Samstag, 21. Mai 2011

Dog Eat Dog

The latest news of the 10ball U.S. Open in Las Vegas this week prompted me to write this new post. First of all I checked out my facebook and read that Ralf Souquet lost 8-0 against Corey Deuel. We all know what Corey is capable of this since he beat Mika Immonen 11-0 in the U.S. Open 9ball years ago when he also won that tournament. And although I just read about Mike Dechaine and Alex Pagulayan running out the whole set against their opponents I still wondered if that was the case. Checking out the AzBilliards forum I found this thread:
Reading through it I had to admit to myself that my post “Where it smells funny” was not totally fair in the meaning of showing both sides. I was talking about the issues of the pool world in that article and never really took the pen in my hand to write also about the issues created, implemented and not dealt with by the pro players. To balance this I decided to also take a close look at the pro players' behaviour and professionalism.
Edit: and this is what Ralf's Facebook page says: "On Friday I was involved in a minor car accident which made it impossible for me to be on time for my winners bracket match against Deuel. I informed the tournament director 2 hours before match time but the match wasn't pushed back. Came 2 minutes late and lost the match by forfeit. I am ok except a little ding on my forehead and finished the event in 7th place. Now on my way back to Germany"

First of all, I really do have to agree with some posts that say Corey should never have been given the choice by the tournament director if he wanted to wait on Ralf or not, that's for sure. On the other hand he could have made a statement by choosing different than he did. Another post says:

”I think this post is the bottom line.
Corey was forfeited under much worse circumstances...
..his match was changed after he checked...
..that was the time he threw a punch at CW.
He had showed well before the time posted.

Why should he take the worst of it both ways?”
Exactly, why should he try to do something else than the guy did that he punched in the face?! Of course I understand that these are two different situations but Corey could have set a margin for pros' behaviour nevertheless.
But it is a “dog eat dog” world when it comes down to pool! Players, even the top 10, have to fight for the money/salary hard and they have to take every bone they get to make a living. There are just a few pros making around the 100K a year, which might seem like a nice amount. But we have to consider that the average pro player “life” is over around the age of 45 or 50, just whenever eyes and concentration gets worse every month. That means that they have to built up enough savings to live off of it for another 20-40 years. Also considering the few sponsors and the little money the industry is giving to the top players as well as all the flights, hotel rooms and restaurant dinners there is not too much left of this “nice” 100K. And as we all now, missing money doesn't bring out the best in us. That makes players do whatever it takes to get the 100 bucks they can see “on the floor”. It causes them to lose manners and change their behaviour – or is it the players choosing to go that way?!
A huge problem of today's pro pool is the fact that most players don't see the long term possibilities, benefits and consequences of their actions. They are only concerned with the direct money they can make, right now, without looking right or left and even sticking their elbows out. That's also a reason why Mr. Souquet is recognized as one of the top ambassadors of the sport. Not because he has an extraordinary way of behaviour but because of the bad behaviour of most of the other players.
Everybody that has been to the BCA Championships in Las Vegas over the past years and was determined to take the chance to take part in the “challenge the pros” charity event can tell that while almost all WPBA players show up to support it just a few male pros show up for it. Why? Because they don't get a direct benefit of it. They don't see it as a promotion of their own name and sports personality. A similar example is a experience I had in Cardiff in 2003. Matchroom Sports was producing the World Championships and fans could buy poker cards with a few top pros on them. When my friend and me met Earl Strickland outside on the side walk we took the chance and asked him to sign “his” card, which he did. In the same moment he said: “I didn't know they do these cards. I should get a cut of it!”. So he in fact wanted to get a cut from the money MatchroomSports made selling these cards although he played in a $400'000-total-purse event for free (!) organized by the same company. So my question is: how many pros would sign posters (using their picture) which sales benefit an eventual pro player organisation? I wouldn't count too high!
Talking about behaviour of the players I also have to mention some pro players manners at the table towards the crowd and the opponents. I guess I don't really have to mention “the pearl's” behaviour and manners. On one hand he is funny to watch and always surprising with a new meltdown. On the other hand he is probably the worst “business card” for professional pool. It is questionable why the BCA and the WPA didn't ban him more often and/or longer than they did anyway!
But I also want to talk about a personal experience I had. Just a month ago I played Robb Saez, a well know top player in the US. The moment I read his name under mine I thought about our first clash a few years ago in Las Vegas during the Open. Winning 11-5 I had to deal with any kind of name-calling and also getting asked multiple time if I want to gamble high stakes after the match and, after denying, why we Europeans are so P***ys when it comes down to playing money matches. And guess what – the same player did not change at all just five years later. I was called motherf***er, faggot, ass***le and etc. during the match. Sometimes even, and that makes it worse, loud enough for the paying spectators to hear it. A less aggressive way of sharking his opponent is the winner's (of that tournament), Mike Dechaine, style. He constantly keeps talking to his opponents so I had was forced to tell him in our clash a year ago at the U.S. Open 10ball in Las Vegas to stop talking to me all the time during our game. But every effort was wasted!
If the pros keep treating their opponents like that why should any amateur player keep playing and paying pro events? Why should amateur players keep supporting the pros although they don't treat them with the right respect? And why do pros still wonder why there are less and less (amateur) players in the pro events?
I know that some readers now might say/think that these names should not be written down here. I have to disagree! Any governing body of pool has to start a “black list” with players that do not act properly and do not represent the sport in the best way they can. And because no one of the existing bodies, federations and associations intends to do so it is very important to create a players association that handles issues like that itself!
To go over to my next and last main point of this article I want to insert a short chapter about tournaments and their promoters.
There are a lot of promoters everywhere in the world. Some of them organize an event because they love the sport, others because the want to make money etc. Reading through the forums, thinking about the state of pool and writing articles like this I also thought about the “state of prize money”. It is nice to have “added money” events. The players – as a group – receive more money than what they have invested. Lets say the entry fee is 100.- and the added money is 1000.-. This means that with 20 players the input of the players is 2000.- and the output for the players is 3000.-. That sounds great. We all know that most of the time a player gets more or less the same piece of the cake. The better you are the bigger size the piece is. And that's all fine if we talk about regional tournaments. If we are talking about pro events we have to change our view. The “pro player group” has different expenses, goals and duties and has to treat itself not as a “hobby player” but as a business. At the moment we are far from that! But why?
Let me make an example:
  • entry fee: 500.-
  • added money: 50'000.-
  • field: 128
  • total purse: 114'000.-
  • average invest: 500.-
  • average profit: 890.-
That is great! … at least from one angle. But let's say the “pro player group” is a business:
  • entry fee: 500.-
  • added money: 50'000.-
  • field: 128
  • total purse: 114'000.-
  • average accommodation costs: 250.-
  • average travel costs: 500.-
  • food and drinks: 100.-
  • average invest: 1350.-
  • average loss: 460.-
So in fact the players are not only shifting their money around in their group, they are even losing money as a collective. Maybe the airline, the hotel or a restaurant made a profit but for sure not the business group “pro players”. But why should any promoter make a bigger effort to not only make money for himself but also create money for this group? Because they don't have to. The players just follow their own personal interest and never come up with binding rules, requirements and contracts as a business would and should do. The just go where ever somebody throws out a bone. And again the question: why?
The answer is simple: players organisation/association! That is what is needed desperately. A voice that talks for the players and the collective interest of the pro players around the world that try to make their life off of pool.
This organisation would be able to sell the group as a product, guide the promoters and work together with them to increase the levels of the events. The organisation can also negotiate deals with hotels, airlines etc. which benefits the players through discounts, upgrades and special treatments. The whole strength of all the pros together can be sold to companies. The players could be brought together in one strong voice to set standards in rules and for events. It could handle black sheeps and raise money for the collective.
But again – the players just don't see far enough to make that happen. Just a few years ago we, Vincent Facquet, Oliver Ortmann and myself tried to build such a organisation in Europe. Already dedicating our time we asked the interested players during a meeting in Holland for a €100.- annual membership so we can run things, send mails, do calls and get a legal status without also dedicating our own money. The reaction was as it could have been expected – most players didn't trust us and/or didn't want to afford €100.- to initiate this organisation.
“Dog eat dog” and as long as we, the players, behave like one nothing will change. It is not only the federations, the association, the WPA and the BCA that has to change and go in a different direction. It is also the players that have to re-think their attitude, their goals and behaviour! And most important: they have to UNITE!

Sonntag, 8. Mai 2011

Dress-Up and play

Having played many tournaments in Europe and also in the US I have realized a huge difference in the appearance of the players at tournaments. While in Europe you have to be dressed in black trousers (no jeans), black shoes and a shirt with a collar for most tournaments. However, even in regional tournaments you can play in shorts, flip-flops and a tank top in the US. And to be honest – I like both sides. On one hand it is kind of cool to be dressed-up nicely and representing the sport as serious and clean. On the other hand it is also not only nice but especially comfortable to wear whatever you want to do your hobby. So as a player I have two opinions about whether I should be able to feel comfortable only or if I also want to represent my sport to the, sometimes only a hand full, spectators.

A very interesting observation is that people that are dressed-up for the competition not only play more serious but are also more successful. In my opinion this has a lot to do with the subconsciousness of the players, the dressed-up one as well as his opponent. “Clothes make the man” and this is also the case in sports. When Rafael Nadal came up he suddenly had that huge left biceps and of course also showed it. And it is even the same with cars – you can see the front light of a Porsche 911 in your rear mirror for just a part of a second and you instinctively get out of his way. And I strongly believe it is quite the same in pool.

Secondly it gives you as a player an extra boost because you feel better and more confident! By this the effect doubles and increases the gap between you and your competitor. And hey, if this is what it takes to have your rival missing one or two extra shots – I definitely will go with that! Or as one of the pool industry's slogan says: “looks can kill!”

The reason why I brought up with this subject right now is the recent tournament in Dallas, the Ultimate 10 Ball Championship. The promoter decided that the dress code is more strict than 99% of all the other events. With the vest added to the DC it all came close to the snooker style. While some players complained “that is soo European!” other players told me their experience over the tournament as following: “I never had that many compliments about my outfit during a pool tournament in my whole life as in the last two days of the competition.”

This leads me to the last part of this post: representing our sport!

The times of pool in a smoky back-door pool hall are close to being over, there is less gambling than ever and pool players around the world took the “game” a level up and made it a “sport” over the last decade. I really call out to everyone out there – let's enjoy our sport, let's enjoy the game and let's dress up. It is our duty to give our sport this new image and also represent it to the spectators and public. Of course it is comfortable to wear a loose shirt with baggy pants but this will never make anyone from other industries, neither TV channels nor producers, really investing money in pool.