Coming From Behind

© 2010 Mike Fieldhammer,

Mike Fieldhammer

Few endeavors have such highs and lows as tournament pool.  Emotional swings within a single match can rival the story arc of a season of ‘Desperate Housewives.’  How can a player cope with such mood and momentum swings and win matches and tournaments without losing one’s marbles?

It has been said that the first and last game are the hardest to win.  This is especially true when your opponent seems to be playing great as well as being the benefactor of some lucky rolls.  What is one to do?  Win a game at the earliest chance possible.  Try to take away one game and give yourself a starting block to hook your toes into.  What may seem like a small victory may wake up a monster.  You may have needed a nudge forward and this may turn into several game wins in a row should your opponent falter.

Turning the tide in a match that is going horribly can be easier said than done.  Sometimes a player must take a time out to regroup.  Wash your hands or get a cool drink.  Take a short break and return to the match with a fresh attitude and new resolve to play with hunger.  When you are stuck in a rut and the wheels are spinning, reorganize and bring new energy to the match to swing the momentum to your favor.

When pool matches are going smoothly, winning games can seem like an easy task.  When you aren’t striking the cue ball quite so accurately or your speed control is on the fritz, few things are as difficult as running out.  When pool gives you this much trouble just take one game at a time, then one inning at a time, then one shot at a time.  Bear down and focus on shooting just one shot to the best of your ability.  Make every trip to the table mean something.  Playing in the moment will vault you out of the quicksand with regularity.

Remember, when you are hopelessly behind, try to mount some kind of comeback, even if it is just a game or two so your opponent must really work for victory. This can have a couple of huge benefits.  He’ll not take victory for granted in your next match, be it on the B side or in a tournament months down the road.  Secondly, you have played a few games well and if the match were to start again from scratch, you may be the victor.  As a matter of fact, if this defeat was your first, you could bring that ‘grind-it-out’ attitude into your first match on the left side of the bracket and mount a charge to win the tournament the hard way.

Don’t roll over in a match when you are well behind in the score.  You may even come back and win the match!  Remember what Nick Varner has to say about the scores of his in-progress matches: “I never worry ‘bout the score until my opponent is on the hill”.  No wonder he’s always dangerous in a match.  He plays one game at a time and never gives up!

Mike Fieldhammer
Professional Billiard Instructor / 612.802.0519

Mike is a full time tournament player and professional billiard instructor.  He is available for private instruction or group clinics and events. Check out the new Billiard Coach Store:  Serious Gear for Serious Players. Gift certificates are available.

Big Table to Bar Box

Big Table to Bar Box:  Making the Adjustment

© 2009 Mike Fieldhammer,

Mike Fieldhammer

Mike Fieldhammer

Much as golfers must adapt to weather conditions and different courses, pool players must make a sometimes difficult transition themselves: switching between 9-foot and 7-foot tables.  Many capable big table 9-Ball players have trouble downsizing to a bar box to play 8-Ball.  Keeping key concepts in mind will make the change less challenging and make a player more comfortable on different sized tables.

Keep the cue ball movement to a minimum. Less cue ball movement is advantageous on a bar box.  The 7-foot table has tight quarters. Some players exhibit better control of the cue ball using a slightly more compact stroke.  Shorten or reign in your stroke since most shots can be made without a big stroke.  Punch balls in by focusing on a deliberate stroke.

If you are struggling with speed control on the bar box, consider rolling balls in. Follow and natural position leave less to chance if you have confidence in the table at a slower speed. Simple, natural position at controlled speeds also gives you a better chance to get the correct speed for position. Rails on bar tables are easier to predict at a low speed than high speed.  Just beware of skid and learn to recognize which angles and pace the balls tend to stick.

Select patterns appropriate to the table size. Shot selections should favor stop and stun shots over shots with close distance.  Close distance refers to positional shots with little distance between the cue ball and object ball.  For example, it is better to take a long stop shot over a close range cut where the cue ball will travel two rails back to the center of the table flirting with traffic.  A slight miss hit will still pocket the ball in a stun/stop shot and hold cue ball position. Conversely, the cut may still pocket the ball, but the speed and direction of the cue ball will be altered. This could lead to the possibility of bumping into balls or missing position from too much or little cue ball pace. The saying goes, “Get in line and stay in line.”  If your position becomes a little less than ideal, chances are that the amount of inaccuracy will escalate on the next shot.  This may accumulate over several shots until you are in a self imposed trap and are forced into a low percentage or desperation shot. It’s one of those runs that you wish you could rewind and select another opening shot or play a preemptive safety.

Beware of equipment differences. In bar box pool, you have a much greater chance of finding a subpar (or less than ideal) cue ball, mismatched object balls, a cheap triangle, inferior cloth, and mismatched cushions.  All of these factors hurt the highly skilled player because they introduce unexpected variables into the game.  Under ideal conditions, the more advanced player can exhibit a mind blowing demonstration of control. Such a player can move the cue ball ten feet or more to a target the size of a quarter.  If the cue ball arrives via three cushions, one of which is from a different table, then the player may have to settle for a dinner plate for position.

Pay special attention to the cue ball model and condition. Heavy or large cue balls drive through the object ball and alter the tangent line.  It just doesn’t follow the physics of ball behavior. It is yet another variable that befuddles experts, but doesn’t harm the lower skilled players who may not realize the difference. It’s an equalizer. Ralf Souquet will not even hit a ball on a seven foot table.  He considers it mini-golf compared to a professional PGA approved course.

Souquet, the money leader on tour in 2008, once commented on the bed of a nine foot table where the bed had new cloth, but the rail cloth was unchanged.  He is so sensitive to table conditions that his position play was a tad shaky because draw and follow took differently than the side spin did off the rails.  He doesn’t require new, slick cloth to play well, just the same cloth for the bed and the rails.

A light cue ball is a problem as well.  All pool balls wear down with use.  After all, they are hit with micro sandpaper in the form of chalk impregnated tips (only the cue ball, of course).  That is why players hitting object balls with their cue tip is highly discouraged at finer billiard establishments. Object balls accumulate chalk from both the bed cloth and the cue ball, which can wear them down too.  Cue balls have them all beat.  I’ve seen and played with sets of balls where the cue ball was a full eighth of an inch undersized.  This smaller lighter cue ball draws easily and follows reluctantly. Understandably, it doesn’t break out clusters as effectively as a heavier, regular sized ball does.

The size of cue balls also affects cut shots.  Smaller cue balls tend to overcut shots because the diameter is smaller, as the line at impact is slightly off.  Likewise, oversized cue balls hit everything too thick.  This, combined with the heaviness/lightness of the ball, makes predicting the tangent line (the final path of the cue ball after impact) almost like a guessing game.

If you can run out, do it.  The game at its highest level is very aggressive.  Top players will try to run out even if they have two or three problem areas to deal with.  Many times they’ll put on the brakes if their first crack at a breakout doesn’t work, but sometimes they’ll keep firing away.  Why the testosterone overload?  Players know that a safety is only so good on a bar box.  Balls are so easy to kick, jump, or bank in on 7-footers that the shooter would rather go down firing than lay down a paper thin safety.  Making a good hit on a ball isn’t that tough on a bar box and the chance of getting lucky looms large.  The table can be in worse shape than pre-safety.  After a kick or jump, foul or no foul, balls may be rearranged and un-runnable.  The worst case scenario is the player making a lucky hit and magically getting safe. Many players have scratched their heads and thought to themselves that perhaps the safety wasn’t so wise and a run out would have been more likely to win the game.

All of these adjustments can seem daunting to the small table game.  Keep your head up. Many advantages make the game seductive.  Larger pockets and less distance on the bar table make every shot makeable. Aggressive and creative play are rewarding and satisfying. Faced with a tough situation, you might dig up some low percentage kiss or carom and open up the rack perfectly.  Bank shots are ill advised on tough 9-footers, but may be the correct shot on a bar box. Make some slight changes to your thinking and start running racks on the bar box.

Mike Fieldhammer
Professional Billiard Instructor
HYPERLINK “” / 612.802.0519

Pool lessons make a great holiday gift. Gift certificates are available.

Mike is a full time tournament player and professional billiard instructor.  He is available for private instruction or group clinics and events.