This is Volume 24 of PoolSynergy, a monthly collection of the best writing on pool. Make sure to check out all the other articles in this month’s issue over at Kicks, Banks, Caroms & Combos.

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This month’s PoolSynergy topic intrigues me because I know it’s been a big issue for many, but I have only infrequently experienced it for myself. I’m not in any way suggesting it doesn’t happen, just that in my limited experience of 6 years, I haven’t seen it much.

Of course, my time at the table has been limited to playing for fun, playing 2 seasons in BCA 8 Ball leagues (including one trip to Vegas), and playing in an in-house straight pool league averaging 20 people for 8-10 seasons. I only rarely played for money, and then only for piddling amounts.

Given that sharking is cheating, or at the very least unsportsmanlike conduct, I would expect it to occur much more frequently in more consequential contests, tournaments, Vegas finals of national leagues, and money games, especially when more than a few bucks is involved, so I guess it isn’t unreasonable that I don’t see it very often.

Just so we know we’re all talking about the same thing, my definition of sharking, in respect to pool, is the use of distraction or psychology to hamper the game of one’s opponent. To purposely distract the other player to cause him to miss or lose focus or get angry. Common examples include making sudden movements or noises just as the opposing player is shooting, standing in their line of sight, talking while the opponent is at the table, playing excessively slowly, etc.

So let’s say you are experiencing sharking. What do you do? Distractions of any type can easily get under your skin, if you let them, so sharking can be quite effective in giving your opponent an advantage. Not only can a distraction cause you to miss a shot, but you might then get angry and spend your mental energy thinking about the sharking rather than your shooting and play poorly from then on. Another miss and you get even angrier and pretty soon you’re game is toast.

The key, easier said than done, is not to let it bother you. By being impervious to sharking techniques, you turn the tables on your opponent. So, how can you do this, you ask? Well, remember, if they thought they could beat you they wouldn’t have resorted to cheating.

Use this knowledge against them. By keying on their need to shark, rather than the shark event itself, you can give your confidence a big boost. Smile broadly, relax and play your game. He’ll wonder what you’re up to and why his plan isn’t working. Now you’ve got him thinking about something other than his game and you didn’t need to cheat to do it. You can keep you focus, stay in stroke and play your best, because you now know this creep doesn’t have a chance to beat you.

Other approaches don’t work as well. You can confront the perpetrator, but they’re just going to deny it, or deny that it was intentional. They’ll do their best to try to make you feel guilty about standing up for yourself, and that just takes you further out of your game. Going to a Tournament Director typically has the same result, and gets you a bad reputation in the bargain.

And suppose that it really was unintentional. Now what? You’ll have angered you opponent who may then be able to use it against you and ratchet up his focus to play his best game ever. You ruin any chance of a friendship between you, and for what? And your rep is going to take a big hit because you know everyone will hear about your whining.

Sharking back is the worst, since your conscience will bother you even more than the sharking did, and you might get caught and get a bad rep to boot. You’ll still be playing out of focus, and you’re likely to lose.

So go out there and play as if sharking didn’t exist, because for you, it won’t.