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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: 107
October 2023

By George Fels
[Reprinted from November 2003]
This is the one column I always wondered if I’d live to write. Some guys want to write the Great American Novel, some want to see the Great Wall of China, some want to photograph sharks up close, but almost everybody has one goal that towers over the others. Mine was simultaneously more modest and more grandiose than all those: I wanted to run 100 balls one more time.

I gave up dating a few years back. I don’t go to the movies much anymore. Just about every single weekend goes to the pursuit of the century run, anywhere from three to five-plus hours per night. I do have a table at home, and that’s where my last 100 was authored (14-plus years ago, at 4 a.m.), but my site of choice today for dream-chasing is still Chris’s Billiards in Chicago. The tables are slightly faster there, and the humidity is far better controlled, thus the cue ball “bites” the way it’s supposed to. I almost never play anyone else, just straight-pool practice, and a number of the locals get a kick out of how worked up I can get over it. But, as with many aspects of my live, that would be awfully difficult to change.

Now, I have little doubt that the goal would have been reached long before this if someone other than I were doing the counting. After all, I’ve had at least three separate runs of 99 in the last few years, perhaps twice that many excursions into the 80s. The real — and realistic — objective of my practice is to run 50, at which I’m successful between one-third and one-half of the time. But once a run begins to build, awareness becomes the arch enemy, an evil species of ball-to-ball cautiousness creeps in, and sooner or later the cue ball limps into trouble.

As little more than a reasonably advanced hobbyist, then, what weapons do I carry into this quixotic battle? Of course, I was a better shot-maker when I was younger, but my mental framework back then was quite hopeless. I was still shooting balls into the holes when I should have been heeding both Jerry Briesath and Mark Wilson and simply focusing on controlling body and cue. I “associate” balls, for position patterns, far better now than I ever did. And as an editor of this magazine for 23 years, I’ve been privy to some of the best instruction the billiards world has ever seen. I’ve picked up something from every contributor to these pages. Mike Sigel, for instance, proved conclusively to me that two-rail position is underrated; Danny DiLiberto taught me that side-pocket key ball shots are overrated, and both those tidbits were big, big helpers. (DiLiberto’s favorite pattern, in fact, is to leave a ball in the rack area for his key ball, and then play two rails around the break ball for position. His rationale is that the angle is always working for you; also, if you get too straight on the ball in the rack, you can always just fire it in and accept ball in hand behind the headstring for your break.)

The only problem with accumulating that valued knowledge is that it can leave you at risk of analysis paralysis. There comes a time, after all, when the mindless cue ball must simply be sent at an equally mindless object ball (even though there are maddening moments when they do seem to have minds of their own). As many players do, I try to get the conscious thinking done while I’m still standing erect and shut it down when I get into stance; my results are about as even as the ocean’s surface during a typhoon. I grapple with mental letdowns halfway through a great many racks (the frequency with which I miss with eight balls left has had me flirting with psychosis). Some nights I’ll create six or eight separate runs of two racks, or slightly more, and then hit a wall with an idiotic shot selection, poor execution, or a horrible roll. And August 14, 2003, didn’t even seem like I was going to be even that good. I had run 28 exactly once in about two hours when the magic began.

Normally, I will stop and rerack all the balls upon missing; it makes keeping track slightly easier. This time, though, I missed with seven balls left and, for no particular reason, decided to run off the remaining open six before reracking. Six racks later, I was at 90, and I remember thinking it was probably a psychological edge that I didn’t need the full rack to reach the finish line. The break shot I had left myself was about as ideal as I could ask for, a thin cut that would send the cue ball smack into the top two balls; it figured to open up at least half the rack and quite likely more. “You’re going all the way if you make this break shot,” I told myself, forgetting to substitute the far more useful “when” for “if.” When the ball went in and just four object balls were left clustered, my cheerleading modulated to, “You’re gonna do it.” I could have cinched the 10 open balls, but I ran the entire frame correctly. For the last four balls, I was softly chanting, “You did it! You did it!” as though I had just kissed the Prom Queen, or completed Hell Week with the Navy SEALS, or maybe both. I made the next break shot and two more balls; yes, I missed an open shot and yes, there were other balls open. But it didn’t seem to matter in the slightest.

Are there any worlds left to conquer? Well, I did it once; you’d suppose I could do it again. But it’s been 14 years since the last time, and I may or may not have that kind of time left. For now, though, there is not history-making blackout, no Al Qaeda, no crooked cops or pols, no wicked priests, no deadly illness, no world strife. The geezer finally went for three digits.

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