Big Table to Bar Box: Making the Adjustment
© 2009 Mike Fieldhammer, BilliardCoach.com
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.
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Mike is a full time tournament player and professional billiard instructor. He is available for private instruction or group clinics and events.