I can’t think of a better topic to apply Geertz’s concept of deep play to than billiards, considering my love for the game and inundation into the local “pool scene” if you will. Oddly enough I had never really considered this local group as such a dynamic community filled with alliances, status and prestige, and varying sub-groups.
Although there is still a level of gambling and competition that’s present at the local pool halls, from the stories I’ve heard it is nothing compared to what it was 15 years ago. Instead today the true competition manifests itself through a local bar pool league in which all the best, and many of the worst, pool players in the area participate. Each week for 28 weeks two 5 person teams compete in a competition and the league culminates in, as it is colloquially referred, the “City Tournament”.
Every team that participates is putting much more than a trophy on the line. Because of the surprising level of billiard talent present in the city of Kenosha, there is a considerable amount of pride and prestige on the line in the course of the 28 week league and particularly during the City Tournament.
There is an unwritten rule of etiquette among members, the violation of which often results in being ostracized and these individuals tend to lose a significant amount of respect among the rest of the group. As well there is a significant subdivision between the members of the overall group, the seasons veterans with whom the talented younger players cannot ever truly become peers with, although a level of mutual respect, friendship, and acceptable can be gained. There are the poorly skilled players who cannot gain real acceptance among the highly skilled players until their talents have been appropriately improved.You then have further subgroups of those who have previously won the tournament, those who have won other prestigious tournaments (such as the National BCA league tournaments in Las Vegas), and those individuals who may play on a less talented team but whose individual skills are on the higher level.
At the end of the tournament it becomes very interesting. Teams undergo a significant level of conflict in the face of adversity and either break under the pressure and lose, consequently breaking up and looking to form new teams, and as I see it alliances, with members of their similar skillset who underwent a similar situation. As such you have the teams who go deep in the tournament who perform very well. It is members of these teams that most of the time will stay together, but as their level of respect among primarily the highly skilled players have increased, there will be often multiple groups approaching single individuals attempting to form allegiances with them in hopes of getting them to join the team.
A good example of this alliance forming can be seen with my team. It was made up of three individuals who have only been playing for a short period, I was one of them, of less than three years and who were relatively unknown to the overall group. The other members were well established and highly regarded players in the group who have been playing for over ten years each. After taking third place in the tournament two of the three less experienced individuals wanted to stay together, however their performance was poor and thus the rest of the team was not inclined to stay together. Two of the three more experienced players wanted to stay together and immediately received numerous offers to join other talented teams. I personally was approached by a variety individuals who were curious as to who I was playing with next year. The people by whom I was approached were those who previously did not have a great amount of respect for my game, but through my performance in the tournament against teams of considerable talent I gained a previously unreached level of prestige within the group.