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April 13, 2009
I don't think Thomas Jefferson would mind us discussing billiards today on his birthday.
Since he had a passion for the game himself.
It took his mind off the job of being Thomas Jefferson, which couldn't be easy, since he was a polymath. A fancy Greek word for knowing practically everything.
When President John F. Kennedy had 49 Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962 he said, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together here – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."
Speaking of Jefferson's other impressive dome, the one in Monticello originally concealed a billiard room, since Virginia had outlawed the game.
It seems billiards has always had a bit of an unsavory reputation.
The game evolved, in the 15th century, from a variation of croquet, and the first hustler arrived about five minutes later.
Edmund Spenser, who probably couldn't play a lick, soon described it as "a thriftless game."
In 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots, complained of being deprived of her beloved billiard table, while imprisoned at Fotheringay Castle.
In the late 1600's, Louis IV, supporting a court of 3,000 people, installed an elaborate billiard room in his new Versailles Palace and honed his game under the light of 26 chandeliers—prompting H.G. Wells to write, " Louis guides his country towards bankruptcy with an elaborate dignity that still exhorts our admiration."
In America, billiards became associated with pool parlors that were gambling places where you could place a wager or two.
And the name sort of stuck, which further added to the stigma.
I don’t know about you, but I think this game of "misspent youth" has gotten a bad rap over the years.
Whether you play three cushion, straight pool, one pocket, 9 or 8 ball, you have to understand geometry, know how to apply side, high and low spin, master psychology and Sun Tzu's classic Art of War.
Unlike golf, or bowling, it consists of offense and defense. And, for those who have seen Efren Reyes, you can also throw in a touch of magic.
Abraham Lincoln extolled the virtues of pool as a "scientific game lending recreation to the otherwise fatigued mind."
Presidents, Kings, Queens, rogues and scoundrels. Who can possibly argue that it hasn't attracted the most fascinating people?
Pool. A game for everyone. So how's your break coming along? Mine needs a little more practice.
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