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

The momentum of a billiard match

Posted by on September 29, 2017

The momentum of a billiard match

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How would you react if, in a TV interview, you heard Conor McGregor explain why he lost to Floyd Mayweather:

"He kept holding his hands up, so I could not hit his face."

In slightly different words, billiard players come up with explanations like that, for a bad loss. We hate it so much, when the other guy does not let us play.  

Why don't top players complain about difficult starting positions as often as the rest of us do? Main reason: they EXPECT good defense from their opponents. If there is the occasional gift on the table, that's not salary, it's a bonus.

Additional reason: they are experienced enough to know that over many matches, these things will even out. Sometimes your defensive shot will end up as an easy ticky for your opponent, next month it will be the other way around. Flip a coin a thousand times, and you will see heads & tails pretty close to five hundred. 

But here's the cruelty of modern-day 3-cushion: we're flipping the coin twenty-five times at most, sometimes it's seven! I am referring of course, to the number of innings Fred used when he beat Dick in the Bursa World Cup final earlier this year.  

 In Cheongju, Choong Bok Lee just beat Minh Cam Ma 40 - 12 in 13 innings. Did Ma have 13 chances to turn the match around? No, he had three at best. So often, there is nothing you can do. You can play well, never make an unforced error and pay attention to your defense... and still lose by a big margin. 

We don't like to say it out loud, but there is a bit of luck involved in 3-cushion these days.  Flip a coin seven times, and it may come up heads six times, tails once. Not that Caudron was a lucky winner in Bursa, mind you. He played a shining pearl of a match. 

That "once", in the above paragraph, that is something you need to develop an instinct for. That ONE opportunity, that one opening. Because it can turn matches around. You don't always have to make an enormous run. But you need to use that moment, to change the momentum.

Let's say we watch a video of your first four innings in a match. You start off with a bad miss, then a miss by a hair on a difficult position, then a brilliant shot, a second point but no position, so score two, then another miss on another tough starter. You've made 2 in 4 innings. Six shots, four of those were good or excellent, one was so-so, one was horrible. If you ALWAYS have that level of quality in your play, you'll average well over 1.000 for a season.  Yet here you are, with 0.500.

This is what happened to your opponent: he was gifted a prime position in the first inning, and ran a five. His good defense resulted in your miss in the second inning. He picked up another little run of three, in the fourth inning. It's now 2 - 8. Both his run of five and his run of three ended with a poor shot, an unnecessary miss. He's averaging 2.000, and he has made more mistakes than you.   

Such a little STRETCH of three/four/five innings, where one player dominates the table, where he has the luxury of playing defensive when he wants, can be the result of a single mistake. In this example, I was picturing two players with an average around 1.000, playing a World Cup qualification match to 25 or 30 points.

Two, three mistakes, causing two or three of these stretches, are enough to decide a match. So be aware of these moments, recognize them when they come around. 

- Break through your opponent's defense with a good bank shot: that is almost always such a moment.

- He hands you an impossible position, and you hand one back to him. See if he handles it as well as you just did.

- He runs five, but does not close the door on you. You answer with a four, and you DO leave something horrible for him. He's gained a point, but you are the moral winner, because you have changed the momentum.  

A "stretch" of table dominance usually does not last for more than four or five innings. Chance, coincidence, a kiss, an error or a moment of genius will always disrupt the control you had over your opponent for a while. Are there exceptions to that rule? Does table dominance sometimes last an entire match? Of course it does. Both Ceulemans and Merckx have won matches 40-1. Caudron has won 50-4 and 40-3, Jaspers has won 40-4. And in all these cases, they played a good (1.000 or up) opponent!  

There is probably no better example than the famous 50 - 6 (in 2004) where Roland Forthomme was in control from start to finish and dominated the exchange of attack and defense, all eleven innings of the match. His opponent? None other than the great Swede himself.  Even if you are one of the best players of all time, you can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit. 


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