There are a few 3-cushion debates that will not go away, and they are all older than Myung Woo Cho. Why do they never get resolved? Too many people on opposite sides, too many (good) arguments available to both parties. Here's one: should we turn the music up, or down? And another: matches should be longer. No, shorter.
I'll leave those on the shelf, for today. But the topic is a third and equally classic subject: are the technical games a good preparation for a career in 3-cushion, or are they - for that specific purpose - useless? The world championships for juniors, with three Korean youngsters in the semifinals, make for a good moment to address that one.
In order to get some feedback, I created a little poll on Facebook. Nothing statistically relevant, just 61 people chiming in. Still, I was amazed at the way the votes were cast:
- A background in the free game, balkline or 1-cushion will be valuable in 3-cushion, later on. (39 votes)
- It is better to let juniors start playing 3-cushion, right away. (10 votes)
- I can't agree with either statement, it all depends on the player and no two players are the same (12 votes).
First off, I have to say that the vast majority of voters came from countries where the classic disciplines are the usual gateway to 3-cushion. So keep that in mind. But apparently, many players still feel strongly about the "schooling" they went through, the years they spent on smaller tables, playing the smaller games.
How would those poll results have been, I wonder, if I had posted it on a Korean website? Have Jae Ho Cho and Dong Koong Kang ever played the free game, or 47/2, or 1-cushion? I must admit that I don't know. But my guess is: they haven't. And without that background, they are still wonderful, disciplined, technically refined 3-cushion players.
In our western-European thinking, we associate balkline with good technique, we think of controlled speed, straight cueing, physical discipline. We point to Caudron, Zanetti, Horn, who all mastered the technical games. Belgians will mention Ludo Dielis and Raymond Ceulemans who could do it all, the Dutch had Christ van der Smissen, a feared Pentathlon player.
But how valuable are these examples really? Rini van Bracht, who could not play balkline to save his life, was Dutch champion in 3-C eight times. Multiple French champion Richard Bitalis built a career entirely on 3-cushion. We've never seen the legendary Japanese Komori and Kobayashi in a balkline world championship.
Or, to make it even easier: shouldn't this debate have gone out the window when Blomdahl rose to power? Sure, he can (now) play 1-cushion on a very high level, and I am sure he can run 100 in 47/2. But he developed a ground-breaking, world class 3-C game in his twenties, without any significant attention to the classic games.
The Koreans and Vietnamese could convince you, if Blomdahl had not already. It is quite possible to learn how to play 3-cushion, without ever mastering the "Serie Americaine". Let's face it: it is a cue with a different weight and a smaller tip, it is a different stroke, it requires a different type of concentration. It is, in short, a different sport. I would go so far as to say that squash and tennis may have more in common than the free game and 3-cushion.
Yes, balkline is less repetitive and more creative than the free game, and 1-cushion is even closer to "us", the skill sets overlap there. I am not ever going to tell players that the classic disciplines will HARM them, or stand in the way of future results in 3-cushion. But if a young player wants to try his hand at 3-C, let him. Encourage him (or her). There should not be a "rite of passage": if you get to this-or-that level in the free game or balkline, THEN you can start to play 3-cushion. On the contrary: there should be a welcome sign: "young players, go ahead and try this game of ours, it's fantastic!"
These young players will start out making lots of mistakes. Their game will need polishing, it will be rough around the edges. And that's fine.
Nick Bollettieri may well be the most successful tennis coach of the last two decades. He once said: "Kids first need to learn how to hit the ball. Later, much later, they need to learn to hit it inside the lines."