Coming To Terms

Who Is Phil Capelle 

I am so excited to announce that I am now writing a monthly instructional column for the Billiards Buzz, and that I am  thrilled to be a part of Mike Howerton’s team at AZ Billiards. 

The subject of this initial column will be Shadow Ball, a concept that can help you with planning and playing position. Before we begin, I want to acquaint those of you who are new to my work with a brief look at my life in pool because this will show you the confidence to consider layering  my key concepts into your game. 

I took up pool in 1968 while in college, and then spent the next 27 years competing  in leagues, money games, and tournaments. I also logged countless hours practicing all facets of the game. In late 1994 my passion for pool won out and I left the financial services industry to write, full time, about the game.   

The following 28 years have been spent writing pool books (12 and counting), columns  (300 for Pool & Billiard Magazine),  and covering tournaments for various publications, and on my Facebook page. You can find samples of my work at and at, which recently added my two videos to their collection.  

For the last seven years I have been conducting extensive research on pool and on a variety of subjects – ones that I have been able to put into the billiard context. Throughout these years I have been building  my case for pool and why I feel that most people can benefit greatly from playing what I call Serious Pool.

Capelle: A Brand You Can Trust

In this product rich world of ours, brand names can serve as money and time saving shortcuts to our decision making process. When it comes to pool instruction, the various media that you invest in need to be based on concepts and principles that work because, after all, your game is on the line! In sum, I want you to think of instruction by Capelle (the person and the brand) as that which you can trust your game as you strive to Play Your Best Pool. Besides, if you believe in my ideas, you will be motivated to spend the hours at the table that are needed to become a fine player.

The Format

This format for this column includes text that more than adequately explains the key concepts. I will make liberal use of diagrams and I will put a special emphasis on introducing new terms that can help you to learn and play our great sport. 


My love for pool diagrams is shown by the more than 4,000 of them that grace the pages of 10 of my 12 books. I make such liberal use of these pool pictures because pool is a highly visual game, and a student’s learning process can benefit from most if not all of them. While creating each diagram, I stick to Einstein’s Rule, which  states that, “everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler!” That means letting the balls, travel lines, position zones and other necessities do the talking. And, it is critical that the diagrams are drawn to scale, and that they show realistic views of shots and strategies. This leads to my maxim that what you see in a diagram can actually be played at the table! 

New Pool Terms   

Players of a super-detailed sport like pool can benefit from terms that give you short and memorable ways to learn, master, and retain key concepts. In most (if not all) of these columns I will 1) introduce new concepts, 2) build on existing ones, and 3) offer refreshers on the ones that are vital to your success.

These new concepts and terms  will be introduced in the body of the text, and they will also be showcased in Pull Quotes. In this inaugural column I will be featuring Shadow Balls, as I mentioned previously. 

I like to dress up text by  capitalizing key terms, and by employing a variety of graphic techniques – anything that help you in learning and remembering the key concepts that combine to make up your game. You can see examples of my use of graphics in my book,  Six Words to Pool Greatness.

Shadow Balls 

Obstructers are balls that rest on or close to the cue ball’s preferred path to your position zone. These troublemakers can force you to alter a position route, or even to abandon it in favor of another. You may even need to play your next shot into alternate pocket, if possible. Clusters are groups of two or more balls that make it difficult if not impossible to pocket the balls within them.

In between clusters and obstructers are what I call Shadow Balls.  These balls rest within the boundaries of what would otherwise be an ideal position zone, if not for their presence. 

Diagram #1 shows a layout from 9-Ball. Let’s imagine, for a moment, that the 8-ball is not on the table. Without it, the goal is send the cue ball from the 3-ball to the shaded zone for shape on the 4-ball.Position A is the bulls-eye. With the cue ball at Position A,  you can easily send the cue ball across the table, off the side rail, and out to Position B for excellent position  on the long side of the 5-ball. 

Now, let’s examine the position with the 8-ball where shown. As you may have guessed, the 8-ball is a Shadow Ball because it encroaches on the shallow-angled side of the position zone. With the 8-ball in this position you could still attempt to play for Position A, but if you do, you could easily end up behind the 8-ball. You can avoid this disasters by playing for a thinner cut on the 4-ball, as shown by the cue ball at Position C. Or, if you want to avoid that shot, you could send the cue ball to the other side of the 8-ball, possibly to Position D. From this location, the best route to the 5-ball is a long and challenging follow shot to the right end rail, then six diamonds down the table to the vicinity of Position B.

To recap, without the Shadow Ball, the three ball sequence (3, 4, 5) is not difficult. With the Shadow Ball in place, you are now faced with a pattern that is fraught with danger. Now to come up with a feasible Plan B, and then elevate your execution while performing your warm-up-strokes. 

Diagram #2 shows an end-of-rack layout in 9-Ball. This time, imagine that the 9-ball is in the alternative position as shown. Now getting position on the Long Side of the 7-ball is not hard – providing you steer clear of Pocket C! Getting on the 8-ball with the cue ball in Position A, B, or C is relatively simple. 

Now let’s consider the 9-ball in the original position, where it acts as a Shadow Ball. If your speed is a little bit off, which could easily happen given the cue ball’s long journey down the table, you could end up hooked behind the 9. 

In this case, the solution is to play shape on the Short Side by sending the cue ball to Position D. Normally the Long Side is better because you have a bigger zone. But when a Shadow Ball is lurking in the vicinity of your next shot, the wiser course could be to play to the Short Side as shown. The key to sending the cue ball to Position D is directional control. You must avoid the point at Pocket E, and you want to play to the left side of the 7-ball. Once again, spend a little more time plotting the course and then preparing for your final stroke while you’re over the shot.

Diagram #3 shows an end-of-rack position, the kind that you routinely encounter in Straight Pool. Layout like this are featured in my book, Break Shot Patterns. (The book and companion video can be found at 

In this position, the 4-ball acts as a Shadow Ball, making it difficult to get on the 15-ball. This time, you can knock the Shadow Ball away from the 15-ball by sending the cue ball on a precise path off the rail and into the 4-ball. In one fell swoop you ridded yourself of that pesky Shadow Ball and got shape on the 15. However, I would advise that you save the 15-ball because it is in excellent position to act at as a key ball to the key ball. The connection is shown by the red line from the 15 to the 11-ball. In Break Shot Patterns I label this ball a K2. The key ball is simply a KB.  

In some positions like this where you strip away the Shadow Ball, your best course of action is to play the ball you just liberated. But that’s the beauty of 14.1 and Eight Ball because these games often enable you to change your plans on a moment’s notice. 

Factors To Consider When Facing A Shadow Ball:

How close is the object ball to the Shadow Ball?”

Is there a playable position route to good shape on the object ball?

What impact does a cut that is less than ideal have on your route to the next ball, and on the pattern?

Can you bump the Shadow Ball away from the ideal position zone?

When playing 8-Ball or 14.1, what is the best time to rid yourself of the ball that is being shadowed?

Does the Shadow Ball force you to choose or play to another pocket, such as on the short side (see Capelle’s Principles of Position #4, page 131 of Play Your Best Pool).

Incorporating Shadow Ball Thinking Into Your Game 

I advise that you go to Mike’s Accu-Stats page, pick out one or more videos, and watch then watch them with your newly acquired Shadow Ball Filter in place.  Try to recognize Shadow Balls as they appear. Hit pause and make your plan for the shot. Then carefully observe how the pro deals with the problem, or if they fail to handle the situation, which in their defense, is not always so easy to do.

Next, practice one of more of your favorite games and be on the lookout for Shadow Balls. When you encounter them, plan accordingly and then go into your A Level Execution Mode!

I hope you enjoyed my maiden column for the Billiards Buzz, and that the ideas discussed above become a strong addition to your game!