Is your game on the LEVEL?

© 2010 Mike Fieldhammer,

Mike Fieldhammer

Some pool players take some time off during the Summer and others stay in stroke and keep cool. One thing that seems to be true with everyone this time of year is that we are busy!  So here’s a quick tip for you to keep in mind next time you’re in a game.  Keep a level cue.

Play shots with your cue as level as possible.  It is tempting to elevate the butt of the cue on draw shots.  Players routinely elevate unnecessarily on shots where the cue ball is near a rail. A little bit of elevation is unavoidable as the butt extends over the rail. However, strive for the lowest butt your knuckles can stand.

Potential problems with jacking up are as follows:

1. The possibility of a slight Masse’ or Swerve of the cue ball before it contacts the object ball is of great concern.  If side spin is used (left or right English) while the cue it elevated, the cue ball will curve while traveling toward the object ball. The amount of movement is tough to judge and can be a delicate blend of table conditions, speed of stroke, eccentricity of the tip to cue ball contact, and degree of cue elevation.  Minor and unwanted curve in mildly elevated shots is one of the biggest factors to missing shots. Just a quarter inch of movement of cue ball called swerve (or masse’) can make for an awful miss.  The object ball could miss the pocket by many inches.

2. Aiming is trickier with an elevated cue.  Looking down the line of the cue stick past the cue ball to the object ball gets tougher with an elevated cue.  Your head gets higher off the table and your cue points more into the cloth and slate than through the cue ball and at the ghost ball or contact point by the object ball.  Keeping your point of view with your chin closer to the table will aid effective and accurate aiming.

3.  Hitting down on the cue ball causes it to jump off the playing surface.  This is good when you’re attempting to shoot a jump shot, but not so good if you are shooting a draw shot.  Dr. Dave, a great asset to the game, has done studies in his mad scientist lab and concluded that you will have less back spin on the cue ball when it reaches the object ball if you jack up.  This assumes the same cue tip offset from center ball. The hopping cue ball loses spin from the very first hop.  There’s double trouble if the cue ball is airborne at impact, because the contact point will change.  Your cut will be thinner than if the cue ball was on the cloth.

So keep it level, especially if you are going to use some side spin or want the most effective draw shot.

Mike Fieldhammer
Professional Billiard Instructor / 612.802.0519

Mike’s team “Who Needs a Billiard Coach?!” recently won the BCAPL National Team Championship in a field of 674 teams.  Mike is a full time tournament player and professional billiard instructor. Lessons, gift certificates, and very soon the new line of Samsara cues available at the Billiard Coach Store.

Aging: A Pool Player’s Gift or Curse?

© 2010 Mike Fieldhammer,

Mike Fieldhammer

Pool players can have the blind courage of youth or the wise knowledge of the aged.  Time moves on and I’m stuck in the Middle Ages, old enough to know better, yet young enough not to care.

Pool players can seem to grow old at a breakneck speed. Perhaps years in the pool room, on the road, or waiting for the next game take their toll.  How does a player cope with the passage of time?  What are some tools of the trade that ripen or rot when a player ages?  Young players have assets like steady nerves, confidence and fearless aggression.  Older players can be wise, patient, and knowledgeable.  Ageism can be witnessed in the pool room. You may have overheard veteran pool players talk about young gunslingers. You’ve probably heard gems like, “That young kid doesn’t miss!” or “He has no fear!” or even occasionally, “He just doesn’t know how hard that shot is.”  Young players sometimes say watching their elders, “What kind of spin did he use on that shot?” or “I didn’t see that shot!” or maybe, “That was a smart safety.”

The complexity of the game and the fact that it can take a lifetime to learn is compelling.  One of my favorite things about our glorious pastime is that it can be enjoyed by 10-year-olds and people into the nineties. I’ve taught eager young grade-schoolers as well as competitive elderly couples. The arc of aging certainly has an effect on a serious pool player.  At what age does one’s game peak?  Many players say that they never played as well as they did around age 18. They never missed and were never scared. Some players learn patterns and smart table management in mid life.  Some veterans have steely nerves and play like they’ve got nothing to lose. For me, age is impacting my physical abilities in ways I never expected.

Late last year I started having severe pain in my left hand near the base of my thumb.  The soreness had come and gone for months but in October 2009 the pain became constant and seriously detrimental to my pool game.  Mere days before my 40th birthday, I had my first MRI.  The friendly reminder voice mail I received said to show up at 10 am on October 30th (the day before Halloween) for my MRI at the “Maple Grave, excuse me, Maple Grove office.”  Spooky, huh?

The MRI seemed like overkill for what turns out to be Osteoarthritis of the CMC or Basilar joint.  The temporary solution was to gulp down four Naproxen pills three times per day to decrease the swelling in the area and tame the pain.  Pool playing over the next couple months was a nightmare.  At best, an open bridge stung like a bee was attacking my left hand and at worst, pain of touching the cloth sent tears welling up followed by more of the emotional nature after the one stroke shot. The mental toll of playing so far beneath my capabilities was a complete surprise to me.  Could you imagine being Carl Lewis in his prime with cinder blocks tied to his ankles being beaten in a 40 yard dash by a middle aged chubby banker who jogs at the club to meet girls? I went through months of not wanting to see a pool table.  Thoughts of selling all my gear and flushing my billiard instructor career surfaced daily.

All this came to a head when I sought other physicians’ opinions after a couple of friends offered referrals. On December 17th, I had a cortisone injection. Within the day, I could tell that it was treatment leagues above the pain pills.  The following weekend, I finished third in a very difficult regional bar table 8-ball tournament.  With my mind largely free from pain distress and genuinely excited to play pool, I had a successful week and gained a sense of hope for competitions to come.  My options for treatment in the future are to continue cortisone injections three times per year or have hand surgery.  Once again in April I had a cortisone injection prior to a tournament and our team won in Minnesota and took the top spot in Las Vegas for the Mixed Open Team BCAPL Championship.

Currently, I’m not sure when the surgery will happen, but one thing I do know is that aging as a pool player has plusses and minuses. Physical challenges may creep up on aging players, but care for one’s health and the knowledge and experience can make players competitive at any age. After all, Ralf Souquet is still at the top of his game and he is one year older than I am.

Medical notes: What is Osteoarthritis? Arthritis literally means “inflamed joint”. The cartilage-covered surfaces of a joint wear out and cause bone on bone irritation and pain. I think I have a legitimate pool player injury hastened with a dose of hereditary influence. Here’s an image of my x-ray that shows the affected joint in my left hand.

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.