(FAQ) What is Gamesmanship & Sharking?

(About the Author)

Random House Dictionary definitions:
gamesmanship - 1. the use of methods, esp. in a sports contest, that are dubious or seemingly improper but not strictly illegal. 2. the technique or practice of manipulating people or events so as to gain an advantage or outwit one's opponents or competitors.

shark - 1. (v) to obtain by trickery. 2. (n) a person regarded as ruthless.


Gamesmanship (also known as “sharking”) has been around a long time. In billiards, complaints and accusations have often been made even at National and World Championships. In the 1800’s, one accusation was made against a competitor who was improperly using an overly large handkerchief. Another complaint was made about a couple of spectators who were generating excessive cigar smoke. You can walk into any pool hall in the world and within minutes identify a variety of sharking tricks.

How does this apply to you in your sporting adventures on the Green Table? The purpose of any shark is to split your attention between two or more things - your game and anything else. When this happens, you are being sharked. It doesn't matter that the diversion is initiated by someone else or generated from within yourself. Anything that divides your focus can be considered a shark.

The concept of bending an opponent's mind has been around a long time. It is so pervasive in the world that Sun Tzu incorporated sharking and gamesmanship into his "The Art of War", and that was 2,500 years ago. Do you think that there were no psychological sharking tricks and traps going on at the first Olympics? These were the guys who came up with the Trojan Horse - an ultimate shark if ever there was one.

Sharking can be very subtle. You can begin to question whether someone is using gamesmanship to affect your way of thinking. If you spend too much time wondering about it, you begin to assume that someone saying "hello" is a shark attempt (and it might be). Paranoia is one of the health risks of seriously studying competitive psychology.

On the other hand, some players see gamesmanship mastery merely as a standard competitive skill – as necessary to the game as pocketing and positioning balls. They include these efforts in their overall strategic program, carefully tailored to their competition. Each attempt to confuse an opponent is chosen after careful analysis and then applied with precision.

These players do not see this as cheating, but the use of a tool applied with the same finesse and style as any defensive or offensive tactical decision. They have a very large library of gamesmanship tricks. Their choices and options that can be adapted to the competitor's personality and playing style. Compared to the gross approach, they prefer destroying their opponent’s focus with the gentle tap of a carefully placed psychological chisel.

Everyone has a set of these tricks they have adopted and adapted over their lifetime. Some are intentional, many are unintentional. Pointing them out is usually answered with shock at being accused and vehement denial. After much explanation, they are appalled to realize that they were bending the concept of sportsmanship.

However fiercely you may cling to the high ideals of upstanding sportsmanship, the reality of the world is that gamesmanship is everywhere. You can best respond to sharking situations with intelligent actions instead of emotional reactions. You can directly confront intentional efforts and justifiably request that action be stopped.

Skillful and knowledgeable play or a lucky roll is NOT sharking. It is bad sportsmanship and poor manners to accuse anyone of sharking when they are simply better players.

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