The push shot or biljardé


Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on October 26, 2013

Bert van ManenIn the low countries, it is referred to as a “biljardé”. Americans call it a “push shot”. The UMB rulebook speaks of “queutage”. All three terms describe an illegal stroke; I am quoting the official rules of billiards:

“If the cue tip (-) is still in contact with the playing ball, and that ball is already in contact with another or several balls or the cushion, the referee will make the announcement “queutage”, and the opponent will take the game over.”

It looks like a straightforward rule, not open to much interpretation. In reality, the “push” rule is the most difficult one for referees to deal with, and it’s the source of much controversy (as again, it was during this WC in Antwerp). Just think about that rule for a second. If two balls are almost frozen, can I only use a 0.05 cm stroke, or contact the cue ball with my tip for a nano-second? It can’t be done. You can’t possibly play off that second ball without making biljardé, according to the letter of the UMB definition. You need to play ultra-thin, you say? If only things were that simple. It is quite possible to make biljardé hitting a thin slice of a ball, and it is quite possible not to, when you are a few millimeters away from the second ball and hitting it full in the face (such as in the artistic whip-draw and whip-follow shots, a.k.a. fouetté’s). Definitions of biljardé based on the angle or the speed of the hit are of no use. Not the circumstances of the shot will determine the biljardé, but its execution.

Little massé shots in balkline are technically all biljardé, but we’ve been allowing them for a hundred years. Why? Because the player respects the position of that close second ball, and comes up with a technical solution. He does not disregard it by just forcing the ball out of the way. Much in the same way, 3-cushion players technically make a biljardé with some regularity, but in a manner generally considered as acceptable. Again, because they respect the problem created by the close proximity of the second ball, and do not solve it with brute force.

The UMB rulebook does not differentiate between free game, balkline and 3-cushion, so apparently the quote in the second paragraph applies to all. I took the liberty of also bringing artistic billiards into the equation, as elements of that discipline come into play in 3-cushion. Every shot must be judged on its own merits, by a referee.

Let me underline the crucial role of the referee, using a little analogy with soccer. Making handball means giving away a free kick. It’s even worse if you do it in the “box”: you will concede a penalty kick. So why is it, that quite often a handball goes unpunished? Because soccer referees know that sometimes (and in split seconds) “the ball goes to the hand, not the hand to the ball”. In other words, they don’t blow their whistle if A) the player had no intention of gaining an advantage from the handball, and B) there was little or nothing he could do to prevent it. Soccer referees, in doing so, ignore the letter of the law and follow its spirit. Billiard referees do the same thing, and rightly so. The traffic cop trumps the traffic light, and the referee trumps the rulebook.

Like the soccer ref, the 3-cushion man in black needs to really develop an understanding of the game to be able to make good decisions, with the above A) and B) in mind. He (or she) must also have sharp eyes, educated ears and pay attention to the tell-tale signs:

– the sound of a clean contact between balls has a higher pitch than that of a biljardé, which is lower in frequency.

– cue balls lose english after a biljardé, a spinning ball is always a sign of a legal, quality contact.

– english is transferred to the second ball (in reverse). If that is visible, it is again the sign of a clean stroke.

– a clean hit transfers an amount of speed to the second ball that corresponds with the amount of ball that was hit. If the second ball was hit thin but travels suspiciously fast, it was most likely a biljardé.

– a raised butt and a stroke that hits down on the cue ball with english, should result in a slight curve at least. A biljardé can make the cue ball take off in a straight line.

With all due respect to the referee corps, with its many men and women who will not be fooled, these are the two things that still go wrong too often, when 3-cushion shots must be judged on biljardé:

– A player behaves as if nothing out of the ordinary happened, the point was made and he studies his next position. The referee goes along with it, because they trust the player’s  integrity and maybe even consider his judgment to be superior to their own. MANY shameless biljardés have been approved and counted, mostly because the player kept a straight face.

– Just because two balls are extremely close together, shooting off one does not make it an automatic foul. A referee (rather often one with a background in free game or balkline) remembers the biljardé definition (the letter of the law), but not the spirit. MANY quite acceptable 3-cushion points have been disallowed by overzealous refs.

We can never come up with rules and definitions for every 3-cushion position that may smell of biljardé. This will forever be the domain of the ref, not the rulebook. To err is human, and it is easy to get these decisions wrong once in a while. My advice to referees: NEVER discuss “biljardé / not a biljardé” with player or opponent, during the match. Make your best decision, stick with it, and discuss the matter an hour later.  And players (if the verdict is biljardé): go to your chair, and shut up.