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!

8 responses to “The Benefits of Straight Pool

  1. now u know why i favor old-school nine ball rules (BIH in kitchen, call shot on every shot, spot accidentally made balls, & so on). this helps you to not be delusional in thinking you’re better than you actually are, and help you to be more realistic about your game.

  2. Fantastic , I just started playing straight pool and fell in love with it. What you discovered about it helping in all other games is true. When I play 8 ball I see patterns better, and in 9 ball I am able to break up clusters. Keep up the great info with this Blog.

  3. You also learn don’t bump into balls unless it is on purpose – once the balls are all separated rarely should you bump into them – and for me I find myself practicing shooting up table straight or nearly straight in shots to minimize cueball movement and same for the side pockets.
    Good luck

    • Yes, I agree with you. I’m learning to keep my shots as simple as possible and move the cue ball as little as possible; hence, the stop shot is my new best friend. It’s amazing how much my 8 ball game has improved now that I’ve simplified my routes and I’m seeing, planning, and breaking up clusters much more effectively.

  4. 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.

    If the “lingering doubts” refer to shot selection then I suggest that you re-consider that notion based on Mike Page’s Billiards preshot routine (part 2) video. Mike argues that you shouldn’t go back to planning phase, ie. once you decide your shot you should stick with it. Like Mike puts it: “for the same reason that you never negotiate with terrorists”.

    If you meant that you would not change the shot, but just align yourself again etc, then I agree.

    • Hi Jarno,
      I was mostly thinking about alignment. When you get down to shoot, any small variance in a fundamental factor such as foot positioning, bridge formation, bridge arm angle, cue tip address location on the cue ball, etc., can throw your shot slightly off course. As you start your shooting routine (stroking), your unconscience brain almost always detects the issue. The problem for most people, including myself, is that it is difficult to make yourself listen to that ‘little voice’ in your head. When the little voice says that something is off, you should stop, reposition if you have to, and try again. When you are ‘on’, your brain knows it, and will tell you that it is okay to take the shot.

      There were some times in the past when I shot so fast that I didn’t take time to plan my shots correctly. In those cases, I would stand up and rethink the shot selection. This was one of my worst problems historically, but I’ve corrected that and I almost never do that anymore.

  5. This is solid advice to apply to all games. Well said Michael.

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