On Thursday night I was playing in a cheap $20 race to seven 9 ball match. I lost the first two games, then bore down and won five straight racks to take a 5-2 lead. I was well on my way to winning the next rack, having run balls 1 through 8, but I missed the 9 ball shot as illustrated below. The miss proved to be a huge turning point in the match, and I subsequently lost 6-7.
Later that night as I replayed the match in my head, I kept asking myself why I missed the shot. I thought about possible explanations. I thought about factors that contributed to the miss, the thoughts that were in my head when I took the shot, my lack of focus, my lack of adherence to my normal pre-shot routine, etc. I identified several things I had done wrong, and promised myself I would work on them in future practice sessions.
This morning as I was lying in bed, still thinking about (brooding over?) the lost match, I suddenly realized I was asking myself the wrong questions. Sure, figuring out why I missed the tough shot and improving upon those parts of my game is a valid path to getting better, but was that really the most important question for me to be pondering? As I reflected on this, it became apparent to me that the most important question was really this: “How did I get myself into a situation that required me to attempt such a difficult shot?” Of all the items that may have contributed to the missed shot, the most glaring factor was poor execution of my PREVIOUS shot which directly led to the subsequent abhorrent position that I found myself in.
Given that there are a limited number of hours in a day, how should I allocate my practice time? In other words, how do I get the most bang for my practice buck? Should I spend time trying to refine my shooting and aiming techniques to an extreme level of precision, or should I simply work on improving my ability to move the cue ball from one simple shot to the next? The answer for me was glaringly obvious… work on my cue ball control. A couple hours working on cue ball routes will yield quicker and better results for my overall game than the same amount of time spent refining my already pretty good shooting and aiming skills.
The next time you miss a shot, ask yourself this question: “Did I miss the shot because of a simple execution error, OR did i miss the shot because I had to take a difficult shot which resulted from poor cue ball control from a previous shot?” If you are an APA level 2-4 player, it’s likely your miss was the result of an execution error. APA level 5-7 players primarily miss shots due to cue ball position errors which lead the shooter to progressively more difficult shots until a miss is inevitable. Think about it, then use your practice time wisely!
I started playing in a straight pool league a couple weeks ago after being prodded by a pool friend for many months to join. Now I can’t believe it took me so long to get involved. I’m addicted! In the first two weeks I had a blast just trying to understand the rules of the game and figuring out some game strategies through trial and error. My approach in the first two weeks was pretty much all offense. As my passion for the game picked up, I decided it was time to do a little research, so I went through my pool library and pulled out an old copy of The Straight Pool Bible by Arthur Cranfield. I read it cover to cover several times. I even took out my iPhone and snapped some pictures of the standard break shots and safeties so I could practice them during my weekly practice sessions. Now that I have a little more experience under my belt, I’ll try to put together a more balanced approach to the game. When I play in the league tonight, I’ll be looking for safety opportunities to prevent my opponent from posting sizable runs instead of just rolling the dice, attempting difficult shots, and hoping for the best. Anybody have any suggestions for other good books or DVDs on straight pool?
I hate losing. Well, maybe that statement is not completely accurate. I guess it’s not the losing that I hate, as there have been many matches where I’ve lost but felt good about it because I knew that I had played to the best of my ability. Last night was not one of those cases. I played in an 8 ball tournament Friday night at Lucky Shot Billiards. I think there were about 20 people in the tournament, and I ended up with 4th place, but I was very disappointed with my performance. Even in the matches that I won, I never really felt in control of my game. Nothing ever “felt right”. In my final match I played a guy whom I know to be a better player than me, and I was hoping to give him a tough match. Alas, I stunk! I had several opportunities during the match to take control of the table due to some weak safeties that he played, but in almost every instance I failed to capitalize on the opportunities and left him with runnable tables.
They say a lot of this game is in your head, and to a large extent that is true, but when you are given opportunities to make a shot and take control of the table, you must be able to make the shot! Ugggh! Enough of my whining. I contemplated playing in the 9 ball tournament tonight at California Billiards, but I still don’t feel mentally with it, so I think instead I’ll just take the day off and rest. I’ll also spend some time thinking about my performance to identify aspects of my game that I need to work on. After all, there’s always another tournament!
I’ve been working very diligently over the last year and a half focusing primarily on fundamentals; the mechanics of the game. Stance. Bridge. Grip. Aiming. Stroke. Most of my drills and practice sessions have been designed with one goal in mind: a relentless pursuit of the elimination of variation. In my humble opinion, the key to pocket billiards is in reducing variation…being able to reproduce the same action (or shot) over and over and over again, and have the motions so hard wired that you don’t even have to think about it. For example, here are some of the things I’ve been working on in the last year and a half: A super solid bridge with at least 3 points touching the table surface; my right forearm hanging directly beneath my elbow; my wrist completely straight and aligned with my forearm; having a balanced stance – back leg straight – front leg slightly bent; holding the cue with just my first finger and part of my thumb, kind of like holding a tea cup by the handle. This list goes on and on.
If you have been following my blog for some time, you will notice that haven’t posted much lately. The primary reason I haven’t posted is because I have this fear… a fear (knock on wood) that I will jinx my game by telling you what’s been happening. I still have some reservations about saying this, but over the last two or three weeks, something has definitely changed in my game…for the good. To put it simply, I’m just not missing that many shots any more. I don’t really know why or what has changed. I know this is going to sound conceited, but in the last few days I’ve been shooting so well that I know if I can see a shot, I’m going to make it. Yeah, I told you…sounded conceited didn’t it? It IS really weird. I was playing a match last night in a local straight pool league, and almost all of my shots went in, regardless of distance or angle. The only reason I didn’t string together any super long runs is because I’m just learning the game and I suck at figuring out the rack to rack transition shots. But that will come with experience, right? I have noticed one thing though: when I get into my stance and get ready to shoot a shot, the world around me “changes”. What do I mean by that? It’s hard to explain. When I’m focusing on the shot, it’s like my perception of reality is different. Kind of like a form of tunnel vision where everything in my field of vision greys out (except for the actual shot) and the ambient noise in the room fades away and becomes silent and irrelevant. Freaky!
I guess the conclusion that I’ve reached is that I’ve gotten my fundamentals locked down sufficiently that I can now focus on a different aspect of my game. Instead of thinking and drilling on mechanics, I’m now going to focus on strategies and gamesmanship. The impact of this on my practice sessions will be immense. No more hours upon hours of monotonous shot making. I think I have the mechanics down. I’m now going to be focusing on practice drills and games that develop the cerebral part of my game. I’ll be playing a lot more straight pool (14.1), one pocket, and 3 cushion billiards in the coming weeks. I’ll also be matching up with some of the best players in the area that I can find. More on this later.
I finally got in a serious practice session tonight. For my warmup, I hit about 15 diagonal table shots. Then I spent the next 45 minutes practicing safeties using the rolling safe drill. For the final 3 hours, I played a game that doesn’t really have a name, so I’ll just refer to it as “call-ball-call-pocket-call-the-routes-6-ball.” (That’s a mouthful!) This is the hardest version of 6 ball that I can imagine. You start with 6 balls on the table and ball in hand. Before your first shot you must preselect the pockets that each of the balls will go in to and the routes you will take to transition from ball to ball. After you take your first shot, you can’t change any of your selections. If you get out of line at any point, it’s very difficult to recover and get back in line for a subsequent shot. You must be very selective up front in your route planning and identify the routes that provide the least amount of overall risk; hence, you might choose your first or second shots to be more difficult in order to ensure easier shots later in the run. The most important thing to remember is DO NOT EVER GET ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE LINE! For me, this is a real cranial workout as I don’t see all 6 routes immediately. When I eventually stopped the drill, my score was 17 out of 40 and I was mentally exhausted. This is MUCH more difficult than it sounds. Give it a try. In a previous practice session I was able to complete the drill for 5 balls, so now I’m working on 6. Someday, if I can ever consistently achieve 50% success, I’ll move up to 7 balls. Someday…
P.S. – Oh, and I forgot to mention that you must shoot the balls in rotation.
I normally don’t post non-pool related stuff, but I saw this video over the weekend and thought it was so funny and so well done that I had to repost it. It’s a parody of Obama’s speech performed by Iman Cross, announcing that Seal Team Six got Osama Bin Laden. Definitely worth watching. I’ll get back to posting pool related stuff tomorrow. Enjoy!