Things that Matter in Billiards,
Much has been written about the etiquette of the billiard
room, but something remains to be set down. It is not
necessary to refer to obvious vulgarisms as amongst the
things to be deprecated, but there are certain halfconscious
slips and lapses to which a passing word may,
perhaps, be usefully devoted.
Possibly one reason why billiards is not played, in some
quarters, with due considerateness either on the part of the
players towards each other, of the players towards the
spectators, or of the spectators towards the players, is that
it has not had an altogether good bringing up. It is still
suffering to some extent from its antecedents, although
now admitted to be not only the king of games but a game
“Manners makyth man” said William of Wykeham, and
to this motto someone has added: “and the want of them
the fellow.” Passing strange it isand yet how true
that a stranger watching two men, who may never have
met before, commencing a game of billiards, knows within
two minutes the relative claims of each contestant to the
good old Norman name of “gentleman.” And yet there
may not seem to be on the surface any marked difference
between the pair. The one is as well dressed as the other;
his clothes are as carefully pressed; his linen, boots, and
neck-wear are as they should be. Where, then, is the distinction?
The question should rather be: Where does the distinction
not appear? It is, indeed, observable at every few
strokes and may be summed up by one central fact. He is
obsessed from first to last with the idea of winning the
game, and if he loses, even to a better player, he will feel
annoyed, and possibly show it. The natural gentleman
approaches the game from a different standpoint. If the
stronger player he would, as he is human, desire to win,
but this is not with him the begin-all and the end-all of the
game. His main object is an hour’s quiet and sustained
enjoyment of a favourite pastime. And under what circumstances
can enjoyment be found that is comparable with
that obtainable from a game of billiards played amid suitable
surroundings. Soft to the tread is the thick carpet
surround; seductive is the well-lighted playing surface;
restful are the environing shadows; musical is the gentle
click of the obedient balls; grateful are the silence, the
refinement, the artistry of it all.
The player “out to win” sometimes discloses what can
only be termed his selfishness before his cue has so much
as touched a ball. “Any choice?” queries his courteous
opponent, to which he replies that, if it is all the same to
his opponent, he prefers so-and-so. Which, of course, he
gets; and so far so good. But if, instead of at once giving
reciprocal choice of opening stroke to his opponent he waits
to be consulted on that point also, it is not good at all.
The game proceeds, and, despite his opening opportunities,
the balls have run into the keeping of his opponent,
who is putting together a nice little break. Presently he
sees that the next stroke will find him, where he is now
standing, in his opponent’s line of aim. But he does not
move, as he is secretly cherishing the hope that his opponent
may be one of the sensitive kind and foozle the stroke
if his eye should be attracted by the silent figure standing in
the not distant perspective. Here, again, he is wrong.
We are assuming a game played without the assistance
of a marker, and under these circumstances it is obviously
the duty, as it should be the pleasure, of each player to
“field” for the other. But so wrapped up in his own
chances is Player No. 2, and so easily dislocated in his manners,
that, upon missing an easy stroke and leaving a good
thing on he may, as likely as not, drop into a seat and stop
there for some time, even though his opponent may have
to walk to a baulk pocket for the red or half round the
room for the rest.
There is, indeed, nothing that so eloquently bespeaks the
gentleman as his manner of dealing with annoying incidents.
We have seen a gentleman grossly abused and the
only sign by which he indicated that he had so much as
heard the offensive words was a slightly heightened colour.
He ignored the vulgar personality that he had accidentally
come across as though it had not had existence. Imagine
a gentleman who has himself in hand to this extent being
goaded out of his good manners by an untoward happening
at the billiard table or by the losing of a game to a stronger
opponent. The thing is inconceivable.
And here a point arises that may bear to be accentuated.
It is usually the inferior player who fumes and frets about
defeat, and yet, what is there to fume and fret about?
Should not such a player rather congratulate himself that
he has had the opportunity of meeting more than his match
and possibly of learning something from him? Should he
not feel that he has been favoured by being granted the
game at all, and would not a hearty word of appreciation
and an expression of regret at not having put up a better
game beseem him better than a more or less sullen acceptance
of the situation?
In billiards, as in other games, the lookers-on see the
most, and this applies not only to the scoring opportunities
that are ignored by the players but to the personal deportment
by which they are characterized. The minds of these
spectators are fallow. They are neither elevated by success
nor depressed by ill-luck. And whilst they mentally
condemn neglect of the claims of courtesy on the part of
either contestant they recognise with a pleasure that is
reflected in their countenances the frank and manly attitude
of the player who knows how to accept ill-luck with a smile
and defeat as merely the passing mood of the hour.