Pool’s Image Needs an Upgrade, and it Starts With You
Merriam-Webster defines integrity as follows:
Firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility
I have seen many examples of integrity in the game. For example, people who call a foul on themselves even when nobody else saw the transgression. Unfortunately, I have seen many instances where players have been a bit unscrupulous.
Recently, I participated in the 7th Annual Chuck Markulis Memorial Tournament in Sacramento, California. It was a wonderful event as always, and I enjoyed every moment. Well, almost every moment.
Several pro players attended as well.
Before the tournament, a Calcutta auction was held, where you can bid on the player you feel will win, and all of the money collected is put into a prize pool. If your player wins one of the top spots, you win a portion of the prize money. Obviously, the better players demand a larger bid.
I won a bid that allowed me to choose any player I desired, and picked one of the pros. I won’t reveal who it was, for reasons you’ll understand shortly.
Traditionally, the player you bid on gets the option to buy half of the bid, which was the case here. I won the bid for $300, so the player I chose had the option to split it with me for $150. I asked him if he wanted to buy in, and he told me he wasn’t sure yet. He’d let me know.
I didn’t see him again until after the tournament had started, and he had already played two matches. I had been playing on another table, so I didn’t have much of a chance to talk to him again. When I finally did see him, he told me he still wanted to buy his half. I was a bit put off by this… if he had lost, I’m sure he would not have opted in, and I’d have been out $300. As it was, he won his first two matches, so it was a wash. I let it slide.
He then handed me $140 and asked if that was cool. Seriously? You’re a pro player, and you’re trying to weasel out of $10? I accepted it, very grudgingly, because if I hadn’t, he might have chosen not to pay. And he knew I knew that. Plus, if I had told him no, he might have just dumped his games. I smiled, accepted, and wished him well in the tournament.
That was not the end of his shenanigans. During one of his matches, he was positioning his racks about an inch forward of the center of the spot. His opponent called him on it, and he stated that the rules specify that it’s legal as long as the ball is on the spot marker. They went back and forth on this, to the point of him threatening to just quit the tournament because “everyone always does this to him.” Of course, all I could think about was “thanks for putting the money I bet on you in jeopardy.” From that point forward, the tournament director racked every game.
On top of all of this, despite the rule of “maximum power breaks,” he was consistently hitting his breaks around 16 mph (the average of all other breaks I measured topped 22 mph). He even put a ton of spin on the cue ball to soften his breaks so that it would look like he was breaking harder than he really was.
Did he break the rules? Not really. But he bent them about as far as they would go, clearly demonstrating a propensity for dancing on the line of morality and integrity. I completely understand the desire to give yourself the best chance to win matches. But to what lengths, and at what cost?
Billiards already suffers from the image of the seedy hustler always trying to cheat people out of their money. Our community is struggling to make the sport more mainstream, to garner more interest in the game, and even get included in the Olympic Games.
To all of my friends and acquaintances who are working hard toward this goal, thank you. I believe that we will get there some day, although we have quite a way to go.
To those of you who are not, please rethink your position. Think about all of the other sports that suffer when a lack of integrity is demonstrated. Baseball, basketball, football. Even cycling. Don’t take the easy path to get a few extra bills in your pocket. Take the high road, and show the world that we in the billiards community have integrity and honor.
If you would like to share some of your success stories (or even the failures), or have suggestions for future articles, please feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.