English Amateur Billiards Association

EABA : The Billiard Monthly : April, 1912

The Billiard Monthly : April, 1912

Things That Matter in Billiards,


By Col. C. M. Western

My book entitled “The Practical Science of Billiards”
is written in the hope that it will benefit the
game, as knowledge which implies truth can scarcely
fail to do. But I sincerely trust that professionals and
skilled players will not think that, in stating certain facts as
a new knowledge I am casting any slur on their skill.

On the contrary I am, and always have been, lost in admiration
of it, and the more I know the more I recognise it.

But there are some thing’s no skill can achieve. Science
and actual measurements are necessary. To take one out
of the numberless examples from outside sources that offer
themselves as somewhat similar cases. What success would
be achieved, and what progress made in rifle shooting if the
target left no trace of where the bullet had struck? But
that is the condition under which billiard players have suffered
up to the present. The target (the object ball) leaves
no trace of where it was struck, except its direction, and
hitherto there has been no means of translating this direction
into the point at which the object ball was struck, which
consequently remains unknown.

This the “Pointer” does, and when this is possible the
object ball becomes the most ideal automatic marker it is
possible to imagine, because it tells, on an enormously magnified
scale, the exact point that has been struck, to not
metaphorically but actually, a hair’s breadth.

But until this is possible, which is what has been the case
up to the present, billiard players have laboured under this
very serious difficulty. The marvel is, not that there have
been errors in the deduction and estimation of what happens,
but that these have not been much greater. But even slight
errors become of considerable importance, when upon them
is based the whole training and practice by which success
and skill are to be secured.

In the penultimate sentence of my book I state that in no
previous book on billiards is given one single instance of the
correct direction in which the object ball should travel, when
struck a true half-ball. It now gives me great pleasure to
state and to testify that there is one such case. When my
book went to press, and certainly when I wrote it, I do not
think Gray’s book on “Red Ball Play” had been published,
and in any case I had not read it. Nevertheless, therein in
the stroke on diagram C (which I do not further define, as
I have no wish to poach on other’s preserves, and those who
wish to learn the stroke should go to his book) is given an
example of a correct position. Whether this was found by
eye or measurement or chance I am unable to say, but if the
first it reflects great credit on the discoverer, as it is quite
correct, and is the only example I have hitherto been able
to discover. This is one of the strokes to which he states
he devoted months of practice, and one which when a player
can do with any degree of certainty, Gray says he is ready
for making a hundred break off the red, and he attributes
much of his success to his steady practice thereat. If I may
be permitted to give an opinion, I would add than the fact
that the position was a correct one instead of a wrong one,
and that consequently he learnt from the beginning to hit
the point aimed at instead of some other one, was a
considerable factor in that success. (En passant, it
may interest him and others to learn that his cue half-ball
angle for that stroke was about 35½ deg., and that if he was
playing with crystalate balls, his strength was probably
about 1½. With 2 strength and crystalate balls the cue ball
would just miss the pocket.)
This example is, however, the only published correct position
that I am aware of, and in another case in the same
book a wrong position is given, which shows that even to a
“Gray” eye measurement on scientific and correct lines is
necessary. The whole of the above remarks refer only to
the elementary, though extremely important, point of being
able to discover whether aim has been taken correctly. But
it is sufficient to illustrate the thesis that I desire to make
good, viz., that use must be made of science, in billiards
as in everything else.

Professionals may with impunity challenge scientists to
do as well as themselves, and say that they will then listen to
them, but that does not alter the fact that the professionals
also might achieve still greater effects, if they would take
advantage of what science offers them, and it should interest
every player, skilful or otherwise, to understand the reason
for what he does, or tries to do, and the reason for and manner
in which he fails.

One more point. In no game is the difference in skill and
results, between professionals and amateurs, so great as at
billiards. At any other game or pastime there is often little
to choose, and in most of them exceptional amateurs appear
who equal the professionals! Not so in billiards. I think the
reason to be that it is the only game in which neither professionals
nor amateurs know when they do right or when
they do wrong, or, to state the fact more concretely, when
they aim straight, or when they do not. Professionals
eventually overcome the difficulty by immense practice.

Amateurs make little, or no, advance. Aiming straight may
be a very elementary matter, but the result of every stroke
is entirely dependent on it.

I invite all readers, professional and others, to take any
of the positions given in my book as correct object half-ball
positions (the magic spot alone supplies six), or the Gray’s
position mentioned above, and to test for themselves if they
can aim correctly at even the half-ball stroke, the test being
that the object ball goes in the direction specified, without
any regard to the cue ball, which may be struck in any
manner, or with any strength, and be of any composition
or ivory. If unable to do so with tolerable regularity, they
have not learnt to aim consistently straight, and they have
the reason, staring them in the face, why they are not able
to improve more rapidly in their play.

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