24 September 2005 | sjb-16
This format is lame
For those who haven't seen it, Ballbreakers is a game show pitting amateur 9-ball "pool sharks" against one another for a $20,000 prize. In game-show version of illegal gambling at your local bar, four players are each given a stake of $5,000. In the first round, the player with control of the table challenges any other player, whom they've not yet played, for any part of their stake. While they're playing, players are encouraged to make "side bets" on the action. In the second round, players are no longer permitted to refuse challenges - only accept them or raise them. In the final round, they switch to an all-in elimination format, where the two smallest stakes at the table are pitted against each other with the smaller stake "all in". At any time if a player runs out of money, they're eliminated.
The "side bet" action is pathetic. They're almost always "$500 he won't make anything on the break", or "$1000 she won't make that shot". They players mostly act as if they feel obligated to make some sort of side bet, and generally don't do it unless prompted by the host. I haven't seen a player yet really take advantage of the side bets in any meaningful way. All it really does is somewhat randomize the stakes for the second round. It's not clear from watching exactly what the limits are to the side bets. I've yet to see any player lay odds ("$500 will get you $1000 that he won't make this shot.") The games are played with slightly modified 9-ball rules. The producers clearly don't want serious 9-ball play. They've made "safe" shots pointless by adding a rule that, upon reaching the table, a player may choose not to shoot, returning the table to his opponent. Any good safety results in getting the table back in a bad position, so no one plays safe. One might argue that it makes the games more "exciting", but any serious pool player knows safeties are part of the challenge.
Furthermore, the players are generally somewhat above average, though none of them are even close to professional quality. I've not seen anyone run the table in a half-dozen episodes. They way as well let the players shoot safe - they're just as likely to miss the safety as any other shot.
In the later rounds, the rules are modified even further. A scratch results in "ball in hand", as with ordinary 9-ball, but in the later rounds, any missed shot results in "ball in hand", except on the nine. Once again, since it's not particularly common for these players to string more than three or four balls together in an inning, even _with_ ball in hand, this rule is a particularly artificial form of drama.
All of the preliminaries of the first two rounds are pretty pointless, anyway. They randomize the players' stakes a bit so that they aren't completely even going into the final round - but a player's position going into the final round is rarely any indication of how good they are compared to the other players. The final round's elimination format is really the only part that matters at all - even if you find the show's concept interesting, it's hard to see the preliminary rounds as anything but fluff.
As it is, I doubt this show will make a second season. They need to have someone coach the players on strategies for side bets so the bets can be at least interesting. They should let the players shoot safe and generally quit screwing with the standard 9-ball rules - it's designed to be a fast-paced, exciting game, anyway. The extra rules are just pointless artificial drama. And they should probably look for better players - there should be at least a 1 in 6 chance that a given player walking up to the table can run out five balls.