A level playing field
During the course of my travels along the highways and byways that Snooker has taken me I have often heard the complaint that ‘the table is not level’. In my time as a cue sports centre manager, which included table maintenance duties, I was often requested to test out this complaint and to put things right when and if necessary. The number of times I had to level a table against how many times the complaint was made turned out to have a very low ratio.
This led me to try to think of what else could be causing balls to deviate from the straight and narrow if it wasn’t the inconsistent heights of all parts of the playing surface.
The first and obvious one to any experienced player and one not so obvious to those who are still novices, is the directional lay of the cloth. Many complainants were surprised when it was pointed out that a ball travelling against this nap of the cloth, especially if the ball were travelling at a low speed, would curl away from a straight line path as the resistance of the nap gradually took hold of the ball and that it would behave very differently when struck at greater speeds against the nap or at any speed in other directions. A cloth that is not new but not that old will still have a decent nap on it but will also have picked up sweat marks from hands and fingers which raises the nap quite significantly. Any decent sort of nap will hold these marks which can be seen as finger width streaks of a slightly darker colour than the rest of the cloth. These marks, if not treated by brushing and ironing, while certainly not causing a ball to move off a straight line of themselves, can still influence which way the ball will deviate, either right or left, as it slows.
Some of the complainants were quite experienced players who certainly knew of this nap issue, but their complaints still proved to be groundless in regards of how level the table was, so other things had to be considered.
Tables with cloths that have been in place for a little time will develop what look like moth holes, or small areas where the top level of the nap is missing even though the ‘hole’ doesn’t go all the way through the cloth to the slate. These are caused by the cue ball being struck very low to create back spin and in following through the cue will come into heavy contact with the cloth and can easily take the top layer of nap off in isolated areas in the course of this action. There will then be parts of the surface that are not completely level in microcosm even though the table itself is not uneven.
Some tables suffered from a little neglect and had not been re-clothed for a longer time than they should have been and when they were eventually rewarded with a new cloth it was discovered, in the process of removing the old one, that between it and the slate bed of the table there was an enormous build-up of chalk dust. This blueish green dust did not cover the slate evenly but lay in streaks going every which way. There was also a remarkable build up underneath the positions of all the spots in the shape of a distinct circular bump. Was it possible that this dust laying in streaks and small spots under a very worn out thin cloth was one of the causes of the problem. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing but it is certainly something to think about and could be another factor to consider when assessing the importance of good table maintenance, which of course includes re-clothing at regular and reasonably frequent intervals.
Whilst acknowledging that this reason is unknowable and maybe some would say even a little far-fetched there is still the fact that level tables were being complained of as not being so. Perhaps even simpler reasons could be found.
One of my favourite expressions is ‘think outside the square’ and applying it to this problem prompted me to ask what other factors are involved in achieving a good outcome when playing a stroke on a Billiard table. The two things that immediately spring to mind are the condition of the balls and the cue action of the player. I believe the latter to be a huge factor regarding this problem and players with even basic skills know how much swerve can be imparted by striking the cue ball other than centrally and highly skilled players can play masse´ strokes that can send the cue ball travelling along extremely exaggerated curved lines. Could the person making the complaint be inadvertently putting side spin on the cue ball by a suspect cue action and be the real reason for the suspicion that a table was not level?
The balls are also a testable factor and those that show distinct wear by the amount of chips in them can be replaced to eliminate another possible reason. The cleanliness of the balls could also be a contributing factor and is the reason a good referee will always clean balls with gloved hands at every opportunity, when colours have been potted or balls have been pocketed and especially when balls have landed other than in a pocket or on the table bed, e.g.
Stick on black spots are another testable factor - did the moving ball travel over one that needed attention? Any that don’t allow a ball to sit centrally without movement can be replaced by a new one or a pencilled cross.
So there are a few factors that could cause a ball to deviate from a straight line path but a table that needs levelling may not always be one of them.