It’s been a while since the last installment in my series of articles on pool. Hopefully, you have taken the prior instructions and practiced them; perhaps you have had some success, maybe some challenges. Good. Let’s move on…
The key to playing pocket billiards well is consistency. If a player fails in a shot attempt or position for the next shot, there should be a method of evaluation and adjustment. However, if there is no mechanical standard as a foundation, then how can you make an adjustment?
The best players establish the same stance, stroke, aim, and even thought processes, and maintain that standard. This is achieved through concentrated practice.
During practice sessions, slow down, and pay attention to what your body is doing.
There are diverse methods for dictating how to assume a good stance. But I’m not going to address any of them here. Instead, I’m going to give you some guidelines and encourage you to experiment and discover what works best for you.
- For over 99% of shots, both of your feet will be on the floor. If you have to stretch beyond that, you need to acquaint yourself with the mechanical bridge. Every good player knows this piece of equipment, and is not afraid to use what I’ve heard called “the sissy stick”. Snooker players become exceptionally proficient with it (regulation snooker tables are 10’ x 5’). Just think of it as a very steady means of going where your left hand (if you’re right handed) cannot go.
- If you are off-balance, that’s how you will shoot. Position your feet, legs, and body to give balance and support.
- Turn and bend your body in such a way that it does not obstruct a straight stroke from your carriage (back hand) to your bridge hand. This is especially crucial to larger framed people, like me.
- Position your head, and more specifically your dominant eye, directly above your cue as low as possible. Allison Fisher, one of the best players in the world, literally rests her chin lightly on her cue. This not only provides greater accuracy, but also gives a control meter. If for some reason her stroke is not smooth and straight, she will feel it. If you don’t get your head as low as possible, you are “shooting from the hip” (as they say). Accuracy is compromised.
- Once you are in this position, there are only two parts of your body that should move, which brings me to…
If you have not visualized the shot, why are you shooting it? Before taking your stance to address the shot, take the time to look around the table. Examine the situation, not only the current shot, but look ahead. Most players look at least two shots beyond the current. This should affect how you play the shot you’re about to take. Then, look at what must be done with this first shot to achieve your plan. Now, you’re ready to take your stance and begin aiming at the spot you have already determined.
In your stance, your eyes should move between your target-spot and the cue ball at first. Draw an imaginary line between the two points. This is your path. Your stroke will line up with the path as you line up the shot. Look at your cue stick as you take warm-up strokes. Ensure that it is moving directly on the path and the tip of your cue will strike the cue ball where you want it to. Then, and this crucial… DO NOT LOOK AT THAT CUE BALL AGAIN! It’s a constant. It’s not going to suddenly move on you. You have assured yourself through warm-up strokes that your cue is aimed on your intended path. Look at your target-spot on the object ball. Focus on it. The cue ball will go where you send it, so it’s not even relevant to your aiming process now.
Warm-up strokes are essential. They assure that you will be shooting where you intended. How many warm-up strokes should you take? As many as you need to ensure accuracy and control; and then add a couple more for the feel of the shot. With more difficult shots, take more. As long as your warm-up strokes are consistent with the execution stroke (when you actually shoot), your movement should be programmed so that you could literally close your eyes at the point of execution, and still deliver the shot with accuracy.
When I say “accuracy”, I am not suggesting that you will make every shot. I am saying that, if you follow these procedures, you will deliver the shot that you intended. If you miss the shot, it could mean you visualized in error (in other words, you aimed wrong).
Herein lies my point about consistency in the mechanical processes. There could be an infinity of reasons why a shot is unsuccessful. Improvement comes from analyzing the unsuccessful attempts, more than the successes. But, if there are no constants (in other words, every time you shoot is a completely different experience), how can you make adjustments?
For example, if I have been, through concentrated practice, consistent in the mechanics of my game, and yet I missed the shot, then I have a basis by which to examine why it happened. Maybe I aimed incorrectly. Maybe I moved my head when I know I shouldn’t. Perhaps I shot too hard, or not hard enough. Maybe I applied accidental English (spin) to the cue ball, which changes everything about the shot.
Sometimes, we rush shots. We are presented with a shot or position that seems so simple, we skip the processes. In all of the Kingdom of Pocket Billiards, there is nothing more humiliating than missing the simple shot because we “took it for granted”. Unless you are competing in a tournament where there is a shot clock employed, there is no good reason for any player to skip the steps. And as a side note about these “shot clock” tournaments, the competitors in these should already be so adept at the basic steps that they can swiftly do them. If that’s not you yet, don’t play in that kind of tournament. My first article on pool talked about “controlling the rhythm of the game”. Here’s a principle to consider: If you have established (again through concentrated practice) a rhythm through which you are able to flow through the processes successfully, and you suddenly don’t, you are not controlling your rhythm. You’re not playing your best game. Here is an exercise to practice:
You are faced with an incredibly basic and simple shot. I mean it’s practically an insult to your pool-playing prowess. Go slowly through all of the mechanical processes, then just before you shoot, STOP. Stand up. Walk around the table at least once. Chalk your cue (don’t you hate missing a simple shot because you miscued?). Go slowly through the processes again. You might feel silly, but it will pay off in the long run!