The two faces of 1-cushion


Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on May 24, 2014

Bert van ManenYes, Jean Paul de Bruijn and Frédéric Caudron are currently the best players in the world, in that discipline. If you wanted to argue that they are the two best in history, you could make a good case. But we’ll talk about these gentlemen a bit later. The “two faces” also refers to 1-cushion itself, which is both beautiful and brutal. Here’s a little more about that enigmatic, unjust, sadistically difficult game.

One-cushion is enigmatic, because some good players, in either 3-cushion (the older brother) or balkline (the younger brother) don’t do very well in 1-cushion, and some slightly lesser players in either of the two other disciplines can hold their own.

One-cushion is unjust, not because poor shots get rewarded, but because good (or extremely good) shots sometimes get punished. The frustration factor can be sky-high.

One-cushion is sadistically difficult, because you need to keep all three balls in close proximity to each other and a corner, but the mandatory rail in every shot makes sure that with each point you make, you are ENLARGING the distance between the balls. You are your own enemy, your left arm is wrestling your right. You are trying to clip your toenails blindfolded while riding a bronco.

Okay, I am exaggerating. But if you think it is not all that hard: have you actually PLAYED 1-cushion on a full size match table yourself? I know for a fact that many 3-cushion players have never tried it, ever. Those who have, know what I am talking about. So often, when the balls are scattered across the table, there is no obvious 1-rail or 2-rail shot available to make your life any easier than it would have been in 3-cushion. And most 3-cushion solutions – even if you solve the problem – will not make the next shot any easier than the last one. A run of 4 can make you feel like you’ve climbed Everest. So that’s the “big” 1-cushion game. It’s not much easier than 3-cushion, really. What about the “small” 1-cushion game, the one you start to play if you succeed in nicely gathering the balls?

Take a look at the three diagrams in the picture.

In the first position, you have just “stolen” your last little 1-rail touch shot, and you need to now gather the balls again. Obviously, you prefer to do that alongside the short rail, but often you have to play this one over the length of the table.


The second position is the result you hope and try for.

The third position is the result, when you play the shot ALMOST to perfection. You instantly wish you had not tried so hard.

This is what I mean, by “the two faces of 1-cushion”. Perfection is good. Margins are good. Anything in between will kill you. The slightest error in judgment, a very well hit shot that is not quite 100%, can send you to your chair. So why not settle for margins all the time? Forget about perfect position, just play the balls to “a favorable area” and hope for the best? Good luck with that, if you make it to 5 average with that game plan, you are a miracle worker.

Not even 10 average will get you anywhere in 1-cushion these days, and if you make it to 10.00, you are a hero in my book. Caudron and de Bruijn have both played tournament averages between 20.00 and 30.00 in 1-cushion, which I think compares to something like 2.200 and 2.800 in 3-cushion. They are truly ahead of the rest of the world in that respect, I can’t think of anyone (not even the very, VERY strong 1-cushion player Torbjörn Blomdahl!) who is in their league. So what a few days we are in for, when De Bruijn and Caudron will play the ultimate 1-cushion battle this June. From the 27th to the 29th, they will play to 1500 points, divided into 10 sessions of 150 points. The event will take place in “Salpho”, the room in Malle, Belgium Fred co-owns, and Kozoom will stream every session.

The Dutchman and the Belgian have a different style, yes. But it is not miles apart, and they are certainly closer than Ceulemans and Dielis used to be, in the days of old. (Remember that? Dielis almost always played the higher tournament average, and Ceulemans usually won the title). Both Caudron and de Bruijn are expert problem solvers when the balls are all over the place, both have the technical skill and finesse to play the “millimeter-game”. I expect to see more twenty and zero and forty and zero and sixty from Caudron, and more five and zero and fifteen and zero and ninety from de Bruijn, but I could be so wrong. Not about this though: you have to watch it, even if you are a 3-cushion player who has no intention of broadening his horizon. It will be entertaining, it will be educational, it will be as historically significant for billiards as the Juanjo Trilles Challenge was (the 600 pt match between FC and DJ in the summer of 2012).

I am so looking forward to these three days. This battle will be decided at the table AND on the chair, where both players will spend a lot of time. Playing 1-cushion as well as it can possibly be played, I see a slight advantage for JP. Staying loose, positive and confident, nobody can match FC in that respect. A superb billiard player will win this, and a superb billiard player is going to lose with his head held high.