“Do unto others…” 3-Cushion

“Do unto others…”

By Bert van Manen

Frédéric Caudron is still a young man (Jan. 1968), but he has experience beyond his years. No, this is not a quip about his love-life, and it has nothing to do with his business ventures. It is not even about those estimated 500 caroms a week for 30 years, matches and practice hours combined, which is three quarters of a million points in his memory banks. I am referring to just the last few weeks of his life, wherein two things happened that may never happen to another human being. For those who missed it, here are the plain facts.

In the group stage of the Agipi tournament, FC was playing long-time rival Dick Jaspers in a race to 50 points. After 7 innings, DJ was leading 26 – 2. After 15 innings for DJ (14 for FC), the score was 44 – 7. Final score: 47 – 50 in 24.

In the semifinal of the European Championship in Brandenburg a few weeks later, FC was playing Marco Zanetti in a race to 40. The Italian was leading 15 -3 after 6 innings (5 for FC), when Frédéric ran a 28, equalling the world record held by Komori, Ceulemans and (quite recently) Forthomme. Just minutes after that run, Zanetti was sent to the chair by the referee, because of a time violation. Zanetti understandably protested, because he HAD earlier been told the clock was not working properly and would be turned off, but he HAD NOT been told the clock was working again and had been switched back on. Caudron intervened, told the ref it was OK for Zanetti to play on. Zanetti ran a 13, closed with a 5 and won the match 40 – 37 in 12 (11) innings.

So Caudron was involved in two historic matches within six weeks, winning one and losing one against the odds. The numbers, in both cases, are so out of this world, you may want to look at them again. These are not balkline matches, where one player is at the table for an hour running hundreds of points while the other one is peacefully in his chair. We are talking about 3-cushion here, which is a fight between two heavyweights in a ring. They try to knock each other out with hooks, jabs and uppercuts. Well, that is how it used to be, in the old days.

Maybe you are new to this game, maybe you have followed it for decades. Either way, let me ask you two questions.

– How can you trail a guy like Dick tough-as-nails Jaspers 44 – 7, AND WIN? I am sorry, that cannot be done.

– How can you average 3.363, which is higher than your opponent averages in that same match, run a world record 28 in a race to 40, AND LOSE? I am sorry, that cannot happen, not in this universe.

Somehow, it did. We were watching both these matches on Kozoom, and felt like we saw water flow uphill.

Crazy things happen when players are under pressure. But then: “Pressure is a privilige.” It was tennis legend Billy Jean King who said that. She did in fact base her entire tutoring of Martina Navratilova on that principle. Does it have anything to do with billiards? Yes it does. As Dutch journalist Joris van de Bergh once wrote: “What is true in one sport, is true in every sport.”

The tension in these two recent Caudron matches must have been beyond imagination. Put yourself in Jaspers’ head, when you see a 44 – 7 lead evaporate. Run of 8, run of 20, run of 5, it’s like Chinese water torture. The few times you even get to the table, there is another unmakeable waiting for you and you cannot see a defensive shot either. Jaspers must have aged two years in a day. And imagine you are Caudron. You are playing – at this point in time – the most dangerous guy in the world, and you hit him with a 28. If that is not a knock-out, WHAT IS? This is not for a fee, this is not a league match, it is for the European title. Yes, it was a semifinal, but Rudolph (in the final) would be no match for either of these guys.

Frédéric, in the post-match interview, was pretty honest about the tension-factor. “Now I know how Roland felt at the 29th. I was not even nervous until the 26th point, then my body was suddenly shaking.” ET is human.

Pressure, more than talent, will in the end seperate the good players from the world class players. We’ve seen so many naturally gifted cueists stumble, one or two steps away from greatness. Names like Nelin, Loncelle, Tijssens come to mind. They have all the ability in the world, but they like things to be easy. If you have a talent, they are, for a while. Then the game turns into real life, and the pressure comes.

Marco Zanetti, Torbjörn Blomdahl, Dick Jaspers and Frédéric Caudron have not made a career for themselves by hitting balls and having fun in the sun. These guys have thick skin, hard skulls, and a pain threshold. Not only do they make the sport, the sport also makes them. I don’t have to tell you what nature’s inevitable end product is, when it piles on pressure THAT high.