(This is today's bit of advice from the book Safety Toolbox.)
Amateur leagues that have national or regional tournaments often use handicap systems to allow better and lesser skilled players to compete on a somewhat level playing field. A lesser player needs fewer points to win. A better player must work harder.
For example, in the American Poolplayers Association (APA) rules for their version of 9 Ball, a "1" (lowest of skills) only needs 14 points to win the match. A "9" (highest), must make 75 points. In 8 Ball, the handicap is based on the number of games that must be won. A "7" against a "2" means the higher handicap must win seven games, compared to two games.
The APA tracks the innings played in a match and declared defensive shots (also known as "D's"). That is used to assign handicaps. There is similar tracking of innings and D's (defensive shots) in the APA's 8 Ball scorekeeping.
Record-keeping is how handicaps are determined. These different skill levels determine the required number of points or games that win the match. Over time, a player will stabilize at a certain skill level and only advance as his skills slowly develop.
There are always players who attempt to "game" the system. These individuals use various tricks to hide their speed, skills, and abilities. This is reminiscent of the times when hustlers and road players traveled around. They disguised their abilities in order to "fool" their opponent into making ill-advised bets.
The goal of these players is to get their team and themselves to the championships for a chance to win thousands of dollars. Because this is a recognized problem, most league operators and owners make a significant effort to identify those who attempt to slip through the cracks. There have been some newsworthy removals of teams who were caught.
There are a lot of tricks that these players use. Below are many of the more common tools used to fool the system. And this doesn't count the outright cheating. Check with long-time league players who can give you a long list of techniques and tricks.
For the sandbaggers, these techniques are used ALL the time. Such individuals are naturally devious and attempt to carry on the traditions of sharks, hustlers, and others with low intentions. The more you know, the easier it is to catch these types of idiots.
This is tailor-made for a sandbagger. A shot is lined up to look like a real effort to pocket the ball. In reality, his entire concentration is on missing the shot and moving the balls into a safety play. This does the following:
- Adds another inning to the score sheet.
- Plays a safety against the opponent
- Hides his abilities.
Sometimes a player wants to maintain a lower than deserved handicap. He runs through a lot of innings early in the match. He turns on the juice near the end.
He starts out by making a few balls, then dogging several in a row, making sure his opponent has few opportunities. This can run up a lot of innings in the first two-three racks. Only when the match is near the end are the true abilities used to take the win.
Sharking techniques are very common. Unless you say something when you notice them being played, an opponent can take this as implicit permission to carry on. It can be any number of techniques. These are some examples:
- Continuous joking and friendly commentary to distract you from concentrating on the game.
- Fidgeting and moving when they are in your shot line of sight.
- Tokens of sympathy on missed shots to focus your attention on the failure.
The great majority of players do not intentionally attempt to shark you or otherwise distract your attention. Oftentimes, if someone does this it is more accidental. Most players are there to have fun during an enjoyable evening. (When you do spot someone doing these tricks intentionally during league matches, report them to their captain or the league operator/owner.
For a more detailed listing of the various sharking tricks, the book The Psychology of Losing - Tricks, Traps and Sharks provides information about the vast majority of sharking attempts, with the added advantage of providing you with ways to stop them from working on you. The knowledge can even turn these tricks against the poor sucker who tries to shark you.
This information helps you become aware of what can be done by others. It is important to recognize the various means and ways that people use in their attempts to gain an easy and cheap victory. You can even craft responses to stop their efforts.
Here are several ways to beat such a player:
- If he is smart-missing, take every opportunity to start a safety battle, until a mistake is made to your advantage. Make a special effort to make his life difficult.
- If he is doing an inning-pileup, advance yourself at every opportunity. When he tries to run for the win, limit his opportunities with distance and bad angle shots.
- If he is sharking, make a big deal about it every time he pulls it. Call out to rail birds and other observers. Ask for their opinions about his behavior. Embarrass him into quiet submission. (This response will shake him up and help you win.)
Take pride in performing your civic responsibility to keep sportsmanship in the sport of table billiards.