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Practice Room 107

Playing By The Golden Rule, Or Not

opinion by John Woods


What if you are in a dangerous circumstance and have no choice but to rely only on your knowledge of all the rules everyone else is playing by? At first, how would you know? What rules safely yield success?

All you could do is rely on the most general rules, such as: don’t flirt with someone’s date…except, when you want to really annoy an opponent during a match, (make sure its very, very innocent).

In general, most of us understand that’s a bad idea; it breaks major rules. Things could get way more dangerous than just being a stranger in a strange land.

For our safety we limit ourselves to specifications that contribute to success. That’s the purpose of rules, to help us safely and fairly win.

The rules of pool, like everywhere else, depend on who is writing the rules. But even with the distinctions among different sponsors, most start out the same. One consistency is upfront rules about appropriate behavior, and the most important is: be a good sport.

Friends may with humor enjoy sharking, to add a little fun and pressure to otherwise inconsequential shots. Friends often role play characters during a match, knowing that when its over they will return to who they really are.

When playing for something with strangers in an unfamiliar location, being a good sport may be critical to survival. You never know when things might get weird.

You cannot fake being a good sport. With everyone watching, you will get caught. Whatever it is you have to bring it with you. That is the practical, critical essence of being a good sport. It is vital.

Sport fits into a relationship between people and their community. It is often thought of as a separate part, distinct from home-life or work-life. Underlying these distinctions among people are individual characteristics of personality, such as honest, trustworthy, and wise, or the opposite. A player’s good character demonstrates respect for the sport, its participants, and its variety of rules.

There are different rules concerning being a good sport. Some affirm it is not required that a player declare their own fouls, and except for the shooting player only a participating opponent or tournament director may choose to declare a foul.

In direct contrast, golfers emphatically associate declaring one’s fouls with personal honor and respect for the game. No doubt, so do the majority of pool players. But we accept that is not always the case with other “major sports.” 

So then, what honor is there when under the rules, a player chooses to not declare their own foul? Perhaps that logic links to the Fifth Amendment, or like chess, to the historic underlying feudal warfare metaphor that empowers players with the omnipresence of a field commander. No one expects a supreme general to announce a weakness or an error to the enemy.

If that is the mythic metaphysical metaphor, some may agree it is exactly the same for the reality of billiards and pool. In the real world everyone declares fouls on everyone else. No one expects anyone to jump up and declare their own fouls. If that were the case, traffic court would be backed up for decades.

It may fairly be understood with no other designated referee if an opponent fails to call a foul before the next shot then no foul occurred, (unless, of course, the shooting player chooses to declare a foul).

Spectators may think otherwise. They might consider the rules authorize the non-shooting player to declare a foul. Given no call, as spectators view a foul obvious to them, means a “designated referee” failed to make the call. Like baseball and basketball, it is not the shooting player’s fault, but rather the non-shooting player’s, that no call was made.

From the spectator’s point-of-view, it is no different than a missed ball or failure to get shape, and no more than the story of the game or match.

From the player’s perspective, it’s all about honor and respect until it gets down to military metaphors and who wins what. That is when being a good sport is a most important, critical part of a player’s strategic plan.

Copyright all John Woods 2009/2010

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