Judge, jury and star witness


Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on July 10, 2016

f48c420169d98c23bb6e91a4e5c3c2d14042c610.jpgNo billiard player should ever underestimate the responsibility of the referee.

It may not look like much: count the points and see if the required cushions were hit. But, just for the sake of argument,  try to think of it as a trial. The question is: was that point valid?

The referee is the judge, presiding over that case. But there is no prosecuting attorney, and there is no defense lawyer.  If there are arguments to be made, pro and con, he’ll have to come up with those himself. All he has, in terms of evidence, is a single key witness. Himself.

Referee is a tough, underappreciated and lonely job.

(For convenience, I will continue to use “man”, “him” and “he”, but I will be referring to all our fine female referees as well. )

Famed science-fiction author Robert A. Heinlein described a quick way to see if people were reliable witnesses.  He would ask: “What color is that house on the hill over there?” Most people responded:  “It’s white”, which, of course, was the wrong answer. The correct answer was: “ON THIS SIDE, it’s white.”

If you can’t see something, you should not have an opinion about it.

Which brings us to the referee’s  prime, core and key task: TO SEE IT. Yes, we also appreciate it if they don’t move when we stroke, get our name right and are not in our line of sight, but those are lower on the priority list. The ref should position himself in a discreet way if there are no problems on the horizon. But when a millimeter here or there, a rapid succession of rails could make all the difference, the ref should be on top of it. Very close to the table, if that is needed.

The man in black can only do that right, if he sees the shots coming. Anticipation is everything. A good ref is familiar with the patterns, and moves closer to the table if necessary. I have diagrammed a few shots, not because they are so difficult to referee, but because it is helpful if you recognize them well before the player goes down on the shot.

The first is a classic ticky with lots of reverse english. Long rail, red, long rail again, short rail, and back to the yellow. Inexperienced referees will sometimes look for the long rail to be hit on the way down, not realizing that it would be the fourth cushion, not the third. But pay attention: with the red slightly further from the rail, the shot can be made long rail, red, short rail, long rail, yellow. And then of course, that last long rail IS the crucial one.




The second diagram is a pique, also played rail first. You need to be on top of this: the shot can (and will usually) be made short rail, yellow, short rail, long rail, red. But it is quite possible to make it short rail, yellow, short rail, short rail, red.  So the ref should not be behind the player, waiting for that long rail to be hit. He should be in front of the player, counting the number of times the cue ball hits the short cushion.




And by the way: a player who sees the man in black take this position, even if it’s in his line of sight, will not be annoyed. He will think: “this guy knows what is about to happen, I like that”.

Third shot is one that will sometimes be overlooked even by good players. You go rail first, right hand english, lots of top. If you get it right, you’ll hit the long rail, the yellow, the long rail again, the short rail, and a little curve will keep the cue ball “high” to make the point. If the referee has never seen this solution, there is a chance he will stay too far away from the action.




Fourth shot, again it’s all about where you stand. If the player finds the deep right edge of the short rail and plays with maximum left hand english, the cue ball will hit the long rail twice on the way down, in rapid succession. When I decide to play this shot and the referee is a polite five feet away from the table, I will even ask him to get closer. You want a firm decision from the only person authorized to make one. You don’t want  points to be debated, with “looks” from the opponent in the chair or comments from the “experts” in the audience who will later all claim to have been “exactly in the line”.




Every referee should aspire to be the kind that stands his ground. The way to become one, is to know where to stand.