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Carom Billiard - 3-Cushion - Bert's column (NED)

Mentality is overrated

Posted by on July 13, 2017

Mentality is overrated

© Kozoom

One of the things billiard players just love to do, is criticize better billiard players. We fully realize they are better, but when we see them make a mistake, it creates a kinship. It reaffirms that we are both human, gives us the idea that we are actors in the same play.    

I am not usually one of the harshest critics of players. My colleague Frits Bakker says I am too forgiving, too mild. "You're an analyst, I am a journalist." He's probably right about that. I think it has something to do with the fact that, on my very modest level, I was inside the circus. Not in the audience, but at the table, with a cue in my hand. It changes your perspective, forever.    

I've won a World Cup match 15-14 in the 5th set, and also lost one by the same score. Had there been justice, I would have lost the first one, won the second.  Once or twice, I've beaten a stronger opponent. More often, I've had my rear end kicked by a player who was out of my league (most of them were). One of the things you learn is this: sometimes you rise above yourself, you do the absolute, very best you can, and it's not good enough. You stay strong, focused, your nerves under control, you make a good decision and - without a technical flaw - hit the ball exactly where you want to hit it. And you miss.   

This is because 3-cushion billiards is not only the most difficult game on the planet, it is also more cruel than Boko Haram.

There is nothing wrong with criticism, it can strengthen a player and help him grow. But in my experience, billiard players are almost always criticized for the wrong reasons. So many followers of the game, especially non-players, have an obsession with the mental aspect of it, and it's their explanation for every loss.  

The target group: players from 1.2 to 1.7. Lower, and it's obvious that you are not going to be competing for World Cup glory. Higher, and you are clearly one of the greats of the game. But watch out if you are 1.5, because your character will be under the microscope, every match you play.  

Let's look at a few things that happen every day, in 3-cushion on a high level.  

1a) Your first four innings of the match are 6-1-9-2. You'll be praised, because the score board says you're playing sensational 3C. In fact, three of your runs ended because you played a poor shot. You have 18, but you should have had 25.

1b) Your last four innings of the match are 0-1-0-0. Your opponent scores 15 points in those four innings, and (from 37-25) you lose 38-40. You'll be crucified, because you are mentally weak, not a winner, nervous, can't handle the pressure. In fact, all four starting positions were desperately difficult, and you hit three of them brilliantly. Your mentality was at its best in the last four innings.   

2a) Your opponent makes a silly mistake at 39-35 and lets you in with a last chance. You run five naturals, because two times the hit on the third ball is thin and it gives you another open position. Kermit the Frog could have made that 5, but you'll be hailed as a "cool customer" and a "winner" with a never-say-die mentality. 

2b) You've played virtually error-free all match, against a much stronger opponent. At 39-35 you make your first silly mistake, and he punishes you with a 5. You are a 1.3 player, he's a 2.0, and the match ends 39-40 in 19. Your superb play in the first 18 innings will be instantly forgotten.   

Players sometimes miss because of nerves, yes. But they miss because of the difficulty of the shot, far more often. When we are talking about World Cup main tournaments, the players who can't control their nerves or can't perform under pressure are usually in the hotel or on their way home before it's Friday. 

Are there players who never get accused of having a poor mentality, of being unable to deliver when the pressure is highest? Yes. Their names are Sánchez, Jaspers, Zanetti, Caudron, Blomdahl, Merckx. The best of the best. 

Can you see what is going on here? Can you spot the bad logic? Let me put it this way:  Usain Bolt always wins the 100 meters, and that is 10 % because of his mental strength, focus, confidence... and 90 % because he can run faster than the others.  It would not be a bad thing if we could look at 3-cushion through those glasses, instead of attacking the character of wonderful players who are a step below world champion ability.

Caudron and Sánchez are simply better than all the 1.5's, and they have more in their toolbox. If the table is difficult, they adapt quickly and play different shots. If their position looks impossible, they find a clever way to defend.  They don't always win because of their unshakeable mental strength. More often they win because they have more knowledge, more flexibility, more creativity. I think they are marginally better (mentally) than the 1.5 players, not dramatically.  

Let's have some compassion with players who lose. How would you have done, in their situation? And finally: If you want to know how well somebody is playing, don't watch the score board. Watch the table! 


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My Comments

Loosing a game
Well said, good article in time

Message 1/3 - Publish at July 13, 2017 9:14 AM

Good opinion, but...
Hello, I read with attention your column, and as it is with many many subjects, it is always subjective to everyones opinion, and first hand knowledge of the subject. There is one thing that I feel unacceptable though, there ir no place for a rude, senseless and out of place comment such as the one in which you compare our magnificent game of 3 C, all your passion and our passion, falls very short and has absolutely nothing to do with the cruelty of a group, i believe that passion for our game made you write it as you did, perhaps to give it a dramatic feel, or for what ever reason you may have. Please lets keep our passion clean, we all know how hard 3 C is, as it happens when we play, we must keep mentally focused also when we write.

Message 2/3 - Publish at July 23, 2017 11:20 PM

My tiny opinion about this...
I think first of all, of course it is the knowledge and technical and strategical capabilities the make the difference between being an average, good, very good or top player.
However from my side, I wouldn't underestimate the mental aspect that much. Take Zanetti for example, 1 of the big 6 names you mention in the article. Never being questioned. I (as I am much into numbers too) made a comparison regarding averages played in worldcups and championships between the big 6 for the last 10 years. Where Caudron, Jaspers and Sanchez are averaging between 1,9 and 2; Blomdahl just a little lower than 1,9 Merckx around 1,75 Zanetti averages between 1,6 and 1,7. Quite big differences there I would dare to say. Zanetti still wins big tournaments and survives 1st rounds of Worldcups and championships more than any other player. Merckx has a similar killing mentality, playing great big average games in important moments. I think their mental strength is winning them those championships from the 1,9-2 avg guy

Message 3/3 - Publish at December 12, 2017 8:05 PM - Edited at December 12, 2017 8:05 PM

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