If you take a look at my pool league's TopGun MVP standings, you'll see me listed right there at the top of Division 423, in first place. There's only one problem: I don't deserve it, not one bit.
Ask my teammates, and they'll tell you I'm one of those sticky players, one of the annoying types that manages to do just enough to stay alive, to let you hang yourself on your own mistakes. In reality, I have enjoyed a profound streak of good luck. I haven't lost in nine weeks.
I have the privilege of enjoying such success partially because the league is handicapped. I am ranked as a Four—a low ranking—after spending most of the season to date as a Three; the rankings go up to Seven. If I play a Seven, I need to win two games to his/her five, if I remember correctly, in order to win the match. Similar handicaps exist for each possible rating pair. Without the system, my record would hover just over .500, and I would be considered rightfully unexceptional.
Aside from the handicapping system, however, I have been bailed out a number of times. In twelve matches, I count four in which I played well—four matches I actually deserved to win. But my wins against both the Six and the Seven were spectacular debacles, monuments to the importance of humility against inferior players, because both of these players hung themselves. I wasn't sticky, and I didn't hang around long enough for them to make mistakes. They hung themselves specifically because they could see I wasn't a threat and took the game too lightly, neglecting to consider the fact that they could lose based upon their own actions without any resistance from the likes of me.
I'm not happy about the situation. Being the current division MVP feels empty, gross. I almost dropped a game against a Three last week, the first time this season I've played someone with a lower rank, and even then, I had to be bailed out: I had to rely on his botching a shot on the eight ball and then simply flinging it into the corner pocket in disgust. I would probably have made the last shot—it was an easy cut—but as it stands in my mind, I simply won the last game by default. I've choked on too many easy game-winning shots to consider any contest a sure win.
So here I am: a fraud. I can't give these fucking things aways, for Christ's sake. When that Seven scratched on the eight ball and then accidentally sank it in the wrong pocket to give me the match a couple of games later, I was as angry as he was. I slammed my pool cue against the ground and roundly rebuffed my teammates' attempts to tell me I'd somehow been successful. Horseshit. It was like scoring two points in a basketball game and then watching Michael Jordan put up forty on you only to miss an easy layup in the final seconds.
Sure, maybe your team won; but did they? Did I?
Let me stress that this is not backhanded bragging. I cannot be clear enough: I very literally, unfacetiously, and unquestionably do not deserve this standing.
What vain and horrible sacrifice I've made to the Gods of Pools, I can't fathom. Whatever it is, let's hope it expired with this past match, because I'd like to get the feeling that it actually matters how well I play. I'd rather lose than win like this.