“Sport: Pool Sharks”
The Atlantic Monthly, August 1994
pp. 86 - 88
A pool shark needs a good night’s sleep. He depends on his eyes. Never call a good pool shark before noon. “We feel ambiguous about the pool shark. We praise his skills and condemn his dishonesty.” He is duplicitous–and yet, because he preys on hubris, a weakness we abhor, we tolerate him. Everything about the pool shark is duplicitous. He has a custom cue (a ‘sneaky Pete’) that “looks exactly like an ordinary one-piece cue except for a thin, almost indiscernible line at the joint where its two pieces screw together. But it is custom weighted, tipped, and balanced for the shark’s game.” He also adjusts his appearance for the locale. in an urban area “he must dress like a businessman in leisure clothes; in the country he needs to look like a hick, a hayseed.” He also adopts “the sucker’s barroom style.” This means a careless, embarrassed manner of playing and of paying for drinks, etc. He adopts a novice’s manner of playing (Griffin gives examples), he hesitates over table stakes, and he makes his successful playing look not skillful, but the product of sheer, dumb luck. “He must appear a gregarious dupe, ready and willing to be embarrassed and call it fun.” Key: He can win only because the table champ is cocky and drunk and thinks he can dupe the shark. The duper gets duped!