Thoughts on The Mosconi Cup, 2017
Every year, I post some thoughts on this great event. This year, rather than post them on FB, I added them to my blog at caliberbilliards.com.
I don't claim to have all the answers and I'm quite sure many will disagree with many of my opinions. That's okay. They are meant to be discussed or I wouldn't put them out here.
Mosconi Cup races are very short, and while winning the lag doesn’t guarantee a win it does mean in a hill/hill match you will get an extra break. Winning the lag doesn’t always insure winning a match, but at the end of day 2, Europe had won the lags 8 to 2 and lead the match by the exact same score.
Much has been said in the past few years about team spirit. Most of it is wrong. Pool is an individual sport and while there are doubles matches in Mosconi cup play, pool is more like golf or tennis than baseball or football. Ultimately there is only one guy at the table for each shot and while support can have a positive affect sometimes, it can also become a distraction. Team Europe has had more team spirit for most of the last decade and they have won almost every year during that period. The two are not related. This is probably a case of having cause and affect backwards. Team spirit doesn’t lead to wins very often, but winning almost always leads to better team spirit.
The teams have been made up of players chosen several different ways since the first Mosconi Cup. There have been mistakes, maybe, but not too drastic of mistakes. Usually if the teams didn’t have the best five from their respective pools, they had five of say the best ten or so. Changing a player or two by picking differently may have changed the outcome of one or two years, but it didn’t lead to Europe’s decade of dominance.
For the record, I thought this years American team was well chosen. It had a great mix of experience and youth that I thought would lead to some success. As it turned out, not enough success, but i still liked the makeup of this team.
The Mosconi Cup is played in a different environment than any other pool tournament in the world. It’s loud and there is a lot of pressure. Some guys deal with it better than others. Europes team has the advantage of playing more frequently in front of larger crowds. It is not uncommon to see pro tournaments in the U.S. played in front of no gallery at all. When it is all said and done, both teams have to deal with the same room. While it deffinately is different than other pool venues, it is equally different for both teams.
This years table was a Rason with 2” slate. There are very few of these tables in the U.S. and the slate makes jumping a bit different. Both teams jumped balls off the table during the tournament but the U.S. team did it far more frequently. I have never played on one so I can’t confirm my opinion that the Europeans, having had more experience on this equipment both chose not to jump in certain situations, and are better acquainted with the differences when they do.
Exuberance (celebrating wins)
Celebrating a win, whether it be as you are closing in on a victory or having already made the last ball, can be just an expression of overwhelming emotion. When that occurs, it is obvious, and should be forgiven. When it is calculated to express your win to your opponent, it is unsportsmanlike and should be viewed as such. I could go on, but I think it is self explanatory. If your dad or little league coach didn’t like it, it’s probably not a good idea. When you are the underdog and haven’t sealed an overall victory for a long time, it should definitely be avoided. The answer is always the same. “Scoreboard Baby!” If you don’t want to listen to that, control your emotions and get the job done.
Shane Van Boening
No American player has played better pool more often than Shane has for the past decade. It seems unthinkable to put an team of Americas best players together without including him. In addition to that, the way the teams are chosen, it wouldn’t be an option even if someone though it was a good idea. Having said all that, it is clear that Shane doesn’t play his best pool under these conditions. I have never heard him say so, but it also seems like he genuinely doesn’t enjoy this event. I suppose that is understandable given his competitive nature, and the recent history of the event. In spite of the number of explanations that have been put forth to explain it, there really is no explanation. I believe that one day, this event will be competitive again and that The U.S. team will eventually win one. I sincerely hope Shane is still on the team when that occurs. He has worked harder than anyone else in The U.S. at his game and he deserves another taste of The Cup.
Talent can be defined many different ways, but I am merely referring to the eye hand coordination, intelligence, and physical attributes required to play the game of pool at the professional level. There is no reason to believe that Europeans are somehow gifted from birth with more of these than American players, so saying that Americans can’t win this event is not correct. Given the same experience and preparation, this should be a very competitive event. If you take talent out of the equation, you are left with preparation and experience. European players have an advantage at one or both of these and that is where the captains and players need to focus their attention.
This is a very challenging format. Mosconi Cup asks players to play short races where mistakes are almost always punished immediately, and to play both singles matches, and doubles matches. The thought process is different in doubles matches and some players are just more suited to it. I am not sure what the answer is here, but Americans seem to struggle more working as a doubles team than The European players do. This may just be a reflection of the pressure of recent losing years, or it may be related to the way we play the rest of the year.
Additionally, We spend a lot of time grinding out gambling sessions in American pool and less time playing short races, and we spend a significant amount of time on 7’ tables and playing other games besides 9-ball. European players spend the bulk of their playing time on 9’ tables preparing for 9-ball events. They are, in essence, always preparing for this kind of format.
It would be unthinkable for fans to stand up and shout their support for the players every time the balls stop rolling at any other event. Imagine if at the U.S. Open half the crowd stood up and shouted for their favorite player as he got down to break.
It has become expected at Mosconi Cup now. Mosconi Cup fans are more like World Cup fans than like fans at other pool events. I don’t think the American players have quite wrapped their brains around it yet.
Anyone who has ever played more than a rack or two knows that “rolls” do occur. Some chose to be philosophical about them by claiming that rolls follow the better player. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it isn’t. Rolls frequently change the outcome of a rack. They occasionally change the outcome of matches. If someone gets really lucky, rolls might even win a tournament.
No amount of rolls leads to 10 years of victories. The truth, as painful as it is, is that the European teams have made more shots, made less unforced errors, played better safeties, lagged better, fouled less, than the U.S. teams for a decade. No other explanation is required to explain the records during that period.
Mark Wilson was chosen to captain the U.S. team several years ago and went about trying to change the way the team prepared for Mosconi Cup. He spent significant time, though wasn’t given as much as he wanted, trying to instill discipline in the teams approach, esprit de corp, and a sense of responsibility that he thought was lacking from American teams in the past. When that didn’t lead to success in the first few years, it was assumed that the European captains were doing something that he wasn’t and this must be the reason for The European teams’ dominance. Well, now we’ve had the man most responsible for the European teams success for the last decade here to prepare the American team. The results indicate that it wasn’t the captain. I respectfully suggest that Marks influence was a positive step in the right direction for American pool and though I may be in the minority, I would like to see him back at the helm. He took a lot of blame for things that were outside of his control, and I think it is clear now that the losing streak was not his fault. He was building a program that was good for pool, as he continues to do at Lindenwood, and I for one would like to see him given an opportunity to continue that vision.