Thursday, December 8, 2011

The 5 perils of billiard travel

We've all been there - you're in a new place, looking for a good game of pool, but something about the table is not quite right. You might say a good player should not worry, since the equipment is the same for both players, but occasionally it's just a bit extreme...
This is a compilation of common and less common problems, annoyances and pet peeves about playing in unfamiliar places.

1. The chalk

Everything's perfect in this new bar you just found. Cheap gin, loose women, clean balls. You put your quarters up on the table, wait your turn. You get called over, your opponent breaks, runs 3 balls, informs you that you have stripes. You grab a cue, and proceed to look for chalk. You don't see it, so you ask your opponent for it, and he just laughs and says something dumb like "a good player doesn't need chalk". You look at the tip of your cue, and suddenly realize that this bar has never had any chalk. You painfully shoot through the rack, miscue 18 times in the process, win, and refuse to stay on your rightfully acquired table to play the next banger.
Solution : Stash chalk everywhere in your car, on your person, or find a secret spot inside your favorite bar to hide a emergency cube!

2. The balls
Raleigh, NC

Another common group of annoyances involve the quality of the set of balls.

  • Incomplete set : "Only 6 stripes?... Okay, I guess errrrr take out one of the solids and we can rack them up without the wing balls"    "This sucks!!!"     "Yeah! Now I hate pool!"
  • Over-sized cue ball, presumably dating from before the discovery of magnetism - all the cut angles change and drawing the ball is more difficult
  • Under-sized cue ball, sometimes still found on snooker-type coin-ops in Europe.Cut angles are a mess, and applying follow is pointless.
  • Cue ball has more craters than the moon. It rolls erratically at low speed, it even sounds weird when it collides with other balls. You have to make sure you don't stroke onto the edge of a canyon and ruin your tip 
Solution : Carry your own set of balls, or at least keep your own personal cue ball behind the bar.
    Raleigh, NC
3. "House Rules"

These can be a minefield. At best they are just stupid but don't take away too much from the game. Examples :

  • The 8 must go in clean. Occasionally found in backwoods bars in the US, this rule is total garbage and is often not mentioned until after you just made what you thought was the game winning carom.
  • Siem Reap, Cambodia
  • If the cue ball is in the kitchen and you have no shot, one of the legal object balls can be spotted. Similarly, this is not mentioned when you are in the described situation, only when your opponent is!
  • Scratch on break is loss of game. This is just about the worst one of all, and its adherents will vehemently defend it saying that's how it's done on TV, have you never played pool in your life?
  • No shooting with the bridge. Ridiculous.
Solution : Learn to be comfortable playing a wide range of variants. Agree to the rules beforehand. Do not over argue your point, even when you know you're right, just play the damn game and beat them at their own rules.
4. The Table

Don Det, Laos
By far the source of the majority of problems, the table is rarely perfect. Some of the following issues can be dealt with by experienced players, and others affect the game so dramatically that the good player loses any advantage.

The most common affliction is the non-level table. When slight, it's not so bad, you just have to shoot a little harder than normal to avoid the roll-offs. When it's massive, you can tell because all the balls tend to migrate to the lowest point on the table, and you can actually use the table roll to curve object balls around other balls.
At least an effort was made to try fix this one!

As we all know, it's exceedingly rare to find Simonis 860 cloth on a random bar box. Additionally, the cloth is often mistreated by ignorant bar managers and clueless customers, commonly by means of spilled drinks, cigarette burns, "tapped in" spot ball mark. The felt does not sit fast to the slate, so it bunches up like cheap carpet when you form your bridge. The balls roll unpredictably and tend to settle in local minimums of felt thickness.

Recently, I've run into many tables with the peculiar property of making balls jump when they make contact with the rails. This is usually due to having cushions that are set too low, and can drastically alter the banking properties (to the point of balls jumping clear off the table at certain angles). Another common rail problem is when the rubber is too old or of poor quality, the balls come out very slow from the banks and the angle of reflection is greatly lengthened. Rail issues are difficult to adapt to, but at least they don't affect the simple "make the ball" shot. This tends to disadvantage the best players more than the worst ones.

Solution : Treat the table with respect, even if it's bad. There's a reason it got the way it is, do not contribute! Ask about other places to play in the area. Have your bodyguard, personal chef, or butler learn basic table maintenance and repair.

5. The Extreme

Then, there are the worst of the worst. Places with one stick, with no tip. Tables that have been kept outside for months, then brought back in on a whim. The table that doubles as the all-you-can eat buffet on Thursdays. The game room that is also a working barn. The closest table mechanic lives 400 miles away and is from an ethnic group that is currently involved in an armed conflict with yours.
Below, a selection of some of the more extreme things you find when looking for pool around our strange planet.
If you know of a particularly decrepit table or place to play please share with us in the comments!

Truck stop in the middle of the desert, Ethiopia

Hamed Ela, Ethiopia - see previous post
Don Det, Laos
Vang Vieng, Laos - This place calls itself the Q-Bar.

The 4000 Islands, Laos