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Nice Guys Finish... Ahead of Me

I play billiards in a weekly league, at a pool hall near Fenway Park. I've been playing there for a few months now, and I've come to realize something about myself:

I can't beat the nice guys.

Luckily, there aren't a lot of people in the league -- or the world, for that matter -- who are obviously, genuinely 'nice' at first glance. And I do okay against those other people. I don't always win, but I hold my own. I think it has something to do with motivation. Let's take a trip through the opponent list; I'll show you what I mean.

"Hey, buddy -- that encyclopedic knowledge is nice and all. But it can't make that cut shot in the side pocket for you. How unfortunate."

The old guy who thinks he invented the game: He expects to make every single shot, and leave the cue ball within millimeters of his intended target. I'm sure he's played -- or at least read about -- all of the various pool, billiards, snooker, and bumper pool variations. It just makes it that much more satisfying if you manage to put him and his ego away. Hey, buddy -- that encyclopedic knowledge is nice and all. But it can't make that cut shot in the side pocket for you. How unfortunate.

The in-game trash talker: He doesn't seem to think he'll make every one of his shots; he apparently just doesn't expect you to sink any of yours. His favorite digs are, 'Unbelievable!' and 'You lucky son of a bitch'. The most fun you can have with a guy like this is to play along if you're winning. I like to grin after every shot and say, 'Garsh, I didn't think that would actually go in!' One good asshole deserves another.

The shifty-eyed sandbagger: In our league, we have a rating system. the higher your rating, the more concessions you have to give to lower-rated opponents, to even the playing field. Players are periodically evaluated, and moved up or down depending on how their game compares to their current rating. One jackhole has used this to his advantage and gamed the system by finagling a low rating. In a normal game, he plays about as well as the rest of us -- which means he usually wins, because of the chips stacked against his higher-rated foes. When the league people come around to watch, he's a whole different player. He 'can't' make a shot, forgets when it's his turn, and half the time, he uses the wrong end of the cue stick. I'm surprised he doesn't strap on a safety helmet and a pair of pot holders, and aim for an even lower rating. I think he knows he'd probably get a cue ball up the hoohah if he fleeces the rest of us any further.

The bored boyfriend: This guy's obviously too busy chatting with his lady friend to pay attention to a silly game like pool. Never mind that he's in a pool league, or that it's been his turn for the last ten minutes, or that he can't remember whether he's solids or stripes. Thankfully, when he finally deigns to grace the table with his presence, he usually misses his shot. That's good for everyone involved -- he can go back to chatting, I can play the damned game again, and the guys on my team can go back to staring at his girlfriend's ass, now that her man's otherwise occupied again. Sweet.

The shark in sheep's clothing: Ours is a co-ed league, and many of the women attending are quite good. Many of them are also quite attractive. (Or so my unmarried friends tell me.) So it stands to reason that there are a few 'ladies of the cloth' who are both. Some of these girls spend their off-league nights playing -- and hustling -- pool on the very same tables. There's no shame in losing to them, because they're very good -- except if you do, you'll feel like a sucker just taken for fifty bucks by a pretty smile and a two-rail bank shot. And I didn't come to a pool hall to feel all dirty. Not that kind of dirty, anyway.

The guy with the fancy gear: Most of the people in our league bring their own cue stick. There's nothing wrong with that. I personally don't own my own cue, because I think there's a level of proficiency you should reach before you lug personal and paid-for equipment to a sporting match. Most people in the league certainly rate bringing a cue stick. But this one guy goes way further; he's got a whole ensemble going. The cue stick, the case, resin for his hand, his own chalk, a fancy shooting glove -- I wouldn't be surprised if he's got special 'pool shoes' and comes to league night wearing a cup. The best part is -- he's not really very good. I've seen people with sweaty palms and detox shakes beat him using the crooked house cue sticks. He's not exactly getting what I'd call a 'return' on his investments. Maybe he's wearing that cup too tight.

All of those people -- many of whom are much better shooters than I -- provide ample motivation during a match. I don't 'hate' any of them, per se -- but for a couple of hours every Tuesday night, I have no trouble pretending. And with a little luck, things may turn out in my favor.

Then there's: The nice guy.

I hate playing the nice guy. His angle, his strategy, his whole approach is just so... insidious. He makes jokes. He shakes my hand before the match. He even asks how my week has been. The scoundrel!

And then we play. We seem to be fairly evenly matched. We make a few, we miss a few; every game is neck-and-neck and down to the wire. But who wins?

He does. The nice guy. Every. Single. Time.

There's no way to get motivated to beat this guy. It's just not possible. His ironclad, bulletproof defense is that you can't hate him, not even a little bit. If I'm ever going to beat him, I've got to find some chink in that armor. Maybe I'll hire a private detective to dig up dirt on him. If I knew he cheated on his taxes or doesn't separate his recyclables, then maybe, just maybe, I could work up a competitive lather and kick his ass.

Probably, though, the P.I. would come back and tell me he volunteers at a soup kitchen and donates half his paychecks to an orphanarium. And then where would I be? Isn't a pool hall supposed to be a haven for shady asocial misanthropes? You know -- like me? Who is this fricking guy?

Permalink | Comments (1)


Oh man, I miss pool. I even have a cue. And I haven't played in about 7 years. I wonder if it's turned to dust yet.

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