Phil Capelle’s Billiards Press Celebrates its 10th Anniversary

By Melinda Hinojosa
Melinda Hinojosa is a board member and tournament director of the longest-running, largest regional women's tour in the country, the Hunter Classics Amateur Women's Tour. Melinda is also a billiards webmaster, photographer, and has been playing pool for over 15 years.

I caught up with Phil Capelle between his projects long enough to ask him some questions about his publishing business. Billiards Press, which has produced seven instructional books, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, which seems like an appropriate time to find out what's on the mind of pool's most prolific instructional author. I discovered that his passion for pool burns as strong as it did when he was writing his first pool instructional book back in 1995. Despite having written so much on pool, he informed me there is still a lot left to do. Phil Capelle's book Play Your Best Pool helped me advance from an Open player to a Master player at the BCA 8-Ball Championships in 2002 and I have been curious about his dedication to improving poolplayer's games.
Melinda Hinojosa

When did you start playing pool? Why and where?
I started playing pool while in college at U.C. Berkeley in January 1969 at age 21. One day while cashing a check at the Student Union my gaze mysteriously shifted to the double glass doors leading to the campus poolroom. My curiosity got the best of me and so I entered the room, and checked out some balls. Within a few days I was completely hooked. I took up pool because I came to like individual participant sports, having played golf competitively for seven years in junior golf, high school, and junior college. Pool was a lot more convenient with the poolroom right on campus, and my time was limited thanks to the demands of academic life.

Is Play Your Best Pool your first published book?
In 1992 I wrote a book called Investing in Growth - Finding the Next Winners on Wall Street for Probus Publishing, which has since been acquired by McGraw Hill. The book was one of four mentioned that year by Business Week in an article on books that discussed how to invest in small company growth stocks. Getting a "how-to" book published by a well-respected business book publisher helped give me the confidence to write Play Your Best Pool a few years later.

Is there anything different with this anniversary issue?
I have been most gratified with the reception that Play Your Best Pool has received by poolplayers and the billiard community, so I did not want to change the basic nature of the book. Instead, what I sought to accomplish were a number of small improvements that would make the book even more user friendly. Every diagram was redone and grid lines were added so the ball placement stands out more clearly, which helps make it easier to set up the shots. I edited the entire text and bolded key sentences so the student can easily find the key ideas. I reorganized the material into 4 parts and added a few new chapters including one that introduces the reader to Straight Pool, 1-Pocket, Rotation, and Bank Pool. And I added additional instruction on aiming and a section on the rules.

Play Your Best Pool is your most-read book of all your books. Why did you want to do an anniversary issue?
I felt that the 10th Anniversary, which is this December, would be a perfect time to update the book. Since publishing the book I have since bought a computer, which has enabled me to do a lot of things I couldn't when I wrote the book. And, after looking through the book and taking into consideration the way I do things now, I thought there was room for improvement.

Why did you write Play Your Best Pool?
As time passed while I was recovering at home from a dislocated arm in the summer of 1994 the idea of writing a book on pool started to take root, and it wouldn't go away. So rather than fight it, I decided to leave the financial services industry and follow my passion for pool. When I looked at the available titles, I noticed that no one had written much on Eight Ball and Nine Ball strategy, and I thought a lot more could be said about position play. These unmet needs in the market place along with my having already written a book gave me the confidence to proceed with the project. For this all to work, however, I knew that I would have to make every effort to make the book as good as possible.

If someone already has Play Your Best Pool, do you recommend they buy this version? If so, why?
I think if someone owns the original version they are in good shape. But if their original copy has grown old with usage, if they are sharing a copy with someone else, or if they are the kind of person who really appreciates the little things that I think make the new edition that much more useful, then they should buy the new one.

Which person have you been surprised the most that you heard they liked one of your books? Which book was it and what surprised you?
A couple of months after Play Your Best Pool came out I got a very complimentary letter from Robert Byrne, who closed by saying, "Best wishes for a long and vigorous run." I thought that was really cool, to get a letter from the man who set the standard with his first instructional book back in 1978, a book that continues to do very well 27 years later. And I am pleasantly surprised that Play Your Best Pool continues to do well as it enters it 11th year in publication.

Do you have a favorite book of one of your own?
I would have to say Play Your Best Pool because it was the first, and the one that made the rest possible. Since I make every effort to make each book as good as possible, I feel a sense of pride and fondness for each one. I also enjoyed working with Mike Massey on Mike Massey's World of Trick Shots, which has some unique features including Mike's Poolography.

You give a lot of stats in your books, is this from an interest and/or college class?
I think my fondness for statistics dates back to when I was 9 years old and started following the exploits of Mickey Mantle, who was my first hero in sports. Numbers can tell you so much about a player's performance, and they do much to dispel some of the wives tales regarding the sport. For example, many have thought that the pros break and run 50% of the time in Nine Ball. In fact, after undertaking a 500 game study, I discovered only a handful barely exceed 30%. When a student has actual performance numbers, they can then set their expectations at more realistic levels.

You ensure the diagrams and tables in all your books are drawn to scale so the player can correlate when practicing or competing. What else do you keep in mind for the player when writing your books?
I have very definite ideas about what I think goes into making a good pool instruction book, and I am always looking to improve on my criteria. First and foremost, I believe the student should be given accurate information that they can use to improve their game. While some may disagree with me on some points of instruction, I would say that the information I provide is as reliable, if not more so, than anyone else's. And since there is only so much you can put into a book I want every piece of information to be as relevant to the players experience as possible. I don't bother with shots that come up once every five years, but I do want to make sure I cover the ones they'll need in a game every day or week.

I believe an instructional book is a reference tool that a student should come back to over and over again throughout their career. So I believe that a well-organized book should include a detailed table of contents, so I put one in every book. Robert Byrne and Bob Henning do an excellent job at this, but I'm surprised at how many others don't.

As far as layout goes, my golden rule is No Page Flipping. I never want the student to have to read something and have to turn a page to see the diagram.

I can't imagine making diagrams any other way than perfectly to scale. How else is a player going to see the true picture of a shot, or be able to recreate them on the table? And I believe that diagrams should only contain the necessary information. Let the shot speak for itself. If a detailed explanation of the shot is required, put that in the text, not on the diagram.

What is your favorite pool game?
It seems to change over time, and it really depends on what I'm playing the most of at any time. I've had extended periods where Straight Pool, Nine Ball or Eight Ball was my favorite game. And I really got hooked on Eight Ball again while doing the research for Play Your Best Eight Ball, which included over 600 games of Eight Ball. I guess those three games are neck and neck for my favorite, I love all three.

Who do you like to watch the most?
I grew up in Southern California, which is Keith McCready country. He is so much fun to watch, and I love his style of play. He goes for shots and spins his rock, but he also plays some amazing position. I also enjoy watching Efren Reyes who plays at Hard Times when he's in the states which is about 20 miles up the freeway. For several years shortly after I began playing pool I had the pleasure of watching and playing Jay Swanson. I learned a lot from him. He had an awesome stroke, played beautiful position, and he moved around the table with such grace. And he was a great guy and a friend.

Who is your favorite male and female player and why?
I chose Efren Reyes and Johnny Archer as the subjects for a book I wrote a few years ago because I like the way each plays, but for different reasons. Archer plays such a solid straightforward game and has such great mechanics. I like Reyes' attitude. He's like a kid who enjoys what he's doing. And I think his follow through is the best in pool, it's so relaxed, level, and straight. The cue just glides to a stop. I also like the way Tony Robles plays with a methodical rhythm when he's rolling and how he seems to exude such confidence and authority at the table. Among the female players I like Allison Fisher for many reasons, especially the way she sets herself up and executes every shot with such consistency and precision. I could say the same about Karen Corr, who I admire because she competes regularly against the men, and who is so into improving her already awesome game. I think Loree Jon Jones plays with great precision and I like the heart that Robin Dodson showed when she was competing regularly. There are tons more I enjoy very much, too many to name here.

What do you think of the new International Pool Tour (IPT)?
I believe that the IPT has the chance to help our sport grow in a very big way, although it won't happen overnight. Live TV of the finals with a format that leads to a suspenseful and entertaining broadcast is the key. I like Eight Ball as I mentioned above, although I'm not sure if it or Nine Ball is the best game for TV. I'm happy to see the pros have a chance to earn a living from tournament competition, something that is so long over due. And I think Kevin Trudeau has taken the right approach in starting big because, quite frankly, people are impressed by large sums of money. And he recognizes the global opportunity in pool and is going to hold several international events in 2007. While some may question him and the whole concept, I believe we've got to give him a chance because he's doing a lot more than anyone else has to date to make big time pool a reality.

Do you see any up and coming players that you think we should keep our eyes on?
Chia-Ching Wu simply blows me away. I mean, who would ever think it possible for a 16 year old to win even one, much less two world championships in the span of a few months? Unbelievable. But I guess you couldn't call him up and coming, because he appears to have already arrived. Among the female players, I know that Mike Massey is very high on Jasmine Ouschan's game. Other than that, I can't really name any others at this point.

Are you working on a new book right now? Can you reveal anything about it?
I am working on a project that I am very excited about. I think it will be one of the most useful tools for helping an aspiring player to become the player of their dreams. That's all I'm going to say for now, but I plan to start discussing it on the website in the very near future. (

Anything else you'd like to say?
Today is December 14th, which is almost 10 years to the day since Play Your Best Pool was published. It has been a very fast, fun, and rewarding decade, one that would not have been at all possible without the support of so many people. I want to thank the dealers and wholesalers who believed in my work and offered my books to theirs customers, to the various billiard publications who have reviewed and supported my efforts and, most importantly, to the pool players whose acceptance of my work has enabled me to continue my journey in this great sport of ours. I look eagerly forward to the next 10 years as I continue to do what I can to help aspiring pool players to gain even more enjoyment from their game.