INTENTIONAL MISCUES

(October Issue 2006)

Usually a miscue is an accident that leads to a missed shot or missed position. Lack of chalk is often the problem although a faulty stroke that lands the tip too far from the center of the ball can also be the cause.

Some miscues are done on purpose. I remember one old-time carom player who was an expert at the sly miscue. At carom billiards -- the kind without any pockets -- you are expected to play some shot even if there was very little chance to score. The old-timer, when faced with such a situation, could be expected to miscue and by some miracle the cue ball would roll to where the shot would be pretty hard for the incoming player. If it wasn't intentional, the odds against so many consecutive coincidences is astronomical.

When I was first learning to play, there was a pretty good pool shooter who used to practice miscuing while still making the nine ball. All the better to keep his fish on the line.

Here are five shots I've seen at pool where a miscue is used to accomplish a goal.

Shot A is the usual beginner's jump shot where the cue is level but it strikes the cue ball so low that the jump takes the cue ball over the blocker to pocket the hidden ball. I hope no one reading this article is still at that level.

Shot B is a similar situation, but the problem is avoiding a double hit rather than getting a good hit. If you miscue, the cue ball jumps up and avoids being hit by the cue stick a second time, maybe.

Shot C and D are for the same position. The object ball is close to the cushion, the cue ball is only a quarter-inch from the object ball, and the player is afraid of stroking toward the ball for fear of a double hit.

Shot C is accomplished not like B with a normal miscue, since that would get too much energy into the object ball and it would likely strike the stick after it came off the cushion. Instead, the cue stick is brought forward under the edge of the cue ball by maybe 1/8-inch. Then, rather than a forward stroke, the stick is lifted straight up, the tip hits the cue ball a glancing blow, and just enough speed goes into the cue ball to get the object ball to the cushion. You might not call this a miscue but I do. The shot can also be accomplished by dropping the stick or waggling it sideways.

Shot D comes from snooker. The goal is again to get the object ball softly to the cushion. The tip is aimed clear outside the cue ball and at a right angle to the line you want to send the cue ball along. The tip is so far off-center that a miscue is guaranteed. With a little practice you can get a cushion in this situation without noticeably hitting the cue ball with the side of your ferrule.

Finally, Shot E is usually shown as a trick shot. The cue ball and object ball are touching and the object ball is frozen to the cushion. You align your stick parallel to the cushion and far enough out on the cue ball so that you will miscue but maybe not so far as with shot D. By some strange double kiss the object ball is guided into the pocket.

Are these shots legal? Some feel they are, especially C and D. The current rules are not perfectly clear on the matter. In the currently proposed revision of the World Standardized Rules, intentional miscues are explicitly forbidden as not part of the game.

Another problem is what to do with unintentional miscues. The ultra-high-speed video in the Jacksonville Project shows that many miscues involve the side of the stick slapping the cue ball. To make life complicated for the referee, not all miscues have contact with the ferrule. For the time being, unintentional miscues are assumed to not be fouls in and of themselves.

You can do your part to avoid confusion by making sure your tip is chalked.




3-RAIL POSITION

(September Issue 2006)

I hope that by now your game has progressed to the point that you realize that while shotmaking is a nice skill to have, positioning the cue ball for the next shot is far more important, and can make your runouts much easier.

Most position shots fit into only a few categories. Major ones that don't necessarily involve a cushion include:
Stop shot -- a straight in that leave the cue ball motionless after impact.
Stun shot -- like a stop shot but with a slight angle so the cue ball moves more or less straight to the side from the collision.
Follow shot -- a straight in (or nearly so) with the cue ball sent forward.
Draw shot -- a straight in (or nearly so) with the cue ball "drawn" more or less straight backwards towards you.

These first four are the simplest ones to play and judge, and if you can get through a rack using nothing else, you're planning and playing well.
The next level of complication is where there is a significant cut angle and you modify the cue ball's path with added draw or follow. Precise control is more dependent on factors such as the cloth and distance to the object ball than for the first four position types. These shots are very useful for maneuvering on a cluttered table.

Next let's introduce the huge complication of bouncing off a cushion. The above shots still apply, as you need to determine where on the cushion you're going to hit, but you now have an additional tool to work with: side spin.

In a previous column, which is available on this magazine's web site, I discussed some of the perils of using side spin. These include miscuing, squirt, swerve, throw and skid. Each of these is more than large enough to make you miss shots you would normally make, so side spin should be reserved for those situations that demand it.

In the diagram is a good shot to practice with. The object ball is easy to pocket, so most of the aiming problems can be ignored. What we want to concentrate on is controlling the path of the cue ball. While you can cheat the pocket to change angle some, you should try as much as possible to put the ball in the center of the pocket.

First, try to pocket the ball and leave the ball near balls 2, 3 and 4 on the first end cushion. Put a ball down as a target, and make the cue ball touch it and stay close by, say within six inches. Try this with and without side spin. Which allows you to hit the cue ball more softly? To get to the 2, you will probably need a little draw as well as side. For your last shot of this set, try to make a ball in pocket P.

Next, crank up the speed a little and go to the 5, 6 and 7. Doing this one in three is a good start, but make three in a row for each position your goal. Experiment with more and less side spin to see how it changes the angle and speed. Since the cue ball will come off the end rail at roughly a 45-degree angle, you will find that to get to the 7 you need to go to about the 2 ball, depending on how much spin you use. Similarly, landing where the 4 is shown will next go to the 5.

Finally, go for the 8, 9 and 10. For these, it's fair to give yourself more leeway on the final position. The main thing from a position point of view is to know whether you are going to hit on the long cushion or the short cushion by the H pocket. Can you get the required angles without side spin? Does side spin make the shot easier?

If you have trouble getting the cue ball to the 8 ball on the long rail, try playing the shot firmly with draw. If there is still draw on the cue ball when it comes off the first cushion, it will tend to curve towards P, and the shot will go "shorter." A ball is said to go "short" after hitting a cushion when it bounces straighter off the cushion, and is said to go "long" when it leaves more parallel to the cushion.

When I was first learning to play position on shots like the one shown, the cue ball always seemed to go into pocket X, so I was taking the cue ball too "long".

Another word about vocabulary: if you use right side spin on the shot shown, it is called "outside" english. This has nothing to do with what happens on the cushion, it just refers to whether the stick is pointed to the "inside" or "outside" of the shot. Left side spin would be "inside" on this cut.

Finally, if you can't get to the targets shown, try a slightly different starting position to make it easier. If it's already easy, try other angles that make it harder.




SPECTACULAR SPECTATING

(August Issue 2006)

I'm writing this article at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas after the first day of play at the IPT North American Open 8-Ball Championships. It's too late to buy tickets for this one but you have to get to the next event that will be in September in Reno.

This is your best chance to see eight ball played at the highest level. Hall-of-Famers will be there. World champions in several different games will be there. Most importantly, you will get to see many different styles of play.

Quite a few of the players have strong snooker backgrounds up to and including three or four world champions. If you have trouble pocketing balls, watch how they do it. I watched Ronnie O'Sullivan in two matches today, and although he wasn't at top form, he played well enough to advance and made some moves to think about. He has the record for shortest perfect game in the World Snooker Championships -- 147 points in five minutes and 20 seconds on a 6x12-foot table, for which he got a bonus of about $250,000.

How many tournaments have you seen with players from Aruba, France, Montenegro and Morocco? You won't see all of them in the later rounds, but you will see some surprisingly good play from players you not only have never heard of but you've never even heard of their country.

You will also see lots of matches of youth versus experience. These tend to feature interesting safeties by the old coots and expensive mistakes -- or remarkable run outs -- by the whipper-snappers.

The format of the event is perfect for spectators. If you have a favorite player, you are guaranteed to be able see him or her in at least 4 matches as the players are divided into groups of 5 and each one plays every other in the group. The top three in each group advance and the ones that get knocked out receive $2000.

The remaining rounds are also round-robin format, down to the final 6. The top two from that round, meet in a single final match to determine the tournament's winner.

One problem with round-robin play is that you can have ties in a group. For example, the top two finishers in a group of 5 might each have a 3-1 record. Ties are broken by percentage of games won, and then by lesser factors such as break-and-runs and eights-on-the-break.

You should be prepared for slightly different rules than you've seen before. Three fouls in a row is loss of game. It happened once in the roughly eight hours of pool I watched today, in one of those youth vs. experience matches.

Also, all fouls are called, not just cue ball fouls. Your shirt touched a ball? Ball in hand for the other player. In spite of the amount of money at stake -- getting into the second round guarantees at least $5000 -- I saw no arguing or unsportsmanlike conduct surrounding this rule. There were referees available to make calls, but the players were usually on their own.

Eight on the break wins.

The production of the event is beyond any pool tournament you have ever seen before. 62 9-foot tables. Think about it. Think about setting up that many tables. It was possible by the use of the new Diamond tables with one-piece one-inch slate.

There is a TV arena with two tables and high theater-style seating. To allow you to follow action on both tables, large flat-screen TVs are mounted up with the TV light fixtures. Each table in the arena has four or five TV cameras recording the shots.

And there are more helpers for scoring and registration and other tasks than there are players in most tournaments.

At the Venetian, the total prize fund is $2,000,000 with $350,000 for first. In Reno, this will be bumped up to $3,000,000 total.

Tickets are more or less free. General admission which offers great seating, but not ring-side -- is only $40 for a whole week. The final match is another $40. Tickets are not sold at the door. Yes, that's right, you have to get them ahead of time.

Bottom line: get off your lazy behind, get to Reno, and see history in the making and some great eight ball to boot.

Hohmann Wins the IPT North American Open 8-Ball


The richest tournament in history of pool was held July 23rd-30th at the Venetian in Las Vegas. With a total purse of two million dollars, the winner took away $350,000 while last place in the 200-player field got $2000. And the game was eight ball.

The North American Open had a truly international field with 29 countries represented from Aruba to Yugoslavia. The US had the largest contingent with slightly over half the players, while the United Kingdom, including Scotland and England, was second with 18.

Except for the final match, all play was in round-robins with either five or six players in a group. In a group, each player played one match with every other player, and all the matches were races to 8 games. Since each group played all of its matches in one day, the players were all shooting from 10AM to 10PM each day.

In Round 1, 200 players formed 40 groups of 5 and 3 players advanced from each group. Round 2 had 20 groups of 6 with half the players advancing. Round 3 had 12 groups of 5 with 3 advancing. Round 4 was 6 groups of 6 and half advanced, leaving 18 players in the tournament at the start of play on Friday.

Along the way, the 80 eliminated in the first round got $2000 each. Notables out at this level included Lou Butera, Linda Carter, Karen Corr, Robin Dodson, Ernesto Dominguez, Max Eberle, Mary Kenniston, Ray Martin, Mike Massey, Grady Mathews, Jose Parica, Arturo Rivera, Rob Saez, Lance Salazar, Stan Tourangeau, Shane Van Boening, Dallas West, and Ron Wiseman.

The 60 dropped on Tuesday ($5000 each) included Danny Basavich, Tony Chohan, Kim Davenport, Allison Fisher, Gerda Hofstatter, Cliff Joyner, Keith McCready, Ismael (Morro) Paez, Mike Sigel, Mark Tademy (Tadd), and Mike Zimmerman.

The 24 Wednesday losers got $10,000 each. This included Johnny Archer, Sarah Ellerby (highest woman finisher), Bobby Hunter, Ronnie O'Sullivan (a snooker champion from the UK), Paul Potier, Nick Varner, and Charlie Williams.

Collecting $17,000 on Thursday night were some real heavyweights including Corey Deuel, Niels Feijen, Mika Immonen, Rafael Martinez, Rodney Morris, Shawn Putnam, Santos Sambajon, Earl Strickland, and Nick Van den Berg. Evidently the rumors of Rafael's death were greatly exaggerated, as he played very well in this tournament.

This left 18 players in three groups of six on Friday morning. Some minor surprises were left in the field, including Quinten Hann, the "bad boy" of snooker from Australia, Evgeny Stalev from Russia, and David Matlock from the US.

In all earlier rounds, three players advanced from each group, but only two were to advance from each six to Saturday. Efren Reyes went undefeated in his group. Stalev tied with Darren Appleton at 3-2 in the round, and advanced due to a slightly better win/loss percentage. When players were tied in matches won and lost, the tie breaker was total games won divided by total games played, or the "winning percentage."

In the second group of six, Ralf Souquet advanced with a 4-1 record while Dennis Orcollo and Daryl Peach tied at 3-2 and Orcollo got the nod by fractions.

Thorsten Hohmann from Germany was the leader in the third group, to be joined by Marlon Manalo who tied Marcus Chamat of Sweden on matches but had a much better winning percentage. For reference, anything over 60% of racks won in this kind of competition is very impressive. Manalo had about 62% while Chamat had only 56.4%.

This set the stage for the final group of six on Saturday with three players from the Philippines, two from Germany and one from Russia. The highest US finishers were Dave Matlock, Larry Nevel, and Gabe Owen, and each got $30,000 for their efforts.

Again, play was in a round robin of six, with the top two finishers advancing to a single final match on Sunday. Manalo dominated in the first four rounds of the day, winning all four matches. Reyes and Stalev stumbled badly at the beginning and were unable to recover. Maybe playing for 12 hours a day for a whole week took its toll. Souquet, one of the favorites on paper, had heartbreaking 7-8 losses against both Reyes and Orcollo and a 6-8 loss to Manalo.

Going into the fifth and final round of matches on Saturday, Manalo was already assured a spot on Sunday. His last match was against Thorsten Hohmann, who was second in the group at that point with a 3-1 record. If Manalo were to win their match, Hohmann might be put into a tie for second in the group, as Orcollo could move to 3-2 with a win over the struggling Stalev. The guys with the slide rules weren't worried, however, as there was no way for Orcollo to pass Hohmann on the tie-breaking winning percentage.

Manalo and Hohmann had played a match already in the round of 18 on Friday. Thorsten had dominated with five break-and-runs and an 8-3 final score. Hohmann made a more emphatic statement Saturday night by squishing Manalo 8-1 including four break-and-runs.

The losers on Saturday got between $40,000 for Stalev in 6th place in the round to $80,000 for Orcollo for finishing 3rd.

On Sunday there was to be just a single race to 8 to determine the champion and runner up. Hohmann had to be the favorite having already beaten Manalo convincingly twice in the earlier rounds, but eight ball can be a strange game and if your break is going badly, you can expect to lose at this level of competition. Odds makers favored Hohmann at 3-2.

The spectators started lining up an hour early and there was a minor stampede for seats when the gates finally opened. The TV arena had been rearranged with a single table and extra seating on one side with great views from about 450 seats.

The announcer was none other than Michael Buffer, famous for his phrase, "Let's get ready to rumble," at boxing matches. The players entered the arena through jets of clouds, and a light show continued until they were ready to lag for the break.

Hohmann won the lag but came up dry on the first break. Manalo ran out and then broke and ran another to make the score 0-2. A dry break by Manolo, and Hohmann runs that rack and breaks and runs two more to take the lead at 3-2.

This was not an easy table to break on. The pockets were barely two balls wide at the points and the nappy cloth had slowed down over the week's play and the balls just weren't rolling the distance they had at the start of the week.

In the sixth rack, Hohmann had another dry break. Manalo tried an off-angle combo and missed. Hohmann punished him with another run out. He proceeded to break three balls in and appeared to be on the way to another win, but a long shot down the side cushion rattled, and Manalo was back in. He ran that rack and then broke and ran the next to tie the score at 4-4.

Manalo broke dry in the 9th game. Hohmann ran the rack, broke two balls in, and missed with three on the table. Manalo ran out and then broke and ran to take the lead at 5-6. A dry break by Manalo and Hohmann tied the match at 6-6 with another run out. Hohmann made a ball on the break in rack 13 but scratched. With ball-in-hand anywhere, Manalo ran out to get to the hill, 6-7. Once again, no ball on the break stopped him, and Hohmann ran the rack. At hill-hill, Hohmann broke a ball in and cooly cleared the table to take down the $350,000 first prize. Manalo had to settle for $99,000.

The final match saw only one game in which either of the players got two turns at the table, and that was a game where no ball was made on the break.

After the match, Hohmann admitting to being exhausted by the week of continuous play and intense pressure. He was on his way to New York City for some R&R, and then will prepare for the $3,000,000 IPT event in Reno, September 2-10.

(Summary: $2,050,000 IPT North American Open 8-Ball Championship, July 22-30, 2006, Venetian in Las Vegas, 200 players including 150 tour players and 50 qualified players.)




LET'S PLAY COWBOY!

(July Issue 2006)

No, this doesn't involve horses and Indians. Cowboy is a game played on a pool table that will teach you new skills as you have to solve new problems. It's probably best for beginning to intermediate players, but even champions will find it difficult when played on a snooker table.

A game of Cowboy has three phases: mostly pocketing balls, caroming from one ball to another, and scratching on the final shot on purpose. The diagram shows the starting position. The three is on the foot spot, the five on the center spot, and the one ball on the head spot. The cue ball is behind the line at the start and after scratches. For the break shot, the cue ball must contact the 3 ball first. The goal is to score 101 points.

For the first 90 points, you score points by pocketing any of the object balls or by getting the cue ball to hit two or more balls. Pocketing balls gets you the number of the ball. If the cue ball hits two balls, you get one point, and if you get the cue ball to hit all three object balls, you get two points. If you sink all three balls and contact all three with the cue ball, you would get a total of 11 points for the shot (1+3+5+2).

Don't mark the scores up too quickly, though. If you foul, all the points made in that turn at the table are lost. Like most games, you shoot until you miss or foul.

There is a special rule for 90. Your score has to land exactly on 90 and can't jump over it on one shot or the shot is a foul and you lose the whole score for that inning.

Points between 91 and 100 must all be scored by caroms, so pocketing a ball is a foul. Also, jumping over 100 is a foul; you have to land on 100 exactly.

Your final point, the 101st, is scored by scratching off the one ball. This shot must be called and you must not sink any balls. It is a simple, called scratch. In fact, sinking balls or even contacting balls other than the one with the cue ball is a foul.

Balls spot back up on their starting spots. If a spot is blocked, the ball is held off the table until the spot is available. If the one ball is blocked from returning, and the player is going for his last point, the balls are all spotted like for the opening shot. (The rules aren't clear, but the player should get to play straight at the one in this case.)

The usual fouls apply, and three in a row is loss of game.

To really build up your speed control, try to score most of your points by caroms. It's also interesting to see how many times you can pocket the five ball in a row off the center spot. Running several three balls off the foot spot is pretty easy if you have your stun and draw shots working well.

For a more detailed list of rules, check out the BCA rule book, which also has about 30 other games, or look for Cowboy on-line.

Have fun!




SLOW AND SLOWER

(June Issue 2006)

A large part of learning how to play well involves pushing back your frontiers. You are comfortable in parts of your game but there are parts that might terrify you, such as drawing the cue ball more than three feet or 80-degree cuts on the game ball. Practice should help to take the terror out of those "terra incognito" regions.

Power shots are one area to work on, but this month let's try the other side -- soft shots with precise control of speed. These are most useful when playing safeties and just rolling a ball into a pocket.

I got this drill from Tom Riccobene of New Mexico, who has just completed his training as an Advanced Instructor in the BCA's Instructor Training Program. I didn't do very well at first, but it's fun and attention grabbing.

The idea is to shoot a series of balls from the head string and make each one travel a little farther than the one before. The cue ball is not involved -- just hit each object ball with your cue stick. In the diagram are the beginning and ending positions for a typical attempt with 8 balls. Things went OK until ball 7 which didn't get past the six.

The first technique to work on is visualizing where the ball should go and then putting it there. Pick a precise spot on the table. With a ball already out there, pick a certain distance past that ball. For the first balls, I try to put the next ball exactly one ball beyond the previous. For the balls farther out, that's too much precision for me, so I try for a half-diamond past the previous ball.

You will probably need to shorten your bridge. There are lots of reasons to use a shorter bridge on this kind of shot. A 4-inch bridge is not to short for the first shots. Really. Try it.

As you get better at controlling your soft speed, add more balls to the line with the ultimate goal of shooting all 16 balls. I've done all 16 once, and the key was leaving the first 10 balls between the line and the side pockets. That left more room and chance for error on the last 6.

When you have made good progress on this drill, and I think you will see progress within 10 minutes of practice, try the drill in the other direction: Shoot the first ball as far down the table as you can without hitting the far cushion, then shoot the next one so it doesn't quite reach the first, and so on.

Do you have a favorite, fun drill? Send it in to my email address, and I may write it up in a future column.




A BANKING SYSTEM THAT WORKS

(May Issue 2006)

If you have ever tried to bank systematically, you've probably found out that there are lots of corrections to be added in for speed, cloth, spin on the object ball, angle of cut, humidity and phase of the Moon. Here is a system that works well most of the time and the setup I show below will allow you to quickly test how well it works for a wide range of situations.

With all systems for banking and kicking, you need to state at the start what kind of spin and speed will be used for shots in the system. Angles off the cushions obviously change for kick shots when you have side spin on the cue ball, and they also change as the speed of the ball is changed. The system below works for bank shots with no spin on the object ball when it hits the cushion.

The simplest system for banking balls one cushion is the mirror system. Let's look at it first to see how well it works. It says that the angle of the ball into the rail is equal and opposite to the angle of the ball coming out of the rail. We are going to bank a ball off the left cushion to make it in pocket A.

First set up the table as follows. You will need a bar stool. Put a ball centered in the jaws of pocket A. Put another in the jaws of pocket B. Now put a third object ball on the bar stool in line with balls A and B and as far from B as A is, at C. Make sure you have this right within half an inch or so. Remove the ball hanging in pocket A.

Now, if you bank a ball off the left cushion towards the ball on the bar stool, and if the ball obeys the mirror banking principle, it will go in pocket A. Try some shots from various locations and see how well the system works for various speeds and such. Can you find a single approach that makes balls from all angles and distances? I can't.

Next, move the ball and bar stool about a foot towards the table but along the same line, so there is a little less than three diamonds distance from ball B, at D. This is a first guess for the system. That distance may have to be adjusted for your table.

My claim is that if you send a ball into the left rail and it is going towards the barstool ball D, it will go in pocket A, provided that it is not spinning when it hits the cushion. If the object ball is nearly on the cushion, like ball X, having no spin is easy to accomplish. Set the cue ball for a straight shot at D, and shoot straight at the ball. If the ball banks a little long or short, move D a little closer or farther from B but make sure you move along the A-B-D line.

Try shooting a ball at X at various speeds. I think you will find that there is very little change in the banking angle as you change the speed.

Next, try shooting an object ball starting at Y. The problem now is that if you shoot slowly, the object ball will have time to acquire forward roll, and that roll will make the ball curve long after it hits the cushion. You can fix this in two ways. First, you could pick a target closer to the original C position, which will compensate for the long roll.

That's OK, but that's not what we're doing with this system. Instead, hit the ball hard enough that it has no time to pick up follow from the cloth. Experiment to find out how hard that is on your table. If your cloth is fairly old and a little sticky, you'll need to whack the ball to keep the angle true. That's the sort of speed you'll see most of the bank pool players use in the banks division of the Derby City Classic. Try a bunch of ball positions and find what speed it takes to make the ball while shooting directly towards the D target.

You have to be careful if there is any cut angle or you use any side spin on the cue ball. Either one of these will put some corresponding side spin on the object ball. With the target in place, try some cuts and side spin and see how much that affects the shot. For example, if you shot X with right english on the cue ball, the object ball would have left english and would tend to go "long" and hit on the short rail. The two balls by Z have a problem with the side pocket for this system. Can you get them to bank by using speed or spin to cheat the system?

You can also set up a target for the side pocket, which should be at the same distance from the table and directly in line with the side pockets. Long banks should work similarly, but the shots themselves are much harder since they are twice as long.

When using the system in play, your opponent will probably not let you use a barstool like this. You can measure off the right distance with your cue stick, but mostly you have to develop a feel for where the target is. The point of having a visible target on the barstool is so that you can develop that feel and familiarity more quickly.




TRY SOME STRAIGHT POOL

(April Issue 2006)

When I was first learning to play, I was exposed to a bunch of different games. Nine ball, six ball, partners rotation, one pocket, snooker, golf on the snooker table, 3-cushion and several other games were all commonly played in that pool room. I think each of those games contributed to my learning process. First among all of the games was straight pool. It was the game everyone played at least some of the time and that most of the better players preferred.

The basic rules are simple: call any ball and any pocket and shoot it in. You get one point for each ball pocketed on such a shot. When only one object ball is left on the table, the other 14 -- that's where the other name 14.1 comes from -- come back up on the table. A match is played to a certain number of points such as 50 or 150.

Players quickly learn to leave that last ball in a good position to break the next rack. They also learn to leave a ball called the "key" ball in a position to easily get a perfect position on the break ball. In the diagram is a position with five balls remaining. Can you see a good way to get four of them off the table and end up with a way to break the new rack? (The rack area is shaded in). The answer is a little further down.

Straight pool is an excellent way to learn skills useful in other games. When the balls are pretty well apart but still clustered in the rack area, you need precise control of the cue ball to maneuver through the balls without bumping into balls and knocking them into clusters. Breaking clusters is another important skill, and you will learn how to play position for shots that easily send the cue ball into those clusters, how not to send clustered balls clear to the other end of the table where you'll have to chase them down, and how to play position on a ball even when you're a little unsure of where the cue ball will go after the break-out.

Have you had a chance to think aboutt the diagram? Here's a hint you should be able to find a pattern that doesn't require you to hit a cushion, but that pattern is little easier if you do use a cushion or two.

From a fan's perspective, straight pool has the nice feature of allowing statistics. The main ones are high runs and average number of balls per inning. High runs -- consecutive balls pocketed without a miss -- correspond to roughly these levels of players: Beginner: has never run a rack (14), C player has run 20, B player has run 50, A player has run 100, semi-pro has run 150, pro has run 200, champion has run 300. If you want to go for the record, Willie Mosconi ran 526 in an exhibition in 1954. That's over 37 complete racks. The highest run in competition was 182 by Joe Procita. At the recent Derby City Classic, the high run in the 14.1 competition was 139 by Danny Harriman, and there were 7 other runs of 100 or more.

The game is easy to handicap by requiring the better player to go to a higher score to win. I play in a handicapped straight pool league with a wide variety of skill levels. The largest spot I've had to give was 140-20, which means that if my opponent makes two balls, I have to run a rack to stay even with the spot. If you would like more info on starting a straight pool league, send me email at the address above.

For more information on how to play -- strategy, safety, rules, history and insights -- there are several good books on the market. Willie Mosconi's "On Pocket Billiards" from 1948 is still in print. Babe Cranfield, who ran 768 in practice, wrote the "Straight Pool Bible." Phil Capelle's "Play Your Best Straight Pool" is a very thorough treatment. George Fels and Robert Byrne also have large sections about 14.1 in their books.

OK, you've had enough time to solve the problem. If the only balls on the table were the one ball and the cue ball, you would be in a great position to break. How can you get to that position? The first thing to notice is that the 2 ball is close to where you would like the cue ball to end up. Leave it for last. A way to get through the balls without hitting a cushion is to play the nine with stun (that means no draw or follow on the cue ball), scooting over for a straight shot on the 10. A little draw on the 10 leaves you a slight angle on the 4 so another stun shot will move the cue ball towards the 2 ball. The goal is to leave the cue ball roughly on the line from A to the 1 ball so the shot is not too hard but there will be plenty of energy in the cue ball to break the rack.

Do you see where you can use the cushion to make your life easier? If you keep some angle on the shot for the 10 ball, you can go to the side cushion and bounce out for the 4 ball. That's much easier than getting perfectly straight on the 10. Also, while getting straight shape on the 2 ball will work, if you get a little above it, so that you are shooting from roughly along the B-2 line, you can come off the side cushion and roll to the original location of the cue ball. Another good pattern is 9, 4 with draw, 10 and bounce off the cushion and then the 2 ball. This second pattern gets a good angle on the 2 ball more easily, but you have to be accurate on the 4-ball position.

Try some straight pool. It's a great game itself, and it will help your other games.



PRE-SHOT ROUTINE

(March Issue 2006)

Is your problem a lack of consistency? You're not alone. Everyone has peaks and valleys in their performance. Sometimes it's just a matter of luck, like when your opponent breaks in the nine ball three times in a row, or you miss tough position plays twice in a match. When things are going well, it seems like you'll never miss.

A sound pre-shot routine (PSR) as explained below, will keep the valleys from being so deep. It will ensure that you don't leave anything out that's necessary for making each shot and it has the side benefit of letting you learn faster.

The PSR will seem a little unnatural at first. In the long run you may drop parts of it, but try it in its full form for at least a couple of weeks. See if your game picks up, but especially watch to see if the dry spells go away. You will need to work through all of the steps on a practice table before taking it into battle.

PLAN

Step 1 is planning the shot. How many times have you seen a player get down on the shot and then look around for somewhere to put the cue ball? All of the planning has to be done when you're standing up, surveying the table. This is also when you should be chalking, so let's combine the two. When you've made your decision about what to shoot, including where to put the cue ball and how to get it there, finish chalking and put the chalk down. That's your signal that you've decided on a shot.

TO THE LINE

Step 2 is getting on the line of the shot. That is, get your head along the line from the cue ball to the ghost ball before you step forward. (The ghost ball is the spot where the cue ball will be at the instant it hits the object ball.) Once you get on this line, your head shouldn't leave it until you get up from the shot.

A few years ago at a Sands Regency tournament, Corey Deuel demonstrated one of the most methodical "to the line" techniques I've seen. As he approached the shot, he would hold his cue stick straight up in front of his body -- like a military "present arms" -- so that the line of the stick joined the cue ball to the ghost ball. The stick then never left the line until the shot was over. I'm not sure this level of detail is necessary, but you may as well try it to see if it helps you focus even better on the line of the shot.

STEP FORWARD

Step 3 is stepping forward into the shot. Your head (and maybe your cue stick) remain on the line as you come down into position. I'm not going to tell you exactly how to move or place your feet -- Mike Massey and Nick Varner will naturally do this differently -- but I will point out that as you come down, you better end up in a solid position.

FIDDLE

Step 4 is warm-up strokes. Take two or three strokes and stop with your tip near the cue ball. I once had a student who was psychologically incapable of stopping the tip any closer than two inches from the cue ball. Sorry, that's not close enough to tell where you're going to hit the ball. Bring the tip right up to the ball, say within half an inch or less, and pointed at the exact point you plan to hit on the cue ball.

During the warm-ups, you are getting a feeling for the line of the shot as the cue stick moves back and forth. If you are a beginner, your arm is learning to move straight with each stroke.

DECIDE

Step 5 is decision time. With your plan in mind, and the shot before you, decide whether the stick is on the right line to make the shot and if it will hit the cue ball in the right place to have the spin needed to take it to the planned position. Please note that the stick is stationary when this decision is made. If you are on the practice table, say "ready" when you decide you're ready.

If you're not ready, for example you have set up for not enough side spin or for too much cut angle, make the required adjustment and go back to Step 4. If the change is major, say that you see there's no way you can draw the ball past the side pocket and you will have to play different position, get up and go back to Step 1.

SHOOT

If you have decided that every thing is ready, there is no need for more warm-up strokes. You just run the risk of your stroke wandering off line. Bring the stick straight back, pause at the end of the back stroke (if you like), and bring the stick straight through for the shot.

FINISH

At this point, you should be watching the object ball go into the pocket. If it does not, you must note how it misses. If it does go, you need to note how well the cue ball goes to position for the next shot, and to be perfectly complete you should note whether the object ball went into the center of the pocket or to one side.

Did I say you could get up yet? Did I say you could draw the stick back yet? No. While nothing you do after the tip hits the ball can have any effect on the shot, follow through and stillness after contact are important for making the motion before contact smooth and consistent. OK, now you can get up and go back to Step 1 for the next shot.

Now that you know the steps, it's time to go to a table and start working them into your PSR. Start with easy shots, such as a slight cut into the side pocket with the plan to put the cue ball in the middle of the end rail. Once you've gotten through several of those with no steps left out, try running three or four balls. If you have trouble keeping all the steps, say something as you complete each one: "Plan" (chalk goes down), "In line" (your head's in the right place), "Down" (you drop into your stance), "Fiddle" (you have taken a few warm-up strokes and have the tip stopped dead near the cue ball), "Ready" (and you shoot with your final backstroke and the forward power stroke), "Check" (on the accuracy of your pocketing and position).

Here is a wrinkle that Allison Fisher adds to this sequence that might help you. During the fiddling, your eyes will move from the cue ball to the object ball to see if things are in line. At the start of the final backstroke, right after "Ready," your eyes should be on the cue ball. At the end of the backstroke, shift your eyes to the object ball, and then bring your stick forward for the power stroke.

You will need to practice this PSR until it becomes fairly natural before using it in normal play. It may take a little more time than your old style of play, but I think you will speed up as it becomes a habit.




THIN CUTS

(February Issue 2006)

You don't like them and you miss a lot of them. Maybe it's time to work on your thin cuts.

First try the drill in Diagram 1. The object ball goes on the second diamond from the corner pocket about a ball off the cushion. The cue ball takes successively harder positions down the center of the table. Use a coin to mark the cue ball's position, and if you make the shot, chose a slightly harder shot (thinner cut) for the next shot. If you miss the shot, make the following one a little easier (thicker cut). See how close you can get to a 90-degree cut after 15 shots.

Play the shots on both sides of the table to make sure you don't have some strange left-right difference in how you see the shot or stroke.

While some players like to use side spin on thin cuts, I feel that the complications introduced by the spin are sure to reduce your percentages for these shots. If you are a "spinner," try the drill with and without side spin, and see which works best.

Caution! If you fail to adjust the difficulty of the shot after each shot -- harder if you make the shot and easier if you miss -- you are leaving out some of the best factors of the drill. Making these small changes ensures that you are practicing a wide range of shots rather than learning just one angle. Also, if you are consistent in your adjustments, the spot the cue ball tends towards after a dozen tries or more will tell you your 50% point for making the shot. Knowing that may be encouraging or depressing, but it is definitely useful to know during actual play.

Now that you have an idea of how well you really shoot these thin cuts, here is a suggestion for aiming them. Some systems, such as the "ghost ball" and the "inch and an eighth" put most of your attention well away from the contact point on the object ball, which is near the edge of the ball. The aiming method below directs your attention to where all the action is taking place -- at the edges of the cue ball and object ball.

In Diagram 2 is a tip's-eye view of the shot, with the overlap of the two balls showing the fullness of the hit. The fullness is represented by the width of the lens-shaped overlap of the two balls at contact. The amazing thing to note is that the contact point is exactly in the center of the overlap area.

Go back to the table and set up the one ball with the numeral standing upright and at the contact point for the shot. That's the point on the object ball that's the farthest from the pocket with some slight correction for throw. You could also use one of the "training balls" available on the market, but any ball with a visible mark on it will do in a pinch. When you are down in shooting position, note how far the edge of the object ball is from that contact point, like maybe 1/8 of an inch. Now aim the edge of the cue ball so it's directed the same distance on the other side of the contact point. This completes the lens shape and puts the contact point in the center.

Like all systems, this one will require practice. And like most systems, the goal is to help you at the start during conscious practice until it becomes an integral part of your game and you don't even have to think about it during play.




NO FAIR PEEKING

(January Issue 2006)

Beginning players often ask where their eyes should be when they hit the cue ball. Usually the answer is on the object ball, with some rare exceptions such as elevated shots. Perhaps the most obvious demonstration of this is by snooker and pool champion Allison Fisher. On each shot, she has a very exact time when her eyes move from the object ball to the cue ball. See if you can spot when that is the next time you see her on TV or in person. Then see if there are any other players with as organized an approach to seeing the shot.

This column is about not looking at the object ball. If you have developed a crooked, jerky or inconsistent stroke, the following drills -- in which you will definitely not be looking at the object ball last -- will help bring you back to that smooth, accurate flowing stroke you are capable of.

The first drill requires two spots on the table. Either use chalk or get some self-adhesive paper reinforcements of the kind you would use for 3-ring binder paper. Mark two spots about six inches apart, as shown in Shot A, and put the cue ball on the nearer one.

Shoot the cue ball straight up the table. This is just like a standard drill I covered before, but this time I want you to watch not the target (on the far rail) or the cue ball, but instead watch your ferrule. When you address the cue ball, make sure the ferrule is centered on the cue ball. Using a stripe for the cue ball, with the stripe set like a tire, will help you with centering.

Make your warm-up strokes the full length of your bridge, clear from the cue ball back to your bridge hand and back to the cue ball. On these strokes, consciously watch the ferrule. When you feel ready, take that final stroke, but keep watching your ferrule. It should end somewhere in the vicinity of the second spot. Ideally, it will be centered over the spot, but if your stroke is crooked, it will end on one side or the other. If you have a habit of standing up during the stroke or jumping back from the table, this drill will make that obvious.

Can you overcome your normal habit of looking at the cue ball or target and watch the ferrule instead? Try pocketing some balls or even playing a whole game while watching the ferrule.

The next drill is designed to narrow your focus even further. Begin with a shot like Shot B, and pick out the position you want to play, such as follow to the cushion and back to the other side of the table.

Take your normal warm-ups for the shot, but do not shoot yet. When you are satisfied that the stick is along the right line and you know the speed needed, close your eyes and lower your head. Take a few more warm-up strokes with your eyes closed, and stop with the stick at the cue ball. Be sure to feel the motion of the stroke.

Open your eyes and look up. Is the stick back where you started? If it has wandered off to the side -- maybe you are now lined up for left english when you started with none -- you probably were not positioned properly to begin with. With your eyes closed, and no visual feedback, your body will go to its natural position.

If you need a lot of adjustment to get back on line, try starting over from the start. Stand back from the shot, get your body and stick along the line of the shot, and step back into it. Hopefully you will come down closer to the natural position for the shot.

Once you open your eyes and see you have the right line, go back into "blind mode" and take your final backstroke and power stroke through the ball. Again, be sure to feel the motion of the stroke.

If you have good luck with easy shots like B, gradually increase the distance. Try follow, stop and draw, and if you're feeling very adventurous, try some shots with sidespin. Because of the aiming compensation needed when shooting with side, I think you'll find those shots much, much harder than the ones without.




A SIMPLE DIAMOND SYSTEM

(December Issue 2005)

In my last two columns, I covered a diamond system that uses three cushion contacts -- side, end and side. It can get you out of a lot of tight safeties, but usually it is only accurate enough to get a hit on the target ball. Sometimes you have a one-cushion path to the ball you need to hit, and then the following much simpler system can be used.

In Shot A of the diagram, you want to bank off one cushion to hit the eight ball. While you could play the three-cushion system shown before, the one-cushion path gives you a much better chance to not only hit the ball but to make it.

The two rails involved, the one you're shooting from and the one you're shooting to, are numbered as shown. Simply start the numbers at the corner with the first diamond being "1" as shown. The "from" number is where your stick passes over the near or starting rail. It's over "2" in Shot A. The "to" number is the diamond on the second or banking rail that you are going towards. If you want the cue ball go towards the corner after the bank, you simply shoot to half of the "from" number. If you are "coming from" 2, shoot to one half of 2 or 1.

I have only numbered up to 4 because then I run into Shot B, but the numbers continue up the cushion, 5, 6, 7 and 8 at the far corner. The side pocket for these shots is numbered 4 even though there is no diamond there. You need to imagine a diamond in line with the other diamonds near the back of the pocket.

A small complication is that until you have set up for the shot, you don't know where you're coming from, because the stick is not passing over the near rail yet. It seems impossible to calculate where to go. Start by guessing the point on the near rail. If you're pretty close on the first guess, and that puts your stick nearly over the right spot on the rail, you will quickly get to the right numbers.

Another way to find the line is to start from known lines that surround the cue ball. For example, in Shot B, we know the line from 2 to 1 would get us to the pocket, and the line from 3 to 1.5 would get us to the pocket. (Can you see immediately where 1.5 would be?) That is, if the cue ball were anywhere on the line joining 2 on the starting rail and 1 on the banking rail, a shot towards diamond 1 would go towards the corner. Note in Shot B that since we are working at the other end of the table, the numbering scheme switches around and the pocket we are going for becomes 0.

In the example shown in Shot B you can guess that the cue ball will be coming from somewhere close to 2.5 and half of 2.5 is 1.25. Before you shoot, check to make sure that the line joining 2.5 and 1.25 is through the cue ball.

Speed and spin are critical on these one-cushion shots. If you have any side spin on the shot, the angle off the cushion will change. That should be obvious, but a lot of players are puzzled when the cue ball goes a different direction each time they bank it, and the problem is usually unintended side spin.

Speed is also critical. If you shoot hard, the cue ball will tend to bounce straighter off the cushion, and will hit the side rail you are shooting from rather than the target in the corner pocket.

Also, the system works best if the cue ball is rolling smoothly on the cloth when it hits the cushion. That means that you probably should play the shot with follow to start with and if you use draw, the system can't work. You will probably find that you get the most consistent results by soft-rolling the cue ball just a little harder than required to make the shot.

Try practicing the system with the cue ball starting at each half-diamond all the way up to 8, which is the far corner pocket. Of course at that point you will have interference from the side pocket. Can you find two ways around that difficulty?




DIAMOND SYSTEM DETAILS

(November Issue 2005)

In last month's column, I described the basics of the "Corner-5" diamond sytem. Sometimes it's just called the diamond system, although there are lots of diamond systems. An example shot is to shoot from a foot pocket to the opposite "headstring diamond" which on the long cushion and two diamonds from the pocket as shown in Diagram 1. The cue ball should hit the side cushion, the head cushion and then the other side cushion at about the third diamond from the head pocket. The corresponding numbers are five for the cue ball (starting in the corner), two for the first cushion, and three for the third cushion.

Remember that you need to use running follow with this system.

If you don't remember the numbering system from last month, you can always go to the On The Break News website and pull it up, along with lots of other vintage articles.

A major problem for all diamond system play is to be consistent in what you mean by shooting to a diamond. There are two possibilities. First, you could send the cue ball towards the round spot on the rail -- the diamond itself. This is the obvious point. The other is to send the cue ball to the spot on the cushion that is opposite the diamond. These are shown in Diagram 2. They are called shooting "through" and shooting "opposite" the diamond, as shown.

Why would anyone want to use the second method, shooting opposite? The main reason is that you will always hit the same place on the cushion no matter where the cue ball starts. Notice how far from the diamond the cue ball hits when shooting "through" the diamond. Raymond Ceulemans, the many-time world champion at carom billiards recommends the "opposite" method.

If you do use the opposite method, planning the next rail is somewhat easier. You know that the cue ball will start even with the diamond as it moves to the next cushion. For the "through" case, you have to figure out where the cue all will hit the nose of the cushion, which is 2/3rds of a diamond down the table.

The choice between these two ways of thinking about the spot on the rail must also be considered when planning where the cue ball will hit other cushions. Last month I glossed over this point, but if you want accuracy in your hits you need to worry about it. In Diagram 1, the ball you need to hit is sitting exactly on a diamond, so I would want the cue ball to hit opposite that diamond -- exactly where the ball is. In Diagram 2, you can see that if I send the cue ball towards a diamond ("through" it) from the angle shown, there is no hope of hitting the ball "opposite" the diamond.

There is no law that says the two rail contacts need to be measured in the same way. You could work on your system using "through" for the first contact because that's an easier way to aim, and "opposite" for the third rail contact because that's easier to use to hit balls. This is what is illustrated in Diagram 1 and what I'll assume in the discussion below. Whatever you chose to do, you need to practice with it and determine what sort of corrections are needed to make the system accurate. You will probably find that your table does not quite follow the system.

And accuracy is a real problem. Usually the ball you need to hit after two or three rails is at least two balls wide -- you can hit it thin on either side and still have a good hit. Even easier is when the ball is sitting a couple of inches off a cushion so you can either hit the ball directly or after the cushion. Then the ball may be a target more than six inches wide. Since this is about half the distance between diamonds, in the best case, you can be off in your calculation by half a diamond. There are lots of situations in which you have to be much more accurate to have a good result. You may need to hit the object ball on the correct side, for example. In this case the target is only an inch wide after two or three cushions and you have to have done both your calculations and execution with an accuracy of 1/12th of a diamond.

So, now it's time for practice. Start with the shot shown in Diagram 1. Note that you can begin the cue ball anywhere along the line from the corner pocket to the second diamond, just as long as the butt of your cue passes over the pocket when you shoot. First, find where this shot naturally goes on the third cushion by moving the object ball until you hit it full. Hint: this will almost certainly not be at the position shown in the diagram. You should be able to hit it fairly full four out of five tries if you have the ball set correctly.

If the "landing" number is not 3 on the third cushion, then you have to note the correction, such as -0.4 diamonds. Next try from the corner to diamond 1 on the first rail. The cue ball should go to 4 (5-1) but does it? Is the shot fixed by adding in the correction you needed for the first shot? Did you remember to use running (left in this case) follow on the shot to make it more consistent?




THE CORNER - 5 DIAMOND SYSTEM

(October Issue 2005)

One common topic that intermediate students want to know about is "The Diamond System." This is the system that uses the diamonds (or spots) on the rails to plan multi-rail shots.

Actually, there are many diamond systems. Usually the one the student has in mind is more correctly called the "Corner-5" system. It is the one that is presented in the 1941 book, "Billiards As It Should Be Played," by the great American player, Willie Hoppe.

This system is designed to allow you to hit two cushions with the cue ball -- side rail and end rail -- before going to a target on the third cushion. This is very useful for getting out of safeties. Once you get your stroke smooth and suitable, the system is very accurate.

The system works by assigning a number to the location of the cue ball and another number to the location of the object ball. To find out where to shoot the cue ball, all you have to do is subtract those two numbers.

In the diagram, parts of the two sets of numbers are shown. The cue ball's number is 5 if it starts from the corner, and one number higher for each diamond along the short cushion. Along the long cushion, the numbers for the cue ball go by halves, so the first diamond up the long rail is "4 1/2".

For the third cushion, the numbers start at the far end with 0 at the pocket and 1 for the first diamond, and they count 1 per diamond down the rail. The first rail and third cushion numbers are as simple as can be; only the cue ball number is little complicated.

In the shot shown, the cue ball starts at 5 and you want to get to the object ball at 3. Just subtract 3 from 5 to get 2, and that tells you to shoot at the 2nd diamond from the far end of the opposite side rail.

When I say that the cue ball "starts at 5" I mean that when you are down in position shooting, the cue stick passes over the cue ball's number 5, which is the corner pocket. If the cue ball is out in the middle of the table, you might not know where it is because you don't yet know yet which way to point your cue stick. For example, if the cue ball had been at point A, it could be coming from 4 or 6 if your stick was aligned over one of those spots. If you find yourself in this situation, just make a first guess about the direction to shoot, and see how the math works.

Here's an example of guessing starting for a cue ball at point A and trying to go to the object ball at 3. Suppose you put your stick over 4.5 as a first guess. You can see that it would point to 3 on the first rail. If you shoot from 4.5 to 3, the third rail contact will be 4.5-3 which is 1.5. That's a diamond and a half from where you want to hit (3). So, you try a different line, and eventually find that when your stick is over 5, the cue ball at A will go towards diamond 2 on the first cushion and then on to 3 on the third.

Another way to work the system for a ball in the middle of the table is to look at known "tracks" that go to the desired point on the third cushion. For example, if the cue ball were at 6, you would have to shoot to 3 on the first rail to go to 3 on the third rail. Or, if the cue ball were at 4, it would have to go towards 1 to get to 3. If you do a few of these, you will pretty quickly converge on a track close to the cue ball.

For consistency, you need to hit the cue ball in about the same way each shot. My recommendation is to use running follow, which for the shot shown is left english and above center. Try a medium speed at first, but also learn how speed changes the action of the cue ball. The most common mistake I see pool players make on system shots like this is using too little side spin. The running english both keeps speed on the cue ball and makes the cushions react more consistently.

Next time I'll go over some more details of this diamond system. In the mean time, if you have Robert Byrne's "Standard Book of Pool and Billiards," look back in Part II (the billiards part) for his detailed explanation of this system.




A CHALLENGE DRAW DRILL

(September Issue 2005)

For most pool players I've seen, the shot in their game that needs the most work is the draw shot. The worst case of this I've seen was a player on my league team who shot pretty well and could play reasonable position most of the time. But give him a straight-back draw shot, and his arm would start shaking and the result was sure to be either a miscue or a stop shot. It takes about five minutes to learn to draw the ball reasonable distances even for a beginner, but this guy refused to even try to learn to hit the ball low.

For an instructor, one challenge is to come up with drills that work for all levels of players. They need to have enough variation that new problems come up frequently so as not to become boring. I think the following drill can keep you busy, entertained and enlightened for at least a couple of hours.

The goal of the shot is to make the nine ball in pocket P by pocketing the three ball and moving the nine with the cue ball. The three starts near the corner pocket -- in time you will learn the best place to put it. The nine ball begins on the cushion three diamonds from pocket P.

Sound tough? I think even Efren or Earl would not be willing to try this in one shot. In fact you can take as many as you need. Leave the nine ball where it is pushed to on each shot, put the three back up, and take cue ball in hand again.

Here are some strategic suggestions, in case you get stuck. Don't go full speed into the nine. On each shot, try to work it a little farther towards the pocket. While it's possible to make the nine in a single shot, you're much more likely to knock it up-table where it's going to be impossible to retrieve.

It seems to help to use the rail and some running english on the cue ball. For the side shown, that would be left side. When the cue ball hits the nine with left side spin, it tends to pull the nine back towards the cushion, and the big no-no with this drill is to let the object ball get away from the rail.

I like to take some angle from the three to the nine as shown in the diagram, but you can also place the cue ball directly between the three and nine and play a straight-back draw. You will quickly learn if you have a tendency to mis-see or mis-hit the shot if you try this, as there is no excuse for the cue ball not coming straight back along the line of your stick if you set up right and stroked truly.

If the ball gets over on the side cushion, such as by X, your only hope is to try the straight-back draw and hit about half the nine on the outside, bringing it back towards the end cushion.

This drill can be played as a challenge drill with a playing partner to see who can make the nine in fewer shots. If you are playing alone, you can set a limit on the number of shots, or start over if you don't hit the nine at all on a shot.

While it's not often that you have a draw shot like this to make the money ball, similar shots come up all the time in regular play when you have to draw the cue ball along a precise angle or to an exact distance. If you develop your skill to move the nine where you want it, lots of other shots will become much easier for you.




THROW - FRIEND OR FOE?

(August Issue 2005)

In following the on-line discussion forums, it's clear that there are a lot of really strange ideas about throw. It's easy to test most of these ideas and see whether they're bogus or not, but somehow players never get that far. I just hope they don't find themselves in a tight situation when it's hill-hill in the championships and make the wrong choice to use a bad idea.

First, we better define what throw is, since even that seems to be in dispute. When the cue ball collides with the object ball, the object ball is expected to move along the line joining their centers at the instant of impact. This is the fundamental principle of the simple ghost ball aiming system. Put the center of the cue ball at that precise location, and the object ball can't be missed. Right?

Very wrong. If the cue ball were perfectly slippery, this ideal theory would be correct, but the cue ball is slightly sticky, and the collision isn't ideal. If the surface of the cue ball is moving across the object ball, whether from side spin or just the cut angle, the object ball will be dragged off-line.

How much off-line? That depends on the balls, the cut angle, and the spin, but it can be up to four or five degrees. Since two degrees is equal to a ball's width in about five diamonds of travel, it's clear that throw can easily cause a miss if you don't take it into account.

Throw is defined as: the departure of the object ball from the ideal ghost-ball line due to friction from the cue ball which pulls the object ball to one side or the other. (To really complicate things, over in the UK they use the term "throw" for what you and I would call "squirt" or "deflection.")

In the diagram, Shot A will let you find out how much throw happens for your equipment. The cue ball and object ball are both exactly one ball off the cushion and one ball apart. The idea is to shoot full at the object ball with right english and try to get the object ball to go into the pocket without the cue ball moving to the right. Play with mostly right side spin and maybe a hair below center to get a stop shot. If you hit it perfectly, the cue ball will spin in place a little.

You will need to adjust your aim a little to get the cue ball not to move to the left or right after contact. Can you pocket the object ball?

Next, try the same shot as a plain cut shot. How much angle to you need to use, and where does the cue ball end up? This demonstrates why a throw shot is often used in this situation. First, many people find it easier to put a little throw on the ball rather than figure out the aim, and second, if you are in a situation where letting the cue ball move off the rail would be bad, you can hold it near the rail with the spin.

Finally, see how far back you can put the cue ball and still make the object ball without the cue ball moving away from the cushion.

Shot B is another example of when you might want to use throw on a shot. Spot three object balls, and then try to make the third ball straight into the corner pocket with cue ball in hand. On most tables this shot is not possible without some throw. Use left side spin on the cue ball. You may have to adjust the balls up or down the table so that the throw shot barely makes. Then try the shot without spin or even the wrong spin (right side) and see how close you can come.

Believe it or not, throw also happens on most cut shots even if you don't use side spin. This is because with a cut shot, the surface of the cue ball is moving sideways across the object ball and the friction drags the object ball off line. It is this same effect that makes "dead" frozen combination shot not be dead when struck at an angle. Can you think of a demonstration for this?

It turns out that if you want to maximize throw, you should use a softer shot and have no follow or draw on the cue ball. Friction goes down at higher speeds, and if you add draw or follow to the shot, it detracts from the throwing effect of the side spin.




HOUSE RULES

(July Issue 2005)

The front table at Kip's Pool Hall (a block from the UC Berkeley campus, mentioned in John Grissim's "Billiards", and now, sadly, closed) was a little strange. Not as difficult to play on as the table next to it, which would reject any ball run at high speed down the rail, due to deformed pocket facings, causing road players to cry out in agony and frustration, nor as untrue as most of the rest of the tables in Kip's, which hadn't been leveled since the quake of '57, the front table, right by the door and desk, had two jewels of peculiarity.

The first was the post which held up the second floor and all of the pizza-gobbling, beer-swilling college students, and which was strategically located 55 inches from one of the two corner pockets that one might use for one pocket. A lot of one pocket was played on that table, and the dreaded "post hook" was a standard tactic.

A lot of ring nine ball also was played on that table, usually when there wasn't some visiting player in a big match and the regulars had gotten tired of one pocket and there were four or five people with a little extra money and a lot of extra time. Since the guy running the desk would usually join the game, the table rental rate was very attractive.

It was during one of these ring nine ball games that Tim stumbled over the second peculiar jewel.

Tim didn't really belong in the game. He usually just watched the better players on the front table, and occasionally would match up with someone closer to his own speed -- of course they would play on one of the back tables. Overcome that night by ennui, and noting that any idiot in a ring game could slop in a nine ball now and again, Tim decided to join the fun. He didn't have much fun. He didn't sink a nine ball in the first ten games. In the eleventh he scored and collected from the four other players. Six games stuck. His glum look improved a little.

He broke well. The nine headed straight for the corner pocket, the one by the post. The nine wobbled in the pocket. It fell! Tim was beaming, no longer stooped and sullen. He had a chance to get ahead of the big boys after being stuck like a pig. Ring games were wonderful.

"It doesn't count," said one of the players.

Tim had already collected the cue ball for his next break. "Huh?" he asked, his face contorted.

"The nine doesn't count on the break in that pocket." All the other players and onlookers nodded agreement. "That pocket's no good for the nine on the break. It spots and you go on shooting."

Tim was eventually convinced of the rule. It really was the rule on that table, and not made up specially for him. The nine went into that particular pocket one out of four breaks on a good day, so the regulars had long before declared the pocket ineligible for the nine. The strange attraction persisted across changes of felt, and the prevailing theory was that permanent small craters in the slate would position the balls just right to make the nine dead. The unwritten rule was so familiar that no one had thought to make sure that Tim knew it.




USEFUL MASSE SHOTS

(June Issue 2005)

When a lot of players think of masse shots, they picture the slate-jarring, cloth-ripping, ferrule-shattering kind of shot you see exhibition players shoot in which the cue ball makes a tremendous arc, or goes half way down the table before deciding to hurry back, or goes clear across the table before making a sudden right just before the rail. While such shots are fun to watch and more fun to practice, they usually aren't practical.

Below is a good, useful masse shot to begin with. If you want to be ready to use it in a game, you have to practice. This will take the cooperation of the owner of the table. If that's you, be assured that you don't have to hit this shot so hard that the cloth is in danger. If it's in a pool hall, ask the owner if it's OK to practice on a table with old cloth that's about to be replaced.

The shot illustrated is a standard demo shot that I show to beginning students. The real point is to illustrate one of the perils of english -- the cue ball curves if the stick is not level. The cue ball begins exactly a ball off the cushion, and the object ball is on the long rail close to the far corner pocket. The blocker ball is frozen to the cushion, so that if the cue ball went straight, the best you could do would be to barely miss the object ball.

Also on the table is a target ball. Aim at the target ball, use low left english, and elevate the cue stick some. How much? Experiment. The more low and the more left, the less elevation you need. Shoot just hard enough to make the object ball. If you keep hitting the blocker ball, move the target ball out more. The target ball is just a helper for your aiming so that you can make systematic adjustments.

Remember to shoot only just hard enough to make the shot.

The shot is in a special position to make it easier to shoot. With the cue ball so close to the rail, you will naturally make your bridge up on the rail. This automatically gives you some elevation. Once you are fairly successful with the shot as drawn, you can do two things to make the shot more challenging. The first is to move the cue ball a little to the left so it is more behind the blocker. You will probably need to move the target ball out a little. The second is to move both the cue ball and the blocker closer to the object ball. With less distance between the cue ball and the object ball, the curve is a little harder but the required aiming accuracy is less.

Try various distances and degrees of blocking. Remember to try a curve in the other direction (with right english) as well. To test the limits of your accuracy move the object ball away from the pocket along the cushion.

Finally, it's important to note that the shot when played slowly works much better at eight ball than nine ball. In the latter, if you get a good hit but leave the object hanging in the pocket, you might as well have taken an intentional foul. So, you need to also practice with slightly increased speed for nine ball hits. Don't shoot a lot harder because then the cue ball doesn't have time to curve. And don't use any more elevation than you have to because that makes aiming much more difficult.

For more insight into aiming masse shots, take a look at Bob Byrne's "Advanced Technique" book. There is an illustration of aiming a masse shot on the cover.




SHARPENING YOUR SAFETIES

(May Issue 2005)

If your game improves past a certain point, safeties will start to play a larger and larger part in the outcomes of your matches. Among the better players, it's often the first to have a good shot who wins the game. And if you take up one pocket, the chess game of pool, you'll quickly learn that if you can't hide whitey, you'll lose to inferior shooters who can out move you. This month we'll look at some re-safes responses to safeties.

Usually your best friend when playing safe is distance. If your opponent can barely see the ball through the haze, he is unlikely to make it. Shot 1 is a position that I saw Karen Corr in, and she made a move that made my jaw drop. How would you play the shot? Think out your answer before continuing. The one ball is a quarter-inch off the cushion and you are snookered by the black ball.

If you're an aggressive player, you could try to kick the one in, playing the cue ball along path A. The one is in a pretty good place for that since you can either hit it directly or get the end cushion first. If you're name is Efren, this is the shot for you.

A good play is along path B firmly, intending to hit the right side of the one and roll the cue ball back behind the blocker while the one ball gets to the other end of the table. Depending on exactly how the balls are sitting and the age of the cloth, you may need some left english or just follow.

Try both of those options ten times and see how you do. In both cases, a lot depends on where the other balls are sitting either the two ball for position in the first case or the other balls for help with the safety in the second case.

What Karen played that shocked me was to roll the cue ball very softly along path B to barely bump the one ball to the cushion and almost freeze to it. In this position, any response is difficult, and in fact Karen's opponent lost the safety battle.

Do you have the kick accuracy and speed control to just nudge the ball to the cushion? If not, you have something to work on.

In Shot 2 you have to hit the two ball. This is a very common situation after a safety by your opponent or bad position by you. This kind of leave is a great opportunity for a killer return if you're prepared for it.

Play the cue ball as shown, but be very careful about how you hit the object ball. If you manage to hit it perfectly full, the cue ball will stop dead, if you have used enough draw to get a stop shot. By "full" in this case, I mean from the cue ball's eye view as it comes off the cushion towards the object ball. It's better to hit the object ball a little on the cushion side so the cue ball doesn't go out into the open table. Try this shot until you have the stop action under control, and with the right speed to send the two ball to the other end of the table.

Now for the icing. Crank up the draw a little, so the cue ball comes back from the two ball. With a little practice, you can pull the ball back onto the blocker. In these days when trick jump cues have made even mediocre players into jumping champions, it's mandatory to keep the cue ball right on top of any blocker ball.

Keeping the draw on the cue ball is easier on new cloth, with a standard-weight cue ball and with not much distance in the shot. Try various angles of approach and distances of the object ball from the cushion. With a little practice, drawing after a cushion is not so hard.

Finally, in Shot 3 is a situation I saw a former world champion facing during a major pro tournament. The game is nine ball and he had his opponent on a first foul. With no way to hit the three ball, the opponent had nudged the four up against the three making the three-five combo unshootable. What is the best play? Email me your solution (jewett@sfbilliards.com) with an explanation and I'll mention the best answers in a future column.




BACK TO BASICS

(April Issue 2005)

Do you have slumps? Periods when you know you should be playing better but aren't? I recently felt like I was in one. Partly it was due to playing only two hours a week, but I think it was mostly that my basic mechanics had run off the rails from inattention. My solution was to work on a specific shot with a very simple goal.

I'll tell you the drill I used below, but first I have a couple of drills for you to try the next time you start to suspect your fundamentals as a source of inconsistency.

Shot A in the diagram is a friend to many players. You shoot the cue ball from the head spot straight over the foot spot with the intention of getting the ball to return to your tip. Here are some suggestions to get more mileage out of this old war horse.

Remember to stay in position to let the ball return to your tip. This will help kill your tendency to jump up to look at the shot part way through the stroke.

Use a stripe instead of the cue ball. This will let you see immediately if you are hitting off-center. The stripe should roll like a tire down the table.

Start with a soft shot and work up to four-length speed. You will have to get out of the way at the upper end of the speed range, but you can check to see that the ball stays in a line over the spots. Hold your position for as long as you can without getting run over.

Try to play the shot at the precise speed that will bring the ball back to just barely touch your tip. One time that I tried this drill, I discovered that the cue ball was lop-sided, and rolled to the right one time and the left the next.

Finally, see if you can do the shot with draw rather than center-ball or follow. The draw tends to multiply any unintended side spin, and I think you will find it much harder to come back just to the tip with full draw.

I first tried Shot B after playing for many years. My first attempts were embarrassing, so don't be discouraged if you need a little time to master such a simple drill. The goal is to simply roll the object balls into the far corner pocket.

Easy? The restriction is that you are not allowed to use your hand as a bridge. You can (and should) rest the cue stick on the cushion while stroking, but you are not permitted to guide the stick with your bridge hand. Beginners are allowed to place their bridge hand to the side on the rail, but eventually you should rest your bridge hand on your knee.

This drill is good at uncovering any side-to-side twist in your stroke. As with the first drill, you can see your centering errors better if you use stripes and line the stripe up front-to-back like a tire.

Begin with slow shots and gradually work up to your maximum speed that still puts the balls in the pocket. If you're on a coin-op table, and don't really want to spend a nickel a ball, this drill can also be done over the spots like the first one.

The anti-slump drill I worked on with pretty good results is diagrammed as 5-C in the free Basics handout on the SFBA website at www.sfbilliards.com. Place the cue ball behind the line, and the object ball a diamond over the line with a nearly straight-in shot. Draw the cue ball back to within six inches of a particular spot near the head rail. If you do this, move the object ball a little farther down the table and try again, and continue. If you fail on a shot, make the following shot easier. The handout has easier drills, but I think you will surprise yourself with how well you do on this one with a little practice and concentration.




BREAKOUTS

(March Issue 2005)

Back in 2001, Pat Fleming of Accu-stats organized an invitational eight ball tournament at the LA Billiard Expo. Six of the top players in the world were there, including Johnny Archer, Mika Immonen and Francisco Bustamante. The format of the tournament was a round-robin in which each player played every other player a race to 8.

One morning I was up a little early and headed for the pro tournament table -- with only 15 matches, one table is enough -- past the amateur tournament which was already in progress for the day. I found myself in the tournament room with only one other person -- Efren Reyes. He was practicing his eight ball. For me the most bizarre aspect was that in an Expo Center full of pool players, and with one of the greatest players in the world working on his weaknesses, there was only one person watching, and admission was free.

I hope you're more interested in learning than all those other pool players.

Efren practiced in a very structured way. He didn't just blast the balls open; he spread the balls around the table and then made two or three little clusters on the rails. He didn't worry about clearing an easy table since he can run out racks of 15-ball rotation; instead he worked on breaking up clusters the right way.

The way he handles clusters is a little different from the way you're likely to see it done down at O'Reilly's at midnight on Friday. Finesse. He never bumped a ball more than a diamond. He would maneuver to get a good angle for the break, and then go into the balls softly. Sometimes an already open ball would be his next shot, but often a ball from the cluster somehow got right for position. Lucky Efren.

If Efren thinks his game needs work on breakouts, maybe your game wouldn't be hurt by it.

In the diagram are some shots to practice. In Shot A, first take ball in hand on the 1 and break out the 2-8. Find out the best way to get position on the 2 for your next shot. Note that the 3 is there in case the 2 rolls inopportunely. Move the 1 around a little to learn the various amounts of follow or stun you need for the breakout from different approach angles. The shot as shown needs a little follow to hit the 2-8.

Next, try the same position, but take ball in hand and play the 3 first and then the 1. Now you won't have a backup for position, and you have to place the cue ball right from the 3 for a good angle from the 1 to the 2.

In Shot B, the problem is to play the 6 and come off the cushion to separate the 7-9-11. Try to end up with some kind of shot on the 7 ball. The big question here is where to land on the balls for the best chance to continue. Try a few variations, and see how many times out of ten you can pocket both the 6 and 7. For a real challenge, exchange the 7 and 9 and see what it takes to get the 7 clear and makeable.

Unfortunately, Accu-stats didn't get Efren's practice session on tape, but a dozen matches from that tournament are still available if you want to see how the best in the world play eight ball. Things didn't always go as you might expect. In one match, the breaker lost in nine straight games.




POWER SHOTS

(February Issue 2005)

I like to think of each player's game as consisting of familiar territory, borderland, and the wild and scary wilderness. Learning how to play is a matter of pushing out the borders and making a larger and larger percentage of shots comfortable and secure. If you spend all of your practice time working on shots you never miss, the "here be dragons" shots out in terra incognito will continue to paralyze your arm when you have to shoot them in competition.

One aspect of the frontier to conquer is speed with accuracy. Do your fundamentals fall apart when your arm starts to move faster, or do you maintain form? I once asked Mike Massey if he could hit eleven cushions on a billiard table and he did it on the third try while keeping his smooth, even stroke, but while applying great power. These drills will help you move in that direction.

In Diagram 1 is a shot that requires you to go up-table without using a cushion. (Imagine there are balls in the way of any path using a rail.) Line the shot up so it is aimed just above the corner pocket. To begin with, make that a couple of balls distance, as shown. Send the cue ball as close as you can to the center of the other end cushion.

This drill requires two major skills. You must have good accuracy on the cut angle. To just make the ball, you can get away with cheating the pocket to either side, with perhaps a 3-degree or a 6-degree cut, but that cut angle will determine how far the cue ball goes. A cut angle twice as large for a nearly full hit will make the cue ball travel four times as far sideways.

The second skill is being able to hit the cue ball right on the equator. Any slight draw or follow on the cue ball will be multiplied by the fact that you are hitting the object ball so full. Please note that side spin is of no help on this shot as the cue ball does not use the cushions.

Once you have the drill down pretty well for a medium-full hit, reduce the cut angle. How full can you make the cut and still reliably get the cue ball up the table?

In Diagram 2 is a power shot that adds the element of side spin. The goal is to follow two cushions out of the corner to the side rail and to finish as close as possible to the end rail.

In this shot, the accuracy of the cut is not so important, which is good because you need plenty of side spin to carry the cue ball around the rails. You also need some follow to carry the cue ball forward so the side spin can take, but it is the English that does most of the work.

You may have to work up to this one. If you have trouble with the shot, start by trying to just get to the second side rail. Do you remember to chalk? That's one skill that is not required for the first drill, but it sure is here.

Some warnings on this second shot. If the cloth is brand new, it's very hard to get traction on the cushions with the side spin, and it may be nearly impossible to get to the end rail. Also, if you have a heavy cue ball, the follow part will be automatic, while with a light cue ball, the shot is more difficult.




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