BILLIARDS by WIRE (Jun, 1938)

This is a sort of early online gaming.

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College Teams Now Compete in Novel Telegraphic Tournaments


PLAYING separately in cities and towns scattered throughout the East and Middle West, teams representing many leading American colleges recently competed in the 1938 intercollegiate billiards tournament. During the entire competition, members of one team did not see their opponents on other teams. As the ivory balls rolled and spun on the green tables, clicking telegraph instruments carried the scores of individual teams to the director of the tournament. When all scores were in, the director wired the team standings back to the competing colleges.

Billiards is an old game in our colleges. Harvard beat Yale in the first intercollegiate billiards match in 1860—nine years before Princeton and Rutgers played the first intercollegiate football game. But billiards could not keep pace with the rapidly increasing popularity of other college sports. Nearly always, the strong incentive of competition with other teams was absent—not because undergraduate billiards players were not anxious to meet teams from other schools, but because the lack of large gate receipts made it financially impossible for a college billiards team to play a number of out-of-town matches in the course of a season.

All efforts to organize billiards along the same lines as other college sports were unsuccessful until Charles Peterson, famous trick-shot wizard, originated the ingenious system of telegraphic matches by which college championships now are decided. For years, Peterson waged a one-man campaign to establish the most scientific of all ball games as a recognized campus sport. He traveled all over the country, giving lectures and demonstrations before crowds of intent young men who found a study of the angles of incidence and reflection much more engrossing on a green baize table than it had ever been on a classroom blackboard.

Six years ago, Peterson’s efforts bore fruit when he induced the Association of College Unions, with sixty-four member colleges, to conduct intercollegiate championship tournaments for teams of five men each. As it obviously would be impracticable for the various schools to send their teams to a central point to play, he hit on the idea of using “key shots” as the basis of telegraphic competition.

Three billiards games are played in the colleges—straight-rail, three-cushion, and pocket billiards. Straight-rail billiards is the ancestor from which have descended all the billiards games that are played on a table without pockets, and in which the player’s object is to make his ball, called the “cue ball,” strike two other balls called “object balls.” In all types of billiards, a shot in which the cue ball is made to glance off one object ball and strike another, is described technically as a “carom.” By about a half century ago, expert billiards players had developed the ability to make long “runs,” or sequences of successful shots, by “nursing” the balls along the cushions. The climax came in 1890, when Jake Schaefer, Sr., made an unfinished run of 3,000. Such playing as this made the game boresome to spectators. To enliven it and increase attendance at professional matches, the “balk-line” game was invented. Chalk lines were drawn on the table parallel to the rails; when the two object balls were in the same “balk space” between one of these lines and the rail, the player had to drive at least one of them across a balk line in order to score. At first the balk lines were eight inches from the rails, but as the experts continued to make long runs, the distance was gradually increased to eighteen inches.

For championship play, the standard is now the “18.2” balk-line game, in which the balk lines are eighteen inches from the rails. The player is permitted to make one shot in which both object balls remain in the same balk space, but to continue scoring he must drive at least one of the object balls across a balk line with the second shot.

Balk-line billiards is too difficult a game to be really enjoyable for any but expert players, and straight-rail continues to be the favorite of the man who plays for recreation. It is emphasized in college billiards because it is the game that should be mastered before the player takes up balk-line or three-cushion play.

THREE-CUSHION billiards, a lively and spectacular game, became popular about twenty-five years ago. To complete a shot, the player must make the cue ball strike the two object balls and also strike a cushion or cushions at least three times. It is so difficult that the world record average of runs, made by Johnny Layton in playing for fifty points, is only a little above two points. Young Jake Schaefer’s world-record average of runs in 18.2 balk-line billiards, in playing for 1,500 points, is 93-3/4.

Pocket billiards is our old and sometimes faintly disreputable friend “pool,” under a new name devised to remove it from popular confusion with horse-race-betting pool rooms and the less savory of the old-time “pool parlors.” It is played with a cue ball and fifteen numbered object balls of different colors, on a table provided with six pockets. The player scores a point each time he drives an object ball into a pocket by hitting it with the cue ball, or with another object ball that he has hit with the cue ball. It is considered the least difficult of all the varieties of billiards games.

But how is it possible to play billiards by wire? Peterson’s system of telegraphic competition is based on the “key shots”—fundamental shots of the game. There are twenty key shots in straight-rail billiards, twenty-four in three-cushion billiards, and fifteen in pocket billiards. Some of these shots are illustrated in the drawings.

CHALK lines divide the standard 4-1/2-by-9-foot tables used in this novel form of competitive billiards into thirty-two squares. Printed diagrams are sent to each competing college, showing how the balls should be placed in these squares for the various key shots. Players are permitted to use these diagrams in practicing for the championship tournaments.

At the start of play, the referee places the balls in accordance with the diagram for the first key shot. The lead-off player on the team attempts this shot. If he makes it, he continues to play as in ordinary competition until he misses or until he succeeds in making ten shots. This play after the key shot has been completed emphasizes the importance of the player planning ahead to get the balls into position for successive shots. Each shot the player makes counts one point for his team. After all five members of the team have played the first key shot, the referee places the balls in accordance with the diagram for the next one, and so on until all the key shots have been played by all five players on the team. The referee then telegraphs the team score to the director of the tournament. After all the scores have been received, the director telegraphs the team standings back to the competing colleges. Ties between teams are broken by play at five or more key shots selected by the tournament committee.

THESE key shots used in intercollegiate championship tournaments are of interest and value to all billiards players who are willing to devote some effort to increasing their skill because they find it more interesting to play a game well than to play it badly.

Billiards is the most scientific of all ball games because it is the ball game in which luck plays the smallest part. As Peterson proves in his exhibitions of trick shots, there are no impossible billiard shots. If any shot is played correctly, he insists, it will be made. If even the simplest shot is played incorrectly, it will be missed.

The first thing that a beginner in billiards should learn is how to form a firm “bridge” with the hand which he places on the table and with which he steadies his cue as he makes his shots. Peterson advises this method: The tips of the thumb and index finger of the left hand —if the player is right-handed—should be placed together so that a circle is formed. Without the middle finger being bent, it should be moved down as far as possible toward the palm of the hand. The tip of the cue should be slid through the circle formed by thumb and index finger, and rested on the middle finger a little above its middle joint. The circle formed by thumb and finger should be tightened until they touch the cue lightly. Then the hand should be placed on the table with the fingers well spread and the heel pressing down firmly. Some of the weight of the body should be on the bridge hand. A bridge formed in this manner will support a weight of twenty-five pounds pressing directly down on it. It may be lowered by pushing the fingers forward on the table, or raised by drawing the ends of the fingers in toward the palm of the hand.

THE length of the bridge is the distance of the cue ball from the hand. Too long a bridge brings the thick part of the cue over the hand, and is likely to cause an inaccurate shot. Too short a bridge is likely to result in a poky, feeble stroke. Most shots are made with either a six-inch or a seven-inch bridge. A good grip is as important in billiards as it is in golf or tennis. The cue should be held near where it balances, which ought to be close to the forward end of the wrapped part of the butt. It should be held lightly so that it rests on the first two fingers and is held securely by the thumb. The other fingers should not touch it.

In making the stroke, the wrist action should be free, and there should be no arm action above the elbow. As in a good golf swing, the player shouldn’t feel his muscles at work. But the stroke, no matter how gently it may be made, should be decisive. As Maurice Daly, perhaps the greatest of all billiards teachers, used to tell his pupils, every billiards stroke needs a little “damn it” at the instant that the cue tip comes in contact with the ball. Following through is quite as important as it is in other ball games. To play good billiards, Peterson says, you must always keep your cue on the line of aim and follow through.

FREQUENT miscuing is a trouble that besets nearly all billiards beginners. As the cue’s leather tip is a curved surface, and the ball is both curved and highly polished, naturally it is difficult to bring them into firm contact. Over a century ago a Britisher, Capt. Jack Carr, discovered that chalking the cue tip enabled it to “bite” sufficiently for the player to make a firm and if desirable a forceful stroke. Since then, all billiards players have chalked their cues frequently while playing—many beginners too frequently and too much, for excessive chalking defeats its purpose by forming a loose buffer between the cue tip and the ball.

What the cue ball does after it has been stroked with the cue depends on where the cue tip comes in contact with it. If it is stroked above its center, it will have a forward spin, that will cause it to “follow” after it hits the object ball, as it does in key shots Nos. 1 and 2 in the drawings. If it is stroked below its center, it will have back spin that will give it “draw,” and will go back, or to one side, after it has hit the object ball. If it is stroked to either side of its center it will have side spin or “English,” which will lengthen or shorten the angle of its rebound from a cushion, depending on the side on which the English is applied. English may be combined with either follow or draw. In key shot No. 3 it is a combination of draw and English that causes the cue ball to go to the side cushion after hitting the white object ball.

IN THIS year’s tournament, the team championship for three-cushion billiards was won by the University of Wisconsin, for straight-rail billiards by Cornell University, and for pocket billiards by the University of Florida. Several players of real promise have been developed in the colleges under the stimulation of intercollegiate play, which promises to establish billiards as a recognized campus sport.

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  1. […] a circle is formed. … English may be combined with either follow or draw. … More: BILLIARDS by WIRE | Modern Mechanix ← Play Better Billiards or Pool by Sophie Beck How to Play 8 Ball Pool: Billiard Tips […]

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