There’s no such thing as good ugly 3-cushion


Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on May 10, 2014

Bert van ManenYou can’t win any prizes in our sport for having a stylish game. If you make the points, the referee will count them, regardless of your technique. But I can’t help myself: I usually root for the player who makes the game look good.
Many things can ruin the “look” of your play, and when I say “things”, I am referring mostly to body parts that move. If you watch beautiful 3-cushion, you always see a cue moving and a player standing still. And even that cue moves in minimalist fashion: back and forth only, straight as an arrow. It will not move up and down, it will not go sideways. Watch just a few minutes of an old Raymond Ceulemans match on YouTube, and you know what I mean. Feet planted, body frozen, left hand like a rock. He taught us all.
In the German, Belgian and Dutch leagues where I’ve played, there are hundreds of players with proper technique – many better or prettier than mine – but also a few dozen who make a mockery of sound billiard basics. They move their head on the shot, or their hip, or lift their bridge hand too early. Knees are bent during the warm-up strokes, but the body comes upright while the shot is being played. The cue sometimes approaches the ball from up and left, but gets hooked into it low and right. And finally: you would not believe what some people do with their cue in the seconds after the hit, with referee and spectators in actual physical danger. I have wondered at times: do these people know it’s a billiard cue? Or do they think they are wielding a hockey stick? The other day, I saw a guy with the longest rubber grip on his cue that I’ve ever seen, it covered 90 % of the butt. There was about 4 inches of wood left at the back, which was where he held his cue when he played. Chalk would never be this Einstein’s problem: there was plenty of it on the side of the ivory ferrule that held the tip. Good thinking.
Many years ago, an older gentleman in my club used to end the stroke of every draw shot by pressing his tip on the table and then pulling it back over the cloth, with a little pretzel-like twist in that motion. The sound it made still haunts me. After he had played a game, the billiard had 25 large blue commas on it. The man passed on in the nineties and I don’t think any of his family read this column, so I can safely say now that I hated him with a passion, and wanted to have him persecuted for “crimes against cloth”. I did enjoy his eardrum-piercing miscues though, because he would always reach for another shaft, which gave me the chance to say: “Not your fault. Definitely a bad shaft”.
Some of these Wayne Gretzky’s with a cue (I lost to one, just a few weeks ago) can somehow become proficient players, 0.6 or even 0.8. But that is about where it ends. If you want to get to 1 average or over, you’ll have to discipline your body, and get rid of all the unwanted movement. Proper technique is what you fall back on, when the pressure is high. Frédéric Caudron and Dick Jaspers will ALWAYS be able to hit an object ball wafer-thin from distance, no matter if it’s in practice or at 38 -39 in a World Cup. The undisciplined players will stumble and fall then and there. Their arm lacks the strength that only comes from endless repetition. The great 3-cushionists are like ballet dancers or Circe du Soleil artists or ninjas. Some things, they can do to perfection in their sleep.
Better-looking 3-cushion is almost always better 3-cushion.
Look at the new wave of Korean players, who all seem to be able to take the 1.5 hurdle and make it look easy. (Why do many European talents get to 1.3 / 1.4 and then stop progressing? I honestly wish I could say something meaningful about THAT). Sung Won Choi, Jae Ho Cho, Jung Han Heo, not robots at all, they have a distinctive style of their own. But all are technically immaculate. Choong Bok Lee can do the subtlest things with his stroke, like Zanetti. Dong Koong Kang does not even HAVE a stroke, he has a nuclear power plant fitted into his right arm. Kyung Roul Kim, not the prettiest Korean to look at, but he has discipline in spades. A shot that needs to be dangerously close to the kiss to make (but just out of it)? He’s your man.

There IS no ugly 3-cushion in the World Cup main tournaments. All the players with bad stance, bad stroke or bad habits otherwise have hit their individual ceiling before they get that far. The game itself has been the teacher here, and the game is a selection committee as well. Access denied, if you have neglected your technique. Alexander Salazar from Colombia and Glenn Hofman from the Netherlands and Quyet Chien Tran from Vietnam, just to name a few, are approved, they are in. With different posture and a different style maybe, but they have understood the nr. 1 requirement of the game: stand still and stroke straight.