FINDING THE STROKING LINE, setting up your feet, and developing and preparing your bridge hand for each shot all require attention before your stance is complete. What about the stroking arm though; doesn’t that need preparation, too? Absolutely.

Your stroking arm is basically your weapon in pool and you need to prep it or position it before dropping into your stance. It is similar to a fighter positioning his arms and body right before throwing a punch.
First, the feet are positioned and stabilized, then the torso is turned and the punching arm is cocked back and ready to punch. In pool the feet are set, the torso turns and the stroking arm gets locked and ready to load into the stroking line, along with the prepped bridge.

I like to teach putting your grip, wrist, elbow and shoulder all on the stroking line for the ideal alignment. This allows your stroke to swing vertically back and forth from your elbow, which serves as a hinge.
Granted, as proven by the great players with sidearm or underarm strokes, a perfectly vertical alignment is not necessary; just ideal.

Those sidearm players still set up the same every time on the stroking line and have tremendous hand-eye coordination and lots of practice to keep the cue in a straight line. The side arm also serves them by keeping their stroke away from their body. This will be achieved with my recommendations. Plus, you will have the benefits of a vertical pendulum motion with your forearm.

The stroking line is actually within a vertical plane as well, and it is in this plane where the grip, wrist, elbow and shoulder of the stroking arm reside when they are in the textbook stance.
My main point here is to have you try and get all these components inside the vertical stroking plane before and as you bend down into your stance. Now, by the time you are down, you know your stroking machine is already dialed into the shot.

You can actually configure your arm into a plane at any time and then place that plane right into the stroking plane. So, just like making a bridge before placing it on the table, you can lock in your stroking arm before taking your stance. In time, your whole stroking arm drops into the stroking plane as one unit ready to fire.
Eventually, your form will blend into one entity with all the pieces working together in perfect unison. Until you get there, each piece will take plenty of work to develop and will most likely feel awkward or strange in the earliest stages. This is normal. It is like learning a language or learning to dance. You must learn the vocabulary and then how to put it all together, and with lots of practice it eventually all flows together with ease.

Now you can speak, dance, and play pool, right? Part of the fun is enjoying the learning process while knowing in your heart that you will get there with patience, persistence, and determination.

Copyright 2003 Max Eberle. All rights reserved.



IT IS ESSENTIAL TO DEVELOP and maintain a consistent pattern of eye movement if you want to be consistently successful at the pool table. Your system should be focused and deliberate for maximum accuracy, efficient enough to help maintain rhythm, and relaxed enough to prevent confusion.

As a general rule for your practice strokes, look at the cue ball as you stroke toward it and until your cue stops near it, and look at the contact point on the object ball through and until the end of your back swing. Within your routine, you may choose to look at either the cue ball or object ball for one or more strokes in order to really key in on your accuracy. The reason you look at the cue ball when your tip is extended, is to prepare for the accurate cueing of the ball. That is also why you stroke directly towards the exact spot you want to strike. Remember, it is like a dress rehearsal for your stroke, so pay attention.

The reason to look at the object ball when you start your practice back swings is partially to keep your stroke on line (see article on page 87). You also need ample time to focus on the contact point (which is what I suggest looking at on 99% of your shots, however it is possible to look at the cue ball last) before you strike the cue ball. On your practice strokes you are verifying the contact point and making sure you are lined up to hit it. You are also verifying the stroking line and making sure your aim looks correct.

Now, it is up to you to put these ingredients together in a way that suits your own style; in particular, the number and speed of your strokes. It might be a good idea watch closely and learn from top players’ eye patterns. Once you develop a system that works for you, be sure to use it in all situations. Sometimes the pressure of a match may disrupt your eye pattern and throw you off a bit. Try to get back into your pattern as soon as possible. Your eyes are amazing instruments and they will let you know if everything is on line—try using them in coordination with your cue stick.

Copyright 2000 Max Eberle. All Rights Reserved.



WHILE THERE IS NO single trick to consistently pocketing balls, there are a few of them that, when combined, make for a very nice equation. One extremely important element to this equation is body positioning, or what I call “lining up into the shot.”
Have you ever been down on a ball ready to shoot when you suddenly had the feeling that you were not aiming on the proper line? The answer is yes, I would guess. If so, what did you do about it? Perhaps you made a correction by pivoting your torso slightly, bending your knees differently, moving your bridge hand, leaning over, or trying to steer your cue in a better direction on your last stroke.
If you often find yourself using one or more of the above elixirs, then at least you do have the desire to pocket balls, but probably feel that life could somehow be more rewarding.
By adjusting your body once you have already assumed your stance, you are losing accuracy by hindering other important parts of the shot-making equation. These include good balance, proper cueing of the ball, relaxation, ample preparation (warm up strokes, feeling, mental comfort), and a straight stroke from your center of vision to name a few.
Now, have you ever lined up on a shot feeling right, only to change your premier pharmacy line of aim because of doubt, and then realize that you would have made it had you followed your first instinct? Imagine if you could utilize that keen instinct on every shot. With a little cultivating, you can. You have got to develop a sense of trust that you have already positioned your body correctly on every shot.
Practice making a commitment to the line of aim that you initially determine as being correct. Trust and commitment begin while you are standing upright. It is important to be deliberate in choosing where to stand on each shot and in crouching down into the line of aim.
Basically, it is best to position your body correctly into each shot so that you can properly execute the fundamentals. If you feel like you will miss, stand up and reposition your body. Also remember to allow for spin when you are lining up your body into the shot.
Try shooting a few racks like this: On each shot, put your focus on aiming and finding the angle while you are standing, and position your stance accordingly. Once you are in your stance, take one back swing and shoot the shot. You may even close your eyes after that first back swing. Feel free to smile when you hear balls dropping into pockets!

Copyright 2000 Max Eberle. All Rights Reserved.

Max Eberle



HAVE YOU EVER TRIED to thread a needle? When you tried for the first time, did you notice that you could hold the thread steady until you approached the eye of the needle, and when it was almost there your hand shook and the thread missed the eye? Attempting to pour liquid into the mouth of a very small-necked bottle may often result in the same kind of shaky muscle behavior. You can hold your hand perfectly steady until you try to accomplish your purpose; then, for some strange reason, you quiver and shake and spill the liquid. In medical pharmacy circles this is called “purpose tremor.” It occurs in normal people when they try too hard, or are “too careful” not to make an error in accomplishing some purpose.
In playing pool, these purpose tremors may lead to a missed ball. It may occur in a pool player if he is being excessively careful or too anxious not to miss a shot. Excessive carefulness and anxiety both have to do with too much concern for possible failure, or doing the “wrong thing,” and making too much of a conscious effort to do right.
You can avoid “dogging it” by training yourself to stop “trying” too hard or being overly-careful at the moment you deliver your stroke. You must learn to trust your stroke.
Do your best to position your body into the stance with your center of vision and cue stick on the stroking line, and have keen focus on the contact point before you begin your stroke. Now, with your body perfectly still, your eyes focused on the contact point and not a thought in your mind, freely swing your arm forward in a pendulum motion.
When you are first learning your stance, it will require much work just to get aligned properly for each shot, and may feel awkward. Yet the more you practice good form, the more natural it will become, and getting into your stance will also be like threading a needle.
You develop a trust that your body is lining up to what you are looking at, and with trust comes confidence. The trick is to keep your body still as you relaxingly and confidently throw the cue with your shooting arm.
So many times a dogged shot is accompanied by a sudden jarring of the body at the time of the forward stroke or a stroke that obviously deviates from its usual relaxed and straight path. Again, this often comes from being overly careful and anxious.
It may help to remind yourself to “trust your stroke” or that “I’m just going to move my arm” before you get down on a shot. Also, taking deep belly breaths to ease possible tension in your torso and to get more oxygen to your brain can be helpful.
Try hitting some long straight-ins and angled shots with your body perfectly still and your eyes glued to the contact point. Then move only your arm with no concern for the outcome, just detached observation to the feeling and results of the shot.
If you have a habit of moving your body on your stroke, you may not even notice it when you do move. Even if you have someone to alert you when you do move, try to develop that body awareness so you will know without someone telling you.
Even though you will be looking at the contact point on the object ball, you must focus on keeping still as you deliver your stroke with perfect trust.
Do not “try” to stroke straight, do not “try” to make the ball. Just swing your arm forward and keep your body still and see what happens. You may discover incredible powers to make difficult shots look easy, even in pressure situations.

Copyright 2006 Max Eberle



YOU WILL NOT BE ready to bend down on a shot until you have decided exactly what you are trying to execute. First you want to know your strategy in relation to the lay of the table, and then you want to know your strategy in relation to this shot that faces you now.
In his book Smart Pool! The Mind Game, John Delaveau thoroughly and convincingly outlines the importance of pre-shot planning and thinking, before concentrating on the shot itself. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in getting better and being more consistent.
So now that you are ready, you must aim. Aiming includes the entire formation of the stance, all the way through your final stroke, where you are fixed on the stroking line and ready to fire. It is pointless to get ready, aim, and then jump up as you stroke the cue.
Yet so many players do this, revealing their lack of confidence in their preparation, readiness and aiming. Once you tie the knot of holy matrimony between your plan and stance (aim), you must be faithful in your delivery of the cue. If it does not feel right, stand up and re-marry. Soon enough, your preparations will be as easy as getting married in Las Vegas and you will be able to move mountains if you just have faith enough to stay in your stance as you stroke your cue. Ready, Aim, Fire!

Copyright 2006 Max Eberle. All Rights Reserved

Max Eberle



WEBSTER’S DICTIONARY DEFINES COMPOSURE as “calmness; self-possession.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 2nd ed., Simon & Shuster, 1979, p. 101)

Composure is remaining calm and focused enough to perform up to your capabilities.

Composure is consistently responding to stressful situations with empowering thoughts, feelings and actions.

Composure is letting go of past mistakes and breathing out anxieties about the future.

Composure is laughing in the face of seemingly gargantuan pressure and concentrating on the task at hand.

Why would you want to have composure? Maybe you want to make great comebacks; or just play your game against a top player; or be a champion; or impress a potential significant other (show off). Whatever your reason, composure is a good place to start when you are striving for positive results.
It is similar to approaching life from a well-balanced center. If you do your best to keep balanced, you will have a better chance at staying afloat if something rocks your boat.
Gaining composure could mean changing the way you think about certain aspects of the game. I am sure you know a few players who go berserk every time their opponent gets a good roll. The more bad rolls they get, the more they freak out and start announcing to the world that you are lucky. Meanwhile, they are stuck in the past with a dark storm cloud growing over their head.
Granted, there is too much luck in nine-ball, but until the rules are changed to call all shots and safeties, it is necessary to understand that rolls happen and you should be happy to be at the table. If you find yourself on the short end of the rolls during a match, just think to yourself “things will turn my way,” and do the best with what you have.
For example, what if you were on the hill with a seven game lead and your opponent comes back to tie the match? You could be in shell shock and flub a possible chance at a win, or you could understand that many matches are close anyway, and all you have to do is concentrate on each shot in this final game.
When you have a big lead it is especially important to bear down even more, and realize that if you go to sleep you have no chance at winning. No lead is a safe lead.
The same thing applies when you are coming from behind. No lead is insurmountable. Just think “I’ll hold him there and then pass him.” It is amazing to see what happens when you are unflappable. The more you understand match dynamics, the less likely you will be taken by surprise, and the more you will be giving the surprise.
Composure has a lot to do with knowing and remembering the truth about yourself and any given situation. Whether the heat is on or off, it is good to remember what you are capable of (physically, mentally, and spiritually) and let this give you confidence. Letting go of fears and doubts is one of the main challenges every pool player or and person in life for that matter must face.
The illusions of fear and doubt have no power unless you have allowed them the power. Once you learn to recognize illusions, it will be easier to get rid of them.
If the truth is that you play at a certain level, then you want to do your best to prevent anything from interfering. Often, blockages are very subtle and it would be wise to take a deep honest look into the causes. Once you have targeted any interference, it is necessary to actively and willfully diminish it by turning its positive counterpart into a habit. Sometimes habits die hard, but in the business of uncovering the truth it will be worth it.
If you are often too tense, learn to relax. If you are doubtful, learn to generate feelings of courage and confidence. If you have trouble concentrating, turn pool into a study on concentrating. Whatever the malady, there is a remedy, and a little discipline can go a long way.
Not enough can be said about the benefits of preparation. Before a big match, tell yourself that this will take everything you have, and that you must go deep to your basic core where your strength lies. If perhaps you have never beaten this player, tell yourself “that was then; this is now,” or “I am due for a win.”
Michael Jordan says that before he shoots a big foul shot, instead of thinking about the millions of people watching and everything at stake, he puts himself in a familiar place like his old high school gym where he feels comfortable.
Being physically and spiritually fit are also great bonuses. The link between your body language and your mental/emotional states is amazingly close. It is good to work just as hard on your composure (mental game) as you do on your physical skills.
Talk to experienced players and champions about this and read plenty of books like Pleasures of Small Motions by Bob Fancher, Phd., Golf is not a Game of Perfect by Bob Rotella, The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallway, and Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsh.



IN ALL POOL GAMES, accurate direction control is essential for playing great position. While speed is also crucial, you must first get the cue ball traveling towards your target. With a nice medium angle, you can pretty much get the cue ball to go anywhere you want on the table.
Sometimes you can get away with being a little less accurate with direction control because the position zone is so big, but other times being off by one degree can mess up a run.
As a rule, I’m always going for an exact line with my cue ball. Even if I don’t get the ball perfectly on that line, it will be closer than if I did not pick that line. The same goes for position play. I’m always trying to land the cue ball on an exact spot. By choosing an exact spot for my cue ball to land, it enables me to choose an exact direction for the cue ball to get there.
Practicing your direction control will be very beneficial to your game. Just choose a shot and keep setting it up exactly the same every time but work on getting the cue ball to travel on a different line after it pockets the ball.
Once you get the cue ball to go on your desired line, just pick a new line to work on.
The diamonds are good to use as targets. When you get good at hitting all the diamonds, your brain will fill in the rest and you will be able to hit any intermediate target line you choose during a game.
I would also recommend combining speed control with this drill just to keep you in the habit of hitting each shot with an intended speed. Practice like this will pay huge dividends.

Copyright 2006 Max Eberle. All rights reserved.

Max Eberle


The Best Pool Player I’ve Ever Seen

It was 1987 late night at The Velvet Rail Billiards in Dover, Ohio which had recently opened.  My Grandfather Pop and I were done playing and a stranger playing alone was on the last table going.  I did not really pay much attention at first even though the owner Rich Lange told us he was good and we should watch.  Being fifteen at the time, as a far as I was concerned, no one could touch my Grandpa on a pool table for a 1,000 mile radius.   Anyway, this guy was just a normal looking fellow who was doing nothing fancy.  But I sat down, watched, and listened to his friendly banter as he played 9-ball.

In a matter of a few short games, my paradigm had shifted.  I went from being not impressed to watching in awe as it began to dawn on me just how good he was, or a least have a glimpse of how good he was.  He was always in line.  His stroke was always smooth.  The cue ball danced, spun, and landed on his command.  Object balls slid smoothly into pockets, over and over.  And over and over.  Bank shots went in with ease and he executed 3 rail position shots smoother than any name at the top of today’s rankings.  He had calm, relaxed and confident walk around the table with a firey concentrated look in his eyes.

His name was Garten Bierbower.  To this day he shot the best pool I have ever seen, without question.  He was the Ralf Greenleaf, the Mike Sigel, the Earl Strickland, that the world never got to know.   He was the Fast Eddie who quit serious pool before it ever really began.  A family and a job in stone masonry kept him busy after his young hustler days as a late teen and 20 something phenom player.  I met him when he was 42 and getting back into playing, because of the Velvet Rail.  Luckily for me, he became another mentor along with Pop, and he became a great friend.

I racked many hours for him as his opponent for several summers and thanksgiving vacations, absorbing the patterns and stroke of one of the greatest minds and talents the game has ever known.  Pop used to tell him, “Garten, you make the game look so easy!” and he would say, “It is easy Charles,” with a sly grin on his face.

I have learned so much from Garten about upper tier world-class pool, and he continues to teach players today who are lucky enough to get to know him.  Garten has been making custom cues for 20 years now and has developed into one of the top cue makers in the world today.  You can see some of his work here at

If you stop by Bracket Billiards in New Philadelphia (right near Dover) sometime, you might get lucky enough to meet him, play him a few racks of 9-Ball, and purchase one of his rare cues.  


TRUST The Magic Ingredient

This is a Free Chapter From ZEN POOL by Max Eberle

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 the balls and get shape for you. So you need learn more and actively learn a sound way of playing pool. You need to improve your skill. Trust us drugstore, alone will not make 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 a champion 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 2007 Max Eberle.

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2008 “Best In The West” Pro Invitational Round Robin Champion

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This shot was from Max’s undefeated first place win at the summer of 2008 Best In the West Pro Invitational Round Robin at Hard Times Billiards in Bellflower, CA.  Photo by David Thomson,

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