Tag Archives: Pool Safeties

14.1 Secrets Revealed

I did a little research this morning and found that the “secrets” my opponent used against me were not really secrets at all.  They are described in detail in Philip Capelle’s masterful tome Play Your Best Straight Pool.  In the chapter appropriately titled “Safety Play,” he explains several full rack safety plays that can wreak havoc on your opponent.  In my 14.1 match on Tuesday, my opponent used the safeties shown below to almost completely stop my offense.  He would make a ball or two then leave me frozen to the rack.  I did my best to shave the edge of the rack to avoid opening up any balls, but inevitably I would loosen one or two and he would pocket them and then freeze me back on the rack again.  Talk about death by paper cuts!

If you want to get better at Straight Pool, I highly recommend Capelle’s book.  (I also recommend a huge dose of patience!)  For these shots, just hit the cue ball with natural follow, make a full hit on the object ball (the yellow highlighted ball closest to the cue ball), and use just enough energy to make at least one ball go to a rail.  These are simple but devastatingly effective shots.  If you take 10 minutes to practice these shots whenever you are at the table, you will have a new weapon in your arsenal that you can use when you are feeling particularly nasty.  Incidentally, I seem to have more success with the yellow highlighted balls as opposed to the center ball (ball number 6 in the diagram below).   I need to spend some time practicing these shots myself.

Back of the Rack

Side of the Rack


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.


Three Tips For Your Defense

November 2010 is the one year anniversary of PoolSynergy, and founder John Biddle is the host of this month’s PoolSynergy topic.  This month, John asked the following question to the poolsynergy authors: “If you could share only 3 tips related to pool, what 3 tips would you share?”  I’ve been working a lot on my defensive game lately, so I decided to write about three simple but devastating safeties that any beginning, intermediate, or advanced player can use to win more games.  The three safeties are: (1) The half ball hit safety, (2) the one ball safety, and (3) the stop shot safety.  If you want to see tips shared by other PoolSynergy authors, visit John’s blog here.  Hope you enjoy!

(1) The Half Ball Hit Safety
The situation: The game is 9 ball. You broke and ran, but lost cue ball position on the 9.  Now what?  Do you play for a tough bank shot to the corner pocket and hope for the best?  Are you kidding me?  Just play a half ball safe and let your opponent take the risky shot.  To make the shot, just aim the center of the cue ball at the right most edge of the 9 ball.  You may even put a half tip of right spin on the cue ball.  Hit the shot with speed to put the object ball in the center of the left side rail.  Now your opponent has to make a very tough shot.  Sure, he MIGHT make the bank, but 80% or more of the time he will sell out and give you the win.  Those are pretty good odds in your favor!

The Half Ball Hit Safety

(2) The One Ball Safety
The situation: The game is 8ball. Your opponent broke and ran but jawed the 8 in the corner. You ran down to your last solid but lost cue ball position.  Now what? Do you play a tough bank shot to the side pocket and hope for the best?  Don’t take a risk like that!  Just play a one ball safe and get ball in hand for an easy win!  To make the shot, just stroke the cue ball gently with center follow and hit the object ball so that it comes softly off the rail and the cue ball does the same.  Now the object ball is between the cue ball and the 8.  Your opponent will be required to hit a tough 1 or 2 rail kick.  If he misses, you get ball in hand and an easy win!   

The One Ball Safety

(3) The stop shot safety
The situation: The game is 8ball. Your opponent broke and ran but jawed the 8 in the corner. You ran down to your last two solids, but can’t figure out how to run the last two balls.  Now what? Do you play the seven ball in the side pocket and hope for position on the 1 ball?  Why take that chance?  Just play a stop shot safe and get ball in hand for an easy run out!  To make the shot, just stroke the cue ball gently into the one ball by hitting the cue ball a half tip below center.  The one ball will bounce off the rail and stop in front of the corner pocket.  The cue ball will now be hiding directly behind the 7 ball.  Now  it’s your opponent’s turn, but he must attempt a tough 1 or 2 rail kick.  If he misses, you get ball in hand for an easy run out and the win!   

The Stop Shot Safety


The 95% Rule

I was at Lucky Shot Billiards in Sunnyvale last night for APA league night.  In the first game of my match, my opponent broke and didn’t make anything. I looked at the table, saw three sets of clusters that would prevent a run out, but I decided to go for it anyway (too aggressive!). I was able to navigate through the layout and break up the three clusters, but I lost position on the last ball and was forced to attempt a tough bank. I missed. With a wide open table, my opponent ran out.  In my second game, my opponent made a ball on the break but missed his first shot. I didn’t like the layout of my balls, so I played a shot/safe where I intended to open up a couple of my balls that were frozen together. I hit one ball out and tried to freeze the cue ball behind the other, but got a little sloppy and left my opponent a makeable ball. Two or three minutes later, I was down 0-2.

Shot Decision Process

Even though I was shooting pretty good and made just two mistakes, those two mistakes had resulted in two losses. I knew my opponent was capable of running out if I gave him the chance, so I had to change my strategy. For the remainder of the match, I decided to implement my “95% Rule.” The rule is as follows: “Before every single shot, assess the layout of the table. If I’m not at least 95% confident I can run the entire rack, look for the best safe and play into it.” For the remainder of the match I easily played 30-40 safes, trying my best to prevent my opponent from being able to see any of his balls. That proved to be the differentiator, and I eventually won the match 5-2. The only downside? The match took over two hours! (uuggggghh!)