Don’t do math when you should be playing billiards


Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on October 30, 2015

f48c420169d98c23bb6e91a4e5c3c2d14042c610.jpgRugby players have it easy. Billiard players are the ones who know what pain is. There’s no team to share the hurt with. We have no coach, no mechanic, no caddy, no doubles partner. There is never any help. If we get it wrong, there are no good excuses, only lots of bad ones.

It can be scary, to walk SO alone. Which is why billiard players look for a crutch. The table is a jungle, and finding your way can wear you down and confuse you. You’re looking for a compass, a navigating device. An arrow to point you in the right direction. Where to aim, how to hit. You know what would be great? If you had a set of instructions you could follow, in every possible position. You need a billiards manual. You need a SYSTEM!

There you have it. We’ve been looking for the Holy Grail of 3-C billiards, a system, for a century now. Nobody has found it of course, because it does not exist. All tables are different and what is true on one, is a lie on another.  But good attempts have been made to catch the rainbow and put it in a box. People have come up with books full of diagrams, hours of video  and wonderful animations, and even though their calculations could drive Stephen Hawking  insane, some of their work is accurate and admirable.

And some of it is total crap. In this article, I want to ignore the good of the systems and their educational value for a second, and focus on the nonsense that is all over the internet these days. The diagrams below come from FIVE different sources, and there are many more. I have not mentioned the authors or used the original layout, because I don’t want to offend people I like, who love the sport and do fine work. But it’s my job to warn the 0.4, the 0.6 and even the 0.8 player that he is in danger of wasting practice hours and, more importantly, might even damage his natural feel for the game if he gets lost in this mad world of quadratic equations with round balls.

diagram 1

1) Because it never comes up. I’ve played 34 seasons of competitive 3-C now, and this problem has presented itself maybe twice. If you like the diagram: study the calculations that come with it, practice the shot on your table, memorize it all, and put it to good use in 2031. On a very different table.

Diagram 2

2) Because for this line, the difference between table X and table Y is not two or three points. It could be as much as a diamond and a half. Stroke, speed, the condition of the balls: it can easily add 6 points of length to this line, or take 12 away from it. Play a few reversing english shots during warm-up, THAT will help. Studying a “system”  for this position is a total waste of time.

Diagram 3

3) Because you have a cue, and eyesight. And that is really all you need, to make this shot.  If you look at this position and start to add and subtract, there is not much of a future for you in 3-C billiards.

Diagram 4

4) Because the (immense) difficulty of the shot has nothing to do with the diamonds. This is 80 % technique, 19 % courage and 1 % knowledge. You need an exceptionally straight stroke and perfect aim for this shot, and even if you have it, you’ll still miss more often than you’ll score. Knowing the correct spot to hit on the left short rail and the bottom long rail is not much help.

Diagram 5

5) Because no player in his right mind would ever pick the solution in the diagram. This may be a fun calculating game for nerds who like billiards, but it is not an educational tool. Do you seriously want to learn the correct way to play the wrong shot?

And have you noticed how nicely the 2nd and 3d ball are always side by side in these diagrams? In my league matches, they are always 30 cm apart, not 5.

If some country, let’s say Scotland, would put me in charge of schooling their many talented 12 – 18 year-old 3-C players, I would not expose the bonny lads and lasses to a diamond system until they had a 0.8 average, a reliable stroke and a well-developed billiards intuition.

The five diagrams above do not, let me say it again, do not represent the common sense side of systems. The Túzüls, van Kuyks and Eflers know very well what happens on a table. I picked examples that show you where the numerologists lose sight of the reality of our game. But even at its best, a diamond system has two dimensions, and the game has three. I can’t say this often enough:

“Billiard balls obey the laws of physics, and could not care less about the laws of mathematics.”