English Amateur Billiards Association

EABA : The Billiard Monthly : November, 1911

The Billiard Monthly : November, 1911

Things That Matter in Billiards

XIII.—MAKING PUBLIC PLAY ATTRACTIVE

(By the Editor.)

Having seen all the leading professional players perform
many times over, I have come to the conclusion that, from
the point of view of an attractive presentation of the game
and its spectacular possibilities, John Roberts still stands
practically alone. He is followed in this regard at some
distance by Stevenson (who, in his rapid, delicate, and
graceful strokes and manoeuvrings, can never be witnessed
without interest), but even Stevenson needs to distribute his
hundreds at the top of the table between winner-cannons,
close cannons, and other variations, if spectators are to be
kept really entertained. The modern professional bias is
all in the direction of big breaks compiled on the most
certain (and consequently least spectacular) lines. Peall
set the fashion in this direction, and soon all the professionals
were copying him. Then came the barring of the
spot stroke and the creation in its place of the more attractive
and legitimate top-of-the-table game by Roberts, who
had steadily held aloof, with true instinct, from the all-in
game. But the top-of-the-table movement, as played by
Roberts, is a very different thing in its fascination from the
same game when played by Stevenson and Reece on the one
hand, or by Diggle and Dawson on the other. A close top-of-the-table game, amazing in its finesse and delicacy, is
played by the two former, and a more open, but mechanically
exact, game by the two latter, whereas Roberts adopts an
easy abandon and carelessness of microscopical exactness,
which keeps the minds of the onlookers in a perpetual flux.

Stevenson, in his book on the top-of-the-table game, says
that when he is out of sorts he sometimes has to return to
baulk several times in the course of a hundred break, and
adds that “this is a very different thing in point of view
of scientific manipulation from a protracted sequence at
the top end.” The result is that when Stevenson or any
other top-of-the-table specialist is at work in his favourite
area, almost each succeeding stroke can be forecasted by
practically every spectator and there is nothing to hold the
breath over. But who can forecast for any length of time
the game played by Roberts, who seems to—and doubtless
does—deliberately create difficulties for the mere sake of
overcoming them, and perhaps of demonstrating to the
average billiard players —who naturally form the bulk of any
company witnessing exhibition billiards, and who, in their
own play, are nearly always in difficulties—how even the
apparently impossible at billiards is to be overcome and
turned to advantage.

Whilst watching Roberts play I have frequently observed
him break up a monotonous position and turn to
something else. On other occasions I have seen him, on
the contrary, persist in a spectacular stroke for the pure
devilment of the thing. Two or three seasons back, at
Leicester Square, I saw him play the long loser from the
central spot a dozen times in succession with such strength
and direction as to bring the red within a couple of inches
of the same spot each time. “He meant to bring it below
the middle spot and failed,” the captious critic may say.

Frankly, I don’t believe it. Anyone can get the conventional
position after the long loser, but there is only one man in
existence, in my judgment, who either would or could go for
the particular effect that I have described, and achieve it
with the same ease and skill. On another occasion, when
Roberts was playing snooker in the same hall on the
octagonal table, I remember him, with the green within a
foot of a top pocket and his own ball near the brown over
a bottom pocket, screw back three-quarters of the table
length direct from the safely-potted green to the rear of the
waiting brown. Rather than trust the treacherous octagonal
cushions he brought off this prodigious coup.

The object of this article, however, is not to write a paean
about Roberts and his delightfully-Philistine methods, but
simply to enforce by contrast and illustration the necessity,
as I seem to see it, of retaining in public billiard play, to a
larger extent than is at present being done, the spectacular
element. Billiard followers will crowd to see “some new
thing,” or to witness a match that, by reason of its
“needle” character or the stakes or issues attaching to it
possesses some distinctive element of interest. At the
Aquarium Peall played to packed houses, as did Reece with
the anchor stroke, Gray (at the outset) with the middle
pocket losers, and Roberts and Stevenson at Caxton Hall.

But what seems to me to be needed is the infusion of some
more popular element into day-by-day billiard exhibitions
so that each successive session shall be interesting in itself.

In this connection the new points system that has been
adopted this winter at Soho Square seems to be an instalment
in the right direction, and its institution has, even
thus early, been abundantly justified by the results. The
amateur competition held at the close of each afternoon
session is also distinctly good. These, however, represent
management organization, and the point that I want to
make is that something remains for the professional contestants
themselves to do, and I suggest that this “something” should be along the lines of greater variety, quicker
scoring, and greater daring. “Cannon, pot, cannon, pot,
pot, cannon” are very well and quite correct and scientific,
but why not an occasional ricochet loser or cannon, a
rousing swerve shot, or a long-range kiss cannon. “Great
Scot,” said a young billiard enthusiast next to me one day
when Cook brought off a great triangular screw-back cannon
with the three balls nearly a yard apart, It was a desperate
shot and almost paralyzed the opposing professional with
astonishment, but it was the spectacle of the afternoon.

Naturally if aggressive and open methods are occasionally
to be adopted in tight corners in lieu of safety play, professionals
will have to agree upon the matter, as any
single player (except Roberts) who adopted such a course
would deliver himself bound into the hands of his adversary.

The interests of the game at large, however, and
especially as a spectacle, should be the first consideration.


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