English Amateur Billiards Association

EABA : The Billiard Monthly : May, 1911

The Billiard Monthly : May, 1911

Things that Matter in Billiards


One important aspect of George Gray’s feats in billiard
scoring by means of a legitimate and foundation stroke in
billiards has, so far as we have observed, been overlooked.

It is that Gray, differing in this respect from any previous
player, has approached his study of the game primarily
from the mathematical standpoint—a standpoint that is
openly scoffed at by nine out of every ten proficients in the
game to-day. These proficients, whether professional or
amateur, ascribe their success to “practice, practice,
practice,” and are prone to foster the superstition that real
proficiency in billiards in all its phases means the unceasing
practice and attention of a lifetime.

Talk to these men about angles of so many degrees and
ball contacts mathematically estimated by fractional gradations,
and they will reply that they have learnt their
billiards without paying attention to these scientific refinements
and that if they can now get any stroke they want as
the result of unremitting practice they can afford to ignore
the purely theoretical part of the matter.

The Student Route

Granted that there are degrees of aptitude amongst
billiard players, and which must always be taken into consideration,
our main point is that, other things being equal,
the beginner at billiards who realizes that certain fixed
results are to be obtained on the table and that there are
certain fixed causes that lead to these results is in the way
of finding a much shorter cut to proficiency than the
beginner who ignores these fixed conditions.

Without designing to be disrespectful on the one hand or
unduly eulogistic on the other, we will call the practice
system apart from theory the rule of thumb system, and the
mathematical system allied with practice the Gray system.

What, then, is the rule of thumb system? It is the
system of gradually finding things out by experience. A
professional player, after dealing with millions upon millions
of groupings of the balls finds such groupings coming up in
the fulness of time as old friends. He remembers that he
used to deal with these groupings wrongly, but he practised
himself into the right method of treatment and he now does
the right thing without hesitation and instinctively.

Knowing v. Finding Out

He is really employing theory every day of his life and in
every minute of his play, only he does not know it. His
less than full ball contacts are, to him, three-quarter ball,
half-ball, quarter-ball and thin ball, and the intermediate
contacts he may call a thick three-quarter, a thick half, a
fine half, and a fine quarter. But instead of starting his
billiards upon the certain and sure mathematical basis as
regards contacts that the three-quarter ball contact takes
place an eighth of an inch from the centre of the object
ball, that the aim for this contact is a quarter of an inch
from the centre, that the lesser contacts and aims are in
precisely equal gradation and that every stroke (other than
full) on the billiard table is to be made with one or other
of these eight successive contacts and aims, he prefers to
gradually find everything out—chiefly by noting and
memorizing errors and successes—as he goes along.

Now turn we to the Gray way, which may also be termed
the student way. The follower of this method need not
even disdain the use of a piece of tailor’s chalk any more
than Gray himself does. And be it noted that, in his case
the proficiency that is supposed to be a lifetime’s work has
came in less than five years, and on top of a broken cue

The Three Mechanisms

In the making of a billiard break there are three components.
There is the striker, there are the cue and balls,
and there is the table. Two of these three components
represent fixed conditions as regards any given table; the
only uncertain factor is the striker.

It was, doubtless, recognition of this circumstance that
impelled Gray’s father to put his son first to cue practice
without a ball and then, for a considerable time, to practice
with one ball only. Realizing that two of the three essential
components in billiards are mechanisms, the only thing
remaining to be done was to make the third component,
i.e., the striker, a mechanism also. The cue must be swung
on a horizontal plane in a straight line and must represent
in its driving force its own weight of one pound or thereabouts,
no more and no less. “No gripping, no forcing,”
would, we may be sure, be Gray, senior’s, incessant injunction
in these initial stages. “Let the cue do its own work,
in its own way, unaided and unhampered, evenly-actuated
by the perpendicularly-swinging forearm, terminating in an
open sling formed by the looped fingers and guided in its
straight course, parallel alike with bed and side of table, over
a firm bridge hand, aligned with chin, elbow, and middle of
right foot.”

All this is done before a ball is touched. It is done with
monotonous uniformity throughout the opening weeks of
what is destined to be, from the outset, a serious scientific
and mechanical study, which will leave so little to ultimate
chance that, within five short years, this youth of fourteen
will be found playing with such hair’s-breadth exactness
that an object ball struck with his own ball will return from
a fourteen-feet run hundreds of times in succession with
scarcely the variation of an inch in direction or of a fractional
part of an ounce in strength.

Causes and Effects

And if—the third partner in the mechanism becoming for
one fleeting instant only a boy again—essential direction
or strength be slightly lost, what then? The eye of the
striker instantly lights upon the exact spot upon the top
cushion where the object ball in its next run must strike
and simultaneously the exact line that the cue must follow
in its next projection and the precise strength with which
it must be swung, are decided and known—known as certainly
and as fixedly as are the alignment and swing for
any simple stroke upon the table. For the man is once
more a mechanism, and, neither underdoing nor overdoing,
in any slightest particular, what the mechanical requirements
of the case demand, produces results precisely akin
to what would also be produced if, in lieu of the man
element in the third of the essential components that have
been referred to, had been substituted an actual mechanism,
in the shape of an accurately-aligned and spring-actuated
cue on the lines of a piston-rod.

Therefore we think we are justified in claiming that the
real lesson of the Gray success is its vindication of fixed-law
theory, worked out in practice on the billiard table, as distinguished
from individual conclusions evolved through the
medium of practice. In the one case all strokes brought
off and effects produced upon the table are regarded as
coming under a few easily-demonstrable scientific and
theoretic groupings; in the other case the multitudinous
different “shots” are regarded as things that have to be
individually learned and memorized. Professionals have
time to do this; amateurs have not. And what amateurs—
and especially those just beginning the study of the game,
are asked by us chiefly to remember is: (1) that any stroke
on the billiard table is to be obtained with one of nine
clearly-defined aims, (2) that these aims progress from the
centre of the object ball outwards by (as nearly as possible)
quarter-inch gradations; and (3) that each aim, after the
central one, must be exactly twice as far from the centre as
is the part of the object ball that needs to be struck.

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