Saturday, October 15, 2011

PoolSynergy: When Sharks Attack

Welcome to the October edition of:
PoolSynergy is a blog carnival where several pool bloggers collaborate each month to write about a common topic.

This month I'm your humble host, and I asked fellow contributors to discuss their thoughts, experiences, and/or advice on what is known in the world of billiards as 'sharking'.

Sharking, in a nutshell, covers a wide range of antics that may be employed to distract an opponent while they're shooting. Sometimes it's visual, such as motion in the line of sight or at the edge of the shooter's peripheral vision... sometimes it's audible, such as a well-timed comment or other sound such as a cough... and sometimes it's mental, such as a comment that's intended to provoke thought well after it's originally made (presumably while shooting).

Of course not every comment, cough, or movement is or should be considered to be sharking. This is an important point, and please take it on board. I've seen more than one person get so hung up on this kind of thing that they drive themselves batty just thinking they're being intentionally sharked when they're not. Pool halls and bars tend to be crowded, noisy, distracting places and you need to be able to cope with that or you'll find yourself limited as to how far you can progress in the sport.

The best pool players have honed their concentration skills to the point that they can tune just about anything out. Take, for example, this video of Efren playing in a noisy, crowded bar:

Or how about this one where Earl runs out while there's still commotion going on after a large bucket full of water fell from the ceiling into the stands:

I guess my overall initial point is that "stuff happens" and the better you can tune it out, the better off you'll be whether the stuff happening is being done to intentionally distract you or not.

On the other hand, I'm convinced that there are players out there with serious ethical and sportsmanship issues who feel somewhere deep inside that they can't beat you without resorting to sharking in some form or another. These are the folks that you need to arm yourself against... while still being mindful that the actions may indeed be innocent.

So what to do? It's a good question, and in my opinion there's no single 'right' answer that covers every situation.

One of the more common distractions I've seen is idle chatting, and more importantly trying to engage you in conversation while you're at the table. Seems innocent enough - after all, pool is often considered a social sport as it's usually done in a (supposedly) social setting such as a bar or pool hall. Intentional or not? It's tough to tell, and I'd tend to say it's usually unintentional... but I know that's not always the case. The best way to deal with this is to simply tune them out if you can. Simply do not allow them to engage you in conversation! Do not talk back to them! Ignore them and concentrate on your shooting.

Another distraction I've seen is the 'table hugger'... the guy who's up at the table chalking his cue or whatever while you're trying to shoot. Again, sometimes this is simply someone with a nervous habit or otherwise clueless about what he's doing. If he's truly clueless, asking him politely to step away from the table or out of your line of sight should do the trick.

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a little more persuasion to deal with the situation. You might have to be a little firmer with your requests in order to get through. Do your best to keep your cool though! If you let it get to you, chances are it's having an increasing effect on your concentration (and game).

Another option that I've tried with known repeat offenders is to simply mirror them. Whatever they do at the table when you're shooting, do it right back when they're shooting. Don't exaggerate or "one up" them... just match them as closely as you possibly can - and do it in a casual manner too, rather that making a weird "see, I can do this too" expression on your face or something. I've found that one of two things will happen when you do this: (1) they'll say something to you about you doing it, which of course opens up a dialog in which you can politely request that they in turn refrain from doing the same thing... or (2) their sharky actions while you're at the table will magically 'disappear' without comment (and, of course, you should then do the same).

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