Felt on the Table
by Craig Constantine

The game of pool pervades the country. Most people I talk to love it or hate it. Few believe me when I talk about its pervasiveness, though. The game originated a long time ago somewhere else, but that's not the point of this article. An Englishman put the first piece of leather on the end of a cue, and everyone thought it was the Second Coming the way he seemed to defy physics. But, that, too, isn't the point of this article. Today, pool is a high-tech game with thousand-dollar cue sticks, micrometrically precise spheres, hundred-dollar per square yard felt, artificial slate, and TV cameras. Today, pool gets air time on ESPN, and some professionals actually make a reasonable living from it.

What really fascinates me is the other side of pool. The amateur side, the "just for fun on a Friday night" games. Millions of people (believe me or not) play pool just for fun. We play in grimmy (and not so grimmy) bars around the country and in beautiful, casual clubs. We play on coin-operated tables that are crooked and on top notch Brunswicks in the basement that smell expensive. Top ten myths about pool

I'm a pool junkie. I love the game. I read books about the game. I study the physics of the game. But most of all, I play every chance I get. In my travels, I think I've seen everyone play. My grandfather slams the daylights out of the poor pool equipment, and my father mops the floor with me. I've seen couples play doubles and hustlers play singles. The styles are so varied, I can't begin to classify them. People slam, finesse, calculate, and flail.

Every pool player, casual or committed (mentally or otherwise), is drawn into the game by something different. Pool is a game that really requires nothing from its participants. In reality, if you smack the balls around long enough, random collisions will clear the table for you. In the meantime, you can have fun with your friends. If you have a reasonable pool stroke (which takes about 10 minutes to develop with some reasonable pointers) or a copious amount of luck, you can win and lose with the best of them.

There is something fascinating about the collisions of those spheres. I think it's the stout defiance that the game presents to its players. "The balls are stationary, there is no physical exertion required, and I have six pockets to choose from... how hard can this be?" It can be impossible, simple, tactical, and strategic. The beauty of the game is its simplicity. The hold of the game is that it offers something at every level.

The sense of accomplishment when everything goes where you wanted (maybe just close, or perhaps it just stayed on the table this time...) makes it fun. Every single game is different, and there is something to be learned from every game. The most endearing lesson I've learned is "It ain't over till its over." The other lesson is that I can't get hussled if I don't bet to begin with.

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