When this psychological tactic is well-played, your first thought is to wonder if your opponent really might be insane. On second thought, you might consider whether he might live a more fulfilling life under 24/7 supervision. Finally you realize that if this was a serious problem, someone else would have handled the situation long before today.
In this hustle, your opponent is shadowed by his invisible friend with whom he has continuous discussions about the game. He carries on analysis discussions with his companion as he develops various strategies and tactics. His conversation goes something like this:
"Well, George <name picked at random>. What do you think?" <pause for an invisible answer>
"I like that. If I start with the 3 ball with some top left I should be able to line up on the 4. And a short draw should get me to the 7 ball. Pretty good idea." <pause for an invisible comment>
"That's right. Half speed should do it. I don't want to hit the ball too hard." <pause for another invisible comment>
"I'm glad you agree." <pause>
"What?" <pause> "Yeah, I keep forgetting to do that. Thanks."
And he gets down, runs through a regular set-up routine, and fires off the shot.
The trick can be further enhanced by a clever hustler. It is extended into heated arguments about tactics and shooting choices. He may even have a tiff resulting in a length of silence. Periodically, he says, ”I’m ignoring you. Go away.” If you ask about his "buddy", you get a response similar to, "I'm not talking to George. He's too damn stubborn for his own good." The tiff is fixed up as the match proceeds. Then the conversations continue.
He can even include you in this shark – as a topic of discussion. They talk about you as if you were the invisible person. The conversation proceeds along these lines, "Who am I playing?" <pause> "Oh, sorry. I didn’t introduce you. That's <your name>?." <pause> "What do you mean he doesn't know how to draw?" <pause> "Oh yeah, he did blow that shot."
Any questioning as to who his quiet friend is leads to a refusal to provide details. The success of this distraction depends on his ability to act in character. Even when poorly done, the play-acting keeps you from fully focusing on your game.
That’s all he needs to do with this trick – keep you from focusing your total attention on winning. Remember, just because he acts crazy, doesn't mean his playing ability is also weak.
If you want to pursue the passive reaction to this shark, simply enjoy the conversational exchanges. Ignore the behavior; just proceed at your best speed. His efforts can’t distract you if you don’t get pulled into his act.
If you find your attention moving away from the table and onto his activities, you need to be proactive. The most effective response is to participate in his dialog.
Wait for an entry into his conversation, and then try something like, "No, no. He's wrong! With that stroke you're going to end up over in the corner. Use a medium hard stroke at 4:30 and go back and forth to end up on the 4 ball." Make sure all of your conversation contributions are real suggestions. Just sticking in your two cents with any silly statement gets you glared at by both your opponent and his invisible friend. The idea with proactive participation is force his attention away from the table – a good counter-measure.
This also forces him to place more effort into maintaining and defending his distractive efforts. While he is burning up his limited attention span, you can advance towards the win.