The Psychology of Almost

Martin Gould was on the crest of a wave, playing some blinding snooker and opening up a handsome 11-5 lead. He was almost through to the quarter finals. Almost.

And then the second session ended and now all he could do was try to settle himself down, get some sleep, and prepare for the final session of the match the following afternoon.

Neil Robertson presumably slept soundly that night – far from happy with his efforts, I’m sure, but without the burden of expectation. So much so that he apparently checked out of his apartment ahead of the final session, fully expecting to be returning to Cambridge after the match.

And Gould was in first in the opener before missing a routine black to let Robertson in to steal the vital first blood. And as Robertson compiled a century in the next, Gould would have had plenty of time to reflect on the ever-increasing possibility of the comeback.

Suddenly that comfortable lead was under serious threat and everyone knew it. As the previous day had shown, snooker is so often a game of momentum and as players we’ve all experienced it. It’s magic on a day when you’re flowing, in the zone, and you’re just not missing – impossible when you can’t get the simplest balls and your opponent is flying. And it’s hard not to start writing the script yourself as you succumb to that powerlessness you feel, away from the table, as you watch your opponent piling on the agony.

Even a short interval can make a big change in a match, but an overnight wait – that’s almost like an entirely new match. It’s just too bad that Gould couldn’t bring the same spark and originality to this one. On the first day, his play was a joy to watch. “Fearless” Clive Everton called him, and it was like a breath of fresh air for the tournament.

Let’s hope his appetite for the game is not diminished by that nagging sense of what he nearly achieved. Losing 13-12 to the provisional World number 4 is still a phenomenal effort. It might turn out to be the highlight of his snooker career, but let’s hope that it does not.

For a much fuller spectator’s eye-view on the match, check out Matt’s ProSnookerBlog entry – Robertson Stuns Gould.

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