Monthly Archives: May 2012

Another Straight Pool Drill

Here’s another drill I picked up from David Sapolis on a recent trip to El Paso, TX.  Spread all 15 balls randomly on half the table as indicated in the diagram below.  Place a cue stick (or just imagine a cue stick) about two inches beyond the side pockets.  You start with ball in hand, and the object of the drill is to sink all balls in any order utilizing only the four pockets available to you.  This drill will force you to plan your routes more simply and minimize cue ball movement…just the way you should be playing 14.1.  If any ball makes contact with the cue stick, the drill is over.  Good luck and happy shooting!


Rodney’s Classy Move

I pulled a quick two and out at the West Coast 10 Ball Challenge this April and had the opportunity to watch a Rodney Morris match that I’ll never forget.  Rodney was playing against a pretty decent shooter (I didn’t catch his name) on table 12.  The match was a race to 8 and Rodney was up 7-3.  Rodney made the one ball on the break but left an open shot on the 2 ball for his opponent.  It was a pretty tough layout, so his opponent looked the table over for what seemed like three or four minutes, then began pocketing balls.  2, 3, 4…he was methodically dropping balls and it soon became apparent that he had a chance to run the rack out.  Near the end of his very difficult run, he played the 7 ball and got perfect position on the 9.  He was hyper focused and started stroking for the next shot, not realizing the 8 ball was still on the table. I was sitting directly in his line of sight and noticed the error, but I was torn…do I say anything before he shoots…or not?  I decided not to say anything because it wouldn’t be fair to Rodney.  The rules are the rules and a foul would give Rodney ball in hand and almost certainly the game and match.  A few seconds later the player fired the 9 into the corner pocket and got perfect (and pretty difficult) position on the 8 ball.  I glanced over at Rodney waiting for the foul to be called, but Rodney just raised his eyebrows, leaned forward a bit in his chair, looked the table over, then sat back to watch the next shot.  The shooter had been so focused on making the 9 ball and getting proper position on the 8 that he never realized he was shooting out of order.  He subsequently made the 8, got perfect on the 10, then drilled the 10 home for the game.  When he walked to the back of the table to set up the next rack, Rodney leaned forward and told him that he had pocketed the balls out of sequence.  The guy looked a little shocked and unsure of Rodney’s intent, but Rodney waved off his concerns and gave him the game to the amusement of the spectators.  I nodded to Rodney and said, “You have to admit though, it was one HELL of a run!”  He laughed and said, “Yes, it sure was!”

Pool Drills for Straight Pool

On a recent trip to El Paso, TX, I met with David Sapolis and we discussed Straight Pool (14.1) for an hour or so.  One if the most difficult parts of straight pool, at least for me and I suspect for many others, is the rack to rack transition phase.  Without a properly planned and executed break shot, your runs will be severely limited.  David suggested a couple interesting and fun games to help me practice this specific skill, and I present both of them below.

Practice Game:  5.1

Start with a short rack of only five balls.  Using a standard 8 ball type break, break the balls and immediately start your route planning.  Identify your primary and secondary break shots, your primary and secondary key balls, and any problem balls the need to be attacked early.  Once you’ve mapped out your entire shot sequence, start pocketing balls.  If you successfully run the rack, you can rerack all balls and start again with an 8 ball type break.  The primary objective here is to work on your route planning skills, not to work on running lots of balls or to work on break shots.  Here’s a helpful hint: use a soft break so that you leave one or two balls in good position to serve as a break ball.

Practice Game:  9.1

This is basically the same game as 5.1, except you start with a slightly larger rack of nine balls instead of five.  After the break, identify your primary and secondary break shots, your primary and secondary key balls, and any problem balls the need to be attacked early.  You don’t necessarily need to know the exact sequence for the entire rack, but you do need to deal with problem balls early.  If you successfully run the rack, you can rerack all balls and start again with an 8 ball type break.  Again, the primary objective here is to work on your route planning skills, not to work on running lots of balls or break shots.

The real game:  14.1

Now that you’ve gotten lots of practice planning for the transitional break shot, you can go back to 14.1 and see how much you’ve improved your game.  Good luck, and may the high runs be with you!

Visiting David Sapolis

I recently had to travel to El Paso, TX on an overnight business trip, so I packed up my cue and was able to get in a few hours practice while there.  Before leaving California I was able to get in touch with David Sapolis, a professional pool player better known to many as “Blackjack,” and set up some time for a lesson.  David is the founder of Dead Stroke University and he lives in the El Paso area, so we met up at Clicks Billiards in El Paso for a couple of hours.  I really enjoyed the time we were able to spend shooting 14.1 and talking about pool games in general.  I definitely took away some good knowledge.  One of David’s greatest areas of expertise is the mind game of pool… understanding how some players can seem to get the edge and win while others who are just as physically gifted can’t.  I learned a great deal from David, and will share some of the drills we discussed in a future post.  If you live near El Paso or are just passing through, I highly recommend trying to hook up with David, take a lesson, and pick his brain.  It is definitely worth the money.

Kamui Chalk – My Thoughts

I recently bought a piece of Kamui chalk for about $30.  WHAT?!  $30 for a single piece of pool chalk…have I lost my marbles?  Why in the world would I pay $30 for something that I can get for free by just asking for it at the front desk?  It had better deliver some pretty damn impressive performance to justify that price!

And it does.

I’ve been playing with it consistently for a few weeks now and I’m exceedingly happy with it.  Of course, there are pros and cons with Kamui chalk as there are with any product:  Pros: I only chalk about once a rack.  I do not miscue anymore.  I don’t even worry about miscues any more…it’s just one less variable to think about.  For some reason, using Kamui chalk has made me think more about the condition of my cue tip, and so I’m taking better care of my tip and doing some light maintenance before each of my playing sessions.  Cons: The $30 price tag.  The chalk is very soft, so it tends to crumble more than standard free chalk.  The cube itself is rather small: a little thinner and shorter than the standard chalk cube.  Nothing that a little scotch tape and washers can’t handle if you are using a chalk holder.  It also has a tendency to leave chalk marks on the cue ball if you apply too much chalk to your tip.

Here’s my philosophy: If I have the opportunity to reduce variation and eliminate or dramatically reduce an area of concern, why would I not make that investment?  When I’m playing serious pool, I want to take advantage of every option available to me.  Yeah, $30 is a steep price to pay for chalk, but how much is your game worth?  How do you put a price on your confidence?  Besides, how fast can you really go through that piece of chalk if you are only chalking once or twice a rack?  I’m very happy with the performance of the chalk.  I just wish it was closer in size to the standard chalk cube.

HD Video on the Way!

I’ve been debating for some time whether or not I wanted to incorporate pool practice videos or pool drill videos into my website.  A couple years ago I bought a camcorder to record some of my training sessions so that I could get feedback on my mechanics, and I really enjoyed the opportunity it provided for me to improve my fundamentals.  I never did put any of my videos on my website because frankly, I couldn’t figure out how to transfer the video from a tape format to a digital format.  Obviously, I’m not the most tech savvy person in the world.  I’ve always wanted to shoot some videos and load them up, but I was a little lazy and didn’t want to spend money buying a new digital camera.  Finally, thanks to some prodding from Johnny 101, I’ve decided it is time.  Yesterday, I purchased a new digital HD video camera.  I plan to start filming some of my practice sessions and if anything interesting comes up, I’ll be able to share.  Thanks Johnny for the prodding!

Cementing The Gains

Myelin and neurons and skills, oh my!

As described in my last post, I burst through a performance plateau this week and am now shooting at a much higher level.  My biggest fear this morning was that it was all a fluke, and that today I would revert back to my previous performance level.  Nope.  I had an intense two hour practice session today and I continued performing at a much higher level.  Now it’s time to focus on reinforcing the gains so that I don’t revert back to my old self…but how?

In order to understand how to hold the gains, you must first understand what’s actually going on in your body.  Ultimately, our brain is the computer running the show, and in order to hold on to a complex activity (or skill) the neurons in our brain must grow a fatty substance called myelin.  When we are completing complex tasks (like making cut shots, planning and running routes, etc.), certain very specific neurons in our brain start firing, and the myelin substance wraps around and reinforces the neurons so that we can complete the tasks more efficiently and accurately.  Over time, the myelin creates a “superhighway” in our brain that is very specific to the task that we practice.  This is how we learn.  There’s a great explanation of this process provided by Daniel Coyle, author of the fantastic book The Talent Code.

My plan over the next couple of weeks is to repeat my intensively focused practice sessions daily to make sure I “hardwire” the improvements into my brain.  This is my opportunity to make the improvements stick.  No more slacking around!

Irrational Exuberance?

No, this is not me.

No need to wait a month to see results… my new approach to pool practice has already produced a quantum leap in ability!!!  I saw the first evidence on Tuesday night when I decided at the last minute to play a straight pool match at Lucky Shot Billiards.  I shot a pretty good 14.1 game, still made a handful of small mental mistakes, but my shot-making accuracy was off the chart!  My stance felt more stable, I was seeing the shots much better, and my stroke was dead on.  Last night at Lucky Shot Billiards I played an APA 8 ball match against another “7”, again made a handful of small mental mistakes, but my shot making accuracy and speed control were much improved over my recent performance.

What did I change?  I just had two or three practice sessions (~5 hours total) where I forced myself to be hyper-focused on my pre-shot routine.  I was checking my fundamentals on each shot and forcing myself to find a follow shot that would get me where I wanted to go.  I also did the unthinkable…I threw all 15 balls out and randomly pocketed them…something I always preach that you should never do.  For each shot, I required myself to shoot pure follow shots and focus on finding the aim point, stroking with minimal arm movement, and following through.  Voila!  My accuracy has skyrocketed, my routes are more natural, and paradoxically, my speed control had also skyrocketed even though I wasn’t working on it!  Christmas in May!  Yipeee!!!