Category Archives: Billiards

Pool Game - Rack with Balls and Cue

Cue Ball Position Control Basics – Part III – The Draw Shot

In the first two articles of this series on cue ball position control, we looked at using the stop shot and the follow shot for basic position play.

Now, it’s time to look at the draw shot.

The Draw Shot

A draw shot (or screwback shot), occurs when the cue ball has a reverse spin (or backward rolling motion) at the time when it hits the object ball. After it hits the object ball, the reverse spinning motion cause the cue ball to get backward momentum, causing the cue ball to start moving backwards after contact.

draw-shot-straightIf the cue ball is aimed directly towards the center of the object ball, then the cue ball will first come to a dead stop, after which it will slowly start returning towards the cue stick, usually at a lower speed than the object ball. The final speed and distance that the cue ball travel depends on the amount of reverse spin that is imparted to the cue ball.

While it can take some practice, it is possible to draw the cue ball an entire table length by using proper stroke and follow through.

draw-shot-angleIn case the cue ball is aimed off center (a cut shot), just like in the case of the follow shot, the cue ball will deflect off the tangent line path that a stop/stun shot would take. This is the result of the reverse spin adding a component of movement in a direction opposite to the cue ball’s original direction.

In the diagram, the light gray line shows the path the cue ball will take once it strikes the object ball. Notice that draw shots cause the deflection angle to widen.

Now, that we know what this shot is, how do we go about adding the reverse spin to the cue ball?

Unlike the follow and stop shots, the draw shot can be a little tricker to master.

Typically, you add reverse spin by striking the cue ball anywhere from one to three cue tips below center as needed. Unlike with the the follow and stop shot shots it is essential to have a straight stroke, and a smooth follow through during the shot

In fact, I have a detailed set of instructions on the essentials for mastering the table length draw shot.

Try to pot the object ball into one of the side pockets while keeping the cue ball about a half table breadth away along a straight line, so that the cue ball slowly comes back a few inches after striking the object.

A good exercise to build your stroke that I strongly recommend is trying to draw back the cue ball and scratch in the opposite pocket to where you just hit the object ball. This take some very decent cueing and is another shot I’d recommend practicing until you can hit it perfectly at least 9 out of 10 times.

When in a straight line, the draw shot will let you move anywhere from a few inches to a few feet back from the object ball’s position, as needed. When shooting a cut shot, this will widen the deflection angle slightly, allowing you to move the cue ball to different areas than with the stun and follow shot.

Let’s take a look at an example like before.

draw-shot-position-zoomedImagine you had to run the three balls in numerical order, starting with ball in hand, using only the shots you have learned so far. How would you do it?

The simplest solution? Set up for a straight shot on ball 1, and draw back a few inches to get a decent angle for ball 2. Notice the tangent line when trying to pot ball 2 will cause the cue ball to potentially bump into ball 3. To avoid this, again use draw while cutting ball 2 in to deflect the cue ball by a wider angle, to place yourself for a relatively simple shot on ball 3.

Again, this is a simple and easy solution that would have been very difficult using only stop and follow shots.

Between the stop, follow and draw shots, you already have an incredibly powerful arsenal of tools to control the cue ball position and play better than most of your friends who don’t understand these basics of position play.

However, once you master these three shots, it’s time to move on to the more advanced tools, including using the half ball shot, and using side-spin with the rails.

In the next article in this series, we will look at how the half ball shot can become one of the most important tools that you will ever use to build long breaks effortlessly.

Pool Game - Rack with Balls and Cue

Cue Ball Position Control Basics – Part II – The Follow Shot

In the first article of this series on cue ball position control, we looked at the stop shot, and using the stop shot for basic position play.

In this article, we will add to our position play toolkit with the follow shot.

The Follow Shot

Very simply put, a follow shot occurs when cue ball has a forward spin (or forward rolling motion) at the time when it hits the object ball.

After it hits the object ball, the rolling motion cause the cue ball to regain forward momentum, causing the cue ball to continue moving forward after contact.

follow-shot-straightIf the cue ball is aimed directly towards the center of the object ball, then the cue ball will first come to almost a dead stop, after which it will slowly start following the object ball, usually at a lower speed than the object ball.

The final speed and distance that the cue ball travel depends on the amount of forward spin that is imparted to the cue ball.

follow-shot-angleIn case the cue ball is aimed off center (a cut shot), the cue ball will deflect off the tangent line path that a stop/stun shot would take.

This is the result of the forward spin adding a component of movement along the original direction of the cue ball.

An interesting thing to note is that, in roughly half ball shots the cue ball is deflected off its original path by approximately 30 degrees. This is a special case that we will study in greater depth when we look at the uses of the half ball shot in positional play.

In the diagram, the light gray line shows the path the cue ball will take once it strikes the object ball. Note how the deflection is lesser than if you had used a stun shot.

Now, that we know what this shot is, how do we go about adding the follow to the cue ball?

As we discussed in the previous article on the stop shot, any cue ball given reasonable time to slide on the table cloth will slowly start rolling forward as the friction from the cloth acting on it. If you hit a cue ball center ball over a large distance, by the time it arrives at the object ball, it will having rolling motion.

This is one of the reasons lots of beginners end up with the cue ball following the object ball into the pocket and scratching on long straight shots. The only way to avoid this is to either hit low on the cue ball to cause a stop-shot/draw shot, or not hit a straight shot in the first place.

For shorter distances, it is usually necessary to force the follow onto the cue ball by striking the cue above center, usually between half a cue tip and 2 cue tips depending on the amount of follow. By combining this with a good follow through, and a medium to hard strength, you can also get the cue ball to keep rolling a significant distance after striking the cue ball.

As with the stop shot, by using a combination of hitting hard and above center as needed, we can have the cue ball spinning forward when it hits the object ball. Calibrating how hard or how high to hit the ball is a matter of practice.

Try to pot the object ball into one of the side pockets while keeping the cue ball about a half table breadth away along a straight line, so that the cue ball slowly follows the object ball atleast a few inches.

A good exercise to build your stroke that I strongly recommend is trying to follow the cue ball and scratch in the same pocket where you just hit the object ball. This take some very decent cueing and is another shot I’d recommend practicing until you can hit it perfectly at least 9 out of 10 times. If you have trouble doing this, I’d recommend working on your stroke using the bottle drill.

This shot should now increase the positional options available to you.

When in a straight line, the follow shot will let you move a few inches to a few feet beyond the object ball’s position, as needed. When shooting a cut shot, this will narrow the deflection angle slightly, allowing you to move the cue ball to different areas that with the stun shot.

follow-shot-positionLet’s take a look at an example like before.

Imagine you had to run the three balls in numerical order, starting with ball in hand, using only the shots you have learned so far. How would you do it?

The simplest solution?

Set up for a straight shot on ball 1. Of course, since the 7 ball would come in the way of aiming for the 2 ball, a stop shot will no longer work. We can use a follow shot to allow the cue ball to move a little further to a more convenient location.

Once there, a stun shot would cause the cue ball to bump into the 5 ball, so we use another follow shot while shooting ball 2, to reduce the angle that the cue ball is deflected, placing yourself for a relatively simple shot on ball 3.

Simple isn’t it?

Choosing between the stun/stop shots and the follow shots is usually dictated by which provides easier and simpler position, and just causes subtle differences in the way the cue ball moves. However paying attention to the table and applying this information can be the difference between perfect position on the next shot and blaming bad luck or the table for being difficult.

How many players do you know, who complain or blame luck when they make a shot, but are out of position or blocked by another ball for the next shot?

Well, knowing what you do now, do you still think it is bad luck?

One last thing to keep in mind. Whenever you are aiming for an object ball that is far away from the cue ball, it is usually easier to use follow since the cue ball naturally tends to get forward spin when moving over large distances.

In the next article in this series on the draw shot, we will look at the last piece of the puzzle – how draw (reverse spin) can be used to either modify the angle at which the cue ball leaves the object ball or to have the cue ball move backwards, allowing for position play that is just not possible with the stop and follow shots.

Continue on to the next article in this series, Cue Ball Position Control Basics – Part III – The Draw Shot.

Pool Game - Rack with Balls and Cue

Cue Ball Position Control Basics – Part I – The Stop Shot

When watching a master pool or snooker player in action, what stands out isn’t the difficult shots that they hit, but how rarely they seem to need to make difficult shots; how they automatically end up with relatively simple shots; and how they seem to magically make the game seem incredibly easy and effortless.

One of my favorite players to watch for this is Ronnie O’Sullivan.

In fact, why don’t you take a few minutes to watch one of his classic breaks and look at how easy he makes the game look.

You could have made most of the shots that he made, couldn’t you?

The fact is, I wouldn’t be surprised if you said that you could. Most of the shots Ronnie had in that break were fairly straight forward, medium distance shots.

However, the trick isn’t just making the shot, it is making sure that you get an easy next shot as well; and then finding a way to keep getting easy shots until you have cleared the entire table.

That is the real secret of break building – cue ball position control.

Controlling cue ball position is the most important thing you can learn once you understand the basics of aiming and making shots. It is what separates the beginners who can make breaks of one or two balls, the intermediate players who can make 5-7 balls and the masters (You just saw Ronnie clear 36 balls on a 12 foot table without missing even once).

Over the next few articles in this series, I will be breaking down a few fundamental elements of positional control that when combined, will massively improve your ability to control the cue ball and make long breaks. These core shots and principles should be more than enough to handle most of the situations that you will encounter in your games.

None of these will be hard or flashy shots, or require vast amounts of skill. The key to good position play is trying to keep things as simple as possible.

Before you focus on position play, you should already have a decent stance and be able to make shots. If you are still struggling with these basics, you should check out my article on how to play pool well in under 30 minutes. Also, if you want to be able to consistently and confidently run tables, you should also develop a good pool stroke and fine tune it using practice techniques like the bottle drill.

Once you have got these out of the way, it’s time to look at the three basic shot types.

  1. Stop/Stun shot
  2. Follow shot
  3. Draw/Screw back shot

There are a few more shot names that you might have heard being mentioned such as drag shots and stun run-throughs, however once you master the fundamental shots, you will find that these are just simple variations of the three basic shots.

The Stop Shot

The most fundamental of all shots is the stop/stun shot.

Very simply put, a stop/stun shot occurs when the cue ball has no forward or reverse spin at the time when it strikes the object/target ball.

What this means is the cue ball is essentially sliding on the table cloth (and not rolling) when it hits the object ball. Once the cue ball hits the object ball, momentum is transferred from the cue ball to the object ball.

stop-shotIf the cue ball is aimed directly towards the center of the object ball, then the cue ball will come to a dead stop and the object ball will start moving at almost the same speed as the cue ball, in the same direction.

In the diagram, the light gray circle shows the point where the cue ball will stop once it strikes the object ball.

stun-shotIn case the cue ball is aimed off center (a cut shot), the cue ball will move along a perpendicular line (also known as the tangent line) to the object ball’s path.

The speed of the cue ball is then distributed between the two balls – In case of a thin shot, most of the speed remains with the cue ball, while in the case of a more solid contact, most of the speed will be transferred to the object ball and the cue ball will slow down significantly.

In the diagram, the light gray line shows the path the cue ball will take once it strikes the object ball.

Now, that we know what this shot is, how do we go about making the cue ball purely slide when it hits the object ball?

Well, here’s the deal – any cue ball when struck reasonably hard in the center, will start by sliding forward and then slowly start rolling forward as the friction from the cloth starts acting on it. If you hit the cue ball below center, then the ball will start rotating backwards while sliding forward, then the friction will take over and reduce the backward rotation until it stops rotation and starts purely sliding, and finally just like in the center-ball shot, will start rolling forward.

By using a combination of hitting hard and below center as needed, we can have the cue ball purely sliding when it hits the object ball. Calibrating how hard or how low to hit the ball is a matter of practice.

For the most common half-table-breadth distances a firm shot, within half a cue tip below center is usually enough.

Try to pot the object ball into one of the side pockets while keeping the cue ball about a half table breadth away along a straight line, so that the cue ball stops while the object ball goes into the pocket. This is one shot I’d recommend practicing until you can hit it perfectly at least 9 out of 10 times.

Now try setting up a cut shot, and watch the object and cue ball go in perpendicular directions.

Learning this shot alone should significantly improve your ability to control the cue ball. So how do you use this shot in practice?

stun-positionLet’s take a look at a simple example shown in the illustration.

Imagine you had to run the three balls in numerical order, starting with ball in hand, using only the shot you have learned so far. How would you do it?

The simplest solution? Set up for a straight stop shot on ball 1, then stun the cue ball slightly while shooting ball 2, so that the cue ball is deflected to place yourself for a relatively simple shot on ball 3.

By keeping your cue ball off the straight line shot, you can move the cue ball as far along the tangent line as you need for your next shot, by controlling the pace of the cue ball and the angle at which you are shooting.

In fact by planning one or two balls ahead, you should be able to make fairly long runs as long as you maintain a little angle which will allow you to move the ball along tangent lines instead of just stopping it in place.

Of course, not ever ball is an easy tangent line position away. Sometimes you might need to go in a slightly different direction from the basic tangent line. That is where follow and draw shots come in.

In the next article we will look at how follow (forward spin) and draw (reverse spin), can be used to modify the angle at which the cue ball leaves the object ball to achieve finer control over position.

Continue on to the next article in this series, Cue Ball Position Control Basics – Part II – The Follow Shot.

Pool Game - Rack with Balls and Cue

Learn how to play pool well in under 30 minutes

Ever wished you could “not suck” at playing pool? Not be considered the worst player in the group? Maybe even win when playing with your “pool player” friends and surprise everyone? Well, I am here to tell you that its not that hard.

It takes surprisingly little effort to beat the average pool player. Most players (outside of pool leagues) have no technique, no consistency and rely on luck or the inexperience of their opponents to win. All it takes to beat them are some basic drills and techniques to improve your consistency.

As someone who loves both to play pool and teach others, I came up with a series of drills that I use to teach complete beginners how to aim and shoot subconsciously. I taught a friend these basics a while ago and she made some amazing cut shots and ran two-three balls at a time during a game about fifteen minutes after going through the drills. Considering it was the second or third time in her life she had held a cue-stick, it was amazing improvement.

Its no substitute for years of practice, but these basics should give any beginner a jump start and have them playing very confidently in less than 30 minutes, easily beating most untrained or amateur players.

These are the essential basics that any beginner needs to go through to become a good intermediate level player

1. Learning to Stand and Hold the Cue Properly – The Stance, The Grip and The Bridge

Beginners tend to stand very awkwardly when they try to shoot pool. Most stand in a way where they have no balance and will fall over if pushed. Some can barely hold the cue steadily because their whole body is shaking from the strain of trying to maintain their weird posture.

Simple Advice? Get comfortable when you stand, hold the cue stick gently, and stay relaxed when you shoot. Check out this video for a quick explanation

When I am teaching, I first get students to learn a good stance and bridge and make sure their cue-ing is straight (using the bottle drill if a bottle if available).

They do not get to touch the cue ball or make a shot until they can maintain their balance in their stance and have a clean, straight stroke. Sometimes I even try to gently push them to test if they are in a stable stance. Ideally you should be so comfortable, you can stay in this position indefinitely.

2. Learning to hit the cue-ball straight and smooth – The Stroke

The next essential element after you learn to stand, is developing a good stroke. Bad stroke is the biggest reason for unpredictability in a persons game. Ever had days when you can make difficult shots, and other days when you can’t even make easy shots? Or find that the cue ball isn’t going where it should? Bad stroke is usually the culprit.

The bottle drill is probably the easiest way to fix a person’s stroke and can teach a beginner in minutes what some players with years of experience don’t realize.

This includes not moving their head during the shot, holding the cue stick gently, and a good clean follow through with no jerkiness in the cue action.

For a detailed explanation, you can read my article on the essential elements of of a good billiards stroke where I go over each of these elements in detail.

Simple Advice? Hold the cue softly. Dont move any part of the body other than the forearm while shooting. Follow through. And get up only after the cue ball has stopped moving. Check out this video for a quick explanation

When I am teaching, I have the student practice hitting a cue ball from one side of the table into the opposite corner pocket to improve their confidence. If you can hit the cue ball into the opposite corner consistently (the longest possible shot on the table), then your stroke is steady enough.

3. Learning where to hit the cue ball – An Aiming System

Most beginners don’t realize that learning to hit straight in step two is the hardest part of learning pool. If you have learned to accurately hit where you aim, then all you need is someone to show you where to aim the cue ball.

Ever had a friend place a finger on the table to show you the point to aim and you found that by aiming there you made the shot easily? Well, the ghost ball system is a simple little trick to find that point without needing someone else.

You can read my article on the ghost ball system for a detailed explanation of how it works. For longer distance cut shots, I recommend using the parallel line aiming system.

Simple Advice? Imagine a ghost ball pushing the target ball into the pocket from the opposite side and aim at the center of the ghost ball. Check out this video for a quick explanation.

When I am teaching students to aim, I start by giving them progressively increasing cut shots. I start with a straight shot, then an easy cut shot, then a tougher one until they are comfortable with most cut shots.

When aiming, I usually place a second object ball as a ghost ball and ask them to use it to line up. Once they do so, and are down on the shot, I remove the ghost ball and let them shoot. After doing this enough number of times, I make them repeat the shot without a ghost ball. In case they start missing, I bring back the ghost ball and let them shoot a few more shots.

I then try to give them the gist of the aiming without aiming concept of just getting down on the shot and trusting their subconscious mind. Surprisingly, complete beginners are able to pick up the system a lot faster than people who have been shooting for a while.

4. Learning to control the cue ball for the next shot – Position Play

Ever seen a professional player playing? He not only makes the shot, but the cue ball then rolls around the table right next to the next shot. To be able to do this, you need to understand the elements of positioning the ball and shot selection. If you would like to learn position control, check out my new article series on learning cue ball position control.

i) Controlling the Ball – Obviously, for a quick crash course, I ignore the basic elements of position play. For people who have the time, or come back for a second lesson, we go over the stop shot, the follow shot and the draw shot. Check out this video for a quick explanation of follow, draw and stop shots.

ii) Positioning the Ball – Once you can control the cue ball, you need to start using the 90 and 30 degree rule and apply them for simple position play. Then comes learning to use follow, draw and side english to control where the cue ball goes after each shot. I have a separate workout to explain position play.

iii) Shot Selection – The last piece of the puzzle is learning to choose which ball to aim at so you are left with another shot after making the current ball. This is how you can make/run more than one ball at a time. After going over position play, I usually just play while I discuss and illustrate shot selection while using position play.

Thats it!!!

Mastering these fundamentals takes any person from barely able to hold the cue to playing at an APA 2-3 level in under an hour. What separates an APA 2-3 from an APA 4-5 is consistency.

Of course, There is a LOT more to pool than just aiming or running tables. The fact is, even after learning to aim well, there is still so much to learn and do. Better cue ball control, better position play, better safety play, better kick shots, better bank shots, learning breakout shots. Once you have mastered the basics, I recommend more advanced warmup drills to fine tune your stroke and position play.

At the professional level, its no longer about just shooting skill, but also the mental game of billiards. Once you get good at aiming, bigger things start mattering – such as controlling your own emotions, playing against more experienced players with defensive play or learning to face new experiences and situations that you haven’t faced before.

How far you decide to go and where you decide to stop learning depends entirely on your own journey and motivation behind playing pool.

If you have any questions or are interested in more details about these steps, please leave a comment below. Based on feedback, I can put together a more detailed guide.

Pool Game - Rack with Balls and Cue

Aiming without Aiming Part III – A system for making long cut shots

I recently moved to India where snooker tables are a lot more common than pool tables. The pockets are very tight (1.3 balls at the most) and the rails are incredibly unforgiving. Also the tables are much larger than pool tables (either 10 feet or 12 feet long). As a result playing pool on snooker tables is more about shot making ability and less about position play that uses cheating of pockets.

Having played pool for so long, I saw that I played fairly well as long as I played within half a table (short to medium range game) however I found it incredibly difficult to keep up with others when it came to making cut shots 8 feet away. People with no positional ability could destroy me using just their shot making ability.

Billiards Parallel Line Aiming System

The ghost ball system just fails at those kind of distances. It is incredibly hard to aim at the center of an imaginary ball 6-8 feet away and hit it perfectly. I found myself missing the pocket by as much as a foot unless I was concentrating a lot. It was also very tiring, both physically and mentally.

While looking around for ideas to improve my long distance shooting, I discovered the parallel line aiming system. It works beautifully for shots that are at the other end of the table. When combined with the ghost ball system, it also works really well for short distance shots.

This is how the parallel line system works.

  1. Draw a line from the center of the pocket to the center of the object ball and extend it to the opposite side. This point (A) is where the object ball needs to be hit by the cue ball.
  2. Draw another line parallel to the first, passing through the cue ball and identify the point (B) on the cue ball that needs to hit the object ball
  3. Align yourself along the line from B to A, and visualize the point B hitting the point A and pushing the object ball into the pocket.

I spent the last couple of weeks practicing with the new system (and also perfecting my stroke). Using precise points instead of imaginary ghost ball centers makes it easier for the subconscious mind to aim at the target. I found it took much less concentration to shoot using this system and within a few days I was able to aim and align shots subconsciously again. This has made it much easier to keep up with others on the big table. Now that my aiming is more confident, I can use stroke and top/bottom english to position the ball around the table again and am able to run more balls.

If you are having trouble with the ghost ball system or are uncomfortable with long cut shots, then give this system a try.

Pool Game - Rack with Balls and Cue

Aiming without Aiming Part II – How I really aim a billiards shot

My article on Aiming without Aiming has been one of the most read articles on this site. It received a lot of mixed reactions. The people who liked the article were those who found the concept interesting and tried it, or veterans who already used this principle without realizing it.

A lot of people however missed the point the article was trying to make.

Aiming without aiming isn’t the magical solution to pool mastery. A person who has never played pool before won’t start playing like a professional by trying to trust his subconscious mind after reading the article. Any player will need to learn to shoot using a basic technique like the ghost ball system and build a sufficiently large “shot memory” that his subconscious mind can use (by practicing and playing hundreds of shots). After that, learning to let go of conscious control and trusting the subconscious mind also takes a fair amount of time (working on inner game and learning to let go of outcome).

Take the example of driving with subconscious competence – A driver who has been driving for several years may be able to reach his destination on automatic pilot without paying attention to the steering wheel or where he needs to turn. He might even be able to multitask – eating or talking on the phone while driving. However a beginner trying to do the same thing will end up driving into the first large object nearby. A beginner needs some driving lessons and a fair amount of driving experience before he or she can start “driving without driving”.

So the fact is, when I am “Aiming without Aiming”, its not that I don’t aim; I just no longer have to consciously think about the steps involved in aiming because I have drilled the steps into my head over a period of time.

During practice today, I started paying attention to these steps. I did everything in slow motion and stopped at significant points so I could note what I really do when I aim my shots.

Here is what I do broken down as best as I could describe it. (While this system works great for close shots, I use a slightly more complex aiming system for long distance cut shots.)

Ghost Ball Aiming System

Ghost Ball Aiming Method

1. Mentally draw a line from the pocket to the object ball and see the path the object ball needs to take.

2. Extend the line past the object ball and imagine where the cue-ball needs to hit the object ball (using the ghost ball system). Draw a line from the cue ball center to the ghost ball center.

3. Align both my feet and the cue along the line of the ball and then go down on the shot. Ideally, if I am lined up correctly I don’t even have to adjust my aim any further. I should be able to make the shot most of the time.

4. Look at both the pocket and the shot image (the cue ball and object ball). After years of shot memory built in, I usually get a gut feel that tells me whether or not I am going to make the shot. If my aim/alignment is off, I will get a feeling that I am going to miss, in which case I usually stand up and realign myself until I feel confident that the shot will go in. Once I am lined up correctly, I usually get a “YES” signal that tells me the shot will go in. This is an intuition/gut thing that takes time to develop after making a lot of shots.

5. Shoot the ball using a good stroke with a smooth follow through. Watch the ball roll into the pocket and the cue ball stop for the next shot. In case the shot is slightly off, make a mental note and calibrate future shots accordingly. If your stroke isn’t perfectly straight yet you might find it useful to practice the bottle drill.

The idea is, over time these five steps become so automatic that you don’t even have to think about them and can focus on the other aspects of the game such as learning cue ball position control.

Hopefully this explanation will make it easier for people to understand what I meant in the first article on aiming without aiming.


P.S. I recently discovered a better aiming system that works well even for making long distance cut shots effortlessly.
If you are having trouble with the ghost ball system or are uncomfortable of long cut shots, then give the parallel line aiming system a try.
P.P.S. If people are interested, I can share a series of drills that I use to teach complete beginners how to aim and shoot subconsciously. I taught a friend some basics just a few days ago and she made some amazing cut shots during a game about fifteen minutes after going through the drills. Its no substitute for years of practice, but these basics should give any beginner a jump start and have them playing very confidently in less than 30 minutes.

Please leave a comment below if you would find that useful.

Pool Game - Rack with Balls and Cue

So why do you play pool? The power of motivation

Pleasures of Small MotionsI recently read the book Pleasures of Small Motions: Mastering the Mental Game of Pocket Billiards by Bob Fancher. In the very first few chapters he talks about our motivation behind playing pool – Some people play because they like to win, others because they like to hang out with their friends and have a little fun. However one particular group of people, doesn’t care about winning and losing, or about socializing. They play because they LOVE the game.

These are the people who don’t even need another person to play with and are happy shooting by themselves. They enjoy drills and practice because they appreciate the beauty in each shot and the practice is a pleasure in itself. During games, they admire a good shot played by an opponent and cheer them on instead of hoping that the other person misses. All they care about is learning and improving and enjoying the game.

The moment of victory is much too short to live for that and nothing else.
Martina Navratilova

It is impossible to motivate yourself to practice drills by yourself if you don’t love billiards and all you care about is winning. Practice becomes a painful chore that you have to finish before you can reach your wins. How can you learn and enjoy the game itself if you have to wait till the end of the game to decide whether or not you are allowed to be happy?

However when the beauty of the game itself motivates you, you can enjoy even watching a good shot. You realize that a single game means nothing in the grand scheme of things, and your motivation becomes to enjoy each moment and each shot. You can enjoy shooting well, and be happy whether you win or lose.

Recently I had started caring too much about winning and was extra hard on myself whenever I lost. After a recent losing streak, I started getting sick of pool and stopped wanting to even play. Reading this book made me remember why I started playing pool in the first place. How I used to spend hours at the table by myself just shooting. How much I loved playing “that perfect shot” and watching the ball slowly roll into the pocket.

I’ve realized it doesn’t matter whether I win or lose. Anytime an opponent makes an unbelievable shot, I usually ask them to teach me the shot after the game. Each time I see or learn something new, I have to go try it myself. Suddenly each game is no longer a win/lose situation but an opportunity to learn, improve and enjoy the game of billiards again.

Since then, I’ve started enjoying pool again. I’ve also got a whole lot better.

Pool Game - Rack with Balls and Cue

Having a bad night? Why bad nights are good for you

There is a tendency in all of us to desire to be our best selves all the time. We hate it when we are not doing as well as we know we can. “I am a little off today – I am usually much better”.

I love nights when I am confident and feel like I can do anything – “the good nights”. These are the nights that I am completely in the present moment and not inside my head. I am “in the zone”; doing things better than I have ever done before.

But not every night is like this. All of us also have nights when nothing seems to be going right. You can either call these nights “bad nights” and hate them, or call them “learning nights” and use them to grow.

All of us also have nights when nothing seems to be going right. You can either call these nights “bad nights” and hate them, or call them “learning nights” and use them to grow.

A few days ago I had a really “off night”. A night when I was missing even straight in shots. Where I was second guessing everything I did. Where I didn’t have the confidence to run more than two balls, even with ball in hand.

I never realized how important these nights are and how much they help improve my game…

I love nights when I am in dead stroke. Every shot seems so effortless and I am aiming without aiming. I don’t have to care about position play – If I can see the ball, I know I will make the shot. I don’t care whether I have three balls in front of me or seven. All I need is a turn at the table. I know that I can run all of them. On nights like this, I win lots of games by intimidation alone. Opponents start over thinking after watching me shoot and end up choking just because they know that if they miss, it might be their last chance on the table.

Next come the nights when I am not in “dead stroke” but I am still in stroke. I still have to think about position play because I don’t have the same confidence to make any shot. I have to think about what I am going to play before each shot, plan the english, wait till my mind is settled and make it. However I can reasonably execute anything that I decide I want to. Days like these are when I have to consciously remember to play one ball at a time and not rush it by thinking too far ahead. I have to concentrate on each shot or I might miss it.

This is how it was last night. I was winning several games, but the amount of concentration it took was almost exhausting, and I had to stop after a few games and take a break. Its definitely not as easy as being in dead stroke, but I can still do it. If I never had a night like this, I would never be able to build the stamina to concentrate for several games, one shot at a time, while being out of stroke. If I ever had an important match and was not in “dead stroke”, I would end up losing because I wasn’t prepared for it.

But the most important nights are the ones when I am completely out of stroke. Where every cut shot seems to miss the pocket by a few inches and even the straight in shots rattle out.

But the most important nights are the ones when I am completely out of stroke. Where every cut shot seems to miss the pocket by a few inches and even the straight in shots rattle out. Where I have to stop thinking about position because just making a ball seems like a miracle. Its as if I just started playing pool for the first time. As if I am not the same person who gets “rackless night” patches and can run tables. These nights usually happen when I am really exhausted from a long day or have a lot on my mind.

I had a night like this a few days ago. I had no confidence in my ability to make more than one shot with ball in hand. I just could not make cut shots. My opponent was on the hill because I kept missing shots and giving him the turn with a reasonably easy leave.

This is when I realized that I could either cry about not being in stroke and blame the entire situation on fate, or I could use all the knowledge I had, consciously focus on playing with a good stroke and play within my abilities.

I started shooting one or two balls and then playing strong safeties. There were times when I thought to myself, “if I had been in stroke, I could have easily run all five of these balls, yet I’m playing a safety”. I pushed those thoughts out of my mind and focused on playing the perfect safety. I think my opponent gave me at least 10 ball in hands during that time. I won all the remaining games and the match without ever being able to run more than two balls at a time.

So why do I like these bad nights?

Nights when I am out of stroke force me to improve my game consciously so I can play better on the nights that I am not playing with subconscious competence. I was forced to learn by observing flaws in my own game, asking people for help and looking for good reference material. I did things like making a checklist of things to focus on for a good pool stroke. I discovered and started practicing the bottle drill to improve my stroke.

The mark of great sportsmen is not how good they are at their best, but how good they are at their worst.
Martina Navratilova

The thing I discovered is that as you learn to push yourself on these “off nights”, your off nights start getting better and better. With each “bad night”, you get closer and closer to playing like your best self.

Use the nights you are your best self to inspire you. Use the nights you are not playing well to improve, by discovering your weaknesses and working on them. Aspire to be your best self, and work towards it consciously every day. That way, every day you are working towards becoming the best that you can be.

You also start winning on your bad days.

Pool Game - Rack with Balls and Cue

One shot at a time – How outcome independence and being in the now can change your game

Sometimes one little concept can be the missing piece in your game.

Pleasures of Small Motions

I recently read the book Pleasures of Small Motions: Mastering the Mental Game of Pocket Billiards by Bob Fancher.  In the very first few chapters he talks about the motivation behind playing pool –  Some people play because they like to win,  others because they like to hang out with their friends and have a little fun.  However one particular group of people, doesn’t care about winning and losing, or about socializing. They play because they LOVE the game.  These are the people who don’t even need another person to play with and are happy shooting by themselves. These are the people who  enjoy drills and practice because they can appreciate the beauty in each shot, and the practice is a pleasure in itself.  During games, they admire a good shot played by an opponent and cheer them on instead of  hoping that the other person misses.  All they care about is learning and improving and enjoying the game.

However one particular group of people, doesn’t care about winning and losing, or about socializing. They play because they LOVE the game.  These are the people who don’t even need another person to play with and are happy shooting by themselves. These are the people who  enjoy drills and practice because they can appreciate the beauty in each shot, and the practice is a pleasure in itself.

Reading the book made me remember why I started playing pool in the first place. Since then, I’ve started enjoying pool a lot more. I’ve also got a whole lot better.  I’ve realized I don’t care whether I win or lose. Anytime an opponent makes an unbelievable shot, I usually ask them to teach me the shot after the game.  Each time I see or learn something new, I have to go try it myself. Suddenly each game  is no longer a win/lose situation but an opportunity to learn, improve and enjoy the game of billiards.

The Power of NowAnother profound book that has helped change my life is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.  For a book that has nothing to do with pool, it is amazing how much the ideas from this book have helped improve my game.

The book talks about being in the present moment instead of the past or the future; about doing things for the pleasure of doing them, and not for the result. The path to enlightenment is very simple – Do one thing at a time.  Don’t think about why you started the task. Don’t think about what will happen once you complete the task. When doing the task, focus on only the task and nothing else.

The path to enlightenment is very simple – Do one thing at a time.  Don’t think about why you started the task. Don’t think about what will happen once you complete the task. When doing the task, focus on only the task and nothing else.

Eckhart Tolle convinced me that even washing dishes can be a path to enlightenment, as long as I focus on the task and learn to enjoy it  instead of considering it a chore. A couple of months after I read the book, I had this amazing experience of happiness, joy and peace. This is one book I would recommend to anyone who is not happy and satisfied with their life and wants to learn to live at peace with himself.

Putting these two books together, I discovered the missing piece in my pool game – The art of running a table isn’t just about planning ahead. It is also focusing on one shot at a time and taking pleasure in each shot.  Shooting the shot because we enjoy it, and not as if it were a painful thing that we have to get over with before we can get to the end of the match.

The fact is, even when we have a whole table to run, once we decide what order to run the balls in we have only one shot in front of us at a time. Nothing else. It doesn’t matter who we are playing. It doesn’t matter what the race is. It doesn’t matter if this is a tournament or a fun match.  It doesn’t matter how many more balls we need to make. All we have right now, is that one shot.

I try to focus on that one shot as if it were the last shot I have to play.

I look at the ball I have to make and where I am shooting.  I relax and let the subconscious mind do the aiming for me as I get down on the shot. I shoot with a straight stroke and smooth follow through. I watch as the cue hits the ball and listen to the sound of the cue ball strike the object ball. I stay down on the shot and watch as the object ball slowly rolls into the pocket and the cue ball moves towards where I intended. And then I slowly get up to see what I have to face next.  Once I make the shot, I can focus on the next shot. If I miss, it won’t matter anyway.

With so much amazing stuff going on, why would I even want to be thinking about the next shot or the previous shot? It would be like sitting at a movie theater and day dreaming about the movie sequel instead of watching the movie right in front of me. Why would I do that and ruin the amazing movie I have in front of me right now?

With so much amazing stuff going on, why would I even want to be thinking about the next shot or the previous shot? It would be like sitting at a movie theater and day dreaming about the movie sequel instead of watching the movie right in front of me. Why would I do that and ruin the amazing movie I have in front of me right now?

Over the last few weeks, especially since I started working on the bottle drill to improve my pool stroke, I have been running 6-7 balls effortlessly. And each of the times I ran a table, there was one thing in common – I was only thinking about one shot at a time.

Each of the times I ran a table, there was one thing in common – I was only thinking about one shot at a time.

Pool Game - Rack with Balls and Cue

The Bottle – Improve your billiards stroke phenomenally without leaving your home

Not everyone owns a pool table. And going to a pool hall to practice every day can get both inconvenient and expensive. So how do you get better without practicing?

I recently wrote about the Kaizen way – how small one minute tasks can make a big difference. I wanted to find an easy way to practice pool for a minute every day. What I decided on was the bottle drill.

Place an empty bottle on a level surface (I use an ironing board). Place your hand about a foot away from the mouth of the bottle and stroke the cue into the bottle without touching the sides. I do this for just about 30 seconds to a minute, after which I switch hands and repeat the exercise.

This drill is perfect for the subconscious mind to learn quickly because it provides the brain with a simple goal and immediate feedback for auto-correction.

The first two days I did this drill, I touched the bottle a lot while stroking. However by the third day my subconscious had already realized what I was trying to achieve and had started “fixing” anything that was causing me to touch the sides. I started loosening my back arm muscles, softening my grip. I also discovered exactly where I need to keep the cue below my eye so that I can aim perfectly.

Over a period of two weeks, I can now go 20 – 30 strokes without touching the sides (and 3-4 with my left hand). This exercise is improving my concentration and ability to hit the cue ball exactly where I need to. It is also making it a habit for me to stay down on the shot (since getting up makes the cue tip hit the bottle).

The improvements on the pool table have been phenomenal. I had no idea my stroke needed so much correction. I thought I shot well before, but over the last couple of weeks my shooting has been getting better. Last night, I hit full table length, straight in, stop shots perfectly and consistently. Even my table length draw shots are getting consistent.

I had been going through a losing streak the last couple of months, and this one little exercise has got me shooting better than I have ever shot before. It has me feeling excited about shooting and playing pool again.

The cool thing is, because it is only one minute a day, I find this drill both easy and convenient to do. I haven’t skipped this exercise even one day since I started.

For people who would like to improve their shooting and need a convenient way to practice and improve their game, this is probably the answer you are looking for. If you are in a slump or plateau, the reason for it is usually a defect in the pool stroke. This simple, almost silly, little practice exercise will change your game for ever.