Monthly Archives: December 2010

The Benefits of Straight Pool

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
   – Albert Einstein

I’ve recently developed a love for straight pool.  It’s refreshing to have the freedom to choose the ball you want to pocket.  There are no restrictions, no forced shooting order, no care at all whether a ball has a stripe on it or not.  You can even sink the 8 ball at any point with no penalty!  You are only limited by the lay of the table and your imagination.  What could be more freeing?

As I’ve started to get more serious with the game, I’ve noticed something very interesting.  The better I get at straight pool, the more I see improvements in my other games.  I started thinking about it, and came up with the following observations from straight pool that have really benefited my overall level of play:

  1. There’s no luck in straight pool.  No willy-nilly half-baked shots are rewarded.  Every shot is a called shot.  Even the lay of the table can theoretically be controlled by the player with judicious use of pattern play and ball bumping.  Stop blaming the table or the layout…you are in control!
  2. Shoot softly.  Do I really need to explain this?
  3. Focus on fundamentals.  Good mechanics and straight shooting is required.  Your other games will thank you.
  4. Position play is paramount.  You’ve got to stay on the right side of the ball.  If not, you will very quickly run out of makeable shots.
  5. Straight pool demands mental focus on every single shot.  Why risk losing concentration, miss an easy shot, and blow a hard earned long run?
  6. You rediscover the stop shot.  The stop shot is your long lost friend.
  7. You quickly learn that spin is bad for you.  You can achieve almost all of your cue ball positioning goals using nothing but draw, follow, and cue ball speed.  Okay, maybe one or two microns of left or right, but that’s about it.
  8. You don’t want to move the cue ball any more than you have to.  Why go twelve feet and three rails when you can accomplish nearly the same result with a two foot draw shot?
  9. And speaking of rails, why use them at all?  Just follow or draw up and down the table.  Plan ahead to achieve the correct angles and minimize the use of rails.
  10. We all know how to cheat the pocket on a cut shot, but in straight pool, sometimes it is advantageous to cheat the position.  Instead of cutting balls, sometimes I throw them into pockets.  I do this occasionally to reduce cue ball travel distance and keep the cue ball on the right side for my next shot.
  11. You MUST plan at least three shots ahead.  Preferably more.  Otherwise, clusters and the break shot will kill you.
  12. When you get into your shooting stance, you are thinking about nothing but making the shot…pure execution.  If your mind is not fully made up…if you have any lingering doubts about the shot, you MUST stand up, make up your mind, fully visualize the shot in your head, then get down into your shooting stance again.
  13. Remember KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid!  Don’t overplay things.  Don’t try to do too much.  And YES, it’s okay if you decide to shoot a six foot stop shot instead of choosing the two foot cut shot!

The Hustle Before Christmas

For the hoildays, I wanted to share with you the best pool related poem ever written.  It is reprinted here with permission from the author, Kyle Odell.  Kyle is an avid pool player who lives in Kansas City, MO.  You can also follow Kyle on twitter.  Enjoy!

The Hustle Before Christmas

by Kyle Odell

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the town,
it was silent and empty, no action was found.
The railbirds were nestled, all snug in their beds,
while visions of jump shots danced in their heads.

The tables were quiet, the cues put away,
I went to shoot drills, though I wanted to play.
The parking lot glistened with new-fallen snow,
and the lights from the pool room gave off a faint glow.

I stopped for a minute, ’cause I’d gotten out of line.
I bore down real hard and made a bank on the nine.
When outside the door there arose such a clatter!
I ran to the window to see what was the matter.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a jolly fat man and eight strange-looking deer.
He was dressed all in red from his head to his toe,
and he grabbed a case from his sleigh with a “Ho ho ho!”

He walked through the door and checked out the hall:
“I’m looking for action. Who plays nine ball?”
I made a small sound and he looked o’er my way.
He whipped out his cellphone and called his backers, by name:

“Hey Comet, Hey Blitzen, Hey Leroy and Scott!
I got some action, and this kid looks hot!”
He looked me up and down, in his obnoxious attire.
“Race to eleven? I’ll give you two on the wire.”

I finished the match, and beat the fat man in red,
when he smiled at his stakehorse, then turned and said:
“Do it again, kid? But I want first break….
Oh, one more thing…Double the stakes?”

I should’ve known better, but agreed just the same.
And I was amazed when I saw St. Nick’s game!
There were caroms and kick-safes before he was done,
and when he comboed the nine, I knew he had won.

So if you meet a man in red, take a moment to pause,
or you too might get hustled by Ol’ Santa Claus.

Merry Christmas!

A New High Run in Straight Pool!

Well, my attempt to go a day without pool failed.  After work yesterday I got a call from a guy who was interested in buying an old cue case of mine, so I headed over to California Billiards to meet him.  He was running late, so I grabbed some balls and warmed up for about 20 minutes.  Wanting a little more structure, and to put some pressure on myself, I decided to play some straight pool.  On my first attempt, I shot a two.  Yes, a two.  I swept the table clear, reracked, took a deep breath, and started again.  This time, I forced myself to completely plan and think through each shot before getting into my shooting stance.  Angle.  Speed.  Minimal spin.  Minimal cue ball movement.  Keep it simple.  I was pretty relaxed through the first rack, then got down to the dreaded last couple of balls and made perfect position for the break shot.  Crack!  Rack number two opened up and spread well.  I immediately identified the perfect break ball for the next rack and was excited.  I was a little nervous as I maneuvered through the second rack, but I was able to get perfect position for the next break shot.  Whack!  The third rack opened up, and I was ecstatic!  I had 30 balls down, the balls had spread wide open, and I was only two away from tying my personal best!  I told myself, “Don’t over think it…keep it simple.”  I made the next two balls and was nervous as hell.  To break my personal best record, I had to make a sharp cut to the side pocket.  I lined up the shot, focused on the aiming point, and pulled the trigger.  The object ball rolled slowly toward the pocket, hit the tip of the leading edge cushion (a very bad sign!), ricocheted and hit the tip of the trailing cushion, wobbled, then dropped into the pocket!  Wheeewwww!  A miracle!  I could continue the run!  From that point on, every shot was excruciating.  My routine was always the same.  Planning at least three balls ahead.  Carefully determining the proper aiming point.  Fundamentals!  Fundamentals!  I was able to clear the table and setup another pretty good break shot.  Whack!  It was an okay collision into the fourth rack, but several balls stayed glued together in the middle of the pack.  I knew this rack was going to be trouble.  I needed to find a way to break open the middle of the pack.  I identified a good candidate ball, sank four balls around the perimeter, then got okay position on the fifth ball to allow a secondary break shot attempt.  I hit the fifth ball hard and it flew into the corner pocket.  The cue ball rocketed into the middle of the pack…and died.  All of its energy had been absorbed by the pack.  The cue ball was snuggled up against three object balls…I was almost completely locked up.  My only possible shot was a very low percentage carom shot to the side pocket, which I missed.  The final count:  50!  A new personal best!

A Day Without Pool?

I’ve decided to take a day off from pool today.  *gasp!*   Yes, I know, it’s hard to believe, but playing for 30 hours over the last 4 days has taken its toll.  It’s not that I suffer from a lack of motivation…I’ve just got other things that I need to take care of…and my back hurts, and my feet hurt, and my eyes are tired….  Will I be able to make it?  Will I be able to survive for a day without feeding my addiction?  Stay tuned…    😉

Getting my Butt Kicked

I played in a 9 Ball tournament last night at Cuetopia in San Jose, CA, and I was the recipient of a serious butt kicking.  The most interesting thing I will remember from the match was not the fact that I lost, which actually is not that unusual, but rather the manner in which I lost.  I really didn’t play bad pool.  In fact, I really didn’t play much pool at all.  Most of my time was spent sitting on a stool watching my opponent run rack after rack.  You might think to yourself, “Hey, it’s not all that usual… a great player can sometimes get on a roll, and in a short race to 5 format, you may only shoot a few times… big deal.”  Ok, good point.  But the fact that he soundly beat me in just a few innings wasn’t what impressed me.  It’s how he did it.  It’s how he ran the tables.  Here are just a few of my observations regarding his style of play that made me sit up and take notice:

  1. He shot with an extreme sense of urgency.  He never took any time to line up a shot or ponder his next position play.  He just walked over to the cue ball, immediately bent down, stroked once or twice, fired, stood up, and walked to the next cue ball position, sometimes even getting there before the cue ball did.  Then he would repeat his version of the hurry up offense.  I began to wonder if he was really an open heart surgeon from a nearby hospital.  I can hear the discussion now:  “When will the ambulance get here?”  “In about 10 minutes, doc.”  “Great!  There’s this pool tournament across the road at Cuetopia…I’ll be back in 10 minutes!”   Hummm…I wonder. 
  2. He never once applied draw to the cue ball.  Not even when, IMHO, a draw shot was by far the easiest option for getting proper position on the next ball.  It took me a couple racks to even notice this, since his position routes were so quick, seemingly careless, and completely natural.  I finally picked up on this odd characteristic on one particular shot in the third rack, in which a draw shot was so obviously the right shot to take that even a beginner looking at the shot would think, “Damn, I wish I knew how to draw the ball”… yet my opponent didn’t draw it… instead he opted for a one rail follow with slight right spin.
  3. Virtually every shot my opponent took was a center axis stroke with follow.  No draw.  No spin.  Yet on every shot, he ended up exactly where he wanted to be.  Simple.  Seemingly effortless.  Totally natural.  DAMN!  That’s nice!

I think I even dreamed about this last night.  My opponent’s performance reminded me of a portion of Gary Frerking’s December PoolSynergy post, in which he reviews a DVD by Mike Sigel.  Mr. Sigel talks about simplification… eliminating variables… making your game more repeatable.  Over the next week I’ll toy around with the concept of using only natural angles and controlling cue ball position with nothing but distance control.  Certainly not as easy as it sounds, but wouldn’t it be nice to only have two variables (seeing the natural angle and hitting with the correct speed) you have to control?

Poolsynergy Gift Ideas

Welcome to PoolSynergy, a monthly collection of some of the best writing in pool.  This month our host Melinda asked each of us pool bloggers to recommend one book and one DVD for the holiday season.  I found it very difficult to pick just one book, so I’ll be presenting two.  Also, I’ll mention a DVD that has given me the inspiration to keep going even when I had bad days and felt like giving up.  Ok, drum roll please…here we go! 

The Talent Code

Book Recommendation # 1:  The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle.  Without a doubt, this book has made the biggest contribution to my development as a pool player…and the book has nothing to do with pool.  In fact, it never even mentions pool.  However, if you are serious about improving your game, I highly recommend you buy and read it.  You see, a few years ago I decided to ‘retire’ from pool…I was very frustrated with my lack progress as an APA level 6 player.  No matter how much I read, studied, and practiced the game, I just couldn’t break through to a higher level of play.  I gave up.  I had fallen for two misconceptions:  (1) “I’m an old geezer and I’m over the hill.  In order to get really good at pool, you have to be a child prodigy…right?”  WRONG!  (2) “Playing at a very high level requires that you spend at least 5-10 hours a day at the practice table, right?”  WRONG!  These are just a couple misconceptions addressed by the book.  In the book, Daniel reviews some of the latest research into the fundamental characteristics that all world class performers share regardless of their chosen specialty:  tennis player, soccer player, singer, actor, violinist, pianist, chess master…it doesn’t matter what field these people operate in…all share many of the same traits.  The book also reviews the latest discoveries in neurological science that describe the physiological and neurological basis for talent development.  Talent is actually a biological process, i.e. anyone can develop world class talent…you just have to go about it in the right way and approach it intelligently.  Now you can learn their secrets.  This book is a must read!

The Pro Book

Book Recommendation # 2 – The Pro Book by Bob Henning.  This is the best pool book I’ve ever read.  It introduced me to the concept of ‘reference shots.’  Here’s Bob’s approach:  Learn to execute the basic shots in this book extremely well.  There are about 16 basic shots, and some variations of these, which bring the grand total to around 45 shots.  During actual game play these shots come up quite often, but more importantly, almost every other shot that you encounter will be a simple variation of one of these reference shots.  When I bought the book earlier this year, I spent about 1.5 to 2.0 hours every day for two months on the standard position routes and drilled and drilled and drilled on them until I ‘owned’ them.  I also incorporated several concepts from The Talent Code into my practice routine…and the results were unbelievable!  My ball pocketing, position play, and route planning abilities skyrocketed.  Whereas I once operated at an APA skill level of 6, in just a few months I was able to progress to being one of the top skill level 7 players in APA system that I play in.  Yes, I still occasionally have a bad day, but those days have become more and more infrequent.  I’ve also taken the concept of ‘reference shots’ and applied it to many different aspects of the game.  If you can only buy one pool book, this is the one I recommend.

Predator 14.1 World Championships

DVD Recommendation – I don’t have very many pool DVDs.  I’ve watched and enjoyed some TAR matches, but I think the most inspirational DVD that I’ve seen was the 2009 Predator World 14.1 Championship match between Mika Immonen and Thorsten Hohmann.  Why?  Straight pool is, in my humble opinion, the ultimate test of a player’s skill.  It requires great ball pocketing, position play, route management, cluster breaking, and safety skills.  It’s really exciting to watch a player run ball after ball, rack after rack.  I’m not sure what it is, but there’s just something about the 14.1 break shot and the transition from rack to rack that amazes me.  It’s like the players can control something that inherently seems completely random.  Ahhhhh…real magic!

Well, that’s all for my recommendations.  If you want to read about the books and DVDs recommended by other PoolSynergy authors, visit Melinda’s blog here.

My Trip to Kolby’s, Part II

In my last post, I admitted that I forgot to take any pictures inside of Kolby’s Corner Pocket.  But guess what?  I found a picture on my iPhone that I took the last time I traveled to Kolby’s during the week of May 10-14.  Here’s the picture:

Kolby's Corner Pocket - A view from the bar

And now, for a little info about the room:

What’s the main selling point?  It’s located right next door to Arizona State University, so there’s a good mix of players: older guys who shoot during the afternoon, college kids who shoot in the evenings, and road players who shoot late at night.  This is a player’s room.  According to the locals, Kolby’s is the biggest action room in Arizona…and that’s saying a lot!  Kolby’s also offers weekly tournaments and league play. 

What about the equipment?  The tables are well maintained and each table has full length fluorescent lights, so the surfaces are well lighted.  There are 5 seven foot valley coin ops, 10 nine foot Brunswick gold crowns, and 1 nine foot Diamond.  The Diamond and six of the Brunswick tables are shimmed up pretty tight.  There’s also a pro shop with cues, cases, shirts, and general billiard supplies.

What about the food?  It was here that I was first introduced to potato chips dipped in ranch dressing.  Yeah, I know, I don’t get out that much.  They also serve a variety of sandwiches and subs, including chicken and roast beef, and also have a killer bacon cheeseburger.  Yes, the food is pretty good, and oh yeah, they have sodas and lots of beer.

Stories:  According to my sources, the Diamond table sees a lot of One Pocket action.  Just a few days before my first visit in May, Scott Frost and Preacher Ron locked horns on table 6.  Scott gave Preacher Ron 11 to 4 in a One Pocket race to 7 ahead for $2,000, with Scott getting the breaks.  The match started late Saturday night, May 11.  Scott finally prevailed, but the match didn’t end until early Monday morning…30 straight hours on the table!

My Trip to Kolby’s Corner Pocket

I took a business trip to the Phoenix, AZ area this week.  Of course, I had to take a cue stick along.  I decided to book a room at the Quality Inn in Tempe, AZ because I thought it was about a quarter mile away from Kolby’s.  That would allow me to slip over and play some pool in the evenings.  Turn’s out, the hotel was much closer; in fact, it actually shares a parking lot with Kolby’s.   Here’s a picture of Kolby’s Corner Pocket from my hotel room!

View of Kolby's from my hotel room

It goes without saying that I ended up at Kolby’s Corner Pocket every night during the trip.  On Wenesday night, I ended up shooting pool from about 7:00 until 2:30 in the morning.  I’m still hurting from that one!  Unfortunately, most of the students at ASU were preparing for finals, so Kolby’s was rather empty most of the time I was there.  Oh well.  I still got in a bunch of straight pool practice.  Here’s a picture of Kolby’s during the day and at night.  As usual, I forgot to take any pictures inside.  Good thing I don’t make a living doing this sort of thing!  I pretty much lived at Kolby’s during my off hours.  Oh yeah, Scott Frost was in town but I didn’t see him at Kolby’s so I didn’t have a chance to meet him.  Darn!

View of Kolby's by Day and Night