What Killed Straight Pool?
|The BCA's straight-pool championships were the biggest in billiards, bringing the top names.
9-Ball, network TV and the boredom factor
Straight pool was the only type of pocket billiards that typically made it to TV prior to the 1960s. America's high-prestige pool tournaments featured the game and nothing else; the sports greatest champions - Greenleaf and Mosconi - were exclusively associated with it. And both were gigantic draws: Thousands attended their matches during the 1940s.
But pretty much anyone who knows anything about anything agrees on this one point: 9-Ball makes for better TV. 9-Ball to easier to understand (Ed Kelly calls it "connect-the-dots pool"), and it encourages crazy, balls-to-the-wall shot-making. 9-Ball is also a game that gets played rapid-fire - quick enough to easily edit for television.
By contrast, a good round of safety play in straight pool can bring blissful sleep to anyone caught loitering in the tournament hall. The game is cerebral, dreadfully slow, and while really quite difficult, it looks deceptively simple to the untutored. Thorsten Hohmann, the 2003 world 9-ball champion, says the game is great as a practice tool - but makes for wretched television.
And this from a guy who loves straight pool.
"Straight pool is dead for TV," Hohmann says simply. "It's boring when you have a great player, and he plays perfect position, and he has great break shots. Then it's really boring [to watch] - especially for people who don't know what's going on. It's a great practice game for professionals, but nobody would watch it.''
BCA Hall-of-Famer Eddie Kelly, one of pool's great all-around masters, agrees. "Suffice to say, the reason why 9-ball is the most popular is that it's the easiest to understand. The public knows that when the 9-ball goes, it's over. The game is won. But with the other game - people who can't appreciate it and have no knowledge of the difficulty, go to sleep watching it."
So that's the simple answer from Kelly and Hohmann and a host of others: 9-Ball is more exciting to watch than straight pool, it makes for better TV, and hence 9-ball led to straight pool's demise. But I think that's only partially right. At best, I believe 9-ball was but a co-conspirator.
Evidence also suggests that 8-ball put a knife in the back of the champion's game.
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