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Practice Room 107

Could New Cues Cause the Industry to Scratch?

Reporting and opinion by John Woods


From it’s beginning as an American Revolutionary sport, pool may be characterized as a radically evolutionary social and cultural phenomena. Lots of change has happened very, very quickly.

Both in terms of play and equipment, a significant history of pool is about changes in the rules of play and changes in cues and tables.

In response to ever more qualified players, eight ball, nine ball, 14.1, one pocket, and all other pool games were invented primarily to enhance the complexity and difficulty of play.

The technology of building and maintaining cues and equipment evolved as well, adapting to new materials and to demands for higher quality and performance.

Recently, players have adopted specialized break cues and jump cues. This new level of sophistication represents another radical evolutionary change, as players move from having one or two cues to typically having a bag with at least three cues.

Now cue manufacturers are discovering new ways of designing and building the “hit” a cue’s shaft will demonstrate, allowing a player to choose a specific cue for the particular shot to be made.

Players may soon routinely select from a range of cues for various shots. Also adding to the range of possibility is “shot specific tip technology.”

Future serious players may assume it less than appropriate to have fewer than seven or nine cues available for use during a game just as golfers consider it less than appropriate to have fewer than fourteen clubs in their bag.

We may ponder this radical change in terms of our respect for history and tradition. But the history and tradition of pool demonstrates little respect for history or tradition.

The invention of pool was a very radical disrespectful change away from snooker and the aristocratic history of snooker. The only thing that remained the same was the use of a cue, cue ball, and table.

Surely, all this change in technology and play is good for the industry. But the answer may not be as easy for the players and the sport.

Sales to the most skilled and dedicated may end up causing a trend away from enthusiasm, the opposite of what everyone in the industry wants. Players may walk away rather than invest hundreds of dollars, or a few more thousand, in a bag full of currently competitive equipment. What would happen then?

A class system could emerge more distinct than any ever apparent in the history of pool, as few except professionals could afford to take the sport where no one else is willing to go, and the rest of us become awestruck or disinterested spectators.

That is not an uncommon comment about Formula One and NASCAR, both of which once shared a very broad heritage of popular enthusiasm caused in part by a spectator’s personal identity with the equipment and by the social history of those sports.

Formula One started out as a patriotic reflection of a country’s proof of engineering sophistication and dedication to innovation. Some say F1 has innovated itself into an esoteric state of ultimate decadence.

NASCAR shares a populist heritage going back to the Revolutionary War. Many of those who fought in the American Revolution and then the Whiskey Rebellion were driven without surrender into the hills and hollers of the South.

Their grandchildren hid their ‘shine from Revenuers and their great-grandchildren became hotrod bootleggers and Grand National drivers. While a very popular spectacle, NASCAR rapidly evolved well beyond its heritage into a diversified “formula sport” accessible to fewer and fewer participants.

How does pool’s heritage compare to Formula One and NASCAR? All three started with the participants and spectators on equal or nearly equal terms. All three historically demonstrate radical evolutionary change. But pool so far remains a sport in which almost anyone can reasonably aspire to be a champion.

The circumstance of very specialized cues being introduced may very rapidly change the sport; whether for good or not is as yet uncertain.

Copyright all John Woods 2009/10

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