Thursday, 16 July 2015

Promoting Pool but at What Cost?: Handicap vs No Handicap Debate

Graphic taken from

By: Markus Noé

Last weekend Shooters Snooker & Sports Club in Scarborough Ontario held an open no handicap tournament. These types of tournaments have been lacking in all of Ontario not just the Greater Toronto Area (G.T.A). Handicap tournaments as a whole have been gaining in popularity over the past decade in North America, but at what cost?

I credit this popularity because these handicap systems present the illusion that everyone has a chance to win. However this thought process comes with some major pitfalls. For example if Erik Hjorleifson, John Morra, or Mario Morra are playing on one of the various tours in the G.T.A, these three have a talent level that is above any field that can be can be assembled in the area. Thus they are the favourites to win any event they play and if participants are being honest with themselves they should feel that this is perfectly reasonable. Because these three players are perfect examples of people who have dedicated their lives to mastering the sport of pool, therefore their talent and motivation have earned them this edge in play.

By the end of the season there are people who like to look back and see how many tournaments "The Big Three" have won. Lets say that number is around 60% of the tournaments, based on the handicap philosophy this would not seem right. In this thought process ideally if there were 10 tournaments there should be at least 7/8 different winners, so what happens from here? Keeping inline with the handicap mantra there needs to be an adjustment. In the G.T.A what has happened if "The Big Three" have to race to 11 they introduce something called an 11 minus.

This is another method to try and take the edge away. Meaning if you are an 11 minus when you play a 6 they race to 5 or if you play a 7 they race to 6. You can imagine when they play higher ranked players whether they are 8,9,10 how difficult this could be. That being said these three are elite professionals. With their knowledge of the rack, ability to keep calm under pressure and the intimidation factor they bring to the table they still find a way to win the majority of the time.
Thus the next step is you see countless of tournament posters with the fine print that reads "No Pro's."

It is not just the Pro's being left out now you will also see a lot of tournaments where no one over "8" permitted. So there has been an outcry of late for traditional tournaments with straight up races. Going back to last weekend, 36 players ended up showing up with most of them being between the 5-7 level. There was a big gap of players in the 8-10 range who are not only the better players in the area but the ones who were a part of the outcry for these types of tournaments.

Now 36 players showed up for a non handicap tournament less then a month after 115 play a 7 and under tournament at the same location. So when push comes to shove the players who wanted this most did not show up. Of course it is summer and people don't play as much but it still does not account for the low turn out of the higher skilled players.  This fact begins to make me ponder the will of amateur players. As a group, is our ego and pride so fragile that we cannot even enter a tournament anymore where we are not some sort of favourite, or with the illusion of being a favourite? Is this what handicap tournaments have done to the sport, where pool room owners and tournament organizers have to cater to the lowest common denominator.

Combined with this, these top players have to deal with insulting statements like, "I am just here to donate," or "they are here to rob us." Not only insulting to people who have dedicated their lives to the sport but how much more short sided could these statements be. Especially in the format that was just presented at Shooters which had staggered entry fee's for the different levels. The value in this is to compete against high level competition without a spot to see what you got, and toughen you up and see what needs to be worked on.

Living in Cornwall, Ontario an hour outside of Montreal I play most of my pool in Quebec each season. In the Quebec Federation there are only 2-3 Handicap tournaments a season and they are mostly frowned upon. They have the luxury of having enough players to fill division for players ranked "C" through to Professional without the need for handicaps. In fact many of the Quebec players are against Handicaps as a whole. I have noticed the benefit in just the last two years alone playing the most tournaments I have ever played. As a "A" ranked player this year I secured wins over a Semi-Pro and some other higher ranked players straight up. My game and my confidence has benefited greatly from these tests and am on my way to consistently playing at a higher level.

If I would compare this system to that of the ABO handicap system in the Ottawa/Gatineau region, which I have played on and off for 5 years. It is easy to notice that many of those players who solely play these handicap events have not improved at all since I began to play. This has nothing to do in my opinion with talent level but however with these players not needing to improve. Because they have had moderate success with many mid-level cashes and the occasional tournament win. However all the while not earning enough points to be bumped up to the next level.

The result of this is we are not developing players and thus not progressing the sport we all love. Now I wont argue the fact that handicap tournaments have their place, especially for weekend enthusiasts. However we cannot let it get to the point where we are heading now. Which is we are excluding our pro's from the majority of the tournaments and handicapping them in ways where their opponents might not even have to play well to win. We need to be embracing our talented players rather then turning our backs on them, and in a sense berating them for their high level play rather then celebrating it.

Finally I would like to make the point, if Tiger Woods came strolling into our local Golf Club, and decided to play the weekend tournament. Would everyone be saying to themselves "I am not playing because I don't have chance." I think not, people would be lining up to play because they have a chance to play with one of the best players in the world and see how he handles himself ,how he hits the ball, what his approach to the game is. It is the responsibility of all players and enthusiasts alike to treat our sport in the same way, because if we don't no one will.

Currently we have two Canadian players ranked well within the top 20 in the world, John Morra and Jason Klatt. They have done this with zero government support, minimal sponsorship and at time when the sport is recovering from the lowest point ever seen. A truly commendable accomplishment and a testament to their will and determination. I can guarantee you they got to this level by competing in hundreds of tournaments in which they where far from the favourite. I fear if we continue on this path we are just a few years away from a talent drain in our Canadian Pool community, which could be devastating to the future of competitive pool in Canada.


1 comment:

  1. All sports have levels. And pool shouldn't be different.if your a "pro" why you complaining? Go on the pro tour.cant win there ? It's my fault? Now they want to play even against everybody locally? Sure they do.tiger woods would love to play against a bunch of bottom tier pros everyweek.his slump would end for sure.if soemone dedicated there life to pool and can't make a living on a pro tour that's his struggle.thats his life.hes gotta figure shit out for him $elf.