Page:1902 Encyclopædia Britannica - Volume 26 - AUS-CHI.pdf/277

This page needs to be proofread.


BILEJIK — BILLIARDS Bilejik, chief town of the Ertoghrul sanjak of the Bnisa vil&yet in Asia Minor (Byzantine Belocovie altitude 1900 feet, situated on a hill 2^ miles from its station on the Ismid-Angora railway. It is an important centre of the silk industry, and has several silk-spinning factories. Population, 10,500 (Moslems, 7200; Christians, 3300). Bilill (Czech, Bilina), a town in the governmentdistrict of Dux, in Bohemia, Austria, situated on the Biela, about 5 miles south-west of Teplitz. It is chiefly known for its alkaline mineral waters (from the “ Biliner Sauerbrunnen ”) of which some two million bottles are annually exported. Another export article is a salt recovered from the waters by evaporation. Large quantities of lignite are mined in the vicinity, where there is also a number of limestone quarries. The town, which is very old and possesses the ruins of a castle dating from the 11th century, is further distinguished by the largest mass of phonolite or clinkstone in Bohemia—the “ Biliner Stein ”—about 1760 feet high. Indeed the town is surrounded by basaltic rocks. Population (1890), 6651, chiefly German; (1900), 7871. Billiards.—Since 1875 the game of billiards has developed in a somewhat curious manner. Tables, balls, cues, and other implements have not been radically altered, though in some respects their manufacture has improved, but the best class of professional play was, if length of breaks be the measure, undoubtedly better in 1900 than it was twenty-five years before. On the other hand, public matches played now are for the most part less genuine struggles than of old. The reasons for these changes are not difficult to explain. Formerly the stakes were more generally real, and were the chief inducement for exertion and the reward of success; games were short and slow, great caution being exhibited, and players had to be content with slender pay. More recently gate-money has far exceeded the value of any stake, so that the problem before players has been less how to win than how to get the most entrance-money from the public. Much attention has been given to this question, and many clever persons have assisted in its solution; but unquestionably the chief credit for developing the game must be given to John Roberts, sen., and to his son of the same name who has long held the position of champion. Indeed, their careers form the history of modern billiards from 1849, when the elder Roberts challenged Kentfield (who declined to play) for the championship. No useful comparison can be made between the last-named men, and the change of cushions from list to india-rubber further complicates the question. Kentfield represented the best of the old style of play, and was a most skilful performer ; but Roberts had a genius for the game, combined with great nerve and physical power. This capacity for endurance enabled him to practise single strokes till they became certainties, when weaker men would have failed from sheer fatigue ; and that process applied to the acquisition of the spot-stroke was what placed him decisively in front of the players of his day until a younger generation taught by him came forward. His all-round play, especially in strokes which required great strength or power of cue, was better for at any rate twenty years than that of any contemporary ; yet his main influence in developing the game during that period lay in his mastery of the spot-stroke, which became practically the measure of proficiency. “Tell me how many spots you can make, and I will handicap you ” was then a common remark. In 1869 the younger generation had caught him up, and soon afterwards surpassed him at this stroke; both W. Cook and J. Roberts, jun., carried it to greater perfection, but they were in turn put entirely in the shade by W. Mitchell and W. J. Peall. The latter’s remarkable break (3304), made at the Aquarium in 1890,

245

has never been approached. But this very perfection killed the stroke, for the public wearied of its monotony. Adroit use of this objection was made by professional players who could not play the stroke so well, and “ spotbarred ” matches were generally introduced. It is curious to realize that John Roberts, sen., developed the game chief!)' by means of spot-play, whereas his son continued the process by abandoning it. The public, however, liked quick scoring and long breaks, and therefore a substitute had to be devised. This was provided chiefly by the younger Roberts, whose fertility of resource and manual dexterity eventually placed him by a very long way at the head of his profession. In exhibition matches he barred the spot-stroke and gave his attention chiefly to play which kept the three balls near the spot and under control not far from each other. Thus instead of a long succession of winning hazards he developed a series of two winning hazards (one from where the red ball happened to lie, the next from the spot) followed by a cannon. This style of play was soon brought to great perfection. Stroke followed stroke with rapidity and certainty nearly equalling spotplay, the main difference being that three strokes scored 8 instead of 9. This method is known as top-of-the-table play, and may perhaps be best defined as an endeavour, after every cannon, to leave the opponent’s ball near the spot and the red ball near a pocket, so that the next stroke may be an easy winning hazard, to be so played that either a spot-stroke or cannon may be left. Like spot-play, but even to a greater degree, it is a dangerous game for a bad hazard-striker, because in case of a break-down the balls are likely to be left near each other, close to a pocket, and consequently the opening is favourable to the adversary. On the other hand, it presents a rapid means of scoring to a good hazard-striker; few of the strokes are very difficult, judgment rather than execution being required, while strength or force is seldom needed after the necessary position has been gained. The next development was borrowed from the French game, which consists entirely of cannons; and in America it has practically superseded other forms of the game. Both French and American professors, giving undivided attention to cannons and not being permitted to use the push-stroke, arrived at a perfection in controlling or “ nursing ” the balls to which English players could not pretend; yet the principles involved in making a long series of cannons were applied, and leading professionals soon acquired the necessary delicacy of touch. The plan is to get the three balls close to each other, say within a space which a hand can cover, and not more than from four to eight inches from a cushion. The striker’s ball should be behind the other two, one of which is nearer the cushion, the other a little farther off and farther forward. The striker’s ball is tapped quietly on the one next the cushion, and hits the third ball so as to drive it an inch or two in a line parallel to the cushion. The ball first struck rebounds from the cushion, and at the close of the stroke all three balls are at rest in a position exactly similar to that at starting, which is called by the French position mere. Thus each stroke is a repetition of the previous one, the positions of the balls being relatively the same, but actually forming a series of short advances along the cushion. With the push-stroke a great number of these cannons could be quickly made, say 50 in 3| minutes; and, as that means 100 points, scoring was rapid. Most of the great spotbarred breaks contained long series of these cannons, and their value as records is correspondingly diminished, for in such hair’s-breadth distances very often no one but the player, and sometimes not even he, could tell whether a stroke was made or missed or was foul. Push-barred, the cannons are played nearly as fast; but with most men the