This is a very common shark. In fact, many players don’t consider this to be a shark – just part of the normal competition environment. It is used so often, that this tactic seems to be embedded into normal pool playing culture in barrooms and pool halls across the world. Most players use this routinely. When informed that it is a sharking trick, they would deny this vehemently. You might even be asked if you aren’t defining sportsmanship too narrowly.
Here is how the pool hustler applies this shark in competition. Early in the match, he sets the condition of his talking during your turn with compliments on successful efforts. No compliment is too minor. He must first establish his “right” to speak after you make a shot. Once his verbosity is considered acceptable, he can implement this shark.
Very quickly, usually around the second or third game of a match, he does not limit himself to the simple “good shot” statement. He is a bit wordier, adding on an additional qualifying sentence. This starts as a dual compliment – for example, “Good shot. You are on target today.” or “Pretty good. You are going to make it tough for me to keep up.”
At the mid-game point of the match is when he can begin modifying his comments, and including statements about a few unsuccessful efforts. He assumes the normal sober sorrow and apologetic demeanor that a supporter or an ally would have upon identifying a failure to perform. His considerate words are offered like this:
- First, “That was a good try.” Sympathetic put-down, “Maybe if you used a couple more practice strokes.”
- First, “You almost made that work.” Sympathetic put-down, “Don’t hurry the shot and take your time.”
- First, “Aw, man. You were robbed.” Sympathetic put-down, “That should have been yours.”
- First, “I wish I could give you a do-over.” Sympathetic put-down, “You don’t deserve to lose from such a small error.”
- First, “You almost had that.” Sympathetic put-down, “I think you didn’t follow through properly.”
- First, the Maxwell Smart trademark line “Missed it by that much.” Sympathetic put-down, “Maybe if you adjusted your stance.”
Players on the receiving end of this shark are usually too deeply mired in disappointment. They don’t recognize the two-edge, two-faced sympathetic responses to shooting failures.
You missed a shot and now he’s at the table – AND, he is sympathetic to the miss – AND mashes your face into your lack of success. You suffer personal disappointment, and have to hear his sympathetic remarks. After a half dozen times or so, you might start considering suicide – and he walks away with the match.
Key to handling this shark is to quickly recognize it. One proactive approach is to put excessive effort in thanking him ever so much for caring about you. Be over-enthusiastic and more than a little sarcastic. An experienced hustler spots when this trick isn’t working and stops it (and begins another tactic). An amateur wannabe takes a while to get the message. Make a big deal about it, so that his failure distracts his game.
One of the nice things about attempts of sharking is that you have just received his tacit approval to use sharks during the match. You can push the same trick back at him, with more applied enthusiasm and more details sympathetic statements. This is not going to directly help your game. If successful, he is the one whose game disintegrates.
For example, here is a standard proactive response, “So close, yet so far. You really could use some practice on that shot. I know this instructor who can help you with that problem.”
When he starts sending glares of irritation or starts hitting the balls harder than usual, you are succeeding. If possible, make additional sympathetic statements with a bright and cheerful smile. The occasional, “thank you for helping me” also helps.