Category Archives: Billiards

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.

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.

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.

Pool Game - Rack with Balls and Cue

10 Minute Pool Warmup – How to get into the zone

One thing that I discovered with my new pool skills was that I could now walk into a pool hall and expect my first game to be pretty decent.

However, it took an hour or more of continuous playing before I got into “the zone” – The point at which every shot seems equally easy; where I know even before I aim, that the shot is going in; and where I can confidently face any player in the pool room; where I am aiming without aiming.

At this point, my game stops being just “decent” and becomes what I would call “inspired”.

I kept trying different things to see what really got me into the zone. I tried changing what time and how long I took a nap, what I would eat, even whether or not I drank red bull before heading out. I tried wearing lucky/comfortable clothing and a billion other things that I thought might affect my game. After months of experimentation I finally eliminated everything else and came down to a few essential things that helped me get into this zone.

The first thing is to ensure I follow all the tips that allow me to develop perfect stroke.

The three drills below take about ten minutes at the most, but leave me in the zone, fully confident that I can win any game I play (or at least make it very, very difficult for the other guy).

1. Table Length Draw Shot

Billiards Draw Stroke Drill

Place the cue ball and object ball as pictured (on the diagonal line one third of the way from each pocket. Shoot the object into the opposite pocket, and draw the cue ball into the pocket closest to you.

Even if you don’t succeed in making the shot, just attempting this long straight shot while trying to draw the ball helps you develop perfect stroke. The closer you get, the better.

Ideally, do this until you succeed (both balls have fallen into their respective pockets) at least two times in a row. Increase this number as you get better.

2. Cue Ball Control – Closed Space Position Play

Lay out the balls as pictured (in a 3 x 3 rectangular grid around the center, on the spots where the diamonds meet). Run the table, starting with ball in hand, ideally without ever letting the cue ball touch the rails.

This drill isn’t too complicated. There is no “right” way to do this drill.

What this drill teaches you is very fine position control using soft draw, soft follow and the stop shot. Each time you try this drill, your subconscious mind observes and keeps track of what it attempted to do, what actually happened, what worked and what didn’t.

You learn to use follow and draw to stop the cue ball precisely within inches of where you need to be. You also learn the limitations of your positioning ability – what you can and cannot do. You learn to recover from going slightly off position and compensating appropriately on the next shot.

When similar two-three ball positions come up in a game, you will be able to run them on automatic pilot without having to think about it. The more you practice the drill, the more data-points your subconscious mind can fall back on when it needs them.

3. Running Tables Confidently
The goal of this exercise is simple – To get you warmed up for match/game playing mode. It also gets you used to the idea of running several balls and playing with position in mind.

Rack 15 balls, break them, and run all 15 balls in any order (like straight pool). The idea is to pick a ball, decide the next ball, and shoot so that you are in good position to play the next shot.

Just like the previous exercise, this teaches you to play position and to adjust and rethink your strategy in case you go out of position.

The more you play this drill, the more balls you will learn to plan ahead for. Starting from thinking one ball ahead, you will eventually be able to plan 6-7 balls instantly just by looking at the table.

4. Kaizen – Continuous, small improvement
If you still have some time left from the warm up, this is when you pick ONE shot that you missed during a recent match or game and that you feel seems to come up pretty often.
Not a 5 rail jump kick shot that you would only do in exhibition shows. Pick a shot that comes up again and again, that you are inconsistent with and can’t seem to rely on.

Now set it up and keep practicing the shot again and again until you think you can do it blind folded.

The final test? Once you get down on the shot and are ready to shoot, close your eyes, and shoot without looking. Open your eyes a couple of seconds after you shoot. If the ball went in, you have subconscious competence and can move on.

That’s it. This is all I do now days. And its all I seem to need.

Pool Game - Rack with Balls and Cue

Playing under pressure – Using your emotions to get more focus

Ever had a lot of “pressure” during a match? Knowing that everyone in your team was watching with their hopes on you? Or maybe playing for slightly more money than you feel comfortable? Did it make you shoot differently than you would ordinarily have? Did it feel different than, say, a casual game with a friend after a few drinks?

Did you start feeling strong emotions, maybe a little jittery, maybe a little excited?

Now the real question – Would you call these strong emotions a bad thing? Do you associate them with choking and wish that you could be rid of them?

I don’t – at least, not any more.

What is the difference between fear and excitement? To me, both are the exact same feeling inside my chest, my breathing changing, my heart beating faster, adrenaline and blood pumping, and a strong sense of anticipation. The only difference between fear and excitement is how we decide to label them – If we decide the situation is bad or unwanted, we call it fear, if not, we call the same feeling excitement. But there is no real difference between the two.

All it really is, is the subconscious mind saying “this is something new that I haven’t prepared for or experienced before. I need to focus more, so I am going to pump some adrenaline and increase the body’s focus so it can do everything that it needs to”.

It is not a bad thing. It is what your subconscious mind believes you need at the moment. Even in extreme situations like car accidents, the subconscious mind gives the body exactly what it needs, an extra surge of focus and strength to get out of the situation safely.

So if this is such a good thing, why is it so distracting? Why do we choke when we have these strong feelings? Why do people freeze up during moments of extreme pressure?

Well. Simply put, instead of using that period of intense focus to complete the task at hand, a lot of us tend to waste it in fighting our selves with thoughts like -“Crap!! I’m feeling scared. Now I am definitely going to choke. I have to push away these feelings and become confident again”.

The fact is whatever feelings your body experiences at any time are exactly what it needs to feel at that moment. Instead of fighting the feelings, the simplest thing to do is accept them, and understand the message they are sending. It is so much more constructive to think “Yes. My body is in adrenaline mode. My subconscious mind knows I want to win and is helping me. I am now going to be able to use my super focus. All I have to do is take my time, and win.”

A friend of mine came up with an interesting concept. He defines a whole new emotion (like happiness and sadness) called resistance. People have this emotion when they believe that something is wrong with their current situation and complain about it instead of accepting the present moment as it is – “I should have won”, “The equipment is crappy”, “That noise is distracting”, “Why do I always have all the bad luck?”

And this emotion of resistance stops us from appreciating and enjoying the current moment and gets us inside our head arguing with reality instead of accepting it. It is this resistance which has us complaining about the bad roll we got on the previous shot or a shot we missed. It is this resistance which tells us “I shouldn’t be feeling scared and tense right now. I need to do something to FIX MYSELF so that I can play my normal game”. It stops us from using the boost that our subconscious is providing us to help us. We start complaining about or resisting the situation when we should be thanking our subconscious for the extra help.

Over the last few weeks I have been winning a very high percentage of my matches, even with very skilled higher handicapped players. One thing common about all of these tough matches was the state my body was going through at the time – Extreme adrenaline and focus. My team mates kept trying to calm me down because they didn’t realize that I was actually playing better because of it. The fact is, ever since I stopped labeling them as bad, I look forward to these moments because of how well I play during them.

People say that the only way to learn to handle pressure is a lot of experience in high pressure situations. The reason this works is because after experiencing it a few times we begin to accept and appreciate the heightened emotions as a natural part of our body and are no longer distracted by them. People who continue to fight their emotions instead of learning to accept them continue to “choke under pressure”. But the few gifted ones who learn to work in-spite of stress, pressure and emotion, reach new levels of success and inspire everyone around them. In times of crisis, these people become the heroes.

Would you like to be in the first group or the second? It is completely your choice.

Pool Game - Rack with Balls and Cue

Table length draw – How to develop the perfect pool stroke

One thing I heard a lot while I worked on my pool skills, was the term “stroke”. People would admire a player’s stroke, and talk about stroke being the most important thing to master. However, no one could explain what they meant by stroke, or how I was expected to master it.

Several months later, I figured out what they meant. Stroke is essential for subconscious competence in pool. Your mind can only guide you to a shot, if you can actually shoot straight where it tells you to. A good stroke lets you do that.

People with a good stroke can effortlessly draw a cue ball an entire table length while striking the ball just one cue tip below center with a medium speed. Novices on the other hand, slam the ball hard as hard as they can, and still barely get a few inches of draw. Some end up getting the perfect stop shot. (That used to be me).

So what is it that makes draw the perfect test for a good stroke? The fact is, if you can draw an entire table length, you have already mastered all the essentials of a great stroke –

1. LONG FOLLOW THROUGH: You follow through at least 6 inches to a foot beyond the cue ball. Hitting through the cue ball instead of stopping at the cue ball. Your cue does not start slowing down until the cue ball has already left the cue. Without follow through, there is NO way to get the cue ball to retain backwards spin for large distances. It improves your accuracy, and ensures you don’t have any silly jerky motion when you shoot. All good stuff.

2. CUE PARALLEL TO TABLE: Very few people seem to realize that the raised sides of a table causes the cue to be pointing at a downwards angle instead of perfectly parallel. Downward stroke is what is used for masse and curve shots, and the slightest bit of left or right english when combined with a downward shot guarantees that the cue ball curves sideways as it goes forward resulting in a miss. Also, when shooting that way, the downward momentum is wasted and does not contribute in any useful way to the spin. The closer to parallel you can keep your cue (perfectly parallel may not always be possible), the more accurate your shot.

3. SOFT ACCELERATING MOTION: The longer your cue sticks to the cue ball, the longer you are imparting momentum (and spin) to the cue ball. If you go flying at the cue ball like a rocket, you will impart some speed and english, but the moment the cue ball leaves the cue, the green cloth will start taking the reverse spin off the ball. If however, you start slow and keep accelerating through the ball, the cue ball sticks to the cue for at least a foot after and more and more spin accumulates on the ball. The shot looks smoother and more effortless, and the amount of draw imparted is phenomenal. A visualization that has helped me a lot is, move as if you were walking inside a swimming pool – everything is super slow, like Bullet Time in The Matrix.

4. STRAIGHT FOLLOW THROUGH WITH A RELAXED ARM: The upper part of your forearm does not move at all, and all the motion comes from your lower arm. Since your upper arm does not raise or lower, the cue continues its follow through, through the cue ball, and nearly hits the table a few feet ahead of where the cue ball was. If it doesn’t, you may be lowering your elbow, which is a NO – NO. The upper arm stays steady and does not move, the lower arm moves slowly through the shot. The fastest and most effective way of teaching yourself this is by using the bottle drill to improve your stroke.

5. STAYING DOWN ON THE SHOT: You stay down and watch the shot until all the balls stop. This allows your subconscious mind to record every bit of the shot – The line the cue ball took, how the object ball and cue ball reacted, what line they took after they hit each other, and where the object ball went in relation to where you intended it to go. Staying down also ensures that no twitches or jerky body motions as a result of you jumping up change the line of the shot. It also makes you look more professional.

This little mental check list – PARALLEL, ACCELERATING, STRAIGHT FOLLOW THROUGH, SWIMMING POOL SLOW, STAY DOWN AFTER SHOT has done wonders for my consistency and my ability to draw great lengths. Any day I find my shooting a little off, this is all I have to focus on.

You might find it useful to read this article on learning pool fundamentals in under 30 minutes which also has videos that illustrate some of these concepts.

The new problem I have now is trying to control the urge to use draw on all shots just to show off. :)

This one shot will skyrocket your game more than every other jazzy or cool trick shot that you learn because it gives you the perfect stroke. This exact same motion, when used on the top half of the cue gives you perfect follow, and used on the side gives you perfect side english, while minimizing squirt and miscues.

Once you can do this, your shooting and aiming will go through the roof. At this point, you are ready to move on and learn the next bits
1. Aiming – Subconscious aiming drills
2. Essential Shots – Stop, Follow, Draw, and Jab
3. Essential Position Play Paths
4. Banking and Kicking essentials
5. Dirty Tactics – Common Mid-Game and End-Game safety plays