HISTORICAL POT POURRI
No sooner had my last article about the 1996 Trick-shot Championship appeared in print, than we were treated to a
showing of the 1997 event. Obviously, nobody had chance to practice my suggested routines, which is no doubt why
Ray Reardon’s “50 Best Trick Shots” proved, once again, to be the main source of inspiration. Steve Davis attempted
to demonstrate that even a 7 year old boy could make most of these shots – and his honesty was rewarded by his being
declared the joint-winner! Again the highlight was provided by American Mike Massey, who produced a spectacular
Pique stroke with his final effort.
position far the masse in 1873.
Notice the raised bridge-hand
which at this time was
considered the only way to
impart sufficient power to the
The Pique is of course, a variant of the Masse stroke, essentially being a screw-back rather than a swerve, and played
with the same high cue action. As the names of these strokes would suggest, they were developed on the Continent
as an essential part of the close cannon game. But while the French and Americans used these strokes as a part of
common positional play, the English have always applied them as a last resort.
Although the Pique had been part of the
English game since the 1830’s, the Masse was generally considered unnecessary while the push-stroke was still
legal and it was only seriously addressed by all professional players after the push-stroke was abolished in 1898.
One of the first Continental players to display his skills in England was Claudius Berger
who played against the English Champion, John Roberts in the mid-1860’s. Berger was
a big man, standing at 6’2″ and weighed in the region of 300lb. He would perform the
Masse while standing on a box, in order to give more power to the stroke! It was also
considered”proper”technique to raise the bridge hand a foot or so above the ball to
impart even greater power to the shot. Some players would hook a thumb into their
waistcoat pocket for some much needed stability.
At this time the Pique was loosely translated as the “Harpoon
stroke” in England. William Dufton, who was a leading
professional player and billiards tutor to the Prince of Wales
(later King Edward VII) advised that”great care should be taken
that the point of the cue shall come flat upon the table after striking,
which will prevent the player’s ball cutting the cloth”. No doubt
the Prince avoided many a nasty accident on the
Sandringham table by following this good advice. However,
the somewhat crude technique of powering through the shot
from a great height was eventually found to be unnecessary
and one of the earliest of the English players to establish
this by a serious study of the stroke, was John Patrick (Jack)
Mannock. Mannock’s ability can be judged from a diagram
appearing in his book published in 1904 and it can be seen
from this, that with cue ball and object ball almost touching,
and by a selection of either Pique or Masse strokes, he could
cannon a ball in almost any position while moving the object
ball in the same direction every time. (Ref. dotted line).
Mannock regularly managed the tours of the great American
champions when they visited London. These included Frank
Ives, in 1892 and Eugene Carter in 1895 both of whom stayed
at the Victoria Hotel, where Mannock had his billiard rooms.
His time spent with these great players was used to good
effect in exploring all the possibilities associated with the
close cannon game. This not only included the Masse but
also the delicate side-effect shots which controlled the
nursery cannon game. Ives also introduced Mannock to
the anchor cannon techniques which would be used by
Tom Reece, William Cook Jnr; and other leading
professionals, to construct mammoth breaks in the
a cannon from any position
using masse or pique strokes.
Never quite reaching the top rank of professional
players himself, Mannock nonetheless achieved a
great reputation a coach, giving lessons to many of
the rich and famous amongst London’s high society.
To supplement his teaching, he developed a number
of innovations which were intended to assist his pupils.
One of these was a special cue which was designed to
“prevent making miscues especially in the Masse stroke”. The
shaft was parallel for the first 17″ from the tip, so that the
point of aim would not be deflected by the taper. It was tipped
with goat’s horn and was about 2/3 the length of an ordinary cue
to make it easier to handle in an upright position. The cue proved so
popular that Burroughes & Watts took over its manufacture, and with various modifications
from the original design, (most noticeably to the length) it was still being produced into
the early 1960″s. Still much sought-after by players and collector’s alike, a good example
of a Mannock cue will currently cost anywhere from £150 to £800.
I notice that the Northumberland cue-expert, Andy Hunter has a feature in the current
issue and hopefully he will give us some more information on the Mannock cue in a later
article. But for now, I’m off to practice my Pique.