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IN MANY PAST ARTICLES, I’ve focused on the fundamental mechanics of playing solid pool. Much of the information I have given has been in the shape of principles as they relate to alignment, aiming, stroke, and mental effectiveness.
Hopefully, some of the ideas, tips, and “secrets” I have given you have provided benefit to your game.
The fact that we are all a little different in form and ability, and the fact that there are players who have success with many different styles proves that there is no ONE way of playing pool right. However, tried and true fundamentals hold up over time and under pressure, and one can often find benefit in working to make his own technique simpler, more effective, and to the point.
Usually, the proof is in the pudding. The litmus test of your game is in your results; the ability that you can consistently display and in the high points you can reach. Your low points or slumps are useful in showing you what could use improvement in your game.
So in this article, I will not teach you a new tip or secret; rather I will give you a list of questions for you to ask yourself that could help you assess the current state of your game, and help push you in the right direction to make intelligent improvements.
I’m sure you have heard that it can often be the questions we ask ourselves that help take us to the next level in anything we do. So I’ve created a list of questions for you that relate to different aspects of your pool game. If you cannot answer these questions off the top of your mind, just go to the table and find out the answers.
Maybe you will find that you are a pool virtuoso, or what you might need to improve on your path to becoming one. Challenge one of your pool room friends with these questions if you want. You can also add to this list of questions to further increase your awareness of yourself, and your relation to the many aspects of this game we call pool.
1. Can you find the contact point?
2. Can you find the aiming (stroking) line?
3. Can you set up your stance and stroke on the aiming line?
4. Can you adjust you aim accurately for throw and deflection?
1. Can you judge the correct amount of spin to get the cue ball going in the direction you want off of object balls, rails, or the flat bed of the table such as a curve shot?
2. Can you deliver the cue tip to the chosen spot on the cue ball?
3. Can you apply the spin effectively with your stroke?
Are you choosing a destination for the cue ball before you set your stance?
2. Can you judge your needed speed?
3. Can you execute the speed you have chosen?
Can you adjust to new equipment and changing playing conditions?
1. Can you deliver your cue (stroke) on the aiming line?
2. Can you hit the cue ball with no side spin?
3. Do you follow through?
4. Are you smooth?
1. Do your mechanics get the job done?
Does your body interfere with your stroke on your follow-through?
Are you in control of your body, or do you jump up during your stroke?
4. Are your bridges solid?
1. Do you plan your whole run out in advance?
2. Do you precisely plan your cue ball and object ball paths?
Do you always think at least two balls ahead of your current shot?
Do you know many different ways to achieve position from a singe shot?
1. Do you have positive self talk?
2. Do you play with confidence?
3. Do you always try 100% no matter what the score is?
Do you get down on yourself when you are playing bad, or just keep trying hard until you get your game back?
Do you put yourself in tough matches to expand your comfort zone?
Well, I hope you can find some of these questions useful on your path to self improvement in your pool game and also in life. Stay focused, enjoy the game, and keep making the next ball and playing position!
Copyright 2005 Max Eberle. All rights reserved.
FORGET THE SOFT BREAK for now; instead, I have a couple tips for you to help you break with more accuracy and power. Since you will be hitting the balls hard, your stance needs to be more stable than ever.
So often overlooked is the bridge hand, which is a third of the tripod formed also by your feet. Breaking from the rail is good not only because the angle of approach on the one ball (the head ball of the rack in 9-Ball) is conducive to pocketing balls, you can also get really solid with your hand on the rail.
I do this by planting the heel of my hand (palm) onto the table as well as my fingers. This really allows me to put my weight into my arm and table which makes my tripod really solid; and solid is good, good, good.
One key is to keep the weight into your palm even on your backswing. You don’t want to sway backwards with your backswing and ease up on the pressure into the table with your bridge hand. So, especially with your last backswing, lean forward into your bridge hand as you pull the cue back.
When you start your swing into and through the cue ball, your hand will already be snugly in place, allowing you to exert your sledgehammer break into the stack.
After you contact the cue ball it is OK to take your hand off the table in classic Johnny Archer style, but not before. Or just leave your hand there and follow through like Earl Strickland.
When breaking from the bed of the table, you also want your bridge palm planted snugly into the table with some more of your body weight than usual. You can even turn your hand more sideways and clump your fingers together to make a more solid bridge.
Another thing I like to do is look at the cue ball during my actual break stroke. Because, really, you need to hit the cue ball really hard; not the rack. So I concentrate on lining up accurately and getting balanced in my set up and warm up strokes, and once I think I’m on line and solid enough, I’ll look at the cue ball and send it. Yet you can also have success looking at the head ball.
I also like to bring my front foot closer to the stroking line when I break. This allows me to shift my weight forward and keep my balance at the same time. Also, push forward with your back leg and foot and drive your cue forward as you stroke through the cue ball. See if any of these recommendations add power and accuracy to your break.
Copyright 2004 Max Eberle. All rights reserved.
A VERY SHARP STUDENT of mine recently informed me that more than two basketballs can fit in a regulation basketball hoop at the same time, and that good players actually aim for the ball to go into a certain part of the hoop depending on the situation. Maybe I should not have been surprised, but I was, and I earned an even greater respect for higher level basketball.
This same student of mine was excited when I told him about “cheating the pocket” and demonstrated to him that more than two pool balls can fit into a pocket at the same time, which is true on most tables. Even if two balls cannot fit in, there will still be some room to work with. “Cheating the pocket” is basically deciding what part of the pocket you want the object ball to enter, either to increase your chance at pocketing the ball or to change the cue ball’s rebound angle off the object ball for playing position on the next shot. Professionals do this all the time. Because the pockets on most pool tables are pretty wide, this can lead to a little carelessness and slight loss of accuracy in shot-making. By just trying to make the ball into the pocket in general, it may bobble in a few times and even miss once in a while.
The forgivingness of the pockets may lead to carelessness. Sometimes I have caught myself playing worse on a big pocket table than I do on a tight pocket table. So what I do now is try to pretend I’m playing on a tight table and this helps me keep focused.
No matter how wide the pockets are, I like to make it a habit of picking an exact spot in the pocket as a target for the object ball. Picking this spot helps me find a clean line for the object ball and a clean contact point, which in turn helps me find a clean stroking line onto which I can balance my stance.
It is amazing how accurate you can be at hitting a certain part of the pocket, even when the object ball is several feet from the opening.
As long as there are no obstructing balls in the path, it is important that the spot I pick is in the “professional side of the pocket.” The professional side of the pocket is the actual opening, as opposed to the entire visual entity of the pocket. See Diagram A. This will help you avoid hitting the rail on the way in, something that drove Willie Mosconi mad.
You will need to “Cheat the Pocket” to gain position quite often. The closer the object ball is to the pocket, the more lee way you will have to alter the angle at which the cue ball leaves, see Diagram B.
When the object ball is close to the pocket, your chances of missing are slim, but you will still need to be accurate for the purpose of controlling the cue ball.
When the object ball is a couple feet or more from the pocket, and you need to cheat the pocket to create more angle for the cue ball, your chances of missing are greater.
Yet if you always make it a habit to go for an exact spot in the pocket, even when you have a perfect angle, you will have more confidence and ability in cheating the pocket at a distance when you need to, see Diagram C.
When I do have a perfect angle on a shot, the spot I pick in the pocket will be right in the middle of the professional side of the pocket. If the object ball is near the rail, my spot will be on the pocket facing. If the ball is out in the open, my aiming spot will be in the middle or close to the middle of the pocket, on the rim of the slate.
Try practicing with pool balls on a snooker table for a few minutes if the room owner lets you. Then, when you go back to the pool table, you will see just how much room you have to play with. Have fun.
Copyright 2003 Max Eberle. All rights reserved.
IN POOL, YOUR BRIDGE hand will determine how well you can communicate to the cue ball where it needs to go. Developing your stroke is also important, but now we will focus on the bridge hand, that device which guides the stroke and helps keep it on line.
Some people simply have more dexterity than others and quickly learn to form sound and solid open-hand and closed-hand bridges. For others, making a sound bridge comes in varying degrees of difficulty and the time spent in developing the bridge hand is especially well worth it.
All of our hands are unique, and if you do not have the bendy double-jointed fingers of many of the pros, just try to maximize the potential that your fingers give you. If you simply cannot make a good closed-hand bridge no matter how hard you try, you can still be effective with a good open hand bridge.
Think of someone fluent in sign language. They easily change from one distinct symbol to the next as they communicate. When they transform from one symbol to the next, do they fidget with their fingers for a while as they form the next symbol? Not if they are fluent.
That is the idea with pool. It is ideal to be able to smoothly and easily lock your bridge hand into the chosen form for the present shot. Many top players will even form their bridge in the air and finalize it by squishing it onto the table, thus locking it in place right away.
Locking your bridge in ASAP will enable you to focus on your stroke and speed control, instead of diverting your attention between getting your bridge hand ready and preparing your stroke. This is chasing two birds with one stone if you will.
My friends tease me for forming bridge hands all the time when I am away from the table. I used to do this in school and use my pencil as a pool cue while perfecting my bridges. So this is one way to practice and improve your game, work on your bridge while driving (keep one hand on the wheel please), watching TV, etc… Because there are many bridges in pool, you can work on any of them at any time. What can I say, I am a pool nut.
Try not to keep moving your bridge fingers around once you are in your stance. Learn to get them into place right away and put enough pressure into the table to keep them locked there even and especially on your final delivery.
The more fluent you become with your bridge hand, the more accurate and consistent you will also become.
Copyright 2000 Max Eberle. All rights reserved.
CHIA-CHING WU OF Taiwan. To watch him play 9-Ball, you really would not be surprised to see him win the World 9-Ball Championship. He’s got good form, a straight stroke, steady rhythm, great shot-making, excellent cue ball control, smart patterns, poise, an awesome break, and a ton of confidence.
Oh yeah, and he’s sixteen years old. Sixteen years old? Are you kidding me? Actually, skilled and talented teenaged pool players are not extremely uncommon, but good enough to win the world title? And then if such a kid is good enough…to actually get out there and do it? That’s incredible! More than well done kid; you just rewrote the pool history books!
Johnny Archer was the previous youngest world champion at 21, surprise- surprise. And I was impressed to see Thorsten Hohmann win it in 2003 at 24 years of age. But 16 years old, really? You are not kidding me?
Most people are asking me if this kid really plays that good. I’d say yes. I had the thrill of watching him win the tournament in person. It is amazing enough that a 16-year-old won, but how he did it was more incredible and has undoubtedly won him countless lifetime fans.
In the race-to-17 finals, losing 16-12, he had ball in hand on the 2 ball after the 27-year-old Kuo’s untimely no-rail foul, and ran that rack to make the score 16-13. Needing to win 4 games in a row, the 16-year-old Wu proceeded to break and run precisely 4 racks of 9-ball on pool’s greatest stage, in the most urgent of all moments.
To top it off, Wu made the final, hill-hill championship winning 9-ball with a mechanical bridge! It was not an easy shot (at least for me) into a small pocket, but he just asked for the bridge, lined it up and shot it in—piece of cake. He raised both his cue and the bridge into the air, screamed with everyone else, smiled ear to ear (he could not wipe it off), and the value of his bobble-head dolls just went way up.
I was up in the press box next to fellow pro players Rico Diks and Corey Deuel during the finals. I think we were more nervous than Wu was. Corey said to me after Wu won, “That was the most amazing thing in pool I’ve ever seen.”
This tops my list too, barely edging out Earl Strickland’s brilliant 1-9 combo to run his 10th consecutive rack and $1,000,000 in the 1996 Dallas Million Dollar Challenge.
Wu plays just the kind of 9-ball that is fun to play and fun to watch. Attack, attack, attack… He goes for just about everything, and expects to make everything. After watching him for a while, you expect him to make everything, too.
Top Australian pro David Reljik was telling me, “If he has a weakness, it is his safety play, but even that’s not bad. His attack game is just incredible.” Starting out playing snooker as a kid must have helped his skill and confidence in shot-making. He plays good position, too, with a soft touch and plenty of power when he needs it.
The thing that impresses me most about Chia-Ching is his confidence. At any age, to play with his confidence is awesome. Even if Efren Reyes did what he did, people would be talking about it forever.
I hope a lot of kids see Wu’s victory here in the States. Video game sales may take a hit, with pool cue sales making a big jump. The score: Pool-1, Video Games-0. Come on kids, unplug your mind from your television set and start playing pool! Congratulations, Chia-Ching Wu! You’re the man!
Copyright 2005 Max Eberle. All rights reserved.
PLAYING POOL IS LIKE dancing; not only your shooting form, but also your movements in between shots. The way you walk, carry your cue, chalk up, look at the table, line up, and eventually stroke the cue all give clues to how well you play, as well as affect your results on the table.
I think it serves the pool player well to be fluid in action and have rhythm. This could entail graceful, powerful and controlled motions while at the table. You have a unique was of moving your body around the table and stroking your cue. Be like a child. Dance around uninhibited and filled with joy. Be like a ballet dancer. Find freedom and expression in your range of movements. Be like a hunter, focused and stealthy in your approach.
Your positive body language alone will counteract the disabling effects of fear if you have any. Acting indecisively can plant the seed of doubt in your mind, thus causing you to flub a shot. Would you not rather ROCK the shot, ROCK the run out, and ROCK this game?!
Your mind is one with the creator’s. Trust yourself and play your game of pool. Act confidently and you will be confident. Act smoothly and you will be smooth. Act unflappably and you will be unflappable.
Stay down and keep your eye on the ball and you will run out. Dance around the table and you will dance the balls into the pockets!
A CHAOTIC SYSTEM IS ONE that shows sensitivity to initial conditions. Any uncertainty in the initial state of the given system, no matter how small, will lead to rapidly growing errors in any effort to predict future behavior.
Basically, very small changes can result in greatly different final states in a weather system; this could mean that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Australia may lead to the formation of a hurricane in the Caribbean; hence the “butterfly effect.” In a pool shot or “system,” this could mean that a slight change in the way you address the cue ball could entirely change the outcome of the shot.
If you watch a good pool player who first started out playing snooker, you may notice that he has exceptional ball pocketing skills. This is partly because snooker requires tremendous aiming accuracy to pocket a ball; however, excellent cueing skills are equally important.
Out of necessity, world-class snooker players are not only excellent at keeping their body still; they have finely honed a skill which surely comes in handy for playing all types of pool—ACCURATELY CUEING THE CUE BALL!
In saying “cueing the cue ball,” I am referring to the contact point between the cue’s tip and the cue ball at impact. Accurately cueing the cue ball means that the player actually hits the cue ball on the spot that he intended to strike. If a pool shot is the result of a chaotic system, then the behavior of the balls can be predicted only if the initial conditions are known to an infinite degree of accuracy, which is supposedly impossible. However, a pool shot does not unfold completely because the balls will eventually stop due to the friction of the cloth.
Now, imagine there was not any friction between the balls and the cloth and you had to accurately predict the exact route of a seven hundred and twenty five rail bank shot! Can you see how minor discrepancies in where you cue the ball and the speed with which you hit it can show up way down the line?
Have no fear, though, as under present conditions it is within the realm of possibility to predict and control those little colored balls with hair-raising accuracy. This does require concentration as the outcome is still very sensitive to initial conditions.
Cueing the cue ball and following through are like addressing a letter to a friend. Where you cue the cue ball will take it to the right zip code, and the speed will take it to the mail box for perfect position.
However, if you give an incorrect address, the cue ball and object ball(s) may arrive in the wrong state!
Increasing your awareness of where you are hitting the cue ball will definitely improve your position game. If you have the discipline to pay attention to this, you will also become a more consistent shot-maker by learning how minute differences in spin can affect deflection and your line of stroke. For more on deflection see the article “Allowing for Deflection” on page 67.
Next time you practice, try directing most of your consciousness towards cueing the cue ball. Even though you will be looking at the object ball on the last follow through, you can still be aware of the cue ball. With practice and good form it will become second nature.
One thing to try is looking at the cue ball on your final stroke once you are confident in your line of aim. This will force you to stay still and give you a new awareness of cueing the cue ball.
Also practice your center ball hit by putting the cue ball on the head spot (the spot on the end of the table where you break from), shooting it over the foot spot (the spot on which the front ball is racked) and having it rebound off the end rail so it comes straight back to hit your cue tip. This improves your awareness of center ball and thus your ability to put small increments of spin on the cue ball. Anywhere on the vertical-center ball axis is still a center ball hit, and it is good to practice center ball follow (top spin) and center ball draw (bottom spin) as well.
IN POOL, AS IN life, it is the little things you do over and over that create the reality you experience, and it is your thoughts which control your actions. You do have the freedom to choose your thoughts at all times. You must be very clear about your desired results so that you can create thoughts, and hence action, that will produce the intended outcome.
When you are faced with a shot and have already determined where you want the cue ball and object ball(s) to go, then it is time to figure out the best way to get them there.
Now, formulate your approach considering the path of the balls, spin, speed, stroke, stance, bridge, equipment, humidity and so on. Next, imagine the shot happening perfectly in your mind. If you think you cannot do this, think again—you can.
Visualize the exact line and resting point of the cue ball instead of thinking “in that direction somewhere over there.” While in games such as 9-Ball you can run out by playing area position, it will always improve your touch to pick an exact spot within the position zone.
See the line or gutter of the object ball going right into the pocket instead of “towards the pocket.” You may be playing on tight pockets or have to squeeze the object ball around interfering balls. Many times it is necessary to shoot the ball into a certain side of the pocket for position’s sake, so develop clarity of purpose. Do your best not to miss a shot on account of position.
Feel your cue tip strike the cue ball. Then, feel the cue ball roll, hit the object ball, slide, spin, jump, decelerate and stop as if you were one with the ball; because you are, feel the object ball roll and drop into the empty space.
My grandfather asked Willie Mosconi what was the most important thing in pool, and he said “touch.” Hear the cue ball click the object ball, smack the back of the pocket, or softly drop in and roll into the ball return tray. Smell the dust swirling up from the pockets and taste what it feels like to sink a shot with perfect position, run a rack, or five, or a billion – it’s up to you. What do you think?
Big runs do not happen in one shot, and yet they do. Every shot is “The Shot.” Always keep your mind on the present shot, because that is all there is. So make the best of it and concentrate. Every shot is your prayer to the universe, but it does not really matter what you are doing. What you are being in relation to what you are doing makes all the difference.
So be positive, confident, focused, relaxed, determined. You name it; your game can only get better. If you consistently think clear, positive thoughts, you will consistently get clear, positive results. Feel free to discard negative thoughts at any time, and replace them with new ones; higher ones. If you should happen to miss, big deal! Be stubborn and keep your ideals. Create rhythm, remember who you are…and remember to breathe.
MIKE SIGEL ONCE SAID he never shot until he was ready, and back in his heyday, he did very little missing. Once at the U.S. Open 9-Ball, he told me and Charlie Williams, “Back then I didn’t miss.” All he had to do was show up at a tournament in order to win. Possibly a slight exaggeration from Mike “The Mouth,” but based on his record, not too far from the truth.
Have you ever stroked a shot even though you knew or felt you were not aiming correctly? Only to exclaim “I knew I was going to miss that!” in an attempt to justify your result? It may be true that every pool player who has ever missed has experienced this feeling at one time or another.
Conversely, it may also be true that every pool player who has ever made a ball has had the feeling of knowing that a particular ball was going into the pocket.
If you are going about the business of pocketing balls and running out, it would be to your advantage to eliminate the feelings that you will miss a shot. Doing this requires a respectable amount of patience and discipline, especially in regards to those moments of uncertainty.
In the past, I have dealt with this situation by shooting anyway because I just couldn’t wait. I was in a hurry to make the ball and run the table. Upon missing such a shot, I would feel thoroughly betrayed and disgusted.
One can only take so much pain before the change response takes effect, and with experience and maturity I have learned to stand up and start over in those rare occasions when my aim does not feel correct. This takes a good deal of patience.
While it takes patience to stand up if the shot does not feel right, it takes discipline to minimize those uncertain moments. Discipline in terms of a pre-shot routine including: clarity of your intended outcome, positive body language, finding the aiming point, body positioning, warm-up strokes and eye movement routine, and keeping your body still upon delivery of your actual stroke.
By having a pre-shot routine or SOP (Standard Operating Procedure), your feelings of knowing a ball will drop will increase, and you will be more equipped to create rhythm and run out consistently.
If after all this you still aren’t ready, either stand up or take some extra strokes without over doing it, until your shot is “on.” Figure out a formula that works for you. How good would you be if you only shot when you were ready?
Copyright 2000 Max Eberle. All rights reserved.
AFTER ALL THESE YEARS of playing pool, I have determined that the most important skill in the game is trust. Sure, fundamentals and knowledge are very important, but trust is the ingredient that gives life to concentrated effort.
If you do not know much about the game and have poor fundamentals, trust will not magically make your shots and put the cue ball into perfect position for you. So you will need to study the game and actively learn a sound way of playing pool. You will need to improve your skill.
Trust alone will not pocket the balls for you. You need craft, and this takes time and effort. Even if you have some good moments, you will need to keep working, keep learning and keep improving.
Trust is the final ingredient for a master of the craft. Trust is what makes champions play their best and light up a table. Trust is what enables a master to make the game look really easy. To a master who is clicking physically and mentally, the game is easy.
Yet trust is also the first ingredient to put you on the road to mastery. If you have a goal, a vision of how good you want to be, you have got to trust you will make it there before going down that road if you intend to succeed.
With this in mind, you have got to accept and expect that you will make mistakes on the way there, but trust that if you keep trying, you will correct those mistakes and move closer to your goal…closer every day. You have got to expect improvement.
It all boils down to the shot you are facing right now. On your very next shot, make a decision. Pick a contact point. Plan a position route. Decide on what spin to use. Decide how hard to hit the shot. And then when it is time to execute, try it and see what happens. Have desire to make it work, want it bad, and concentrate. But trust in your stroke. Put it out there. Let it go. Throw the cue. Relax. Let it happen.
Do not jump up on your shot. Do not clench the cue with a tight grip and give a half stroke. Do not try to steer the ball in the hole. Hey, if you do, you are only human, just do not do it forever. Calm down and trust your stroke.
If you have to, imitate a champion for a few minutes. Pretend you are that person. Walk like them, stroke like them, talk like them. This is actually one of the fastest ways to become great at something. Try imitating as many good players as you can. They are worthy of imitation; this will only help you.
Be an actor for a minute, and start acting like a great player. You just might become one. And if you are one, trust your stroke, trust your game.
Practice by yourself on a regular basis. Each time you practice, master one shot. Keep shooting it until you have it. If you keep making a change, you will have to get it right eventually. If you do this every day, that is a lot of shots in a year. Imagine if you mastered five shots a day. Trust the process and trust your stroke.
Copyright 2000 Max Eberle. All rights reserved.