Dick Jaspers played an extraordinary match last Wednesday, in a Dutch Grand Prix. His final result of 40 in 7 made it the (shared) fifth best match ever, to forty points. But then, the world record is 40 in 6, and that has already been played four times (Caudron 2x, Zanetti and H.J. Kim). Dick shares the 40 in 7 with Coklu, D.K. Kang, K.J. Guen, Merckx and Zanetti. So maybe it was not THAT special? Why does this match deserve such generous attention?
Because it was an inch away from being 40 in 4.
Yes, a few centimeters made the difference between seven innings and four, which would have set a record so tough to break, it might have stood for decades.
Let's look at Dick's score sheet, it will tell the story better than I can. He won the lag against opponent Wiljan van den Heuvel , started the match and ran 7. Then 13 in the 2nd inning, then 12, then 5. That is 37 in 4, only three points to go for a 10 average match. I missed the first inning, but was lucky enough to be in the room for the remainder, and watch this live.
Jaspers was not making flukes or getting a fortunate run of the ball. He simply played 3-cushion of über-human quality, where math marries instinct and delicacy goes hand in hand with power: the alchemy of billiards.
When Caudron played his best seven innings during the Juanjo Trilles Challenge in 2012, making 51 points, I called it Mozart: effortless creativity. In Dick's case, I think I have no other choice than to go with Bach: structure, inevitability. I've rarely seen a better half hour of position play and problem-solving, or a cue ball hit with so much authority.
This was the situation when he had ran the five points in the 4th inning, and the referee announced: "playing for three":
It would not have been much of a problem for DJ with the cue ball away from the rail. But now that it is frozen, you are between a rock and a hard place.
Play this with a horizontal cue, and there is absolutely no margin for error (on a new cloth). Half a millimeter too thick, and your cue ball will drift and curve off to the right, and you'll be long. Half a millimeter too thin, and you'll avoid the curve but you are going to be well short.
Your instinct will tell you to raise the butt of the cue and "dig in", which allows you to use more of the 2nd ball and still bring the cue ball into a natural line towards the opposite corner. But you will create two possible kisses! The 2nd ball will double towards the red (LLS) or end up in the path of the cue ball (LLSL).
Dick is not a big fan of "hit & hope" , so he didn't raise the butt and risk the kiss. Instead, he tried a thin hit with a horizontal cue, in an effort to perfectly judge the amount of curve in the cue ball. He missed this one on the short side, by half an inch.
Another crucial moment in the match (a new world record still possible) was the miss in the fifth inning, "playing for two". Here's how the balls were:
Everything about this position is so awkward. And of course, that is because the cue ball is again frozen to the rail. Dick's first choice was to try and play four rails off the right side of the red, LSLS. He lined up for the shot, but it was just too hard. Second option was to lift the butt of the cue, play off the yellow on the right side with maximum spin, LSL. He gave up that idea too, and - realizing the enormity of the situation - asked for his third and last time-out.
Finally, when he was convinced options 1 and 2 were too low-percentage, he decided to go for the "perfect thin hit" on the right side of the red, and play a heartbreakingly difficult drop-in, SLS. He missed it, not by a hair but by several inches.
The last five minutes of the match were almost sad. Three runs of 1, to make 40 in 7. He did get the thunderous applause he deserved, but the room knew: "this could have been history". And yes, had it been 40 in 4, all of us who were there would have been telling the story 20 years from now.
That half-inch. That is the essence of billiards.