Ongoing Education

September 2003

In researching for a class last week, I came across an article by Grady Mathews. It feels strange to print his last name when, in the pool world, you say "Grady" and you've constructed yourself a pretty solid and well understood sentence. Grady was saying that one of the problems for him when he began writing articles was that it was seen by others as, "A way for him to toot his own horn." The rest, and the body of the article, was about a game of one-pocket.... that he lost. At the start of the end game he was certain that he had the game well in hand. In his words, he was, "already spending the money." A routine win. And then, through the other player's creativity, the game is turned. Even the best can't beat STRATEGIC CREATIVITY. Ironically, it seems that the only way to beat it would be to respond with even more creativity! It was a source of relief for Grady to include this type of loss and at the same time use it as a means of instructing the reader on the value of creating at the pool table.

The first time I saw grady, he was in a dive/rat-nest of a poolhall in Washingotn D.C. that most people wouldn't even pass on a parallel street. AND HE LEFT WITH THE MONEY. He's a certain kind of guy. I'll follow that guy's lead. (I'll likely have spent time with Grady by the printing of the next one or two articles and I'll be excited to tell you about it.)

My favorite loss remains one that I suffered when I was so good at 9-ball that there was no way in hell that I coulda' beat any money player at one-pocket. The only reason I was playing was because "mark" had never played one-pocket on a 10 foot table. So I lost the lag (on purpose) and...he broke. If you haven't played one-pocket on a 10 foot table and you use the standard hit on the break, the balls are gonna, "come out funny" what I call a mis-deal. (But you can't fold our kinda cards......... insert smile here.) The other thing about the 10 footer is that its easier to make a ball in your pocket on the break so, the 15 ball sat hanging at the lip of his pocket. It's no exaggeration that this is the shot that I looked at longer than any other shot in my life. And in the end I chose to bank one of the balls that I knew he would be leaving me and jump the cue ball over the stack coming back 3 rails and freezing on the end of the stack. (nearly where the cueball was when I shot) This is a good example of a shot that sounds difficult and looks like skilled execution. In fact, getting over the stack is easy and the 3 rails (ON THE 10 FOOTER) wants to go to the spot where the 2 end balls rack up at the games start. I don't have a kick at his ball so I know that this is one of those times where I gotta' "GO." So, that's what I do. I, "GO." The banked ball goes in and the cueball gets over the stack "lovely." At the 2nd rail I think that the speed also may be "lovely." At the 3rd rail I know it is. "Lovely" I mean. The stone is comin' in now....straight toward the 3 ball cluster that hides him and gives me a four rail shot at my pocket and a hit on his 15! Of course, I yell out, "INCOMING!" Now, back to the slow motion cueball that I just announced. There I am, just like Grady.... spending the money. I'm out shopping. About 5 feet to go....and now everyone in the room not only knows what I shot, they're realizing that it's perfectly hit. 2 feet to go...one foot, and now it's at it's last 2 revolutions- wow! What a hit! It's approaching the balls it's meant to nestle with. Inches away and then 1 inch away. The smattering of applause begins...THEN, somewhere between that last inch and my shopping money the cueball hit a tiny spec of chalk... COMPLETELY CHANGED DIRECTION, never even hitting the 3 balls and froze dead up on the ball I was going to 4 rail next with a clear and easy hit on his 15. I have dropped my candy in the sand. And that's not a story about how I got robbed. It's not a bad break. It's a kind of loss that I don't have to go through again because it came and found me, and lucky for me it found me early. I had cleared and wiped thousands of areas where I knew that I was "comin' in sweet" and I didn't do it that time. If you watch tapes of east coast players, we seem to always be picking something up off of the cloth between our nails or doing the wipe and sweep motion with the palm of our hand. I think it's a habit that comes from thousands of racks of straight pool. Whether that is the case or not, if I hadn't looked away form the table and gone to the mall, I would've picked and wiped like I usually do.

We'll be doing diagrams and solutions next issue. What follows are the questions that I thought would build the most interesting article and at the same time serve as sources for immediate improvement. And in this article THE BREAK again offers some of that EXCLUSIVE information that you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere. Let's get to that first. In some billiard games there is a position and play known as "nursing," or, "the nurse." Simply put and for easy understanding, nursing the balls means keeping 2 object balls together on the rail and continually, scoring off of them as you nurse them around the table. The best players could seemingly score straight through to Monday morning and "Vic" had to leave for work. Again, for easy understanding and simplicity, 2 things you need to know about the "nurse." There were certain areas that the nurse would be starting from. Likewise, there were problem areas where the balls would be more likely to leave the rail. The more fractions of an inch that the balls moved away from the rail the more likely you were to lose the favored position. So a certain kind of skilled player would stand at the APPROPRIATE corner and practice various masse' shots. Innocent enough, right? A world class billiard player practicing masse' shots. At the end of this innocent activity there would be 20 minutes worth of divots on the table spreading out over a space of about 8-10 inches. It just so happens that the nurse would be starting from that very area. That area, for the rest of the day would function like a gutter and be of enormous help getting balls to the rails. Then, as if that weren't enough help...they brought balls back to the rail that otherwise would've been away! THEN, a certain kind of skilled one-pocket player would take this information to the gold crown and practice masse' shots from his pocket...marking the short and the long rail near his hole! Marking them with a temporary trough. A gutter leading right to his hole and holding more of the balls that may be hit with one or two revolutions more speed than he intended! You can ask, "Gonzo" which pocket he prefers and then include giving him that pocket (all night) in the propositioning. You can get this done during a rest or a time out you take. You can use it to gain the advantage in the last game. A lot of people go pee before the last game, you might as well practice something while you wait. There's lots of creative ways to get this in, especially on your home court.

It just so happens that we got a question this month asking why there are French words in pool and specifically "masse?" Around 1805-1807 a Frenchman named Mingaud introduced the leather tip to the game of billiards. One of the strokes made possible by this novelty was a stroke where you "hammered" directly down on the cueball. The French verb for hammering is "masse." The question associated with this came in 4 times. How did billiards come to be known as "pool?" Again, the origin is French. POULE-which loosely translates to a collective bet. The poule rooms were where the advantaged went to bet on horses and in between races pooled their money and bet on billiard matches. Billiard parlors in France were called exactly that, "billiard parlors" and "poule" rooms were hardly associated with billiards other than the table on the premises at the horse tracks. "Poule" became "pool" after the game reached America.

And I was asked in person this week "what is the one thing that I would suggest to someone if I could only offer one thing?" I told the young man that that is an easy answer for me. Add stillness to your game. I directed him to last month's article where that is the last sentence verbatum. Here I decided to give 2 other answers more worthy than my own. When "BATA" was asked that same question he said, "Concentrate. Concentrate and always look at the table. (I translate this to him meaning always read the table. What I call always coming to the table knowing where you can do business.) BATA continues, "The cueball is the key, learn to move the cueball and the shot making and the rest will come easy." BATA, ("the kid") is known in the United States as MR. REYES. And now, Willie Mosconi's reply to the same question: "Don't waste time. Only play people that play better than you play."

I said to a few people and even in the interview for last months article that I don't and never did practice, I just played all of the time. It will likely surprise and interest you to know that Efren doesn't practice either! Check on it.

Not a lot of funny parts in this articles so, here we go. AND IT IS TRUE. I think that it was in Iowa. I know that we were in the Midwest. And almost certain that it was Iowa. There was in the 70's and early 80's a lot of talk about who had the best stakehorse. And the talk was volatile and seemed constant. Well, Jim Rempe not only got the nod for having the best stake horse, he irrevocably removed the possibility for any future speculation! He came into the venue on a horse! A real live horse! Horses come with saddles, saddles come with saddlebbags and so he came. With saddlebags STUFFED WITH CASH. You can't write and create stuff that can come close to what the truth is around pool. That's the funniest thing I have ever seen that wasn't in a movie. It's not just real life...it has the added edge of being real life around POOL.

Just like you and I, soon - mcgill




Anatomy of a Pool Shot

August 2003

I went to an interesting place this week in Kelso-Longview, Washington. I went there to work with an extraordinary young man named Tim Hoogen. I say extraordinary because he's a kind, well mannered, hard working and articulate man taking good care of his family. Because he's a regular, we met at the MALTESE tavern and I'm mentioning the place because I enjoyed it so much. First of all, anyone that knows me knows that I have a fondness for counters. (in New York the places that we eat are called "luncheonettes" and only offer counter service,) so as a counter officianado, I tell you that this counter is perfect, large and comfortable with a lot of room between each swivel seat. My medium steak was perfect and coffee was available for refills at a self service station. The tables are barboxes and unlike most places with that particular equipment, they will rent you a table. At the tables there was so much room between each one that our work wasn't interrupted even once and I was there for 8 hours. Then as if that wasn't a big enough slice of heaven...it is directly across from the greyhound bus station! So, I didn't even have to drive.

I'm directing this article to B players and below. If you're a player skilled beyond B level, you'll still be able to get a lot from this. You can find success in the same areas, only, that your adjustments will be far smaller than Tim's. As I worked with Tim and got to see his result I realized that nearly all unskilled players are living with the same mistakes and misunderstandings that he was. So I'll go through it in the same order that it went on in class. First, we had Tim lower his chin. His chin was about 14" away from the shaft. Note that with his chin that high, it also means that his entire stance is built around a fault. I had him put his chin about a half inch from the shaft. NOT TO HAVE HIM SHOOT FROM THERE: to have his looking START from there. To have him begin looking to see where he wants his chin as opposed to not even considering where it is. Then we agreed to have him move it up a little at a time. If you decide to go through this, use one-half inch increments as you bring your chin up away from the shaft. (smaller if you have the patience) Some of you will have to shoot a few shots and others will just know from stroking the cue. Now your entire stance is useless and uncomfortable, right? Some of you will have naturally made or found the necessary compensations. For everyone else, just move your rear leg AWAY from your bridge hand until you're back to comfortable. If, instead of lowering your chin, you begin by doing this rear leg movement, you'll see that it automatically brings your chin closer to the shaft. As you lower your chin, you should also notice a change in your bridge hand and arm. Let your bridge hand slide forward naturally as you move the rear leg or as you lower your chin. If you think that your stance has no rear leg... for right-handers, it's your right leg and opposite for left- handers. Stance is actually the third step in the anatomy of a pool shot and so we went to step number one. And that step we call DECIDING. For each step there is a rule. For deciding the rule is to make decisions AWAY FROM THE TABLE. And for every rule followed there is a direct result. You'll see more options; you become more aware. Then we went to step number two: APPROACH. And the rule: EXTEND NORTH. (North is the direction that you'll be shooting.) You should be extending toward the table, not bending stiffly at the waist and not shifting and adjusting left to right. Back up and come into the shot. The result here will be more consistency. Now, we're back to step three: STANCE and the rule here is: FIND BALANCE OR LEAVE. Meaning if you're not comfortable reset and begin again. Some of you will be best off returning to step number one and others will simply have to come up off of the table momentarily and return almost immediately. (as you extend north) and the result here will be more accuracy. Solid stance = more accuracy. And step number four is STROKE and the rule for STROKE is: warm-up strokes and contact stroke are of one rhythm. (the contact stroke is just longer.) And from this we gain more power. And now that the ball is hit why do we need a fifth step?? For COMPLETION. The rule here is: STILLNESS-ACTION- STILLNESS. Stillness at deciding, then action: approach, stance and stroking: then: stillness.------stillness-action-stillness. This is not the same as following through! There are many shots in pool where follow through is not an option. COMPLETION is physical and also a part of your "state" while you play. Often it's necessary to come up off of the table immediately after contacting the cue ball. Completion says that we are as still as the shot allows. Wherever possible be still as the ball disappears or arrives at its destination. IF I COULD ONLY TELL YOU ONE THING ABOUT POOL, I WOULD TELL YOU: "add stillness to your game." soon-mcgill the pool whisperer




Ongoing Education

July 2003

There is a saying that Frederick the Great lost the battle of Jena. So what? Right? I would agree, so what? Except that the surrounding facts are fascinating. That battle took place in the year 1806.... and even that appears to be of no great import, until you read on to find out that Frederick the Great died in 1786, twenty years before the battle even took place! So then, why is it, (you ask) that some historians credit him with that loss? Here's why: The army perpetuated the successful organization instead of adapting to meet the changes in the art of war. The rules had changed and the army had stayed the same. And now you might understandably be saying, "Alright, and this is in a POOL publication for what reason?"

When I was a young child living in the poolrooms around New York City, straight pool (14.1) was the popular equivalent to what 9-ball is today. If you didn't play world-class straight pool you weren't going to make much money. And if you did happen to fall blindly on a stack of dollar bills, you wouldn't get to keep it for any amount of time. It would go something like this, "Hey, Johnny just won some money. Go ask 'im to play some. Go... quick! Before he folds it." And I am a product of my time and environment just as Frederick the Great was of his. One of the rules that we lived by in 14.1 was to "NEVER PASS A POCKET." I never interpreted it to mean NEVER and at the same time, it was seemingly meant to be in effect at a percentage of the time that was, at least, higher than 99%. And if you stay with that rule when you play 9-ball or 8-ball you are likely to never win a game. The rules change. A lot of pool information is stale. Do you notice that when you work on learning draw that the information is the same from book to book. For banks? For kicks? Even the diagrams are the same from book to book?! And then there is the added effect of the information that is partially inaccurate added to the information that is simply and completely untrue. The officers in the army mentioned above were giving out bad information to their young recruits. It had worked well in the past, and at the same time, the rules had changed. Same for pool my friend, it's the same for pool. (I have an entire section in my book dedicated to the various kinds of MIS-information that is on the market. I am also going to make it available separately as a short manual.) Now I'll offer some text in support of what I've written here thus far: I'll illustrate the point as follows: those of you that play know how the standard one-pocket break is taught and that the information is reliable, sound and true. For the average player Simonis cloth became common around 1984-85. During that time you could almost rely on winning at least one game of one pocket because the player breaking had not yet realized that the rules had changed. That standard information was no longer true under the new rules. The books had been published and the lessons had been taught. -Then the rules changed. So some of us moved the cue ball further from the rail and used the same hit and speed. So the information was still good and useful once we added a response to the rule change. Just remember this when you leave a class with your instructor and go out into the world. Stay alert, willing and flexible to the rule changes.

I've been out the last 2 nights shopping for pool tables. Last night I found tables that I liked and decided to play on them for a while. And as I got into it there were many times throughout the night that I had a small crowd gathered around my table. I did several finger pool exhibitions and played everyone that asked. During this entire night there was a young man there that I knew who was completely ignoring me. I can understand him ignoring me. It was just strange to watch him read my June article at the same time? AND-the article included a way to resolve conflict with another person! I knew him one way before he got the input of others; he was easy, cordial, interested and excited. Now, nothing. No talking and no eye contact. Whatever he got from someone else was enough for him to discontinue his association with me. And because he's not as old as the stories that have circulated I know that he wasn't there to see for himself. So for something that MIGHT have happened-and-- MIGHT have happened as much as 20 years ago.... nothing for he and I. There is a fascinating aspect to ignoring someone. In order to succeed at ignoring them you have to know where they are every moment?! I don't think that all of you should like or agree with me; I'm just not that naive. I choose to be na´ve enough to trust you to not dissuade a kid that asks you about me or says that he saw some amazing thing. Because they want to learn and because I want to teach. And my wanting to teach is not the mystery that you claim it to be. Them choosing to learn from me is easy to understand. I'm the only player in the room who has time for those young minds that want to enjoy pool and trick shots, or get to play a pro without gambling away their paycheck or allowance. A particular woman asks Darin, "Why is he doing this? Why is he writing these articles? What does he expect to accomplish?" I put this in because I know you read the articles. (You know WHY you read'em.) I don't know how else to tell you. I will answer you. You can't find out from Darin why I'm writing or doing anything. You can't sit with Glen in a tavern and find out how I play. You can succeed at both at the school. It is likely that I'll end my writing with next months offering. If I do I'll make it a complete and thorough course on one-pocket. That of course would be lengthy and would be done insert form. I promise you that the manual will be thorough and complete. It won't be rehashed articles from the digest and it'll include information that you can't get anywhere else. The information will be exclusive to THE BREAK. Some of that exclusive information follows in this very article. While I was playing in CUE'S last night I was told that an article had been written about jump cues and was asked what I thought of it. I was also asked what I thought of the teacher. I won't be reading the article... I read THE BREAK and Billiards Digest. As for the questions about the teacher, I'll respond to those when he himself is asking or is standing in the conversation. Here's the jump cue slant at McGill's. The first time that I heard of a jump cue was in 1980 or 1981. I recall some time in the early seventies, players in New York beginning to experiment with using only the shaft on particular shots. (Using the "shaft only" has many uses that will be covered in my book and I haven't seen them anywhere else to date.) Here's the exclusive information as promised: put the joint protector on the butt of your cue and it becomes an effective and accurate jump cue! Experiment with the flat and round types of protectors to see which one suits your stroke best. I find that this is completely effective on long straight full ball jumps!! Grip lightly as you would with the regular jump cue. You're gonna be pleased and surprised. And: for me there is no mention of the jump shot without the mention of Pat Fleming and his extraordinary contribution. For the use of the "shaft only" mention for me goes to Sammy Jones. Thank you both. For those of you willing to learn, all of the jump effects that we enjoy today came to light while Pat was missing -- sound familiar? MISSING masse' shots.

Last month I agreed to answer some of the email questions that I get about myself. I'm going to respond to the skill question now and ALL OF THE QUESTIONS I've received will be answered in an article and interview about me next month. I forward all of your questions to a dedicated email address so I still have each and every one of them. Now, to the skill question. Most of this began after Paul Marquez wrote an article about me and voiced his opinion. I got calls and emails so I responded. You said that his opinion was not valid for reasons not to be printed here. Then Jay Reed told of his gambling experience with me and after he won the first race, not shooting for the entire next race and pulling up in the middle of the third race- still, not having shot. Not a valid opinion. So, running racks wouldn't do. Then Scott voiced what he saw and thought. Again, not valid for reasons that I don't know. Jimmy G says what he thinks and--- not valid. You said that he doesn't know pool. That one is absurd because he does know pool and he knows the players. Even if Jimmy didn't know pool he reads people as well as anyone I've ever met - he would spot BS long before the B had a chance to form. It's ridiculous to think that so many people would BS for my benefit anyway. Absolutely absurd. They saw it and you don't want to accept it. So then there's Darin. He has told you a thousand stroke stories and a story of more than 28 racks of 7 ball ran one morning. Opinion-- not valid. By the way, I do not use nor have I told this story. Mostly because it happened on an 8' barbox and also it's now about 13 years old. I think because Darin's not living the game the way that you think a "real" player should, you say again, not valid. None of these reasons negate what they saw. Still let's go with none of them being valid or true. Who will you listen to? Who will have enough of an effect on you to have you let that kid get to McGill's? The kid that really wants to learn how to play instead of paying money to learn what a drill is and how often to do one. Well I think I have the answer. In fact I know I do. You make the assumption and mistake to think that because I'm not out there that I can't get it done. I understand that it is foreign to you that I have no desire to show you what I have. And that does not come with the inflection of mean or sarcastic. I understand that you don't get that. I hear EVERY TIME that I show it: man, if I could play like that....!" And the sentence gets finished many individual ways. You know who you have to listen to? Earl and Efren. NOW, you're getting all excited, right. Well, stay excited, I'm gonna go with those two I think that you don't have any choice but to listen to them. And please don't go off on some rant that I was bad-mouthing them or "woofing." Any one who knows me knows that is not the case in any way. They are clearly, "the men" and I bow to what they have chosen. Before I give you the nugget- I'll give you a name and a number. The name is Ray Cunningham. The number is (503) 522-4983. Don't call me. Call Ray. See, he wants your call. It's his idea to put the number in here. What follows also happened at Jimmy G's and most recently in Easton, PA also: between matches at every pro event there is a time of exchange of shots, curiosities, tricks, makes and misses during a previous match, and so on. Ray was the manager of Cue's Billiards in Gresham, OR for many years, he gave Efren and Earl some of my stroke shots to execute and they could not do 'em. Reyes came the closest and neither of them executed the shots. Anything else you have with this is between you and Ray. Well, that should take care of the skill question... AND THIS IS MY FINAL ATTENTION TO THIS MATTER. As for the heart and being able to take the heat? No money was up for them and the shots weren't executed. You're not gonna question their ability or willingness to take the heat are you? Of course not and neither would I. It's not like questioning Jay or Darin, huh? Isn't this fun!!? As for me taking the heat, you can come to the ATM... I mean the school and find answers. I am often asked, that if I have all of that who is it that I think can play? Some ask about Oregon (looking for a hero) and some ask in terms of the nation. For Oregon my list is Bill Cress and Dave Rhodes. And please don't rush to that discussion of lifestyle that you run to so readily. They didn't ask me whom I think qualified for sainthood. They asked me who could play. It's difficult to imagine a saint being able to spot you the seven ball. And in the nation, here's who could or can play- Grady, Bugs and Bucktooth. My assessment includes skill, heart and management.

For the rest of the questions about me, an in depth article is planned for next month. It's being written by a fellow contributor to THE BREAK and a man that promoted, managed and was close friends with Mr. Mosconi. I think that they titled it "My Time With McGill." Most of the questions are kind, sincere and fun- I'm sure you'll have a good time reading it and may be moved to your own questions, if so email me and I'll get an answer to you asap. Because it's a short answer, I'll tend to the question of how I describe the way I play. The answer is easy and it's fun. Please quote me, "First, I fill the cue ball with ambition and then send it running around the table, looking for work. The worse the economy is, the harder it looks for work."

And a story about complaining: "My feet are cold" one says, and the legless man replies. "So are mine, my friend. So are mine."
--do the work. mcgill




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