Donnerstag, 16. Juni 2011

Pool - what a sport

„What a sport“ - that's the question. Due to my recently started blog I had a lot of nice discussions lately. In some of these discussions we talked about the one or the other topic in my blog, about stories and things that happened a long time ago and also about how to change this or that in the game/sport we play/do. After all these conversations I still struggle to know what people and, even more important, the pool players think what sport pool is. But what do I mean by that? Let me start with this:

In the past few years we can observe steady changes in our sport. For me personally it started with the changes in 9-ball when we were welcoming the “Texas Express” rules in the early and mid 90's. Some “huge” stuff happened back then. Everybody that already played pool at that time knows what I mean: push-outs were allowed and balls pocketed on a foul stayed in the pockets and ball in hand was restricted to the “kitchen”! I still have a video tape “Jim Rampe versus Johnny Archer” in a best-of-five (sets) match which was recorded before the induction of the new rules. It looks so funny when they make three balls and the cueball on the break! In my point of view this was a healthy change in the game of 9-ball which of course also effected 10-ball later on.
This was enough to handle for a while and no other changes have been made – until a decade later. In the early 2000's a “fabulous” feature called “tap mat” came up. In fact a product that my private pool club sold for 5 dollars already couple of years before that. A regular item in some catalogues from overseas. Well, nevertheless, it was HERE! Introduced at the Euro Tour it was on the fast lane to the World Championships. Of course, the referees on the TV-table are happy to have a tight rack every time without really racking – saves some abashments. Also lots of participants in the Euro Tour liked the new “rack”. But why? A questions which answer is obvious: it makes it easier to break successfully. The wing ball is not only a high percentage ball anymore, it got promoted to an almost guaranteed, dead-in hit on the opening shot. The best example was sent in the Euro Tour Prague at the Top Hotel by French player Stephan Cohen. He “invented” the softbreak. And how soft it was is clear when I say that the 1-ball usually even didn't touch the side rail. In fact no other ball than the wing ball and the ball in the back of the rack did reach a rail (or pocket of course). It was successful, taking him to 3rd place in the mentioned event. At the same time the officials of the Euro Tour realized that something has to happen because that didn't look like pool at all anymore. The hard break times of Bustamante and Strickland are over – at least one of many opinions at that time. As a reaction on this issue the promoter decided to implement a new rule: the “3-balls kitchen line” rule. So how does this work? It sounds funny and is funny! It meant that now three balls have to cross the kitchen line on the break while each pocketed ball counts as a such. Sounds easy. Suddenly I personally made the experience that this rule is not quite good. During a Euro Tour in Italy I broke (hard of course) eight times and had a “illegal break” because two balls hit the side pocket and bounced back up table. My opponent now had the choice to play or give the layout back to me. An involuntary push-out on the break. But this was not the only effect of the “tap mat”. Realizing that the wing ball is still too easy to make the 9 was now on the spot when racked. Yeah, the whole rack was almost two balls higher, made to prevent this guaranteed hit. Needless to say that it took just a few rounds until the “cutbreak” was thing to do. The control of the cueball was now secondary. Only the 1 in the side was important because the hard and controlled break we trained for the last 10 years was worth nothing at this point. The physical coordination in connection with the elasticity was left at home and some players even didn't use their break cue anymore. The latest consequences were the (already mentioned in an earlier blog - 10-ball outside and the 9-ball inside rule. Why all this was made? To make it more fair for all participants. But let me ask why it is more fair when a new rule disadvantages the player that trained harder and more for his break? This weapon is not relevant any longer. As I like to compare: let's give all Tennis players a 250km/h serve, whether they are actually able to do it like Goran Ivanisevic or not. Or let's limit each Golf course to a length of 300 feet – what would long drivers like Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson say? What is fair about that?

Onother thing that changed was the turn away from the winner break to the alternate break. A change that divides the players in their opinion. Of course a pro player, by average running out more racks in a row, likes the winner break. Also the “free-stroke players” like it better of course because they can get a better start into the match. On the other side, the slow playing “doctors” like the alternate break. But it is not the question what is better, my question is why did we do that? Some people tell me: “...well, there is no sport in which you can lose without interacting in the game at all. It is more fair.” Interesting point for sure. But why is something more fair that disadvantages the better prepared player? The player that invested more in his game.

So let me come back to the headline of this article. In this headline I didn't put a exclamation mark. In fact it should be a question mark. I heard so often “look how the guys from Snooker do it, we should do it the same way...” or as written earlier “... there is no sport in which you can lose without interacting in the game at all”. So my question after being part of the Olympic family for 15 years: what sport are we? I know we are not Tennis, not Golf and also no Bowling or Chess. We even have a attribute that makes us unique as a sport. But I know it is time to define our game/sport before we go on changing rules, implementing now feature which lead to other new rules etc. Are we still a game or already a sport? And if we are a sport, should the best win?

I know that I already asked you earlier to give me your opinion but this time would really love to get as many as possible. Discuss it with your mates and write me a comment how you think about the latest development of our game/sport. This is not about “who's right and who's wrong” - I want to hear your voices!

Here a funny link to close out: Poolball