The Safety Game

Hiding the cue ball

Prior to the US Amateur Championship preliminary round tournament, which is structured as a combination of eight ball and nine ball, I thought of ways to prepare for it.  Since I consider eight ball to be my strongest game, I wanted to spend time thinking about nine ball.  I asked myself many questions.  What do I need to work on?  What are my weakest points?  I thought through some nine ball matches I’ve played (and lost) to better players in the last few months.  If my memory and match notes serve me correctly, the two biggest factors leading to my loses were (1) my opponents’ ability to recognize good safeties and make the decision to play them instead of going for an easy shot that might lead to a tough out, and (2) my opponents’ ability to execute safeties very well, leaving me no shot at all and getting ball in hand which virtually guaranteed themselves a victory.  Of course there were other factors which contributed to my losses, like getting on the wrong side of a ball, failing to execute a recovery shot, or just plain missing a shot, but I thought the biggest opportunity for improvement would come from improved safety play and better decisions to play safes.

This quick analysis led me to some important considerations:  Why don’t I see the great opportunities to play safeties, and if I do see them, why do I not choose the safe and instead go for the improbable run out?  My conclusion?  It all comes down to two things:  (1) knowledge,  and (2) confidence.  If I’m not aware of a safety opportunity, I can’t decide to shoot it, and if I see the safe but I don’t have confidence to execute it, I will not make the decision to shoot the safe and will instead turn to my offensive game and hope for the best.

But how do I work on safety knowledge and confidence?  To help me both learn new safeties and develop my confidence in executing them, I invented a new game:  The Safety Game.  I only had one opportunity to play The Safety Game prior to the US Amateur Championship preliminary tournament, but I believe that one practice session had a huge positive impact on the strength of my nine ball game.  I believe The Safety Game was so effective in preparing me for the tournament, I’ve decided to keep it a secret so that my future opponents can’t use it against me.  However, if you lean in close, I’ll whisper in your ear and tell you all about it…

The Break Shot: Cue ball on the head spot, object ball 2.25 inches off the bottom rail

The Safety Game

Find a training partner.  Yeah, you can actually play this game by yourself, but I’m trying to improve your social life as well as improve your game, so find a training partner!  Also, for this game I highly recommend playing against another person as opposed to playing by yourself  because the other person will think differently than you and will make different decisions than you.  Based on your partner’s experience, you partner almost certainly will come up with solutions to safety and kicking problems that will differ from your own.  These differences will expand your knowledge base and teach you additional ways to escape from tough situations.  When you play this game, play it as a race to 10 or 20 games.

The Rules:

  • You must lag to determine who will break the first rack.  If you’re lazy, you can just flip a coin, but you’re not lazy, are you?
  • The winner of the lag can choose to break or defer the break
  • After the initial rack, the winner of a game must break the next rack
  • On the break shot, the breaker MUST play a safe
  • The break shot must always start EXACTLY as diagrammed above

To win a game:

  • You must legally pocket the object ball in a called pocket

The following situations are an immediate loss of game:

  • Pocketing the object ball on the break is a loss of game, even if you call it.
  • Pocketing the object ball in any pocket other than a called pocket is a loss of game
  • A scratch at any time is a loss of game

All other general pocket billiards rules apply.

Try out The Safety Game.  I absolutely guarantee your performance in nine ball will skyrocket.  What you will learn is that if you continually try to attempt difficult shots, you might win a game or two out of pure shooting ability, but in the long run you will lose the match.  This is because the probability of winning any one game goes up slightly if you execute a good safety, but if you look at a series of games, the probablity of winning the entire match goes up dramatically with proper safety play (Trust me…it’s a math thing!)  As you work with The Safety Game, you will start to see safeties and develop a feel for hitting them.  You will also learn by watching how your opponent reacts to your safeties.  You will begin to hone your ability to answer that super critical question we always ask ourselves in tough situations:  “Do I play a safe here, or do I go for the shot?”  Try The Safety Game out for at least three practice sessions, then write me back and tell me what you learned.  This is the only game for which I’m willing to offer a complete money back guarantee.

Enjoy!

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2 responses to “The Safety Game

  1. I used to throw all 9 balls out, take ball in hand, and shoot a safety. Then I’d try to get a legal hit on that shot. If I got a good hit, I’d consider my safety a failure. Repeat. This improves your imagination which is vital. If cant see a safety opportunity, you’ll never miss it because you’ll never shoot it. Only by training your minds eye for possibilities do you improve your safety game. Obviously you could do this with two people as a drill and learn even more, faster.

    • Hi Mike, yes, I sometimes do the same drill you describe. It’s great for practicing by yourself and working on execution of safeties. The one primary benefit of working with a partner is sometimes your partner will knock your socks off by pulling off a safety you never imagined. When this happens, you can add the new safety to your tool box. Thanks for the comment!

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