This article is part of Volume 2 of PoolSynergy, a monthly collection of the best writing on pool. After you read this, be sure to check out the rest of December’s other great articles on the theme of Inspiring Pool Stories.
A few months or so after I first started to play pool, I joined a BCA league at West Coast Billiards in St Pete, FL. I’d been practicing by myself frequently during those months and thought I was getting to be pretty good. And I was doing OK in the league, winning about as much as losing.
One night I remember playing the team with Lothar Bergeest on it, the strongest player in the league. He was a friendly guy who had shared a few tips with me and answered a number of my newbie questions with patience. The format was that each guy on our 4 person team played one game against each guy on the opponent’s team, so I knew I’d get to play him.
When my turn came up to play Lothar late that evening, I was enthusiastic and full of confidence. I don’t remember if he broke dry or if I broke and made a ball, but I do remember running ball after ball, getting more excited as I approached my goal. As too often happens, though, I got further out of line with each shot, and left myself snookered on the 8 Ball.
I was still optimistic. I mean, he still had 7 balls on the table and I was on the 8. Well, he proceeded to teach me a lesson. Instead of running out, which he probably could have easily done, he called safe, made a ball and left me hooked. Shot after shot he would torture me, whether with ball in hand (usually) or not (occasionally), call a safety, make one more ball and hook me again.
He proceded to teach me a lesson.
I felt humiliated. It was bad enough to lose like that, but to have it witnessed by all your teammates as well as all the members of the opposing team was too much. I was a little sore.
After the match was over I spoke to Lothar and he explained how in the past he had advised me more than once against running 6 or 7 but not 8 and that it obviously wasn’t sinking in. He thought a demonstration would make it more clear, more relevant. He saw our game as a perfect opportunty, so he took it. I argued that given the same situation in the future, in many cases I’d still be able to win; that if his safes weren’t perfect I’d get my crack at the 8 and earn my victory. He laughed in a friendly way and challenged me to prove it. We scattered the 8 Ball and the solids out onto the table; he took ball in hand to start, and showed me time after time that he was right.
Next, I fell back on the fact that he was a much better player than I was, and that was the reason he was able to pull off his demonstration. With a player more my speed, I’d win almost all the games. Can you guess what happened next?
I felt humiliated. I was a little sore.
Lothar asked Jordan Salamone, one of the guys on his team who played at about my speed, to join us. He explained the situation and Jordan was up for it. With Jordan playing Lothar’s role, and me still trying to pocket the 8 Ball, I was only able to win 25% of the time. We played many rounds of this before I would finally give in and admit that Lothar was right. Running most of the way out is bad, very bad.
Once I realized how wrong I’d been, I lost the anger I’d felt at taking such a public drubbing. The value of the lesson was so high that it simply eclipsed the earlier humiliation. I’d been reading books and talking to many other knowledgeable players who’d all said the same thing, but until it was shoved in my face so clearly I just didn’t get it. I understood that far from trying to bully me, Lothar was going out of his way to teach me something very important. That understanding cleared up my earlier cognitive dissonance about his behavior, slowly torturing me when a quick death seemed so much more appropriate and fully within his grasp. It had seemed so out of character for him.
The value of the lesson was so high that it simply eclipsed the earlier humiliation.
Thank-you Lothar for being the wise and caring instructor you are. And thanks too, to Jordan, without whose help I might still be clinging to the fantasy that Lothar could only control the game so well because he was so much better than I was. Jordan and I became friends after that, and he and I were regular training partners for a few months.
I learned two imortant things from this experience, one that night and the other slowly over then next week or so. First, unless you can run all the way out, plan to turn the table over to your opponent in a way that keeps you in control of the table. Second, when a much more skilled and experienced player takes the time to explain something to you, invest enough of your time to fully understand and appreciate what he or she is saying. If you don’t get it right away, give them the benefit of the doubt, and try it awhile.
PoolSynergy – Volume 1 – Strategy
PoolSynergy – Schedule and History
How to Put Your Stroke on Autopilot
Honesty (in Risk Assessment) is the Best Policy
Three Opening Strategems to Win More 8 Ball Games
Practice Getting Shape Rather than Shot Making
10 Common Mistakes in Pool that Cost You Wins