My opponent was a good player and I would have to spot him a game on the wire going to five.
Such is league.
Throughout the match, I detected something was “off” – and it was not just my game (which had gone AWOL). I struggled in the match and could not figure out why my opponent wasn’t winning more. He was completely capable of running out but did not. Rather, he chose not to run out. He played many safes that demonstrated far more than a passing knowledge of three-cushion. In fact, he preferred playing safe to running out – even when the table was open and there were only three balls left. The score stayed close throughout the match, but I know, with his ability, he should have won long ago.
It was unsettling.
At hill-hill, I scratched when he had four balls left. He tried an unnecessary combination shot with ball-in-hand. I knew he knew that was not the right shot. He missed and left me safe. I shot at the eight, missed, and left him a wide open table to run out. He tried another unnecessary safety even though running out would be very easy for him. Bizarre. What was he doing? Didn’t he want to win? His team was in second place while my team was in seventh place. He needed to win this match to maintain his team’s standing. I missed the eight again. He tried another three-cushion style safe and that’s when it began to makes sense.
He’s screwing his team over for himself.
This player qualified for the National Singles Championships coming up in Las Vegas. It’s handicapped eight-ball worth $15,000 for first in his division. He’s a good player. He doesn’t want to move up to the next skill level because then he wouldn’t receive a one-game spot from the top players at that event. He’d have to play them even. That’s what all his safeties and non-running out was about. He was stalling. The increased number of innings and the artificial closeness of this match ensured he would not go up in skill rating before the big tournament (which is this week).
I play my best at all times. Even when I miss with ball-in-hand, there is no time I don’t want to win, and win convincingly.
Figuring out why this player decided to stall was saddening. I’d always regarded him as a nice guy and a good player. I understood his actions. I was initially irked about being toyed with in this match, but I returned now to being calm. Even though the score was hill-hill and this last game was definitely in his favor, I was fine with it all. I felt a little sorry for his team which he was blatantly sacrificing although they did not know it.
He played a safe that was not completely airtight and I chopped in the eight-ball to win for myself and my team. My win here, false as it was, still guaranteed my team’s victory over his team. He might not have intended for me to win hill-hill. He might only have intended for me to lose hill-hill. Either way, it did not matter to him. What was most important to him was that his skill level remain the same for another week.
We nodded silently at each other.
We did not shake hands.
I spent the rest of the evening pondering about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few and other uncomfortable questions found so often in pool and life.