Category Archives: Drills

Reality Check

Do you know how many balls you can run on average without missing?  Most people overestimate their playing ability.  The discrepancy between a person’s actual playing ability and their perceived ability is a key factor in determining who wins or loses a match.  When you compete, you don’t have to be the better player to win.  All you need is a more realistic view of your true capabilities so that you can make better decisions and alter your game strategy accordingly. 

If you play eight ball, think about this scenario.  Suppose your opponent breaks and makes all seven of his balls, but he misses the shot on the eight ball.  Now it’s your turn and all you need to do is make eight shots in a row to win the game.  Can you do it?  If you have a realistic view of your abilities and you know you can’t make eight shots in a row, you could make a conscious decision right now to take a few easy shots and then play a safety to tilt the odds of winning in your favor.

In order for you to make this decision appropriately, you will need to know how many balls you can make on average without missing.  Here’s an easy way to get an estimate of your balls per inning (BPI) average:

BPI Assessment

Toss eight balls on the table.  Make sure that no ball is within six inches of a rail and no ball is within six inches of another ball.  (This eliminates the need for you to break clusters or attempt any tough rail shots.)  Start with ball in hand, and see how many balls you can pocket without missing a shot.  When you miss a shot, count the number of balls you were able to pocket and record that number.  Do this 10 times in a row and calculate the average number of balls per inning you were able to pocket.  This will give you a quick estimate of your BPI.  Repeat this assessment several times to get a more accurate estimate.

Armed with a realistic estimate of your BPI, you can now change your game strategy to accommodate your actual playing ability.  A key factor in winning games is your ability to assess and manage risk, and in order for you to adequately manage risk, you must have a realistic view of your true capabilities.


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!

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!

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.


The Game with No Name

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.

Serious Practice Again!

I’m getting very close to *knock on wood* full recovery from my recent neck and back problems.  Last night I went to California Billiards to loosen up a little and put in some practice.  I wanted to focus on two primary skills: (1) cue ball control, and (2) route planning.  After my normal warm up routine, I started a new practice game.  Here are the rules of the game:

Yeah, ok, I like to make charts.  Sorry!  Bascially, you start with 3 balls and try to run the table.  If you can run the table twice in a row, you add a ball, so then you’ll be playing with 4 balls.  If you can run the table twice in a row again, add another ball, and now you are playing with 5 balls, etc.  If at any point you fail twice in a row, you remove a ball (to make it easier).   If you run a table, then fail, then run, then fail, you could theoretically stay at the same level indefinately.  I think you get the point.

Try this game out and see what level you tend to stay at.  This is a good game for identifying areas for improvement with cue ball control and route planning.  Enjoy!

International Playing Ability Test (IPAT)

I was introduced to the International Playing Ability Test (IPAT) concept early last year by a fellow pool player and thought it would be a great idea to add the IPAT workbooks to my growing pile of pool practice materials.  I googled the IPAT, read about the tests, then decided to buy the IPAT2 and IPAT3 workbooks.  I was very excited when they finally arrived in the mail last spring.  I tore through the packaging like a kid on Christmas morning.  After flipping through the books and trying to estimate how I would perform on the tests, I put the books on my bookshelf for safe keeping until I made time to use them.  I don’t know about you, but usually when I buy something new, like a new shirt, I tend to not wear it because I’m “saving it for something special.”  Unfortunately, the same thing happened with my IPAT workbooks…they never got used!

Yesterday on New Year’s Eve, I decided to take the IPAT2 test to bring the year 2010 to a close and set the stage for my training in 2011.  This was my first experience using the IPAT materials.  They were obviously written in another language (probably German), then translated into English, so it took me a little bit of time to figure out the intention of some of the exercises.  Overall it took me about 3.5 hours to complete the entire IPAT2 test, but I prevailed, and was able to score an 832.  If you score over 800 points, you qualify to take the IPAT3 test, so I was pretty excited about that!

For each exercise in the IPAT system, there is a target score that you should strive to beat.  I figured this would serve as a good tool to help me identify strengths and weaknesses in my game.  Using the target scores from each individual drill as the bar to judge my performance, I’ve identified strengths and weaknesses in my game as follows:

Above Average:  Draw skills, 9 ball run out skills

Average:  Speed control skills, follow skills, straight shooting, big position skills (routes), endless position drill (routes), standard position shots

Below Average:  Small position skills (routes), frozen rail shots (wwaaaayy below average!)

Most, if not all, experts in the field of performance optimization say the fastest road to improvement is to identify and work on areas of weakness, so my next plan is to work on small position drills and frozen rail shots.  If you are bored with your current drills and exercises, I recommend the IPAT series.  They also offer DVDs to accompany the workbooks that I bought.  I’m sure the DVDs would be great and probably go a long way in helping you understand the concepts and the shots, but I’m too much of a cheapskate to buy them.  Oh well, back to the table!


Games to rate your pool playing skills – Part III

Here’s an interesting game that was introduced to me by Mike Fieldhammer.  The game is called FARGO, and was developed by Mike Page, founder of the super popular Fargo Billiards & Gastropub.  Try this one and see if you enjoy it as much as I do…


Rack all 15 balls and break from anywhere in the kitchen.  All balls pocketed on the break are spotted and you start with ball in hand anywhere on the table.   There’s no penalty for scratching on the break.  This is a call shot game; i.e. call the ball and the pocket.  All balls pocketed count as one point.  The objective is to play 10 racks (innings) and add up the total number of points made.

But here’s the fun part…

Each inning consists of two parts:  (1) a random phase, and (2) a rotation phase.  At the beginning of each inning, you place a coin (or other marker) on the table with the heads up, indicating that you are in the “random phase” of shooting.  In the “random phase”, each ball pocketed counts as one point, and you can shoot the balls in any order you choose.  At any time, you can flip the coin over, indicating that you are entering the “rotation phase”.  In the rotation phase, each ball pocketed counts as two points, but you must contact the lowest numbered ball on the table first.  Add up the total number of points scored in ten innings and then compare your performance with the ranking chart below.

Rating Scores
> 220           Pro
160-220     AA
130-160     A
100-130     B
60-100       C
< 60             D