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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.


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May: Playing the Ghost
May 2020

Until just five or so years ago, the term “playing the ghost” was not part of pool lexicon. At least not a common phrase or concept. The term, of course, refers to creating competition when you are playing alone. Run out from the break or “the ghost” wins the game.

It seems like these days, however, the entire billiard industry — players, fans, cuemakers, table makers, poolrooms and retail stores — is playing the ghost.

Even magazine publishers!

This issue of Billiards Digest offers a handful of features about the sport and business as they negotiate the most terrifying, uncertain and otherworldly period of our lifetimes. What you won’t find in this issue is reportage on a single ball being struck in true open competition.

It has been an eerie experience putting together an issue from the dining room table of my Chicago condo. I’ve never worked from home before. I have learned that the refrigerator is far too close to the dining room table. During my first two weeks in captivity, I stood in front of the refrigerator with the doors open so often I think I was starting to get sunburn.

What I did learn, though, is that the pool community is incredibly tight-knit and remarkably resourceful. It really didn’t surprise me. I’ve known this for years. But I’ve never seen it in action like I have seen it during the past six weeks of shelter-at-home orders around the world. Players and fans have joined forces to create online training sessions, virtual tournaments and discussion sessions.

I was delighted to be part of a pool public service announcement that came together in a matter of days, with more than a dozen players from the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia chipping in with pre-scripted video appearances to deliver a message of encouragement and hope for the billiard community. To his and her credit, every player jumped at the chance to take part in this spur-of-the-moment idea, hatched on social media between a few top pros. It’s not inconceivable that the video could have easily included dozens of players and run on forever, such was the enthusiasm the idea generated. No self-serving comments, no sponsor plugs, no payoff beyond the knowledge that they were doing something inherently good.

Players have taken disparate paths in dealing with the isolation that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused. As documented in this issue, some have access to a pool table and are taking advantage of the table time as much as possible. But instead of simply improving their own games, players are using their access and social media to share their knowledge, something often lacking in sports.

Other players have used the time to take a break from the game. Niels Feijen, the first player to flee the Diamond Open and World 10-Ball Championship in Las Vegas to get back to his family in Denmark, built a rabbit cage and storage bench with his daughter, Lina. “Building things is good for the soul,” he said. America’s top player, Shane Van Boening, on the other hand, has spent virtually every day fishing alone on lakes in his native South Dakota. As a measure of just how long the quarantine has already been in effect, Van Boening started his fishing expeditions seated on foot-thick ice, fishing through a small hole. His most recent posts have been from his boat, tooling around the very same bodies of water.

Of course, while players and fans are finding ways to stay engaged or otherwise keep themselves occupied, the business side of the sport is fighting for its economic life. Some manufacturers are still in position to ship product if they are allowed to staff their warehouses. And some retail stores are scuffling along with online and phone sales, curbside pickup and some delivery/installation. But poolrooms have been completely shuttered and hundreds of employees have been furloughed or flat out laid off. As fixed costs (rent, insurance, etc.) continue to come due on a monthly basis, many billiard businesses will need assistance if they hope to come out alive on the other side of this crisis. Hopefully, the federal payroll protection plan will help. Still, a decent portion of billiard businessmen (delivery, installation, service, etc.) run cash businesses, which will make federal funds and emergency small business loans difficult to secure.

In short, we are all playing the ghost right now, and it’s hard to beat an opponent you can’t see. What we can do is take all of the positive energy and togetherness that has been on display through the early part of this crisis and use it to spur a mad dash to reclaim our sport and industry when we are given the green light to resume our normal lives. This is our game, and if we want to see it regain the momentum it seemed to have heading into 2020, we will have to storm the gates to play and watch, break down the doors to buy product and embrace billiards like never before.

Do we want it that bad?

I would like to think we do.

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