Monthly Archives: February 2010

A Friendly Wager

It’s Saturday morning…wooohooo!…and I’m up early.  My wife and I will be leaving soon to walk over to Starbucks to grab a cup of coffee and a sausage egg and cheese.  Yipee!  Unfortunately, my wife will be attending a class all day today, so although I would love to spend some quality time with her, I guess I’ll need to find something else to occupy my free time.  What else could I do today?  Hummmm……cha ching!!  I know!  How about a little pool?

I’m meeting a friend over at California Billiards today.  We’ve arranged a three hour competition today to see who’s the better player (or at least, who’s playing better today).  Our plan is to meet up when the CBC opens, each get in about an hour of serious practice time, then we’ll lock horns and see who is king of the hill.  The wager?  Dinner with our wives at Maggiano’s Little Italy at Santana Row.  Nothing like a little friendly competition to kick off the weekend.  Well, I’m off.  Hope everyone has a great weekend!


The Scoreboard

The Scoreboard

Today I established a dashboard to monitor my efforts as I improve my pool playing skills and transition from amateur to professional pool player.  My current training program is modeled after the approach presented by Bob Henning in his fantastic book, “The Pro Book.”  In his book Bob presents 16 basic shots and some variations of each shot which total around 124 shots.  My plan is to master five shots per week over the next six months.  I figure if I master all of these shots, my skill level will have increased to somewhere near the pro level.  “Mastering” a shot means being able to successfully execute the shot 80% of the time on demand.  If you’d like to track my progress, just click on “The Scoreboard” tab located at the top of my home page.  The due date that I have established for mastering all 124 shots is August 31, 2010.

To enhance my training efforts, I will also be incorporating the concepts presented by Daniel Coyle in his book, “The Talent Code.”  Some of the key concepts from Daniel’s book related to training and putting yourself into the sweet spot to gain maximum return on effort include:

1) Isolating an action.  Can you describe the shot you’re trying to learn in five seconds or less? If not, break the shot down into components and study each separately, such as:  a) visualizing and planning the shot, b) getting into position, c) stroking, d) shooting.   Also, it is important to have a precise, HD-quality mental image of yourself performing the desired skill in your head before you shoot!

2) Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.  You should be making, and fixing, mistakes.  Also, you should be varying the speed of your shooting routine: slow, super-slow, and fast (or normal).

3) Combining the individual components into a fluent performance.  You should be zooming in and out, isolating your attention on each component, then seeing how it all fits together in the larger picture.

For more information on maximizing your training efforts and learning the secrets to achieving world class performance, visit Daniel’s excellent blog here.

Parallax Error Discovered

Last night during my deep practice session, I discovered an error in my aiming method.  I was practicing a new shot which required me to shoot across 2/3rds the length of the nine foot table that I’m using.  I repeated the same shot into the corner pocket dozens of times, but a handful of shots missed because they collided with the right side rail just in front of the pocket.  I noticed that even when I made balls, they were almost always entering the pocket on the right hand side of the hole.  I made a very minor correction to my bridge to make it more solid, and also made a minor correction to my stroke which was slightly off-line.  I thought to myself that I must be rushing the shot and I needed to slow things down, so I stepped back.  I looked over the shot.  ” This was not a hard shot, and I must make it” I told myself.  Then I got into my shooting stance, focused intensly, and imagined the national championship was on the line.  I took my time, thought through the fundamentals, then pulled the trigger.  Cue tip and cue ball collided, the cue ball rolled down table and collided with the object ball.  The object ball obediently rolled towards the corner pocket…the right hand side of the corner pocket I might add.  Then, the unimaginable happened….the object ball hit the tip of the side rail and rattled between the jaws of the pocket.  A MISS!  WHAT?!!

I was a little upset with myself, and I set the shot up again.  I got back into my shooting stance, checked everything again, and thought, this one should definitely go in.  Just before I pulled the trigger, I froze.  Maybe the issue was not my execution.  Maybe the issue was related to my perception of the shot.  Ahh Hahhh!  Maybe my eyes were not in proper alignment with the cue stick.  I froze my bridge and stroke arm in position, and slightly moved my head to allow my dominate eye to rest directly above the cue stick so that I could look down the line of the stick and assess where the cue ball was being aimed.   BINGO!  The shot was aimed directly at the very right hand edge of pocket!  I’m not sure what changed to cause this error in my aiming, but it’s very easy to fix.  I got back into my stance, repositioned my head slightly to the left, noting the location of the cue stick next to my face for future reference, and fired the shot.  A perfect shot.  I fired again several times, each successful.

In retrospect, I’m not sure how the parallax issue manifested itself, and the new location of the cue stick next to my face seems unnatural (I usually shoot with the stick directly below my chin), but it’s producing results, so who cares why it works?  Maybe my vision is changing, and one eye is becoming more dominate?  That could explain why the visual perception between both eyes changed.  Maybe it’s time for my annual vision checkup!

The Name Game

In preparation for my deep practice session tonight, I reviewed the first 5 basic shots in “The Pro Book,” and noticed something odd.  Several of the shots had descriptions that contained the following sentence: “Learn the name of each shot first, the line second, and the speed last.”  When I read this, I thought the suggestion of learning the name of each shot was really silly, so I ignored the advice.

In my workout, I practiced shots 1a, 1b, 2a, and 2b.  Shots 1a and 1b are stop shots with distances 1/3 and 2/3 the length of the table.  The object ball must be pocketed, and the cue ball must come to a complete stop when it collides with the object ball.  In my first practice session I found these shots to be easy, and I mastered both of these shots fairly quickly.

Shots 2a and 2b were more challenging.  They were shots both with a distance of 1/3 the table length, but after the cue ball collides with the object ball, the cue ball must draw backwards.  On shot 2a, the cue ball must travel directly backwards and return to within 5 inches of its starting point.  On shot 2b, the cue ball must draw backwards and travel to within 5 inches of a spot twice the distance as in shot 2a.  In my one hour session tonight, I spent 45 minutes on these two shots.

And now for the weird part of this story.  Remember my comment about not wanting to learn the name of the shots?  During my practice session, at one point I was making shots 2a and 2b about 30-40% of the time.  I then thought about the strange statement in the book.  For fun, I said, “Shot 2a.”  I then shot the shot, and guess what?  The ball returned to within 5 inches of the target.  I’m sure you’re thinking, “Yeah, sure!”  Believe me, I’m still saying that now.  I started experiementing, and noticed that when I didn’t name the shot, my success rate was between 30-50%.  When I named the shot, my rate was 50-65%.  Please don’t ask me to explain this.  I don’t know if the phenomena is real or just a statistical anomoly, but as long as it works I’ll keep doing it.  If the effect pans out, I can imagine me walking around the table, muttering under my breath like Rainman, “2a….13b…7d…1b.”  Who knows?  Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Although I’ve mastered shots 1a and 1b, I certainly have not mastered shots 2a and 2b.  For my next practice session, I’ll continue with shots 2a and 2b, and add two or three new shots.  I will not consider a shot to be mastered until I’m able to make the shot 80 or 90 percent of the time.  So far, I’m on my schedule.  I’ll give another update in a couple days.

The Training Program

Tough Workouts Ahead!

Late last night I drafted up a two year training schedule which leverages the game strategies and training techniques contained in “The Pro Book” and “The Advanced Pro Book.”  I will not include all the gory details here, but what follows are the highlights.

My Vision: To play billiards competitively at a Professional Level


(1) Master “The Pro Book” by August 31, 2010.  If I start today, I’ll have six months to do this.  I’ve timed this goal to allow me to prepare for the 2010 US Amateur Championship tournament.  The qualifying rounds of the tournament are held each September at several locations around the United States.  My goal is to make it to the finals of the qualifiers, and earn a spot in the National Championships which are being held in November in Tampa, Florida.

(2) Master “The Advanced Pro Book” by August 31, 2011.  I will have twelve months to do this after I master “The Pro Book.”  This goal is timed to allow me to prepare for the 2011 US Amateur Championship tournament.  My goal again in 2011 is to qualify for the National Championships, and be able to play competitively at the National Level.

(3) Play in an open professional tournament in 2012.

Tactics for Goal 1

I reviewed “The Pro Book” and discovered that the ‘Basic 16 shots’ is really about 80 shots.  The reason is that most of the basic shots have a natural ‘extension’ – an alternative distance for the cue ball to travel after the shot.  Most of the basic shots also have two associated shots that are called ‘boundry’ shots.  Boundry shots are shots where the cue ball and object ball are placed at locations that are considered to be on the ‘edge of viability’ of the shot being studied.  So, altogether, there are really 80 Basic shots to learn.  In addition to the Basic shots, there are 16 safeties, 12 kicks, 8 kick safeties, and 8 bank shots that are presented.  The grand total number of shots to memorize (in deep practice) is 124 shots.  Whew!  This equates to roughly 1 shot per working day between now and August 31st, assuming that I only practice during the work week.  For now, I’m not going to do a whole lot of planning for 2011, but I will be periodically reviewing and incorporating drills from “The Advanced Pro Book” to enhance my training program.

Ok, there you have it.  I have the shots, I have the drills, I have access to a pool table, and I have a plan.  Now all I need is about an hour a day of serious deep practice, and I should be on my way.  I’ll give you periodic updates on my progress during the week.

Christmas in February

The Sacred Texts

Last year I traveled to New York City to meet Chris Lynch, the house pro at Amsterdam Billiards.  We knocked the balls around for a couple hours while Chris gave me some pointers and advice on how to improve my game.  During our conversation, Chris mentioned that one of the biggest contributors to his advancement as a player was his reading of a book written by Bob Henning, called “The Pro Book.”  He said the book was designed around the concept of ‘reference shots.’  The book presents 16 basic shots which you must shoot over and over again until you know them like the back of your hand.  The theory is that almost all other shots are merely variations of the basic 16.  I thought the concept sounded interesting, but after leaving New York, I soon forgot about it.

Last week I was on Amazon searching for a different billiard book, and…drum roll please…up popped “The Pro Book.”   I remembered my conversation with Chris, and did a search on Bob Henning.  Not only did I find “The Pro Book,” but I also found “The Advanced Pro Book.”  Yippeee!  My AMEX card jumped out of my wallet so fast it left burn marks in the leather.  I arranged for expedited shipping to make sure it arrived before this weekend.  Friday evening after work, I returned home and saw a package sitting at my front door.  I quickened my pace, then picked up the package and flipped it over.  The package was from Amazon!  CHRISTMAS IN FEBRUARY!  Whoohooo!

I ripped open the package on the spot, and there they were, wrapped in beautiful protective shrink wrap, two sacred texts chocked full of strategies and training techniques for the serious pool player.  These books are not filled with the normal dumbed-down pre-adolescent short attention span dribble that you so commonly see in most billiard books today.  No, these books are for the serious pool player who wants to lay down the gauntlet, chew some bubble gum, and kick ass!  My hands were trembling as I fumbled with my keys to open the front door.  I was eager to get inside so I could glance through the books and relish the joy that I had found.

After a day and a half of scanning and speed reading, I’ve determined that my route to becoming a professional is now much clearer.  I still have a TON of work to do, but at least I now have a clear path.  No more guessing and no more fumbling around in the dark.  I’m already four months into my two year journey, and although I’ve made good progress, I still have a very long way to go.   Tomorrow I’ll put together a formal training program with clearly defined objectives, timelines, and due dates.  As I said in my post a few days ago, it’s time to get serious.  On Monday I’ll start executing against the plan.  Stay tuned tomorrow, same bat time, same bat channel, for another update.

Honduran Rotation Pool

I was browsing the internet today, and ran across a pool video that I wanted to share.  The video captures a game of Honduran Rotation, an extremely challenging game that is primarily played in Honduras.  The gentleman shooting is Tony Sorto, born in Honduras, who now lives in Vista, California.  In the video, he shoots a perfect game.  You have to see it to believe it.

I’ve never played the game before, but I’ll give it a try next week.  I doubt I could make more than a handful of balls.  In the mean time, I hope you enjoy the video!

Got Dots?

Practice Aids

No more excuses.  It’s time to get serious about the shots that are giving me problems.  I just put a roll of mini red dots in my cue case so that I can use them as part of my practice routine.  Hole punch reinforcements would also do the job.  Each day next week I will choose one troublesome shot to master.  I will set up the shot, mark the location of the cue ball and object ball(s) with mini dots, then shoot the shot.  After shooting, I’ll set up the ball(s) again exactly as they were before, and shoot again.  And again.  And again.  The objective is to burn an image into my head of exactly what the aiming of the shot should look like, how the cue ball needs to be addressed, and by repetition develop muscle memory to allow me to execute the shot flawlessly.  I figure if I do just one shot a day, in less than a week I will have mastered my five worst shots.  The key to making sure this exercise works is getting into the zone of deep focus and  paying attention to the fundamentals of stance, bridge, and stroke.  The dots will just make sure that I’m practicing the same shot over and over.  Well, got to go.  I need to figure out which shots to practice.