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THIS chief of indoor games, which requires forethought scarcely less than chess, with dexterity of manipulation and control of nerve infinitely greater, has lately attracted much attention; indeed it has been said that interest in the recent match between Roberts and Peall is second only to that felt in the reopening of the Eastern Question and the attitude of Greece. Realising this, we propose to gossip in an irresponsible way about the game and its votaries, whose ways shall be considered as they strike the student of human nature in the billiard-room.

The origin of the game is decently shrouded in the mists of antiquity, and so far all attempts at revelation based on labour in libraries have proved to be vain and profitless. The simple and perhaps not less satisfactory solution is to assume that research will fail for the sufficient reason that record is wanting, and that modern billiards has developed and is developing from some game with balls played first on the ground, in the open or in yards, and afterwards promoted to a table indoors. Its history is checkered, and cannot be said to have a clean defaulter sheet in early life the game seems to have flourished in the highest society, for kings and courtiers played, but later on it penetrated to a lower stratum, got into bad company, and acquired an evil reputation. In fact, as recently as the first half of this century it was respectable in private rooms only, the public room being often "the last refuge of a scoundrel" too idle for honest work, but ready to prey

on the unwary. Whether many such sharpers are still to be found is doubtful; not because human nature is better, for there are plenty of people as ready as ever to gain what others may lose and not too particular as to the means employed, but because the pigeon has evolved much sagacity in the matter of selfself-preservation. Instead of being gently taken in by the traditional rook who lets him win two half-crown games and proposes to play for a pound, our developed dove, after touching the silver, is apt to remember a pressing engagement elsewhere. Nevertheless the sharper's business is not wholly gone, nor will it cease so long as the supply of fools lasts, and that is likely to be for some time to come. It is carried on chiefly in public rooms and in those of hotels whenever a victim sufficiently conceited can be found, but the process of plucking is usually on a small scale, accompanied by smoking drinking. When opportunities arise for a greater coup, the scene is transferred to a private room, as better befitting the graver occasion.

In clubs, too, the billiard-rooms in which occupy a position, so to speak, between those in a private house and public rooms, certain people no doubt add to their small incomes by their skill. They generally prefer pool or pyramids to billiards, play decidedly better than the average of their company, and are ludicrously quick to discern the advent of a player better than themselves, when they either stop altogether, preferring the cheaper

excitement of looking on, or discover the attractions of a love game at billiards. But no sooner has the Napoleon disappeared than the smaller fry are back again, all the keener for their temporary abstinence. Still, billiards has advanced greatly in respectability; all sorts and conditions of men, and ladies too, play, and find the interest of the game, which they are only beginning to understand, sufficient without the inducement of a money stake.

Under favourable circumstances, when the atmosphere is not saturated with tobacco-smoke and the fumes of beer and spirits, there can be no question that the game, in moderation, is good for mind and body; it may be learnt when young the sooner the better - and may be played in But at the same time,

old age. the devotion it requires, if more than ordinary excellence is to be attained, is perhaps a drawback, for time is limited, and should be wisely apportioned. If, after work or business is provided for, the balance for recreation is subdivided between many games or pastimes, the share which can be given to billiards is insufficient to secure even moderate proficiency.

It is this, no doubt, which accounts for the vast difference between the form of amateur and professional players. The latter begin for the most part as markers, and after years of work pass their fellows and emerge as players in public and teachers.

These considerations, however, need deter no one from trying to do his best, with the reasonable hope, if he has any natural aptitude for crime, that he will succeed in amusing himself and in interesting others. For it is to the credit of billiards that spectators are interested only in a less degree than principals. Sometimes the game pure and

simple deserves attention; far oftener, however, the exhibition of human nature offered to the observer will repay study and afford satisfaction and gratification to every well-regulated mind.

Before passing the various types under review, it may be desirable to gossip on comparatively modern developments of the game. If an ordinary man whose experience extends over ten or twenty years is asked, he will probably reply that the elder Roberts invented the spot-stroke, and that his son discarded it and discovered the secret of nursery cannons-adding, perhaps, if he knows what it means, that he is also the author of the push-stroke, which he will condemn as foul with a certainty in exact proportion to his ignorance. Now, curiously enough, a somewhat careful examination of the books on billiards of the first half of this century leads to the conclusion that though tables and implements generally have been vastly improved, yet the game has not altered as much as might have been expected. Kentfield's matchtable at Brighton was apparently as difficult as any championship (i.e., 3-inch pocket) table now in use, and many of the strokes are shown to have been played much as we play them. His book was published in 1839, and in it the statement is found that the introduction of the red ball is of recent date, the older game having been played with two white balls only. Each player's object was to pocket his adversary's ball and to keep his own on the table. Play was alternate, irrespective of success failure. That was called the winning game. In the winningand following game the player continued his break till failure, but in both he lost by pocketing his own ball, just as is the case at pool or pyramids, and thence arose


the term losing hazard. The winning-and-losing game, in which both sorts of hazards are scored, was the next development, and is, in fact, the present English game. About Kentfield a friend writes:

"I can just remember the old man, and was, when a child, a member of his subscription-rooms at Brighton; he was commonly known as 'Old K.' The essence of his game lay in losing hazards and delicate strengths, the latter more or less a modern feature in his day. His largest break was 196, and his greatest number of spotstrokes 57. During the last fifteen or twenty years of his life he rarely played away from his own table-a very difficult one. K.'s play in his later years was almost entirely confined to games with members of his rooms, he playing the one-pocket game, at which he was wonderfully good. His knowledge of the angles of the table was extraordinary, and

his two and three cushion cannons were wonderfully accurate, as also was his play at balls behind the baulk-line. He was a clever man of considerable general information, and a good gardener. His rooms at Brighton attracted the best amateurs of the day, but latterly custom fell off, and he died anything but a rich man, early in the seventies, I think."

One of Kentfield's most devoted admirers was Mr Edward Russell Mardon, who in 1849 published a book on billiards, the first part of which is chiefly a description of a match he played with Mr Porker, who gave him 25 points in 500. It must of course be remembered that 25 points meant a good deal in those days, so much indeed that he has illustrated his account of the game with nine diagrams of his final break of 25 points. The break, if the diagrams are even approximately accurate, is a remarkable one, for no single stroke is played correctly. Mardon, however, never was a fine player, though probably he defeated most

amateurs he met. He himself says, "My game, though difficult to beat by those who will not condescend to play defensively, would nevertheless be termed, by the generality of players, a 'pottering game." This is a result to be expected if play is chiefly on a very difficult table.

observations," one cannot fail to Looking at his "diagrams and be struck with the great similarity of the strokes to those now played. A sound game then is still sound, and the strokes that are new are comparatively few. Under the title "A Cannon of great service" nurseries are described, not of course with every modern development, but the principle is there, and he remarks with complacency that he has made as many as fifteen. He played the spot-stroke, and clearly discerned its importance; there is also a diagram which shows that the push-stroke was played and taught in Kentfield's day.

In one respect Mr Mardon may claim to have been a remarkable player, for Mr Russell Walker recollects having seen him, when eighty-nine years old, make fifteen consecutive losing hazards in the middle pockets, a great performance at that age. Even if his age is unwittingly exaggerated, the achievement is a remarkable one for an old man. He must also have heard many stories and much gossip concerning the game and players, and one regrets that he did not record more. He mentions a gentleman recognised formerly as the "Dutch Baron," who by retreating judiciouslyin other words, by concealing his game gained signal victories, winning every shilling from a "gentleman who had returned from India with a considerable fortune." Could the Dutchman be any relation of Mr Coxe

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Tuggeridge Coxe's acquaintance, Baron von Punter, who when defeated for shillings on a provincial table remarked, "Id is de horrid dables; gom viz me to London and dry a slate-table, and I vill beat you"?—which he effectually did, having bet what he called "bonies" on the game.

Again, when writing on the importance of a knowledge of strength, Mardon tells the following story, which has a distinctly humorous side, though that did not apparently present itself to him. He was playing with an acquaintance, and had so learnt the strength of the table that his antagonist had no chance, and said he would play no more:

"The proprietor of the room, fearing his departure, thus addressed him: 'Try once more, sir; I will endeavour to prevent it.' After the play for the day had ceased, he removed the lower cushion, and, placing it for the night before the kitchen-fire, so softened it and increased its speed and power that the strength which had previously only taken the object - ball to the centre-pocket carried it into the baulk! I remember perfectly well frequently exclaiming, 'Why, what ails the balls?' but many months had elapsed ere I was informed of the dirty trick that had been played."

In those days the feather-stroke was much practised; Mardon calls it extremely serviceable, and thus describes it: "When either of the balls is so near the baulk-line as to be pronounced playable, the player's ball must be placed as near to it as possible without touching, and then by a push the striker can hole his own ball in the corner pocket as often as he pleases." This stroke is sometimes called the "quill," and is forbidden by the rules of the present Billiard Association,—a somewhat useless prohibition, we are inclined to think, for the position is so seldom attainable in a

game that the practice necessary for making a considerable break from it is unlikely to be undertaken.

It is unnecessary to say much concerning the strides made by players since Kentfield's time. It should, however, be recollected, when one is disposed to contrast to their disadvantage the modest breaks of old days with the great ones now common, that not only are implements improved, but the tables are often much easier. John Roberts of Manchester, who succeeded Kentfield as champion, was a marvellous player. He had a genius for the game, great physical powers of endurance, and for about twenty years, from 1849 to 1869, he could give any one a third of the game. He may be said to have been succeeded, and doubtless surpassed, by three men, Cook, Bennett, and his son, the present champion. Of the first and the

last there is no doubt of the

superiority; opinions may differ as to the second-named, though it can scarcely be contended that he ever was really in the class of the other two. Still, each in turn held the championship on the pattern of table and under the rules devised when the first match was played, till at length the younger Roberts so completely passed all rivals that since 1885 no candidate has been found adventurous enough to challenge his position, which has been unconquered since 1875.

Now, though the chief interest of a spectator in a billiard-room should be the play, yet it often happens, the performance with the cue being so poor, that compensation must be sought elsewhere. And to tell the truth, though a player of experience who happens to be looking on can learn little in the way of instruction, yet if he keeps eyes and ears open he may

obtain a vast amount of amusement. The antics of the players, not to mention the running conversation they so often affect, displaying an appalling ignorance of the elements of the game, are passing strange, and they vary with different types. Of these let us try and recall a few. There is the very careful man who seems to derive more satisfaction from seeing his opponent in difficulties than from scoring on his own account. He is fearfully slow and deliberate, with a strong propensity for potting his adversary's ball and playing a double baulk. When he succeeds in this enterprise his satisfaction is ineffable and his port is lofty; if he wins the game, the company may not improbably be favoured with a few words on the beauties of defence, and on the rashness of attempting difficult strokes. He is exasperating to play with, especially if favoured with luck, but he is never really formidable; the games he wins from better players are secured not by his skill but by their irritation. He is seldom a popular opponent, and spectators generally welcome his discomfiture the more heartily should it proceed from the next type, who may be called the fluker. A greater contrast there can scarcely be-carelessness opposed to cushion-crawling. Any cue will do for this gentleman-the heavier the better; and he does not spare the balls. He calls his strokes shots, and is surprised if people complain of his luck, which, he explains, is in the long-run the same for all. Not satisfied apparently with the fluke positive, when in the full bloom of his career, if he does not score he secures the fluke negative by contriving to leave to his opponent a position of complete safety. The fluker is sometimes a happy-golucky good-humoured fellow, who,

when some impossible event is achieved, looks round with much complacency, and eventually comes to believe that he played for the stroke or for safety, as the case may be. When the extreme improbability of his having tried for something is brought home to him, as likely as not he will explain that he played for two strokes at once, knowing that if he missed the one he must get the other! Occasionally, however, and very often if deserted by his luck, the fluker is cantankerous enough,the boisterous and somewhat oppressive good-humour being quickly changed for an uncommonly sulky gloom.

Another contrast is to be found between the old hand and the novice. The former need not be a good player, but he is acquainted with the ways of the place, and is able to take care of himself. Sometimes he is an old officer, not wholly deserted by the ways and manners of the service, of few words, and attentive to his game. On the other hand, he may be some one who has retired from business, fond of a game though not skilful, and full of anecdotes, which he will relate with gusto between the puffs of his cigar or pipe. The old hands are generally courteous, and have a reasonable respect for the etiquette of the room. The novice is apparent at every movement; if alone, he generally contrives to enter the room at the wrong moment, to saunter about when he should stand still, and to talk when he should be silent. There are many varieties, some genuinely anxious not to offend, and others careless in that respect, but both generally before long very keen to play. And in that stage they have the satisfaction of manifest improvement, which gradually vanishes as each comes to his best.

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