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Sharing The Light

Pool through the eyes of Christian players

Welcome to AZBilliards’ newest column!  Hang on because this one is going to be unique!  Some of you may find it to be very helpful.  Others may find it to be oddly interesting—even if not all that particularly helpful to you, personally.  Still others may find it not only less than helpful, they might consider it downright offensive (to them, anyway). 

As we all know, pool has always held something less than a squeaky-clean reputation.  No, that’s putting it too mildly.  Pool’s reputation is as tarnished as the brass spittoons that once adorned every pool hall in America.  However, it was that same tarnished reputation that first attracted many of us to the game.  We were not only mesmerized by the beauty of balls ricocheting off each other and shooting into small pockets, we were tantalized by the fanciful idea that we might someday spring into action and use our expertly-honed skills to relieve over-confident braggarts of their ill-gotten cash!  Yeah, we envisioned ourselves being like modern day gunfighters; only we would do our fighting with a pool cue.  At the very least, we wanted to feel like we could occasionally cross over to the proverbial “dark side” and still come out unscathed.  The prospect of it all held an allure similar to what one might feel if they thought they could pet a wild tiger and live to tell about it. 

That was it!  The life of a pool player!  What a life that would be!  No mundane job.  No boss pushing us around.  No limit on how much money we could make.  No rigid schedules to keep.   Nothing tying us down.  Nothing holding us back.  Yes, that would be the ideal life!  

But was it just a dream?  Maybe.  However, we were convinced it would be great fun to see just how far we could go in a game that was both seductive and ominous at the same time.  

And so we embarked on our journey to become…well…something.  However, it didn’t take long for many of us to realize that our quest for success in the world of pool was going to come at a pretty high price as we soon found ourselves living in an environment full of false promises, crooked propositions, bad partnerships, and broken relationships. We also found ourselves facing the reality of having to do the types of things many top players commonly do if we ever planned to reach the top with them—and those are the kind of things that can lead to addictions and dependencies that are almost always unhealthy and are even sometimes illegal. But alas, those are things that go with pool.

So then, after hours, weeks, months, and years of practice and play, we found ourselves reaching our full potential.  That “full potential” was different for each of us, as no two players are exactly alike.  One of the facts that we were forced to accept is that there can be only one “best”—and, due to the competitive nature of the game, that position is one that is never held by the same person for long.  

Another unwelcomed fact was that there was little financial reward to be gained—even at the professional level.  We found that although pool is a beautiful game when played by highly-skilled players, its beauty is not appreciated enough by viewing audiences to make it much of a marketable product. 

Faced with those two facts, we then had to weigh our options.  One was that we could try to tough it out and continue in our pursuit to play professionally.  The second was that we could settle for a life of competing in local amateur events such as leagues and tournaments—all the while working that day job we had hoped to avoid.  The third was that we could quit playing altogether.  But no matter which choice we decided on, we knew that nothing had, or ever would, deliver on the life of excitement and lasting satisfaction that we had originally dreamed of.

And through it all, many of us fell victim to some, if not all, of the dangerous temptations that had once seemed so seductively appealing.  But then not all who did fall victim were left to search alone for a life of peace and satisfaction.  On the contrary, quite a few not only found where they fit into the world of competitive pool, they have found a peace that they could have only previously dreamed of.  And what is the source of that peace?  Well, just ask any one of them and they will tell you His name is Jesus Christ.  That’s right, they are Christians—and He is their “secret” to success.                   

What we hope to achieve with this column is to provide you an opportunity to hear the stories of several pool players who have experienced some of the highest of highs and lowest of lows in the game before turning their lives over to Christ to find the smooth road.  If you have been around the game for a considerable length of time, these people will need no introduction as far as their playing goes.  They have been to the top.  They know what it takes to get there.  They also know the pitfalls that await anyone who intends to pursue a life of serious pool playing, as they have done.  And they are going to share it all with you right here at Sharing The Light.  

So come back again next month because we will be bringing you the testimony of the first player in our Christian lineup.  We will then bring you a new story each month until all of our subject players have been featured.  After that, we will begin posing questions to these players so that they can offer their perspective on each. 

See you next month! 

Know This Shot!

Everyone I know has been in this situation. Here you have overcooked your previous shot and now you lay funny on the five. If you call being on the wrong side of the ball funny. Coulda been an easy out, but you lost control of whitey and now you gotta go ‘round the world riding the rails just to get out.

Lucky for you there are any number of ways to get there. But you need to practice three of them. Knowing these three will give you the foundation to play any combination of them required to get the job done. These three are the 1 o’clock, 3 o’clock and 5 o’clock shots.

The times of course represent where you strike the cueball and the english that results. 1 o’clock gives you top running english. 3 o’clock imparts a strong right english stun shot, while 5 o’clock sucks the ball back with right spin as well.

You need all three of these shots in order to be able to play tables that have intervening balls laid out on one track or another. Practice running all three tracks until you can accomplish the desired position 5 times in a row. Then you will own the shots forever so long as you stay familiar with them through occasional practice.

“But”, you say, “these are risky shots! One track has you headed straight for the corner pocket!” Yeah, that’s true, you must have speed control to pull that one off and there is risk of losing control with any ‘englished’ shot. So if you want to avoid risk, don’t overcook the previous shot and get on the wrong side of the ball! These are penalty shots that you brought on yourself!

Bridge To A Better Game

The importance of the bridge hand in playing great pool cannot be overstated. Your bridge hand is one of only two body parts that touch the cue while you are shooting. All the knowledge and aiming in the world cannot make up for a sloppy bridge. The bridge has a similar function to that of the front end of the barrel of a rifle. If the front end of a rife is jarred during a shot, the bullet will not hit the target. Likewise, if your bridge moves in mid stroke your cue will veer off the stroking line and your tip will not hit the intended spot on the cue ball. Sounds fun, huh? Not really.

It is astounding to see so many pool enthusiasts and freaks who pay little attention to the solidity of their bridge. It is not only necessary to design a solid and functioning bridge, you must also keep it there throughout the execution of your stroke.

The weight of your arm should be sufficient enough to plant your hand onto the table, so that it digs in nice and snug. However, you do not want so much weight on your bridge hand that if it were to move, you would fall on your face. I like to plant my palm as well as my pinkie, ring, and middle finger onto the table. This gives me stabilization, increased feel for the cloth, and brings me down to the level of the balls. Sometimes I lift my palm and support my bridge solely with my fingers. This is helpful for follow shots so I don’t have to squeeze my hand to elevate the cue. It is also comfortable because my hand is in line with the forearm, creating a very stealthy and sleek approach.

It is ideal to have your fingers conform to the shape of the shaft within your closed bridge. This will ensure that your cue will not drastically deflect off the cue ball and/or miscue. This is especially important on draw shots. Make sure you do not squeeze the cue so much that the friction hinders your smooth stroke.

Your bridge should be finalized simultaneously with your stance, so you can now focus on your strokes. DO NOT EVEN SLIGHTLY MOVE ANY PART OF YOUR BRIDGE HAD UNTIL THE END OF YOUR ACTUAL STROKE! MAKE YOUR BRIDGE LIKE A ROCK!

Understanding The Tangent Line

First let’s understand what the tangent line is. Let’s use the engineers wording of the tangent line. The tangent line is a line 90 degrees to the line of the center of two balls at impact. Not let’s say it so we can understand it. The tangent line is the line between the balls when they touch. Any shot you shoot with an angle, the cue ball always starts moving down the tangent line after it collides with the object ball. If there is any overspin on the cue ball when it arrives at the object ball, the cue ball will start out going down the tangent line and then the overspin will cause it to curve away from you and the tangent line, as in follow. If the cue ball has back spin on it when it arrives at the object ball, the opposite will happen, the cue ball will start out down the tangent line but then the backspin will cause it to curve towards you off the tangent line, as in draw. If you shoot either the follow or the draw with more power, the power will cause the cue ball to stay on the tangent line longer before it curves away from or towards you.

Now let’s talk about keeping the cue ball on the tangent line. Many amateur players think that the tangent line is where the cue ball goes on every shot. This is not true. The only way the cue ball can stay on the tangent line is if the cue ball arrives at the object ball sliding with no spin, as in a stop shop. Some people refer to these shots as stun shots, but I refer to them as “stop shots with an angle”.

Probably the most important shot in pool is the stop shot, whether it’s straight in or an angle shot. Place an object ball about 12 inches from the side pocket and straight out from the side pocket. Now place the cue ball about 20 inches away from the object ball and instead of making it straight in, move the cue ball about 3 inches off line to the right or left and mark the balls. Now we know that the tangent line will be parallel with the long rail and the trick is to see if you can shoot a low slow stop shot so the cue ball only travels a few inches down the tangent line and then try to move the cue ball further and further down the table by shooting a little bit higher and a little harder to keep the cue ball on the tangent line.

This is a shot that must be mastered and is one of the most used shots by the professionals. If you have trouble — ask any instructor or top level player and they will shot you.

Good luck — Jerry

“SEE” Your Pool Success

Imagery is simply the creation of mental thoughts in your mind.  Imagery can be used in a variety of ways, skill acquisition and mastery, increasing self-confidence, and even faster injury rehabilitation.  Thousands of elite-level athletes use imagery every day for athletic success, and in this month’s column I would like to show you how you can use imagery for success in pool.

First, it is important to say there is no wrong way to use imagery.  If you can create an image in your mind, you are using imagery.  When you stop to think about making your next shot and actually see the ball roll toward the pocket and drop, you are not only strengthening neural connections in your brain, but also eliminating your sensors to outside distracters (i.e. your opponent, the fans, etc).  When your focus is entirely on the shot, it is impossible to also think about the “other things” around you that often get in the way and prevent you from playing your best.

For imagery to be most effective, consider the following tips for immediate success:

Control & Vividness:  Try practicing taking total control over the shots you play in your mind – and always be sure to make your shots successfully while using imagery.  Try closing your eyes as you rest at night and see yourself taking total control of the table and with each successful shot make the situation as real as possible in your mind.  With a little practice, you will be amazed at how quickly you will be able to imagine your local pool hall, the cue in your hands, and the sounds of the balls cracking off the break.           

Internal/External Imagery: Internal imagery is as if you are looking at the pool table through your own eyes, using your own point of view.  External imagery is as if you are watching yourself play through a camera sitting across the room.  Both types of imagery can be effective, so try both and see which type best suits you.  In my personal experience, internal imagery seems to work best for pool players, but either type is far better than doing nothing at all.

Use All Your Senses:  Imagery is more than just visualization. Think about what it feels like to hit the perfect draw shot (kinesthetic imagery), or feel the pool stick in your hand (tactile imagery), or even the smell of your local pool hall (olfactory imagery).  Quite simply, the more you can incorporate all the sense the more real it will become in your mind – and the most confident you will be when playing in pressure situations (because in your mind you will have already been there a million times before.).

Pre-shot and Pre-game Routines:  Use imagery the night before a tournament (pre-game routine) and briefly before each shot (pre-shot routine).  Imagery will help you keep a good pace and block out unnecessary things (i.e. the crowd watching), while also helping with self-confidence.    

Try using imagery and allow yourself time to get used to the experience.  Remember, always keep your imagery positive and productive so that you can stay loc ked in and play your best.

Mental Game Improvement

For over 100 years it has been said that pool is a mental game. Grady Mathews told us long ago that the pool is at least 80% mental. Indeed, most of today’s professional players embrace sound mental game strategies. So if most players have already acknowledged the impact of the mental side of pool on our performance, why have many not taken the time to learn and improve this very important part of our game?

Pool has become a game of carbon fiber shafts and “$20 chalk.” The billiards industry places huge emphasis on how the latest equipment will help your playing ability. But as we already know, most of these are false promises.

The game has seen huge technological advancement over the past hundred years – we can hit the cue ball with side-spin and less deflection than ever before, supposedly, modern day layered tips give players more control and the latest billiard balls are almost 100 percent round. But for some unexplained reason, players aren’t much better than before. Despite all the innovation and hype about how much easier the game is, the latest cues, fast cloth and training aids, have not made much of an impact.

The fact remains, there is something else that we can do instead of buying the latest equipment.  Practice time with goal setting will definitely help.  Also, think about taking pool lessons from a certified instructor who has the ability to train you on the finer points of the mental game. However, being given the physical tools alone is not enough to make us play at the professional level. We must embrace something else.

Developing the mental side of pocket billiards is the final frontier that remains unmastered to most students. One of the reasons we love pool is also one of the reasons we fail to get better. Lagging for break with no idea what to expect over the next hour or two is one of the most alluring qualities of the game. Why is it, with the same pool stroke we are capable of winning the tournament one week and going two and out the next?

Pool has more ups and downs than most other sports and more time to think about them. But this can be changed. If we can embrace a solid mental approach to each match we will play a more consistent game of pool. Being able to control our emotions and get into the right state of mind before we stroke the cue ball is one key to playing well. We need to be disciplined and embrace a sound pre-shot routine to reduce inconsistency. This will also help players to remain focused on the “present moment”.

So how do we improve control of our minds at the table? What we need is to relax when we are in between shots, and reach a state of intense focus when we are executing a shot. Through learning this process and making it a sub-conscious action, we will get closer and closer to reaching our potential. If we are able to learn a structured pre-shot routine, which allows us to switch into a high state of focus during each shot, we can achieve the correct mindset for a quality game of pool.

Your new routine will positively reinforce your ability to analyze, visualize, and trust your abilities on each shot. Your practice routine on the table will involve seeing and hitting as many shots as possible, so that visualization becomes part of your instinct. Then on the table, all we have to think about is what shot we want to hit without any technical thoughts. Negativity, such as fear of pocketing the nine, embarrassing yourself in front of your team and generally not playing up to your potential will, overtime, disappear as your new pre-shot routine becomes more automated.

There are no shortcuts or gimmicks to developing aptitude for the mental side of pool. However, enrolling at Virtual Billiard Academy and using it as a resource, along with applying the above mentioned principles into your game, you will be able to play a better game of pool than ever before.

Five Practice Mistakes Pool Players Make

If you want to become the best pool player possible, it goes without saying that you need to practice effectively so that you increase your “offensive and defensive skills” which will lead to more consistency and better match play. Unfortunately, very few pool players do this successfully, which means they remain stuck at their current skill level while wasting time in the process. In fact, national league statistics show very few players have improved significantly over the past 10 years.

This is difficult to comprehend when you think about how much playing equipment and instructional material has evolved over the years. The reason, I believe, is because pool players go about improving their game inefficiently, repeatedly making these 5 Practice mistakes over and over again:

Practice Mistake 1: Thinking that constant repetition leads to big performance increases

The first practice mistake is thinking that practicing the same shot over again will “fix” your game. Research shows that repetition is not as effective as variability. Banging balls doesn’t challenge the brain enough to cause it to do anything differently and has limited effect in changing motor patterns. It’s not about training the muscles (muscles have no “memory”), rather it’s challenging and training the brain, which creates the changes in movement. Research suggests that shooting 20 balls in 20 minutes (a different shot with each ball) makes practice more “deliberate” and allows the pool player more time to plan and review each shot.

Practice Mistake 2: Lots of well struck balls during practice is a sign of improvement

Although a player may start hitting the balls better with repetition, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are improving or making permanent stroke changes. What’s most likely happening is the execution of their shots is benefiting from repetition – they get a sense of the timing required when the tip makes impact with the cue ball and they also make slight subconscious adjustments (based on sensory feedback). They are using their short-term memory, which they don’t have the benefit of during an actual match. But because they are getting the outcome they want to see, they keep going with it over and over again, thinking that repeating the action will make it stick. Unfortunately, very little change in skill is occurring. This is the very reason that I get asked the question: “Why can’t I take my practice game to the pool tournament?” Hitting shots well during practice is fairly easy for any level of player with enough repetition, but when that pool player has to hit varied shots every few minutes, their real skills are exposed and the stroke they had during practice is nowhere to be found.

Practice Mistake 3: Practice should be fun

There’s an appeal to the ego when you run several balls during practice, which can explain why you might want to continue doing it. If enjoying your time spent is your goal, then that’s great, but if developing your skills and playing better is the goal then you might need to rethink your approach. Practice needs to be harder than the game to make positive changes in your play. Don’t just bang balls around. Be structured and monitor your progress. Setting both short and long term goals is essential.

Practice Mistake 4: Mechanics are the same as performance skills

The average pool player practices to improve their mechanics. I’ve worked with enough players over the past 10 years to know this is true, even at the highest levels. Even though the focus needed to make real change in the stroke diminishes with each repetition, the player is usually focusing on their stance or a feeling during each repetition. Without knowing it, the pool player is training their attention in a way that is not how they would want to focus during a match. On the pool table, it’s not about making stroke after stroke, focusing on technique – it’s about solving a unique problem each shot and letting the player’s intention for the shot create the stroke. Unless we train ourselves (in practice) to prepare for each new challenge, we are not developing the performance skills needed to play better during a match.

Practice Mistake 5: Practice and playing are two different things

Most pool players see their practice time as something unrelated to match play. There’s no overlap, or similarity of conditions, between the two environments. To make real change in skills (both mechanical and mental) requires simulation and training of the external and internal variability that we feel during a match, due to having different shots and consequences for each shot’s outcome. If you are making any of these 5 Practice Mistakes and you’d like to learn how to practice more effectively, I would love to work with you enroll in my online class at Virtual Billiard Academy. Or feel free contact your local billiards instructor for additional guidance. Always remember, “practice” doesn’t make perfect…“perfect practice” does!

Never Choke Again in Pool

“Choking” is when you know how to do something and have successfully done it before, yet in pressure situations you fail because of a lack of focus, poise, and execution.  In the game of pool choking is a common occurrence, especially during tournaments when it seems as though the table gets longer and the pockets become smaller.  This month I would like to share with you why choking occurs, and what you can do to minimize choking the next time you play when the stakes are high.

Choking in sports always begins with fear and self-doubt.  Interestingly, for human beings fear can be real (i.e. somebody shooting a gun at you), or irrational (worrying about what somebody might think if I miss this next shot).  Regardless of the source (real or irrational), our bodies respond with anxiety in the same exact way.  In other words, your body doesn’t care if it hears gun shots or is afraid of your opponent standing over the pool table – the physical anxiety (i.e. increased heart rate; tense, tight muscles; and shallow breathing are examples) will be experienced the same exact way.

Once fear kicks into negative anxiety, your mind will begin to exclusively focus on the physical symptoms of nerves (the shallow breathing, increased heart rate, stomach biutterflies) instead of thinking about the shot you need to make on the table in front of you!  From there, most players will start talking to themselves and say things like “don’t screw up,” or “don’t miss this next shot.”  Guess what happens next?  You got it – the shot is missed!  Once your self-talk becomes negative and conservative, you are basically done (Don’t believe me?  Try NOT thinking of as pink elephant and see what happens.  Now go tell yourself NOT to miss the next shot and see what happens). 

Once the shot is missed, the player usually experiences more negative energy, more fear, more anxiety, and in some cases the day may end up being lost completely.  It’s amazing all this starts from fear – and irrational fear at that. Think about it – there is no real fear when playing pool, yet how many players allow their minds and bodies to experience fear as though they were in fear for their life?!  Seriously, who cares about who you are playing or how many people are watching – they cant take the stick out of your hands and make you miss shots! 

If you want to minimize choking, try the following tips:

Basic Banking

Angle in equals angle out. This mantra of banking is correct, sometimes. Unfortunately, for players trying to pocket an elusive bank shot to win a game, this conventional wisdom sometimes clouds their judgement, causing a missed shot.

When faced with a fairly straight forward bank shot where the object ball is no more than one diamond to the left or right of the intended pocket, but on the opposite side of the table an inch or two off the rail or less, and the cue ball lies at a point that doesn’t require a difficult cut on the object ball, in-experienced bankers tend to make the same mistake over and over. If the object ball is on or near the rail it will always come off that rail short. If you were able to remember specifically the last twenty times that you were faced with a shot of this nature, you would have undoubtedly come up short of your intended pocket on the vast majority of your attempts. Our mind is able to pick the correct contact point on the object ball that you would expect would bank the ball in, and yet it hits the opposite rail short of the intended pocket. There are several reasons why this happens, balls banking short consistently, but we needn’t examine why this occurrence happens as much as just acknowledge that it does happen, and compensate for it.

There are a certain percentage of players that consistently shoot their bank shots using outside English on the cue ball in order to widen the angle by which the object ball leaves the rail. Although this technique will work with some table arrangements, it opens up a Pandora’s Box of potential pitfalls like squirt and deflection, plus the position problems that will occur when inside English is required to send the cue ball to it’s next position location. As a better alternative to adding outside English, you should alter your cut angle. Once you are aware of the problem and its simple solution, which is to overcut those shots as if to bank the ball two to four inches past the intended pocket, part of the analysis that you perform in your pre-shot routine, if you are faced with a bank shot of this type, is to automatically compensate by changing your cut angle slightly. How much to compensate is a tricky question in that each layout still has a few variables in its composition. The best way to familiarize yourself with this concept is to practice it occasionally. Perform some of the banks as cross side and some as cross corner banks with the object ball within one diamond of the intended pocket and far enough off the rail that a couple kiss problem doesn’t exist. After shooting fifty of those practice banks, you should be consistently making them if you are compensating correctly. Once you see that slightly over-cutting them puts many more banks in the pocket, expect the added confidence that you will have in your banking ability to have you taking and making more simple bank shots in the course of your play.

I’d Bet my Nickel on Jack

One of the most colorful pool playing characters I have ever come across was a gentleman named “Nickel” Jack Goode of Liberty, Kentucky. Coined the nickname, “Nickel Jack” because he wore nickels in the crevices of his ears during play, Jack was a player from the “old school,” he played little defense and was perhaps the best kick shot perpetrator I have ever seen.

In fact, after playing against Jack for many years I cannot recall a single time where I ever saw him foul on a reasonable kick shot. On many occasions, I questioned Jack about why he was such a good kicker, but being the dramatic storyteller that he was he would always dance around the subject by telling a tall tale about a recent gambling excursion. To hear Jack tell it, no matter who he beat it was always for $2,600.00.

One day, I went to the poolroom and was shocked when the room owner informed me that Jack was in the hospital and was given less than 24 hours to live. Surprisingly, when I returned to the poolroom a couple of days later, Jack was smoking a cigarette and was playing the “Cherry Master” machine. Being shocked, the first words out of my mouth were, “Aren’t you supposed to be dead?” Jack laughed and took long drag off of his cigarette, blew some smoke and said, “I am too mean to die!”

He then went on to inform me that it was a monumental day, because he had just picked the Kentucky Derby winner and had won several thousand dollars. I said you must be as good with horses as you are at kicking. Jack said, “Yep, almost!” Then he said, “I never did tell you about the strategy I use on kick shots.”

According to Jack, when you are kicking you’re better off going into a ball on a flatter, narrower angle. “It’s much easier to hit and control,” he said. After talking to several pro players, what Jack said was in fact true and accurate. To prove this, set three balls up along the long rail. Then shoot each ball into the rail rubber of the end rail as shown (where the “red star” is located). Notice that ball 1 will go into the pocket after hitting the rail rubber, but ball 2 ball jaws the pocket and ball 3 doesn’t come close. Now, imagine your cue ball is on the opposite side of the table where the yellow “X” is located. Now you have to kick at that same pocket (where the red star is). Percentage wise you would be better off kicking further down (near where ball 1 is positioned) and shortening the cue ball up with left English. The flatter angle makes the pocket play much bigger and the inside spin helps the ball roll into the pocket.

The ball obviously can be pocketed kicking higher on the cushion, but kicking lower on the rail near where the 1 ball is located (shortening the shot up with inside spin) gives you a much larger margin of error.

In fact, there is a reverse English kicking system that can be used to calculate such a kick. Jack called it the “Nickel System.” The starting point for the kick shot is the placing the cue ball in front “side pocket diamond” aiming into the first diamond on the opposite side of the table as shown below (the path of the dotted cue ball). Here, kick into rail with maximum left spin. Hit the cue ball with a firm speed and it will take you to the corner pocket.

Adjustments are made in halves. So in other words, if you were 1 diamond above the side (cue ball “A”) you would aim ½ a diamond higher than the starting point (using the same speed and spin). If you were 2 diamonds higher (cue ball “B”) you would aim 1 diamond above the 1st diamond starting point and so on.

Sadly, after a long battle with cancer Jack finally passed away, but each time I return to Campbellsville, I think about the day Jack shared a closely guarded secret. Jack was the best kick shot artist that I ever had the pleasure of playing against. During a local tournament one man said it best, “I’ve seen a lot of players come and a lot of players go, but when it comes to kick shots, if I had to pick a player, I’d bet my nickel on Jack.”