Billiards & Snooker (1937, 1948 ed)
MY journalistic friends are fond of referring to me as “the veteran,” and everybody knows what Tom Webster has done to my likeness. I suppose, therefore, I may be allowed to adopt a tone of patriarchal reminiscence in speaking to keen amateurs about young Horace’s helpful book.
I first saw a billiard table in 1892, and that was at my father’s club at Twickenham; which is going back a bit, isn’t it? I played my first professional match with John Roberts at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, in 1899. In looking backward, I have no doubt that public attendance at matches is much bigger than it ever was in my early days, and more people play billiards now, not to speak of snooker, than ever before.
John Roberts, in my opinion, was the greatest showman I have ever seen in the game. Not only was he a great player, he was a wonderful personality. When I first played him in 1899, composition balls were just being brought on to the market. I was beaten, never having seen a composition ball before. But after that I played Roberts many games with ivory balls, and he never beat me. But he was a nice player to play against. He never complained about the tools, and so on. The only time I ever heard him go off the deep end was an occasion when the attendance was not good.
Times have changed. In our game they have changed for the better on the whole. I admire the younger generation of players, and among them I have no doubt -and my opinion is supported by many good judges- that Horace Lindrum has an unrivalled record for his age. In the whole of my career I have never heard of any young player of his age-which was then twenty-four- show such all-round mastery, with breaks of over a thousand at billiards, and in snooker such breaks as his 131 official break and his 135 and 141 unofficial breaks early in 1937, not to speak of his more recent achievements. In my view, when he is not playing so much snooker he will become still greater at billiards than he is already.
So far as billiard breaks are concerned I really think that the modern composition balls are easier than the old ivories to play with. Having had so long a spell of playing with ivory balls I still find it difficult to play with the composition balls, but this does not apply to the young exponents of the game, and in spite of my own handicap I am a believer in the composition ball.
During my career in billiards all kinds of freak shots have been brought out and have duly passed away in the broader interests of the game. Among the early ones that mattered was the spot stroke. Most of the professionals were playing it, and making big breaks with it, but there was only one really great spot stroke player That was W. J. Peall, who stood out by himself, his record break being 3,304.
Then came Reece with the anchor stroke. He first exploited this against your humble servant ! That was in 1907, at Thurston’s. He made breaks of 1,200 and 1,800 during the match of 16,000 up for £100 a side. But I saw that really huge breaks might be made with it, and sure enough Reece in an exhibition match later wound up with a break of 499,000 ! Hard luck for the half million? But think of the effect upon the game. Wisely this stroke was barred, and a new rule was introduced that after thirty such cannons the player must hit a cushion before scoring another cannon.
Reece then adopted a new stroke, called the pendulum stroke, which he was said to have discovered, though I have heard that it was in fact discovered by a marker.
By a curious coincidence the pendulum stroke also was first tried out on me by Reece. He at once began making breaks of over 1,000 with it, and it was soon barred, causing the rule to be made that after thirty-five cannons the player strikes the object ball first, then a cushion, and cannon. But this did not prevent great cueists from making big runs of nursery cannons, against which fresh legislation was made to check the tendency to monotony. That belongs to our own days, which are so full of fine talent and marked by ever growing popularity for the green table.