Author Archives: Aditya Ravi Shankar

What we can learn from children about achieving our goals

Ever think about what goes through a baby’s mind when it is learning to crawl?

Do you think the baby goes “I want to place my weight on my knees, then I want to place my hands slightly ahead of where I am and shift my center of gravity to my left. I also need to remember to make sure my spine is pointed slightly right of the target so that when I move forward, I don’t go too much to the left. That way I can average it out with the shift during my right movement so I am always roughly facing my target.”

Doesn’t really sound like something a baby would think does it?

How about “If I can only start crawling I will get stronger and healthier. People will start praising me and respect me for my crawling skills?” Does that sound like something a baby would think?

If babies tried to learn the way human adults do, they would grow up never learning to walk instinctively, and for the rest of their lives need to keep a post-it on their arm with acronyms and rules reminding them how to crawl or walk. The rules would probably be painful and cryptic (PCLSF – point, center, lean, step, fall) and only a few “talented genius adults” would be able to walk without struggling. They would never be able to walk using instinct, and everyone would go around justifying this by saying two legged walking requires so much of muscular coordination, it is an extremely rare talent that one needs to be born with. There would be e-books and courses and self study guides on the internet about faster and better ways of learning to walk, and how to be almost “natural” at walking. Luckily for us, almost every child learns to crawl and walk without needing any of this nonsense.

But how do you think they really do it in a seemingly effortless manner?

As far as I can tell, they just look at a place and say to themselves “There. I want to go there” and then they try to do it. And when they fail, there isn’t a “I’ll never be able to do this. I am such a disappointment. I have failed at every attempt. I should just give up.”. Nope. Just two seconds of confusion later, they try again. And again.

Each time they make subtle variations to what they are doing compared to what they tried before. I don’t think they even consciously realize what they tried before. They don’t even realize what they just changed. All they know is “Again. I want to go there.”, and then with that feeling or thought inside them, they try.

Little by little something inside them figures out how their center of gravity needs to shift, which muscles need to be fired in tandem and how visual and touch information needs to be used to adjust which muscles groups to fire. At the same time, another magical part of them tracks which muscles need growing because they aren’t strong enough, and marks them so that when they sleep that night, the muscles grow and get bigger and stronger.

Do you honestly think babies plan any of this?

Oddly enough, despite all that is required, they achieve their goal.

Is it effortless? When we look at it, we admire their persistence despite all the effort required. When they look at it, they don’t look at it as effort or persistence. All they see is “Goal. Try. Goal. Try. Tired. Goal, Try. Yay!! Again.”. That’s all it was to them. No effort. Just try something they wanted to do until they got it.

All the adult motivation and learning coaches talk about the HOW – the steps and the plan, and the WHY – the motivation and the desire. How you can never achieve your goals without clearly answering the HOW and the WHY questions.

Ask a child who is thinking “I want”, “But why?” and the reply would just be “I want?” . What else is there? Why would it need another reason? Why would it need to justify why it wants something? Isn’t the fact that it wants something enough? Ask it “How?” and the reply again would be something like “I want. I try.”. Ask it “But the steps?” “I don’t know. I want. I try.”. And just with that brilliant set of plans and blueprint a child sets out and achieves its goals.

Imagine that. No plan. No motivation. Goal achieved. All the while, adults who love to spend hours, days, weeks and months in plotting and planning and self-motivating and visualizing never get anywhere with their goals. I wonder why.

Now a common thought might be “But we can’t use this children’s approach. Our goals are much more complex. Children use it for easy stuff, like crawling, walking, controlling their body, learning multiple languages or any of the rare skills that we like to say they are gifted at. Oh wait.”

Realize that this simpler method of learning apparently allows us to master anything, effortlessly. No need for how. No need for why. No need for detailed plans. Act or try first, and modify based on feedback and information later. As adults capable of reading and learning as well as searching for coaches or videos of people doing it so we can model their behavior, we can accelerate the process even further once we get started.

This is the middle ground between learning as a child and learning as an adult. A way of achieving goals that combines the best of a child’s simple way, and an adult’s research based way. A way that cuts through all the procrastination, confusion, fear, and excuses and lets us achieve our goals with the focus and intensity and speed that we were designed to achieve them.

So how do you get to the point where you learn everything in your life effortlessly and instinctively like this again?

I can’t give you any magic steps or an algorithm to follow, because that would defeat the purpose. But here is a hint – If you just make instinctive learning your goal, something you want, something you keep trying to achieve without even necessarily knowing how, guess what will happen?

Everyone is Enlightened – Except You

Have you ever been emotionally affected by something that was said or done by someone – a friend, a family member, a random stranger? It could be anything – an innocuous remark, which in hindsight shouldn’t have bothered you at all, or an act that you felt was so thoughtless and hurtful that it drove you into rage or had you crying tears from pain.

When this happens, it is easy to just blame the person for causing the pain or the anger, but the fact is all emotions are generated inside our own minds. No matter what a person does, they cannot control what happens inside your mind. Every emotion is the result of anchors from events in our own past and the way we interpret events. Each of us reacts to the same input in different ways. If this weren’t the case, we would all enjoy the exact same movies, laugh at the exact same jokes, at the exact same time.But that isn’t the case.

We all have our own likes, dislikes, fears and desires.

We are all unique because of the events that shaped us. A person who associates cookies with the love and affection of their grandmother who used to bake them will have a different association to cookies than a person who remembers being yelled at and punished for wanting them. Both these people will react differently to the same offer for a cookie and both will attribute any emotional reaction to the person asking, not to themselves. The first person would feel loved while the second might feel mocked. Neither would realize that what they felt was their own reaction to the question and had nothing to do with the other person. They would say it was the question that was either sweet or mean depending on their perspective.

So assuming that you understand this in theory, that it is all your perspective, and you are the one who causes yourself pain, what does this mean for you? How can you use this to get rid of pain and live a happier and more peaceful life?

Well, here is a simple trick that might help – Assume that everyone in this world (except you) is enlightened.

Assume that no one is trying to hurt you or cause you pain or cause you anger or any other bad emotion. Assume also that each of them is just trying to help you find your triggers so that you can become aware of them and get rid of them. Assume that the only reason you feel pain or other strong emotions is because of your own emotional baggage and clutter. You might be holding onto something from your past or believing something that isn’t necessarily true. You might even be projecting your own motivations or thoughts onto them, and attributing it to them. For example, if you believe you yourself are selfish, you will also assume other people are acting selfishly even if they aren’t necessarily.

The easy guide is, anytime a strong emotion comes along – pay attention. There is something going on. A thought that might not need to be there. A belief that might be inaccurate. Something that if addressed will let you be in control instead of letting the emotions control you.

So from now, any time you feel a trigger of strong emotions because of something someone did or said, you can first become aware of the emotion and then mentally thank them for pointing out the trigger to you.

After that, during a quiet moment of introspection, try and understand what moments in your past or what beliefs and thoughts in your mind make you feel that way about the event. As you dig deeper, and become aware of the clutter in your head, you will find that you get affected by the event less and less. Keep digging until you no longer feel emotionally affected when replaying the event in your mind.

Once you have dug to the root of the emotion and are completely aware of it, you will feel like a load has been lifted off your chest. You won’t need to do anything else. You will find the trigger no longer has any power over you. In the future similar events will just wash over you and instead of a knee jerk emotional reaction, you will be able to just peacefully assess the moment and react calmly and intelligently.

As you continue this practice in your life, with each trigger cleared, you will become a lighter and happier person who no longer feels the need to blame the world. You will find that you stay calm and peaceful more and more, and the world will start feeling like a much more beautiful place.

A Perfect World

Imagine a world where every living being was connected to each other, and thanks to this connection each being would always try to work towards the greater good.

Every time you needed something, those closest to you would sense your need and selflessly come to your aid, knowing that whenever they had the need for anything, someone else would always be there for them.

Imagine that this world had a simple way of communicating with feelings, and these feelings were enough to keep all the beings in harmony, always taking care of each other and trusting that they would be taken care of.

In this world, there would never be a reason to worry.

But then something happened…

Fear crept in.

Suddenly the beings were too distracted to listen to their feelings and were focused on their own needs. They didn’t realize that if they just focused on their feelings, the little signals that told them what to do, everything would continue to work out. They started focusing on their own needs, driven by the fear that if they didn’t, they would be left without anything.

And as the fear started spreading, more and more of the beings stopped listening, and tried to do things alone in a world where they were meant to do everything together.

And with each day, the fear and the loneliness got worse. The beings forgot about the connection that they once had. They still felt something missing somewhere deep inside and constantly kept searching for this missing thing, and this pain made them feel worse.

But the connection wasn’t gone. It was still right there waiting for them to start listening again.

And in this world, a miracle happened.

A few people started rediscovering the connection in little bits and pieces.

Some just reconnected to their own feelings and started trusting their heart more. Some started listening for the needs of others and trying to selflessly help them. Some started caring more about others than themselves and trusting that the universe would take care of them.

Each of them, without realizing it, was recognizing a tiny piece of a larger truth hidden deep inside. The same truth that connected them all.

All of them realized that they were discovering something amazing, but still didn’t understand what it is that they were experiencing. So they started trying to find out more and more.

And with each action, they inspired more and more people to also start connecting with each other and that hidden truth deep inside them. To slowly go back to the amazing world they had left behind.

And this is where our story begins.

What if there was no right or wrong?

How would you live your life differently if you could do no wrong?

If you somehow knew that whatever you did was the exact right thing to be doing, so you didn’t have to worry that you might be doing something wrong?

For example, say, a time traveler came to you and showed you how events are supposed to play out and you already knew what you were going to say or do was best for you in the long run, so you didn’t have to worry about it?

Or, say, you trusted that the Universe or a higher power was guiding you so everything you did was the exact perfect thing towards a bigger plan,  and you didn’t have to worry about anything?

Suddenly you wouldn’t have the fear of doing the wrong thing. There would be less hesitation and more anticipation in your steps. You would look forward with wonder and anticipation at what would come next instead of holding back trying to control what happened, trying to do the “right” thing while feeling extremely stifled, nervous and confused.

And what is the right thing anyway? Have you forgotten all the countless times in your life that you didn’t know what to do, didn’t know if things would work out and then they magically did? At what point in time did you manage to suddenly do the right thing, when you had no idea what you were doing?

And then there were all the times you tried to control your life and guide it in a specific way with all the plans that you tried your level best to stick to by doing the “right” things. But for some reason, life decided you were meant for other things and none of your plans ever led you where you wanted them to.

It’s just something to think about. Somewhere inside, you’ve always had uncertainty about the right thing to do because you never knew what the right thing was, and you have a lifetime of experiences to remind you of this fact.

So maybe it’s time to do things differently now and see if something changes.

I have no idea where you are in your life right now. You may be happy that everything in your life is going perfectly. You might be wishing for more in your life. Or you might be devastated because everything in your life seems upside down at the moment.

All I ask is that just as a thought experiment, for the next week or so, let go of right and wrong. Assume that everything that you say is right, assume that everything you do is right, and assume everything that is happening is right.

See what happens.

Aiming without Aiming Part IV – Breaking Down The Details of Aiming and Shooting a Billiards Shot

An interested reader very recently reached out to ask me a very simple question – “When you are actually shooting/cueing the ball on the final stroke, where are you looking? Where and what are you focused on?”.

Most players who have been playing for a while might not even be consciously aware of where they actually look during the aiming process. However, since I have been actively working on improving my potting consistency for snooker over the last few months, I actually happened to have written notes that I used to track, fine-tune and improve my technique.

I am now going to break it down into more detail than most people will ever care about. I realize it takes a little bit of obsessive behavior to micromanage or study this level of detail, and I do admit that I can be obsessive at times. However from my experience, once you actually pay attention and take these seemingly minor things to a consistent level, the amazing improvement in your aiming and shooting more than makes up for all the effort.

So here goes. This is the series of steps that I used to shoot more consistently now days.

  1. Before getting down on the shot, I see the line from the object ball to the pocket, and in my mind, figure out where the cue ball needs to go and hit the object ball. If you are just starting out, you can use one of the simpler aiming systems I have lined out in previous articles  (How I really aim a billiards shotA system for making long cut shots). However in the long run, this becomes more of a memory/intuitive thing. At this point, I “just know” from tons of shooting where I need to hit the ball. Use the aiming systems as a temporary crutch/approximation, with the intention of moving past it eventually in the long run.
  2. I then line up my body and cue so that I am pointing precisely along the line from the cue ball to that specific point near the object where the cue ball needs to go. Note that MOST of my aiming happens before I get down on the shot, not after.
  3. While being aware of this second line, and while watching the object ball, I slowly walk forward and lower into position. It is important to be aware of this line while placing your bridge hand on the table since your bridge has to be on the line. It is also important to be aware of this line while you lower and place your chin on the cue, since not doing so will mean you might lose your alignment and not be pointing the cue along this line (that you already KNOW is the correct line). For this reason, don’t allow yourself to be distracted while getting down on the shot, and continue to look along the line from the cue ball to the special aim point on the object ball, and keep that line in mind while getting down.
  4. After getting down on the shot, while wagging/stroking the cue, I double check that I am still in alignment and that the object ball will go along the line I need it to, by verifying both the first line and the second line. During this time, my eye moves back and forth between the object-to-pocket and cue-to-object lines while I do my practice strokes. With time you will get an intuitive feeling that the shot is perfect, and that the object ball will go exactly where you want it to. You can micro adjust your elbow slightly if necessary, until it feels perfect. If it doesn’t feel right after even a while, something is probably off with your alignment, so get up and repeat everything right from Step 1.
  5. I stop moving the cue, take a deep breath to calm myself down, and while relaxed and focusing on the object ball, stroke through and strike the cue ball. Make sure you are focused on where you want the cue ball to go on the object ball and are not focused on the pocket. In fact if you are making a cut shot where the pocket and object ball can’t be seen at the same time, it becomes extra important not to let your eyes wander towards the pocket (hard as it may seem). During the final stroke/shot, you have to be looking along the line where you want the CUE BALL to GO, and looking towards the pocket will probably cause you to subconsciously drift your aim line towards the pocket, causing you to miss the shot even though you had aligned and aimed correctly.
  6. Finally, after the cue ball has hit the ball exactly where I wanted it to go, I stay down and watch where the object ball is going, saving the information in my mind (so I can tweak/adjust my aiming in the future). If you didn’t hit the object ball where you aimed, you know to fix the earlier steps to ensure you aim correctly. If you hit where you aimed but the shot goes in the wrong direction, automatically adjust your aim line the next time. This way, whether you make the shot or not, you will always get feedback, learn, and improve your game with each shot.

This is pretty much it. There are a few more things that I pay attention to including where the cue is under my chin, how I grip the cue, where the cue touches my chest and waist and my follow through. However honestly, I think even this present level of detail will be boring for most people, and I don’t see any point in bogging you down with mind-numbing levels of detail. You can check out some of my other billiards articles to get a better idea.

Just focusing on these few things should be enough until you get to a strong intermediate level.

Now bear in mind, that on the days when you are “in the zone”, you will obviously shoot effortlessly and probably won’t remember or pay attention to a single one of these steps. And that’s perfectly all right – you probably won’t need to.

The advantage of using this system, of taking this much control, and micro managing each step, is primarily on those days when you are NOT in the zone.

These are usually the days when most players end up missing a lot, not being able to shoot even half as well as they are used to, feeling completely “off”, and in general getting very frustrated with the game. Now however, by following this simple set of steps, you should still be able to shoot reasonably well. Not as well as your “on nights” of course, but decently well.

With time, you will develop so much consistency that no one other than professionals will even be able to tell that it is an “off night” for you. And building this technique in your muscle memory will mean that on you “on nights”, you will play breathtakingly well.

If you are someone looking to improve your game, hopefully this discussion will help you in some way. Once I fine tune my current snooker practice routine and feel it is reasonably optimized, I can probably share it here for interested readers.

Please feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts and insights.

Commandos: BEL – HTML5 – Recreating the classic 2.5D real time tactics game in the browser

After my last game recreation project, Command and Conquer in HTML5 (a complete real time strategy game with multiplayer implemented in HTML5), I was looking for a new and bigger challenge.

My most recent project, a recreation of Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines in HTML5, makes Command & Conquer feel like a kiddie project.

While Command & Conquer took me around three weeks for a first version, and then a couple of months of iterating to create the polished version that it is today, Commandos has been 8 months of slogging just to get the first working game level out.

Every few weeks into the project, I would reach a point where I would think “There is no way I am going to be able to do this bit. I have no idea how to…”, and a few days later, magically, I would find just the thing that I needed to get it done.

Over this period, I’ve gone through what feels like hundreds of articles and computer science Phd papers on path-finding, handling polygons, depth sorting and various aspects of game artificial intelligence.

This has honestly been one of the toughest projects I have ever taken on by myself. Looking back, I have no idea how I ever came this far. In fact, I am amazed that I actually managed to complete this project.

Here is a quick video of the project.

But what really made this project so hard?

I consider Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines a 2.5D, real time tactics game.

What the 2.5D means is that while the game used 2D assets and images, all the game elements contain 3D position information (x, y and z coordinates) as well as shape information (length, breadth, height). This simple difference however brought on most of the challenges that I had to face.

The first and biggest challenge while recreating the game was just rendering everything onto the screen. C&C was entirely 2D, so depth sorting was as simple as drawing everything from back to front and left to right, and everything just looked more or less OK.

Depth Sorting in Commandos HTML5

Depth Sorting is so simple with these blue lines

However with Commandos, things got a lot more complicated. Game elements are not positioned along the X & Y axis, and can overlap each other in very different ways, making depth sorting slightly more challenging.

I tried several different implementations. With each implementation, I would find some items rendered correctly, while others would render incorrectly.

After tons of research and experimentation, I finally managed to come up with a reasonably simple and elegant solution – First do a simple comparison to decide whether or not each item is in front or behind every other item, then run a topological sort to order the items for rendering. The image shows how I use a simple line across each item to decide whether another item is ahead or behind. As you can see, the results are pretty decent.

Commandos HTML5 Path Finding

Pathfinding  using a mesh of polygons

The next big challenge was path-finding. Unlike C&C and it’s simple grid based A* path finding, Commandos uses a polygon based mesh and needs some pretty flexible pathing. I originally started with a simpler implementation using points-of-visibility pathing, however I finally had to switch to a full-blown navigational mesh with path smoothing to allow for everything that commandos needs, such as climbing up ramps and traveling across bridges.

Again, everything had to implemented from scratch and I didn’t use any libraries for it.

Commandos HTML5 Guard AI

Guard AI – Guards follow footsteps in the snow

The next big headache was the guard AI.

The guard vision and visibility cone computations needed to be fast and optimized since they were calculated in real time so they could be used to decide when a guard could see something.

That, combined with a very tricky AI involving some crazy state flip-flopping, meant it took me a couple of months before the guards could even see and attack a commando properly.

At this point guards can patrol or watch areas, investigate suspicious noises (explosions, gunshots, yelling), follow foot steps, and finally chase commandos and attack or detain them.

Apart from these were all of the little things that I never thought would take much time, which in hindsight turned out to not be so little and took quite a lot longer.

Climbing Walls - Who thought this would be so hard

Climbing Walls – Who thought this would be so hard

  1.  Building a complete in-game multi-window system.
  2.  Teaching the commando how to climb walls (starting with detecting whether a surface was climbable).
  3.  Building a very intricate game loader system that handled mission files, sprite sheets, audio sprite sheets and the in-game menu files
  4.  A custom in-game menu system.
  5. Handling Weapons, Driving vehicles, Rowing boats, Scuba diving, Explosions, Using Decoys, Hiding inside buildings and every other action the commandos can take.

After 8 months of work, I’m happy to say the game is now finally ready and playable.

If you haven’t tried it out yet, you can play Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines – HTML5 here.

Looking back, I don’t know if I regret taking on this project. Thanks to this project, I’ve learned an incredible amount – about  computer science and AI, about better game programming techniques and practices, about automating and streamlining my entire game development process. But the biggest thing I learned was what it takes to build a really big game in HTML5, and how to push myself to achieve something that I never thought possible.

Now that the first mission is finally complete, I’ll probably take a break for a while. Once I come back, the plan is to add more missions, and a multi-player cooperative mode using HTML5 Websockets. Again, all playable in your browser without needing any installation.

If you have any feedback or questions about this project, please feel free to leave a comment below or on the game page.

If you would like to get notified about future game projects, get exclusive access to beta test new project updates, or learn advanced game programming and collaborate with me on future projects, please sign up using the form below. Make sure you fill out the check boxes correctly so I know what you are interested in.

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Which of these do you want to do?

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.

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.

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

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.

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

Six Pack Abs and a Toned Body – You don’t really want it

Do you want to be extremely fit and healthy? Maybe have a toned body with a six-pack instead of a growing belly with flabby arms? Is getting fit and healthy a priority in your life?

Over the last year, while focusing on fitness and nutrition, I dropped nearly 14 Kgs (31 lbs) and 6 inches off my waist. I’ve now reached the point where people automatically stereotype me as “the fitness guy”, or “the bodybuilder”.

Since then, more and more people have reached out to me for fitness, nutrition and weight loss advice. Everyone wants to know exactly what I did, and how easy or difficult it would be for them to replicate.

I usually go out of the way to try and help friends when they ask for advice, since fitness is still a very big part of my life, and I’m always happy to help others on the same path. I freely share information about my diet/nutrition, exercise routines, and how I keep myself motivated.

It’s a pleasure to see the excitement in their eyes when they see how simple it can be to get into great shape; when they realize that their “stretch goal”, is in fact realistically possible in just two or three months.

However I’ve come to a bitter realization over the last year of trying to help people get fit.

Most people don’t really want to get fit and healthy. Most people don’t want to look like the models they see in magazines. In fact, they don’t even want to get half-way to that point to look “not unhealthy”.

All most people really want to do is talk about how much they want it, while continuing to remain in their current unhealthy state, or worse getting even more unfit.

Every time someone takes home one of the workout programs I recommend, I get hopeful that maybe this one person will stick with it and achieve great results. Often they message me after a few days about how amazing it feels and share the initial results they are getting, which gets me optimistic since unlike ninety percent of their peers, they actually started and committed to it.

And then, even though they see the results they have already got in just a few days, even though they know that this program works, without fail, they stop.

They abruptly stop messaging updates, and just as abruptly stop talking about fitness.

When I make the effort to reach out and check up, out come the excuses – no time, too tired, suddenly very busy.

Almost consistently and without fail, each of them usually says that they haven’t quit, they have just stopped for a little while and they plan to start again when they “have the time”. I still don’t know of one person among dozens of friends who started again or managed to find time.

I had someone tell me once, “exercise is a priority for me, however I just don’t get the time“.

My response? “No. It isn’t. Your priority is eating and drinking with your friends, watching movies, or relaxing and watching tv. If exercise was your priority over these things you would first exercise, and then say you didn’t have time to watch movies or hang out with friends. The fact that exercise doesn’t come before these things clearly means, by definition, that fitness isn’t the priority in your life.

So now let me ask again – Do you want to be fit and healthy? Is being healthy a priority in your life?

Answer honestly, and if the answer is no, then learn to accept it. Start admitting to people that you find it easier to be fat and unhealthy and prefer making excuses to getting fit and healthy. That you don’t want to be the best that you can be.

Don’t lie to yourself. At least this way you won’t feel guilty about missing out on exercise or eating unhealthy.

And when you truly decide to make fitness your priority, you can commit fully and achieve results.