View Full Version : "In Praise of Pool"

11-23-2004, 08:53 PM
One of my favorite POSTS. Enjoy

with apologies to H. L. Mencken
Author's Note

For some considerable time now, the reputation of pocket billiards has been less than sterling. The game is connected in the popular mind with gamblers, ne'er-do-wells and scamsters bent on sharp practice. It is commonly thought to corrupt our youth and to rob them of their ambition for honest labor. Pool rooms are believed to be frequented by cigar smokers, petit criminals and idlers unencumbered by the prospect of steady employment. In short, pool's once aristocratic image is showing signs of tarnish.

As is often the case in such matters, the dispassionate brush of Reality paints an altogether different picture. If only the facts were more widely known, how much more respect people would show toward their billiard playing neighbors! How many wives would no longer feel it necessary to raise pointless objections to their husbands' pool evenings with their colleagues! How many parents and teachers could put aside their needless frettings about the future of the youngsters in their charge!

How regrettable, then, is the vast public misperception of this grand and glorious game and its dedicated proponents! If ever a sullied reputation stood in need of repair, the good name of Pool has been stained most unfairly. This shameful distortion of Truth can be ignored no longer. A manifest deception is being perpetrated on an unsuspecting populace. To set the record right is nothing less than my duty as a true American.

If you think nothing could be more straightforward than rolling a couple of identical, perfectly spherical balls a short distance on a well lit, precisely level surface under highly controlled indoor conditions, then you have never played pool. Combining beauty and frustration in equal proportions, pool is geometrical purity raised to an art form. Its infinite variability makes its apparent simplicity a mocking yet seductive illusion.

Called pocket billiards(1) by the fastidious, pool is an ancient pursuit with a rich and noble heritage. First played by the crowned heads of Europe, it is now widely enjoyed by men of every station. And although ivory balls have given way to cast phenolic, and wooden table beds to diamond honed slate, a crisply hit sphere, as it banks, caroms and vanishes into a tight corner pocket for the count, delights the senses every bit as much today as it did four centuries ago.

Pool is an agreeable pastime that lies within the range of every pocketbook. A good game of pool stimulates the intellect, sharpens the coordination, invigorates the constitution, brightens the disposition and uplifts the spirits as no other recreation can.

Pool is a gentlemen's game at which every contest, whether for pleasure or for prize, is dominated by courtesy and sportsmanship. A spirit of equity prevails which countenances neither trickery nor unseemly tactics.

Pool builds coordination, dexterity and skill, while affording hours of diversion to those persons of any age, stature and condition who would but apply themselves to it. It instills character in our youth by offering an endless series of challenges that teach the twin virtues of humility and perseverance. It calls forth industry and creativity in applying the principles of Natural Science to find a shot where none is readily apparent. And in fair weather and foul, it draws together gentlemen of diverse nationality, education, and calling who consider themselves fortunate to share, by the Grace of Providence, this splendid pastime.

Pool games, rewarding as they do small successes with the opportunity for ever greater ones, resemble no human endeavor so much as American politics. In this they impart the values of enterprise, consistency and self reliance, by dint of which the lengthiest incumbencies are possible, to an opponent's utter consternation.

Pool is an invigorating elixir compounded from the elements of Chance, Strategy and Execution. While chess has often been proclaimed as a simulation of Warfare, I take but a small liberty when I declare that Pool is nothing less than a metaphor for Life itself.

The break that begins each game contributes an essential unpredictability, without which pool might be as tedious as bowling. Every ball is at every instant subject to Newton's unbending Laws, which mandate how it rolls, caroms, banks, jumps, slows, accelerates and curves. Yet it is our own imperfect knowledge of the balls' positions in the racked pyramid that calls forth a seemingly random result. As a consequence, the lie of the balls after the break is unique for each game, never to be seen again.

Although pool's fundamentals may be grasped in an afternoon, its mastery is nothing short of a lifetime's undertaking. And while almost anyone can learn to pocket a ball, excellence at pool demands the strategic thinking of a chess grand master. For where the field lies exposed to view, the advantage naturally accrues to the player with the more penetrating foresight.

But a command of strategy is the merest starting point, for the pool player is also called upon to carry out his designs at the emerald table with unerring precision. For pool is an unbiased but pitiless equalizer and no respecter of persons. Notwithstanding a contestant's wide repute, his impressive record of accomplishment and his intense will to prevail, if he cannot perform up to caliber when a match commences, he will inevitably be bested by the fellow who can.

The pool champion is to be admired above all sportsmen. He combines his hard won store of knowledge, his powers of calculation and his shrewd intuition with the steady hand of a guild watchmaker and the keen eye of a Kentucky rifleman. He eschews the natural athletic abilities of speed, stamina and brute strength in favor of meticulous planning, accurate aim and a fluid yet controlled stroke. He endlessly strives for a delicate balance between his aggressive instinct and cerebral safe play.

The pool player may easily continue to excel well past the age when a track man can no longer compete with his juniors. For while twenty years may constitute a lengthy career for a gymnast or pugilist, such a span is merely the apprenticeship of a billiardist, who may reasonably anticipate half a century of contests yet ahead of him, and something to be learned from every encounter over the green baize.

For all this, the pool fraternity labors for scant recognition and its victors claim but stingy rewards. The winnings of the fifty finest contemporary professional players, taken together, do not approach the earnings of one nationally recognized golf or tennis luminary. Moreover, not one American in ten thousand can identify a front rank cueman, whether by aspect or by name. Clearly, then, the pool player submits to this rigorous discipline in hopes of gaining neither fame nor fortune, but purely for the love of this most perfect of all games.

/ \
-\--\--- o o

Phil Freedenberg

1. Pockets are the distinctive feature that sets a pool table apart from a billiards table. The six pockets which rim the periphery of a pool table enlist the freely available forces of gravitation to achieve a certain clarity in scoring, thus promoting harmony among players and onlookers alike. And like the hangman's gallows, which also rely on these universal forces, pockets resolve ambiguity with admirable economy, unerring swiftness and utter dependability.
Author's Note

11-23-2004, 10:31 PM
Tap Tap Tap, beautifully stated

11-23-2004, 10:33 PM
Thanks Tom, I needed and enjoyed that. It's one of my favorites also.
If we could ever get this message across.
Joe T

11-24-2004, 01:10 AM
Wow. Now that is what I call writing.

Brian in VA
11-24-2004, 07:23 AM
Tap, tap, tap.

Thanks Tom for sharing a wonderful piece of writing about our wonderful game.

Brian in VA

11-25-2004, 05:49 PM
Tom, I was sure after reading the first paragraph, that this was about your new "second" home, out there on Garfield Ave.
And then...I read on
and wish to add
"for everything else there's Walgreen's"

11-25-2004, 08:51 PM
good to see you posting over here Joe...still helping Mike out with the Joss tour? Or are you just playing now? BTW...Happy Thanksgiving to all...