English Amateur Billiards Association

EABA : The Billiard Monthly : January, 1912

The Billiard Monthly : January, 1912

The Stevenson v. Gray Contest

AND SOME SIDE MATTERS THAT ARE INVOLVED THEREIN

The first of the three great matches that have been
arranged between Stevenson and Gray—that at Holborn
Hall, London—has passed into billiard history and
expectant eyes are now turned towards Liverpool, where the
second game of the rubber commences with New Year’s
Day. In the opening match of the series Stevenson started
strongly, played gracefully, stayed bravely, and failed when
not very far from the post. The turn came on the second
Monday afternoon, when Gray seemed suddenly to discover
the heretofore locked secret of that left middle pocket with
the bonzoline contact. Previously Stevenson had played the
middle pocket run-through, whenever he chose to resort to
it in the midst of one of his admirably-varied breaks, with
greater confidence and fluency than Gray himself. But
from being a thousand behind at the half-way, Gray more
vigorously headed for home and after Tuesday was on
Stevenson’s heels or in front of him.

Both men were always trying, and trying hard; and as
to the absolute genuineness of the encounter from the first
stroke to the last there cannot be the least shadow of a
doubt. The paying public recognised this fact and the
match had liberal patronage accorded to it throughout the
fortnight. That the same amount of interest will be taken
during the fortnight in Liverpool is hardly to be expected
and if the rubber should be won by Gray at the end of the
second match the prospect of the Caxton Hall contest in
February providing a great draw would be a somewhat
remote one.

Photo of Gray and Stevenson (24k)

A characteristic Gray attitude. Stevenson is making close cannons,
watched by Mr. G. Reid, the referee.

It is dangerous to prophesy, in billiards as in other things,
but, although we should much like to see” honours easy ”
after the Liverpool meeting, we hardly think that, in the
nature of things, this is a likely contingency. The reasons
are threefold. In the first place Gray’s game follows the
line of least resistance; in the second place he is an absolute
specialist in that risk-eliminating class of play; and in the
third place his fortnight at Holborn Hall (with balls and
table of which those at Liverpool will be an exact replica) is
an asset that must weigh much more strongly in his favour
than in that of Stevenson, especially as Gray will all along
have the recollection in his mind—the value of which is
known to every billiard player—that the formidable opponent
whom he is meeting and whom he had at the outset
every reason to fear, has already gone down before him.

We anticipate that the champion will return an even better
average at Liverpool than that returned by him in London
and should not be surprised if he even exceeded the
543 break which won for him, at Holborn Hall, to the satisfaction
of every member of the public who saw him play
there, Messrs. Burroughes and Watts’s £50 cheque. But
even so we should expect, for the reasons already stated,
that Gray will again win and by a considerably heavier
margin.

Out of this series of contests and the circumstances that
have surrounded them there arises a question that is, perhaps,
even more important to the world of billiards than the
matches themselves, important and epoch-making though
these be. We refer to the dislocation of ordinary match or exhibition
play that is occasioned when a great billiard player,
with a heavy monetary consideration at issue, changes for
the purposes of such issue from one class of ball to another.

Whether it is a Gray changing from crystalate to bonzoline,
or a Stevenson changing from ivory to bonzoline, the result
seems to be that the player concerned is temporarily incapacitated
from playing anything but the most mediocre game
with the partially-shelved medium. Gray, having forsaken
crystalate for the time being, would not dream of apportioning
his match arrangements between that composition
and bonzoline, whilst ivory would remain still farther out of
the question. Similarly, Stevenson, required by engagements
already made to play with ivories both before and
after the Holborn Hall meeting and whilst practising with
bonzoline, makes, in the Soho Square tournament, against
Inman and Reece successively, the lamentably poor showing
of 4,205 and 3,678 points against 8,000 and 7,500 points
actually scored. Called upon to give starts of 1,000 and
1,500 the champion might have received nearly half the
game in each instance and still have lost. He furthermore
refers to his next tournament heat as one in which he will
be”watching Diggle play.”

Need the change from one class of ball to another really
signify all this difference. We will even put the point more
strongly and ask: Need the change from one class of ball
to another make any substantial difference in a really great
player’s game, provided that the varying nature of the balls
be thoroughly studied by him and provided for accordingly.

A professional cricketer is expected to be able to adapt his
game to wet wickets or dry; a professional golfer is
expected to play almost equally well whether the course is
fairly level or abounds in”hanging lies”; a professional
jockey is expected to grasp without much difficulty the
idiosyncrasies of his various mounts. It seems to be the
professional billiard player alone who is utterly and completely
floored by a sudden change from one set of circumstances
to another.

And yet the conditions in billiard playing are of a much
more fixed nature than in cricket, golf, or riding. Wind
and weather have to be taken into account in all outdoor
sports, and although an extremer degree of accuracy is called
for in billiards than in any other sport or pastime, outdoor
or in, the fact remains that a billiard ball, whether made of
ivory or composition, is a fixed and settled quantity and,
once studied, is known for ever. If professional players
rely always upon playing themselves into their game with
the differing classes of balls the element of uncertainty will
remain, but if they will take the trouble to master the principles
under which the balls differ and to adapt their play
automatically to such principles, we feel convinced that a
thoroughly expert player would be able to change the class
of ball with as much impunity and success as an expert
rider can change his horse. It would, indeed, seem that
time and again they can do so even as matters stand, for
Reece, starting on Boxing Day to play Lindrum with bonzoline
balls immediately after his runaway victory with
ivories against Stevenson and his concentrated fortnight
against Inman, scored his requisite 1,367 points in two
hours and twenty minutes, although during the same time
Lindrum was occupying the table to the extent of 756 points
additional. He also made two days later a 645 break.

Where, then, does the exact truth of this irritating uncertainty
about the different classes of balls lie. That ivories
and compositions must be accorded different treatment is a
billiard axiom known to all men. But that change from the
one to the other of necessity involves a species of paralysis
on the part of even the finest players we believe to be no
billiard axiom and no truth, but a pure and simple bogey,
and the sooner this fact is realized and acted upon by those
most concerned the better will it be for the interests and
popularity of the game at large.

A billiard table may cost money but it is always an asset
and a good make sells for comparatively little less than its
original value after twenty years’ use. As to current expense
billiards is a vastly less expensive game than golf, or,
indeed, any other pastime.


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