How to Fix Pool

Posted on 15. Jun, 2010 by in Ask the Billiard Coach, Equipment, PoolSynergy, Tournament Reports

PoolSynergy June 2010 Edition:  How to Fix Pool

Jake Dyer, the June host has picked a topic that is near and dear to me.  “How to Fix Pool.”  See his introduction and links to all of the PoolSynergy articles on his topic here: PoolSynergy Volume 8.

This column began as my May PoolSynergy column entitled “My Poolosophy.”  Apologies to Poolriah and the rest of the PS gang for skipping a month.  A few days before the May submission deadline, I looked forward for the June topic and I stopped in my tracks.  I love this game. It is my living too.  Instructing, selling cues, competing, and writing/photography has been my full time job for the last five years.  My finger is on the pulse of the pool scene in the upper Midwest.

Here are some relevant posts on the Billiard Coach Forums. The Twin Cities lost SIX pool rooms in the last couple of years. 2009 Pool Room Obituaries.

Before the holidays at the end of 2009, I wrote a short article that was published by two regional billiard magazines about how players can make small choices that could add up to big improvements in their local billiard scene. Read it here: Five Ways You Can Help Our Local Billiard Economy

The following article for contains a three pronged approach that I have been crusading for the past couple of years has been to do anything I can to slow or stop the downward spiral of the game I love.

Part I

Equipment matters– Cues, tips, chalk, balls, cloth, tables, pockets.  The game is difficult enough under perfect conditions.  We don’t need double tough conditions making the game seem impossible to new players.  These days, pool rooms are helping kill the game by letting their equipment go bad, and buying used equipment from auctions of out of business pool rooms, etc.  or even not air conditioning properly in the Summer to save money on electricity.  These tough playing conditions do incredible damage discouraging players from sticking to the game.  One tough session where they never run 2 balls in a row sends possible players running for the hills or bowling alleys.  I do a lot of work with Peters Billiards, a leading billiard retailer in Minneapolis.  I used to think that it was crazy that they were selling tables with 5 1/2 inch pockets to rec room home players and their families.  Eight foot tables are the de rigueur. Now I realize this easy playing equipment is the best choice for most beginners and their guests. At least they can pocket balls and develop skills that may lead to some family member coming into the pool room looking for a worthy opponent or perhaps to enter a tournament.

For more info on Equipment Matters, see a future article I’m writing.  The information will detail how worn and dirty cloth make the game so much harder.  Chalk stuck in the cloth will soil freshly cleaned and polished balls more quickly.  Dirty balls throw and skid more. They also wear more quickly, becoming grittier and smaller.  All of this friction makes playing the game of pool much more difficult.  Pockets play tighter and the physics of the game become harder to predict.  Bad equipment can make a table play much less forgiving for slight miss-hits and unintentional spin put on the cue ball. All of these things make it tough for capable players, just think how high of a hurdle this puts on the rank beginner!  Stay tuned for more on this topic.  Link will go here when it is written.

Bar boxes can have even more unpredictable challenges for players.  Lousy cue balls and mismatched rails. See http://www.billiardcoach.com/home/2009/11/19/billiards-big-table-to-bar-box for more on that mystery.

Part II

Education matters–  As an instructor for 15 years, I’ve been doing my part to introduce the game to new players.  Players that contact me for coaching have a spark of interest in the game.  I feel obligated to fan the flame and create some excitement for them to improve because we all know the better you play, the more enjoyable the game is.  I do my best to teach techniques and ideas that will help them become a better player feeding the pool of seriously addicted players. All players should really try to spread the word and show some enthusiasm. Word of mouth can help the game go viral.

For more info on Education Matters, see THIS ARTICLE. (The Most Important Thing)

Part III

Enticement matters– Playing great pool is a very difficult task.  People have thousands of choices in sports, recreation, and entertainment nowadays.  If we are to grow the sport of pool, there ought to be some kind of financial reward for playing better.  Here, I go into detail about how tournaments at all levels should be professionally run, give players a satisfying experience, and a fair payout given the money it costs to enter.  Same thing with pool leagues.  If loyal customers (i.e. League Teams) are treated poorly and shaken down for their hard earned dollars with practically no chance to win back a decent payout at the end of the season, they will not stick around to be bled dry. Common sense, give league players a fair shake, ala Tony Robles’ terrific league start up in NYC.


I drafted an angry article in October of 2009 about the difficult chicken/egg situation with local players and room owners.

(Note:  I really ran out of enthusiasm for this article before finishing it.  Furthermore, I thought it was really too grim for publication. Its inclusion here is only to illustrate that the three fixes I propose do have real problems to target.)

Is pool dead?  Who killed it: The Chicken or The Egg? (Temporary Title)

Article/Blog Post by Mike Fieldhammer, written but unpublished in October 2009.

Good tournaments are going the way of the dodo.  How can the Twin Cities area become a metro area with a large number of pool players and excellent pool rooms without a number of great weekend pool tournament at least once per month?

I hypothesize that we have a circular cause and consequence.  In other words a vicious circle.

vicious circle
n.

  1. A situation in which the apparent solution of one problem in a chain of circumstances creates a new problem and increases the difficulty of solving the original problem. Also called vicious cycle.

The logic of these examples might need some refinement, but I hope the big picture is clear enough.

  • Players think that tournaments are poorly run and pool rooms are taking advantage of players. They think entry fees plus table time compared to the prize structure and payout is unfair so players don’t attend tournaments. Pool rooms think players don’t care about their tournaments so they hold them infrequently, run them sloppily, and structure conservative payouts.
  • Players don’t play well enough to win a pool tournament.  The player who doesn’t get any tournament experience doesn’t learn to play well enough to win a tournament.
  • Pool rooms don’t make enough in table time to recover their tables twice a year. Players don’t get to play on decent cloth but for one month a year, so they think the pool room doesn’t care about the condition of their cloth.  Players then don’t take care of the pool room’s equipment.
  • Players new to the game never get to play on decent equipment.  New players never get to play under ideal conditions so they don’t get bit by the pool bug to become lifelong enthusiasts.
  • Pool players feel like they’re being taken advantage of by the pool rooms, so they don’t spend money freely on food and drinks.  Pool rooms think pool players are cheap and they don’t deserve nice tournaments with money added on great equipment.
  • Pool tournament advertises huge first place/huge money added.  Players are wary so show up in fewer numbers than they normally would. Pool room announces at tournament, because of lack of attendance and support of pool players, they are only adding half the promised/advertised money.  Next tournament stung players stay at home. Pool room promises even less added money for the next event and still adds less than promised…

All of these vicious circles can be argued both ways.  Pool in the Twin Cities is in a deep dark funk.  I believe there is probably a twelve step plan to restore pool back to its’ former glory.  I remember when there were $500 or $1,000 added events every month.  Old issues of Chalk Talk magazine make my head hurt.  One issue from ten years ago has no fewer than 6 different individuals winning $2,000 or more in one month that was chock full of tournaments.

Galveston Example of pros and amateurs getting screwed goes here.

Detail the ‘night club’ issue here.  This is horrible.

Detail bar and pool room that is number one in leagues, but doesn’t hold a single weekend tournament for years.

Detail a pool room in the south end of town struggling for higher tournament attendance.

Go into the player’s responsibility.  See the article “Five ways…”

Go into the pool room’s responsibility. Don’t schedule a tournament to conflict and crush a competitor’s event on the same day or weekend. If tournament participation gets better, it will benefit all of the rooms in town. Send your players to their event and they’ll send you theirs for your event.

Summary. My suggestions. Donation.  Wrap up and encouraging words.

(End of disparaging rough draft)

For more info on Enticement Matters, here’s another salty draft that I just couldn’t pull the trigger to publish. This one was from a couple of weeks ago.

Pool Tournaments:  Problem and Solution

Attendance at tournaments has been dwindling.  Some recurring events have been cancelled. Those that have been running for many years have had attendance nosedive.  A few new events have been received with a lukewarm response or metered with criticism. League play in my region is down. Veteran players seem to have quit leagues or often committed to play the bare minimum to get qualified for certain tournaments.  The exodus of the top players from the league make the whole system suffer. Shining examples of top play are rare which doesn’t help the lower level players improve. Lots can be learned from matching up with a much better player. New shots, strategies, and techniques are witnessed and absorbed. Players with desire can be inspired to bring their game to the next level. Or even pushed harder and made better without even realizing it.

We must find a way to get the top player involved and exposed to lower level players.  It is a two way street. Lower level players must realize the importance of competing against better players.  In this environment of handicapped tournaments and leagues, some players just won’t enter anything they don’t feel they have a chance to win. This is robbing themselves of an opportunity to grow as a player.

Rooms and promoters must change their attitude and get along with their competition.  Sure, rooms on opposite sides of town are competitors, but they are also partners. Some rooms have a killer instinct that drives them to schedule a pool tournament on the exact same day as another room has already announced an event.  This splits the players into two groups and both tournaments are smaller and less successful.  This is hurting both pool rooms and the community in general. If players don’t have a good time at either event, they may skip the next one.  Pool rooms need to understand that if room x has a great event one weekend, room y has something to build upon for their event the next weekend.  Tournament promoters should be encouraging their players to compete in their competitors pool tournament.  It shows that they are interested in cultivating a thriving and growing tournament scene and their friendly competitor will reciprocate by sending some of their regulars  across town the next weekend.

If tournament payouts aren’t restructured and improved, players will not continue to attend. There was a time years ago that if you got a round or two into the money, you had your weekend expenses covered.  Now days it is common for players to have to finish third to break even, second to make a small profit, and first if they were to have enough money to really feel rewarded. For example, enough money to buy a new break cue, or take their family out for a nice celebratory meal.

It is so tough nowadays, that recently our team won the Minnesota State ACS Masters Team event. There was only 4 teams. The division right below wasn’t much larger with only 5 teams.  At the end of the long Saturday in April, we made a profit of $206 each.  The event started at noon. We could have driven the 4 hours in the morning but that would make for a long day. One guy on our team did drive up and back in the same day.  He left home at 8 am Saturday and got home at 3 am Sunday morning.  For the rest of us, 2 nights hotel and fuel makes it a money losing weekend.  Sure we won an event and that is intrinsically rewarding, but to spend money on leagues, equipment, ACS  dues, fuel, hotel, time away from home, etc. and to lose money isn’t inspiring. It is doubtful that our team will even bother to return next year to defend our title.

This isn’t just a selfish money issue for me.  I love competing in tournaments.  If they don’t grow, there will be fewer and fewer to choose from. In the bigger picture, will players really spend years playing pool and practicing for a chance to win tens and twenties of dollars?  I think not. If there isn’t some sort of decent payoff in some future pool tournament, people just won’t have the drive to become accomplished players.

I have got to say I’m still scratching my head over this one. The Predator Group (Predator/Poison/Uni-Loc) has given cash to a tennis tournament.

AZ Billiards Press Release Link:  http://www.azbilliards.com/2000storya.php?storynum=7687

Sure, it is for their poster boy Charlie Williams, but couldn’t they find a pool tournament to add money or a cue to pump up the prize fund? I mean, Charlie himself says he’s playing more tennis than pool.

I get that it’s a local club, but it isn’t some non-profit cause or something that I would applaud them for their donation. Besides, don’t a lot of the American Professional tennis players live in Florida? Wouldn’t you think they or their industry could cough up some dough for some local tennis tournaments?

Forget about it, I’m going to try to hit up the US Tennis Association or some racket manufacturer to donate some money to a pool tournament. Thanks Predator Group for opening the door.

(End of disparaging rough draft)

Conclusion

To sum up, the three problems I see contributing to the double dip pool recession we’re in are:

  1. Poor playing conditions
  2. Beginner/Intermediate players unaware of instructors and learning materials
  3. Lack of financial rewards in tournaments and leagues

It is easy to see why the top golfers in the world dedicate their lives to playing better golf.  They can make millions of dollars per year if they succeed.  Pool could become more popular and get pulled out of the doldrums if just one of these three problems had significant improvement.  I could only dream of the heights the sport could reach if all three of these diseases were cured.

3 Responses to “How to Fix Pool”

  1. John Biddle

    16. Jun, 2010

    Wow, you really unloaded! Each of the 3 problems you see is caused (in part at least) by lack of money. To bring in more money there have to be more fans, simple as that. Sponsors and promoters live and die by that.

    Not sure how to fix that, but I think it’s the real key. But potential fans today have so many other options it’ll be hard getting them back to pool. Not impossible, but tough.

  2. Mike Fieldhammer

    16. Jun, 2010

    John,

    Yes, I unloaded. It has been a festering sore for quite some time. Sorry for the 2,600+ word count.

    You’re correct about the lack of money as a common thread in each of the three problems. I don’t think the solution is as simple as just increasing the number of fans.

    Most fans are at least casual players. Their interest has come from their enjoyment of participating at some level themselves or cheering on a friend or loved one. I believe more players yields more fans.

    Sponsors are traditionally from “Within the Industry” so they too would like to see the fan growth from more people playing the game. i.e. More potential customers. Now if Starbucks was a sponsor, just butts in seats will do.

    Promoters (I am one) I believe would like to see more players and more money in the event. The IPT was mildly successful because it offered such large prize funds. Huge prize funds draw the world’s best players into the event. Spectators will pay the $10, $25, or more gate fee to watch players compete for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Broadcasters (e.g. EuroSport) will also be interested in airing a tournament with something to hype. Not simply a couple of guys playing for $800.

    Just my opinion,
    Mike

  3. […] The above excerpt is from a huge article I wrote last year.  More thoughts on the sad state of pool can be read here: “How to Fix Pool.” […]

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