Pool And Billiards Definition And Examples -- "Handicap"

Overcoming bad handicaps in pool
Overcoming bad handicaps in pool. Photo courtesy of Comstock Images/Getty Images

A Handicap That Helps

Definition: A handicap in pool is a compensation based on player averages, granted to the less skilled players in a match and against the stronger players, that theoretically provide all with equal odds of winning.

Players compete against their own typical standards. The one who plays better than average, should defeat those who have a “bad day”.

Handicap Examples From Golf

For example, on average, Bill defeats Joe by a score of 5 games to 2 in a “race to five games" (best-of-nine game series), so Bill accepts a three-game handicap.

Joe starts their next match with three victories to his credit and need only win his usual two games (achieve his average margin) before Bill can reach his average by beating him five times. (Bill needs to win five out of seven games, not five of nine games).

Nearly every pool game imaginable can be adequately handicapped, allowing the top pros in the world to square off against a rank amateur with some sense of fairness.

Sandbagging Bums And Handicaps

There is a real problem that hurts many billiards leagues in their attendance and in the enjoyment of the fans. Sandbaggers lay low, disguising their skills early in league season to earn lower handicaps. Padding their handicaps in this way, they suddenly win many games late in the season when they are merely performing at their average level.

How To Not Lose Your Shirt In Pool Tournaments

Example: A fellow has a 4 handicap in league because he purposely loses games he'd otherwise win.

He really should have a 6 handicap. When he finally moves late in the season to play at his normal speed, on average he is suddenly winning two games more than "normal" and since it takes some weeks to correct handicaps per average (and since the new wins don't affect the handicap much overall, see below) it's too late to stop the sandbagger from walking away with the tournament.

You see, if I've played 100 league games and then surge ahead over the last 10 games, that surge is not a great change overall, making it hard to detect the sandbagging.

Better Handicapping Methods

A simple method for protecting against sandbaggers is to take a break in the middle of that final tournament for the season to make handicap adjustments. 80% of players have a handicap that doesn't move much at all within a year's time.

And watch out for sandbagging (cheating) gamblers! Legendary golfer Sam Snead offered advice: "You should never gamble with a stranger, and consider everyone a stranger until you've played with him at least a dozen times."

Handicapping Examples

Examples: It is vital for players to examine and question the handicap system of any league they are considering, avoiding frustration from too simple or too difficult competition standards.

Beware of sandbaggers, who cheat their handicaps early in the season then leap ahead "mysteriously" to defeat all comers.