In my high school years I'd skip school and go to the local pool room. Entering it for the first time was a rite of passage that occurred when I was fifteen. The minimum age was supposed to be sixteen, but as long as you were not a troublemaker, that was pretty much ignored. I was too small to be a troublemaker. When I reached seventeen I was 5'7" and 115 pounds.
I saw young men and some boys I knew to be two or three years older than I, learned to attach to faces names I had only heard in conversations at school, and was largely ignored by everyone except those I already knew, until . . . one day I entered wearing a shirt with thin black and orange vertical stripes. Immediately, one of the older boys addressed me as "Tiger," and the nickname stuck. After that, I was known and accepted by everyone there.
The pool room had five pool tables and one billiards table. For some reason the owner, a man in his sixties, took an interest in me and offered to teach me to play billiards - on one condition: I would not play pool during this learning period. I agreed and got some invaluable lessons. If you play billiards you can skip the next three paragraphs - you can skip them if you don't play billiards too, but you'll lose a little perspective.
In this game the table had no pockets and there were three balls: a white ball, a white ball with a black dot, and a red ball. Each of us would have one of the white balls as our own "cue ball" and the object was to make a point by making your cue ball hit both the other white ball and the red ball in either order. To make your first point, you had to hit them both without your cueball touching a cushion (you could hit a cushion, but not until after your cue ball had hit both the other balls); to make your second point your cue ball had to hit one and only one cushion before hitting the second ball. Thus, you could hit one ball, then a cushion, then the other ball, or you could hit a cushion and then the two balls.
If you made the point it was your shot again, and now you had to hit two cushions before hitting the second ball. We played to fifteen, which meant that to win you had to make a shot involving hitting fourteen cushions before hitting the second ball. I've only done that a couple of times and I never did beat my instructor, but I did lead him at as high a score as eleven (ten cushions) once or twice.
That was the game we played while he taught me, but there are other variations, and the most commonly played there was three-cushion billiards.
Finally, he said I could play pool again. What I had learned on the billiard table was transferable to the pool table. That is, I had learned to play position, which involves not only knowing where your cue ball is going to wind up when you make a shot, but making it wind up where you want it to. It also involves knowing where other balls are going to wind up and sometimes it involves making them end up where you want them.
I was never the best pool player there, but I was in the top quartile instead of the third or even fourth quartile, where I would certainly have remained without the benefit of schooling in billiards. Since all games were played with side bets, this saved me quite a bit of money, both there and in later years in bars with pool tables.
(In those later years, a happy coincidence made a great deal of money for me in bars. During my years in Germany, bumper pool tables were commonly found in bars, and I learned to play there. A few years later, after I was out of the Army, bumper pool experienced a boom in US bars, and there were fish everywhere. We'll discuss that in a later post or two.)