English Amateur Billiards Association

EABA : The Billiard Monthly : August, 1911

The Billiard Monthly : August, 1911

The “Happy Mean” in Billiard Contacts & Strengths

In billiard playing, as in most other pursuits, a medium
course is usually the safest and best, resort to something less
or more than this golden mean being made as necessity or
expediency dictates.

The great essential in billiard playing is simplification of
the game, whereas man) amateurs seem to revel in making
the game difficult. To such players a little concentrated
practice with three strengths and three contacts only would
prove extremely beneficial.

For the three contacts the aim should be taken (1) at the
edge of the object ball, (2) half an inch inside the edge,
and (3) half an inch outside the edge. For the three
strengths, the ball should be struck from the centre baulk
spot (1) three table lengths, (2) two table lengths, and (3)
four table lengths. A good player could make good and
frequent breaks with these three contacts and strengths
alone, and without resort to side or screw.

Anyone watching a professional at work can hardly fail
to notice what a large proportion of his shots are plain halfball
strokes and how rarely, comparatively, the strength
employed seems to vary. That is, indeed, precisely what
the professional is seeking to bring about. It is the way
to score freely and with the smallest expenditure of physical
and mental energy.

Successful billiard players, whether professional or amateur,
are usually men of quick observation and retentive
memory. Things happen while they are practising and they
note and remember these things. Whether it is a good
result or a bad result that comes off they do not accept it
blindly, but, they ask themselves why it occurred and
thenceforth do the successful stroke in the same way and
the failure in a different way.

At a very early stage of their practice they discover that
a half-ball contact drives the object ball along a certain
course (which thenceforth becomes to them the half-ball
potting course), that a three-quarter ball contact drives it to
one side of this always remembered course, and that a
quarter ball contact cuts it to the other side of such course.

They note, furthermore, that with the quarter-ball contact
the object ball takes less momentum out of the cue ball
than it receives from it and with the three-quarter ball
contact more. With the half-ball contact they note that the
momentum of the two balls after impact is equal.

In the same way they are not slow to perceive that every
cushion contact takes a certain fixed amount of momentum
out of a ball, whether cue or object ball, and that this
sacrifice of momentum is less at a wide angle with the
cushion and more at an acute angle. As they never play
an in-off before mentally allocating to the object ball its
next approximate position, or a pot without pre-arranging
the stopping station of the cue ball, they know whether
cushions, unintended pockets, baulk line, or kiss balls lie in
the mapped-out course, and, if they do, vary the strength
or contact, or both, in such a way as to avoid threatened

All this sounds terribly difficult and complicated, but in
reality it is neither, and the best way to approach the study
of the game of billiards is to saturate one’s mind with the
two outstanding facts that, on the two squares of which
the table is composed, results mathematically follow execution,
and that there is, in the size of the pockets in their
relation to the balls and of the balls in their relation to each
other, a reasonable margin for error.

Notwithstanding much that has been written, and is still
being written, to the contrary, microscopical exactness is
not called for in billiards. Even in potting, when the
object ball is at some distance from a pocket and the pocket
is a blind one, there is a certain margin for inaccuracy
unless the balls are travelling at some speed, and in in-offs
there is very considerable margin alike as regards the pocket
and the playable area in which to leave the object ball.

The course of practice that we would advise for a study
of, and familiarity with, the three main billiard strengths
and contacts is taken from baulk, with the object ball, in
the first instance, on the centre spot of the table. The purpose
here is to bring the object ball into middle-pocket
position and before it reaches there it has to meet with, and
overcome, the resistance of all three upper cushions at
tolerably acute angles. So a free swinging stroke will be

To state, arbitrarily, that this stroke is a No. 3 (or four
table length) stroke might be a delusion, as so much
depends upon the exact manner in which the cue is
delivered. If the cue ball is swept away with a nice free
swing—like unto that of a driver swing at golf—there is no
feeling whatever akin to that of” forcing, or “pressing.”

Indeed, there is no stroke in billiards where this feeling of
“flogging” the ball should make itself felt. Flogging
takes the life out of a ball as it does out of a horse. What
is required is the true handling of the cue or reins.

But what we want the reader chiefly to note with regard
to this middle-pocket spot stroke is that if, as the result,
the hazard into the top pocket is made and the object ball
is brought nicely below the centre of the table, due attention
to one or other of the three standard contacts and
strengths will, in all probability, suffice to keep it there. If
a little too low down for the half-ball No. 2 strength stroke,
the three-quarter contact No. 1 strength stroke should
suffice, or if a little too high up the quarter contact No. 3
strength stroke should do what is required. Dead slow
or forcing strengths, respectively below or above the three
standard strengths, may occasionally have to be resorted to,
just as, with the object ball left in the upper half of the
table, strength with the half-ball contact may have to be
increased to compensate for two-cushion resistances or to
bring a ball in and out of baulk, or decreased to effect the
latter purpose in another way.

It may also be necessary to retain position when operating
below the middle pockets by contacts above, below, or
intermediate with the three standards. But this will only
be necessitated by faulty treatment of the simpler strokes
specified, which should be returned to as quickly as possible,
not more by reason of their simplicity than of their

The parting word of advice that we should like to give
to the student is: Practise definite strengths according to
table lengths; observe what strengths are required at given
contacts and positions to bring the object ball back and
round; identify and memorize these strengths by their numbers
and take care always to employ them when similar
conditions arise.

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