 0.750 matches from time to time, and they are like cocaine to his brain. He feels like a 0.750 player, if only for an evening.  

There is one thing just as addictive as playing well, but we like it even more: winning matches. “I don’t care that I lost, I played well”. That’s what a momma’s boy says. “I don’t care that it took 123 innings. I won.” Now that’s a real man talking. He’s lying, but it sounds good.  

If you want to win, build up your strength. Make yourself the best you can be, and the rewards will come. But be smart as well as strong. It doesn’t hurt to develop an understanding of your opponent’s weakness. My tip of the day: know who you’re playing. Warm-up time is not five minutes, it’s ten. Your five, and his five. If you have your eyes wide open, you might learn something.

Let me introduce you to a few of the opponents you will inevitably meet.  

Mr. Natural.

He can be a scary guy. You watch him warm up, and he doesn’t seem to miss at all. Half his shots are round the table naturals. Everything is smooth, quick, fluent. It’s all intuition, no calculation. Was that a run of seven? You are in the chair, and you feel outclassed before the lag has even been played. 

But wait a minute. This guy – over a season – has about the same average you have. How is that possible? He must be a lot worse in a match situation than he is during a relaxed warm-up. There it is, you’ve figured him out! He loves billiards but he hates pressure. 

You now know what to do. Make this match hard and uncomfortable. If you are both going to make run after run, he’ll probably outscore you. So this will have to be tactical. Patient. Yes, defensive.  He hates that. Deny him his rhythm. He plays on intuition. If, instead, you can make him think, he’s lost.  

You want to remind Mr. Natural, early in the match, that if you are the opponent, 3-cushion is a frustrating and difficult game. Running on tarmac, you are not going to keep up with this guy. Running uphill in the white sand of a dune, you are the one with the advantage.  

The Professor.   

If there is one clear sign that you are dealing with a Professor, it’s the amount of warm-up time he spends with just one ball. Hitting it with care from right bottom corner to third diamond on the left long rail, checking to see where it ends. Yes! In the left bottom corner. And he has many more lines he wants to check.

The Professor is not actually warming up for a match. He’s writing a consumer report about the table. And he makes mental notes, all through his five minutes. He wants to know how much he’ll have to compensate later on, for this line and for that position.  

Professors are the nicest guys in billiards. Almost always, they are graceful losers. They are great fun to talk to at the bar, about this shot and that shot. They know a lot. Many of them are teachers, and fine ambassadors for 3-cushion.

But they never win tournaments. In fact, they don’t win many matches. They think billiards is an exact science (and it isn’t). They will play the correct shot, at the correct speed, as described in the holy book by Ceulemans, and miss it by a hair. They don’t change tactics when it’s 39-37, or when it’s just not the right table to try and play for position on a particular shot. They are very intelligent, but not very smart.   

If you have some common sense, if you can improvise, if you can think on your feet, you will beat the Professor eight times out of ten.  

The Grinder. 

This guy does not look very good during warm-up, and that’s where the danger lies. You will always underestimate the Grinder, because his game is rather ugly. Watch him play five shots, and you already know it: I am better. 

It’s true, you are. But be very aware of this fact: he doesn’t care. The Grinder has no respect for your reputation or status. Nor, for that matter, does he care about systems, disciplined technique, correct choice of shot. He’s usually a self-taught player who cares about one thing only: the scoreboard. If he can make YOU play a really bad match, he thinks he’s better than you. I hate to say this, but he’s right.

The Grinder can do absolutely everything wrong, and still make the point. His cue goes up and down and sideways, his body moves before, after and DURING the stroke. If you were in an airplane, you’d ask the stewardess for a brown paper bag. But he doesn’t care, as long as the referee counts the point. His weapon is his deep desire to win.

He has beaten better players before, and it’s not because he got up to their level. It’s because he brought them down to his.  How to deal with the Grinder? Don’t hate him. If you do, you’re drinking poison, hoping HE will die. Love the game instead. Just breathe, stay in the moment and wait for the referee to tell you that it’s your turn. Once it is, enjoy, have fun, play billiards on YOUR terms. Even Grinders are powerless, when they are in the chair. 

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