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Tips & shafts
By George Fels
Consulting Editor George Fels has been writing for Billiards Digest since 1980, and his "Tips & Shafts" column is usually our readers' first stop when they crack open the magazine. For better or worse, pool has been his only mistress for 40-plus years.


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Best of Fels
 
October: Hello, Rack
October 2022

By George Fels
[Reprinted from April 2002]

This defies explanation.

Last November marked 48 years since I first set foot in a poolroom, but obviously you donít need that long, nor anywhere close, to become set in your ways. Those ways will be every bit as individualized as the players in whom they manifest, but for at least 25 of my 48 years, my own inviolable policies have been these:

Donít compete, in any form, without warming up first. Clearly thatís true of any sporting endeavor, although I do know plenty of good pool players who can simply assemble their cues and be fully prepared for combat. I am not among them, however, and generally will not even attempt to match up until Iíve hit the balls for at least 30 to 40 minutes. I have a structured, disciplined routine which includes specific drills in specific order. The reason it takes me that long to get loose is my long history with my other obsession, pumping iron. It seems an odd pairing, but the truth is, theyíre both extremely cerebral things to do, and theyíre also both quintessential loner activities. The successful completion of weight training makes you feel tight, whereas the essence of pool playing is to feel loose. Iím not musclebound, but it does take me longer to loosen up than most.

Donít attempt to play in any way, not even in practice, the same way you step off a plane. You might get away with a puddle jumper of a flight, but if you pass through as much as a single time zone, youíre dead. Since I donít claim to know what the dreaded ďjet lagĒ really is physiologically, I canít explain this, but I know for a fact that itís valid. The effect is said to be considerably worse when traveling west to east than vice versa, similarly inexplicable to me. The flight back to the mainland from Hawaii, for instance, leaves me feeling so horrible that it comes close to negating the joy of the vacation out there. But once, just as an experiment, I tried hitting a few balls at home within a few hours of arrival and found that on cut shots I was actually contacting the wrong half of the object ball. Thatís an extreme example, of course, but usually just a two-hour flight is enough to persuade me to keep my cue in the case for another 24 hours.

If you own your own cue, donít play with anything else. This one is practically self-explanatory, although again, any number of gifted players can bypass it. Chicagoans who ventured south for the first Johnston City tournaments of the early í60s returned home with tales of players matching up for $500 or more while reaching for a house cue on the wall without giving it a second thought. But again, thatís not me, nor even close. I own a number of cues, and which is my favorite tends to rotate; there are plenty of highly qualified teachers who believe you should play with various cues. But at least theyíre all mine, thus thereís a comfort level with any of them. Deepening the problem is my apparent addiction to Predator shafts, which I have for every single cue I use. Take me away from my own equipment, and you might as well be asking me to play squash.

But last October, I traveled to New York to visit my older son, Adam, for a weekend. Since he knows of my devout belief that Friday evening and a game of pool go together like peanut butter and jelly, he suggested we stop at Amsterdam Billiard Club to play a few games. I said sure; hell, it was still Friday night and a game with oneís son hardly carries any pressure, so why not? Owner Greg Hunt greeted us effusively and comped us for both the table time and a pair of fine rental cues (McDermott, I think, although I tend not to notice things like that on any cue not mine). I would have felt like a bonafide fool asking Adam to wait while I warmed up, so I plunged right in, thereby violating all my steadfast principles at the same time.

And I played the finest 8-ball of my entire life.

The first game, I broke and ran out. In the next two hours, I missed maybe six balls. When each of my sons (theyíre 11 years apart) was growing up, I would play them on our home table with the handicap of playing opposite handed; not only did it make the game fair within reason, but it improved my left-handed play considerably. I would generally see to it that my sons won every session, though not every game, to keep their enthusiasm up. But Adam is in his early thirties now, so that format has long since ceased to be viable. I ran out at almost every opportunity given me; one game, I made a cross-corner bank the long way ó normally no better than a 1-in-10 proposition for me ó while drawing the cue ball three rails the opposite direction for pinpoint position and yet another run-out. Was the table forgiving or tough? I wouldnít know; very, very few of my shots even flirted with the pocket jaws. Every time the poor kid missed, he would simply sigh, ďHello, rack,Ē and get ready to set up the next game.

I donít have a clue what the magic formula was. If I could bottle and market it somehow, Iíd be rich beyond my wildest dreams of avarice. But did it last beyond that weekend? (Or, since I played that Sunday too, beyond that night?)

Nah.

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