English Amateur Billiards Association

EABA : The Amateur Billiard Player : April 1997

The Amateur Billiard Player : April 1997

The Game of Billiards

Tom Terry with John Barrie

Over the last ten or twelve years, I think that I must have watched more top class
billiards than anyone else in the world, ranging from the whole series of the Mini-Prix Pro/Am
to many professional tournaments where I hardly missed watching a shot. During this time, I
spent hours interviewing and talking to players who had forgotten more about the game than
I ever knew – players such as Dagley, Karnehm, Williams and Barrie. I corresponded
regularly with Bob Marshall and Murt O’Donoghue. I learned a great deal from watching and
talking to the younger generation; Gilchrist, Chapman, Foldvari and particularly Mike Russell.

With regard to the World Champion, many amateurs think that Russell was born a billiards
player and needed only a little practice to reach thousand break standard. This is far from the
truth. Russell is certainly very talented, but I know that his theoretical knowledge is far in
advance of any amateur – and I mean any amateur. From these contacts I learned a lot about
the game and my own play improved, although, not having started to play very seriously until
well into my thirties, I am now far too old to be more than a now-and-again hundred break

It was very interesting to hear from such players just how much emphasis they all
placed on stance, cueing and striking a true half-ball. That is a lesson in itself for those
amateurs who, having reached fifty break standard, spend a lot of time at the spot end or
trying their hand at the nursery cannon! Well, billiards is a pastime, it is meant to be fun. If
your fun is trying to play a few nurseries, or attempt the masse, then fine. However, if your
aim is to be an improved player, then you are much better off consolidating the basics.

One of the most interesting conversations 1 had was with the late John Barrie. A
transcription of this conversation may be found in the “Billiards Quarterly Review” for July ’95. Barrie said that he had once wanted to write about the game. He showed me a great
file of notes, diagrams and papers which he had prepared. One thing fed to another and we
made an agreement that I should write up this material and that we would jointly publish a
book by private subscription. That will now not happen.

I have been asked if I would be prepared to produce an article of two for the new
magazine, I am pleased to do so and I thought that it might be of interest to readers to share
with me some of the billiards thoughts of Barrie and other great players, starting with what is
perhaps the best piece of advice any aspiring billiards player could ever get:

“If you want to be good at this game you have got to work very hard, and what is more
important, be quite prepared to do so. But above all, enjoy what you are doing. Enjoy it. If you
don’t enjoy it, then do something else!”
(John Barrie)

Positional Play

There are two aspects which the average amateur should always bear in mind. They
are blindingly obvious and yet often overlooked. They are not overlooked by very good
players and are some of the reasons why these players are so very good.

Billiards is a game in which the most successful player is he who can keep the balls in easy
scoring positions for the longest periods and thus build up larger breaks than his opponent
and achieve a superior average.

Hardly very original, but the point is that this truism has implications which the
ordinary player quite often forgets. It applies at all levels of the game and it follows that the
better player will almost invariably win. The longer the game, the more does this become
inevitable. In short games it is rather less inevitable and I have myself, on occasion, beaten
much better players simply because I took advantage of a good run of the balls in a short
game. One of the most remarkable examples of the possibility of this happening was at the
final of a Pro/Am Mini-Prix event held at the 147 Snooker Centre, Huntingdon, in February
’91. The game, of one hour’s duration, was between Middlesbrough professional Peter
Gilchrist and Bridgwater amateur Brian Harvey. Gilchrist scored breaks of 97 and 100, and
averaged nearly 29, yet was comprehensively beaten. Harvey made breaks of 103, 104 and
151, with an average of just over 42. This kind of thing happens now and again in short
matches. World Professional Champion Mike Russell has been beaten by Yorkshire amateur
Steve Crosland on a couple of occasions in one-hour matches. There is, however, not the
slightest doubt that if these two professionals had been playing long matches or a series of
short games against these two amateurs, then both would have won quite easily. The reason
they would have won easily is simply that they are far better players. They are able to keep
the balls under control for much longer periods than any amateur, and so compile bigger
breaks, often one after the other. Why?

Photo of Table Diagram (2k)

Because very good players hardly ever compromise their game and hardly ever play
the wrong stroke. Ordinary players lose sight of the fact that the secret of consistency and
higher averages lies in always playing the correct stroke, a stroke being a score + position
and often necessitates making the scoring element slightly more difficult than by simply
scoring and hoping for the best.

Take a very common example. In the diagram, the red ball is
supposed to be about 18″from the baulk line. The correct
stroke is to take the red considerably fuller than half-ball so
that it will be driven up the centre of the table as shown by
the continuous line (A). But it is much easier to set a half-ball
angle which causes the red to travel something like as
shown by the dotted line (B). If a player is lucky that the
dotted line will finish over the middle pocket or in position for
a jenny, but if it does not then the break is at an end. It is
quite common to see a player set the cue ball for the correct
stroke and, in the act of cueing, take the red ball thinner than
intended, almost as if the subconscious is making him take
the easy way out. There are dozens of similar examples. The
only way to improve is to play the correct stroke. I have not often
seen Mike Russell break down through leaving poor position
through playing a stroke in an incorrect manner. The same
can be said of all the very best players.

The first point is then – never compromise. Always play for a
position, and remember that there is a difference between
playing for position and simply just trying to leave something

Good players score their points by a repetition of easy – or easy looking – strokes. It
is possible that this very fact in itself caused the decline in billiards as a spectator sport. The
enthusiast will travel miles to see the action and becomes quite ecstatic if he sees a four or
five hundred break. Casual viewers (when there are any!) marvel at the play of Russell,
Gilchrist, Sethi – for a time – but soon tire of the sequence of break-building strokes because
it all looks so easy. Incidentally, it could well be that even the died-in-the-wool enthusiast
would not travel very far too often if billiards were played week in, week out, as in the old
days, and big breaks once again became commonplace. Billiards is perhaps a game to be
played rather than watched, and, once the novice stage has been passed, it should be
played to a method.

It is an odd fact that many amateurs do not realise this to the extent that they should
and as a consequence never achieve much above a fifty break. It is not that such players are
ignorant of the various methods of scoring (thought they sometimes are); they are usually
quite good stroke players and often quite excellent potters. It is simply that they do not set
out to follow any particular method of play. They are content to try and play each shot in
some way that leaves another relatively easy shot to go at, but they have no particular
pattern of play in mind. Billiards has losing-hazards and winning-hazards. To these should be
added haphazards as this term just about describes the so-called”all round”game played by
the great majority of amateur players and not a few”Professionals”.

To sum up, a man who wishes to improve his game should:
1) Always play the correct stroke, some games may be lost in the earlier stages of revising
one’s approach, but it will pay off in the long run and,
2) Try to play to a method. Have in mind a system, call it what you will, but decide how you
would like to build up your breaks and work towards that end.

Billiards, like any other sport or pastime, is to be enjoyed. But there is a connection between
ability, satisfaction, enjoyment and relaxation. Remember that anyone who engages in any
sporting or leisure activity can almost certainly improve on their present performance
provided that they are sufficiently keen to want to improve and provided they go about it in
the right way.

If you can play billiards at all then there is no doubt whatever that you could play the
game better than you already do.

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