Category Archives: Billiards

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.

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.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy two of my most popular article series – Aiming without Aiming – How to shoot pool like a pro and Cue Ball Position Control Essentials.

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.

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

Aiming without Aiming – How to shoot pool like a pro

When I first started playing pool (billiards), I considered myself an average player. I could never be sure if I would make the next shot, and running two or three balls in a row was a big achievement for me. I read books on aiming systems like the ghost ball system, and tried different practice drills to improve my game. However I still saw a clear difference between “easy” and “difficult” shots and trying advanced things like position play would make me miss my shot.

This is the story of my journey. How I discovered the art of “Aiming without Aiming”. If you have played pool for a while, chances are you will identify with this or at least recognize what I describe. If you have played only some pool, I suggest you read with an open mind – understanding this might change your game.

If you don’t play pool yet, but would like to start, then you can learn how to play pool well in under 30 minutes. If you already understand the basics, but would like to develop the ability to run the table, you should look at my article series on the basics of cue ball position control.

Some time back I heard the term “subconscious-competence” and about the subconscious mind. This is the same thing that allows us to walk without having to logically plan every muscle that needs to be raised to take each step – We just look at where we want to go, decide we want to go there, and then automatically end up there. It is also responsible for the times when we might get distracted while driving, thinking about all kinds of other stuff, and suddenly realize that we have reached home without remembering any of the turns, traffic lights or other cars on the road.

I don’t think that we were ever really meant to be conscious learners. The conscious mind can handle about 5-9 things at a time after which it zones out. The subconscious mind can apparently keep track of EVERYTHING, including things the conscious mind wouldn’t even dare try.

The only thing the unconscious mind really needs is
1. The initial desire or thought from the conscious mind – Creating the goal
2. Trusting signals from the subconscious mind – following your instincts
3. Allowing the subconscious mind to learn and train itself for the goal – Allowing mistakes to happen without labeling or judging them and not getting frustrated by them
4. Getting out of your own way – Letting the subconscious mind do everything instead of trying to take over the wheel while it is doing its work.

Three months ago, I wrote down in my notebook, a thought addressed to my subconscious mind – “I refuse to aim. You do it otherwise we both miss”. For three whole months, I did not aim. I just looked at the pocket I wanted the ball to go, and just shot the cue ball without aiming with any system… Talk about a crazy, unrealistic, leap of faith…

A few days after I began, when the first difficult shot went in without aiming, I was pleasantly surprised. I assumed it was just luck. Over the next few days as more and more people started noticing my consistent shooting “luck”. This was actually working.

During this time, I still had to keep reminding myself to not try to aim. However as I started making tougher and tougher shots effortlessly, I started getting an ego. I started getting addicted to the idea of always making the shot. When I did miss, I forgot rule 3 and used to get angry at myself. I didn’t realize that when I missed, it wasn’t that my plan wasn’t working, it was just that my subconscious mind hadn’t trained itself for that particular shot yet. It took several days just to accept any misses and not try to control with my conscious mind.

With time, however, I learned to let go of outcome dependence while shooting and just play one shot at a time.

Now days every shot is “easy”. I spend exactly 0 seconds planning the shot. I just look at the pocket, look at the ball, wait for that “YES” signal in my head, and shoot. It goes in on its own. I don’t aim or shoot. My subconscious mind does. I don’t take credit for the shots since it wasn’t me who really shot them. I saw my subconscious mind shooting some amazing shots which blew my mind. It was almost like my subconscious mind was a different person, who was shooting through me.

And as it overtook me with its skills, it earned my trust and respect. I no longer dared to compete with it or try to take over the steering wheel again. I knew, that as long as I stayed out of it’s way, it would do the job better than I could have ever hoped to.

But this wasn’t the real shock. Now that I could shoot without aiming, I wanted to see how far I could take this idea of trusting my subconscious mind, and what limits my mind had. My next goal was to run a table (run all 7 balls, and the 8 ball in one go without giving my opponent a turn).

Again, I wouldn’t plan it or think about it, just make a goal and trust my subconscious to do whatever was needed. Over the next few days, I found myself wanting to shoot one particular ball versus another, without any logical reason. I would just look at the table, see a particular ball and think to myself- “I like that one, that is what I will shoot next”. Trying to logically decide which was the best ball to shoot actually messed things up.

One week later, I broke and ran the entire table when playing with my team captain – or rather my subconscious mind did. Now days, running 4-5 balls is almost a regular occurrence. Three months ago, I would have laughed at that possibility.

The funny thing is, I don’t even have to be paying attention to the table while I am shooting. I can be thinking about taxes or some movie I watched. In fact, anything OTHER than trying to aim the shot. The balls just go in on their own. I seem to get so zoned out, I lose track of time and place. I can now play entire pool games and not remember shooting even a single shot. Sometimes I don’t even remember the face of the person I was shooting with. It’s almost like I am a spectator in a dream like state watching someone else playing.

I think some people call it being in the zone. Some people call it instinct. Some people call it muscle memory. Some call it trusting a higher power. Whatever you choose to call it, trusting your subconscious mind can let you live life the way it was always meant to be – effortless.

If you enjoyed this article, continue on to the next article in this series, Aiming without Aiming Part II – How I really aim a billiards shot.

PS: Based on a lot of feedback that I received, I wrote a follow up article – Aiming without Aiming Part II – How I really aim a billiards shot. For people who think that “this aiming thing can’t work” or would like more details on aiming technique, the extra explanation might help.

The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak PerformancePPS: Almost a year after I started my experiments with aiming without aiming and the subconscious mind, I discovered the book The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. This book talks about the same concepts of subconscious learning applied to the game of tennis and is without doubt one of the best descriptions of how to achieve subconscious competence. I found myself agreeing with almost everything the author said, and was amazed by the new ideas that I would have probably taken a long time to discover on my own. I guess there had to be a reason this book is already consider a bible for inner game and has sold millions of copies worldwide. If you found this article interesting and would like a more detailed explanation of the principles, I would strongly recommend taking a look at this book. You will find that the concepts can be applied to any game or sport that you wish to.

Of course, aiming without aiming isn’t a magic pill solution to billiards mastery. This is just one teeny piece of the puzzle. Obviously ‘Aiming without Aiming’ or subconscious competence only comes after developing conscious competence – Learning good pool fundamentals, following a simple aiming system, practicing with drills to build muscle memory. Even after that, aiming is just a part of the puzzle. You also need to learn to control cue ball position.

The next big piece is working on the inner game of pool, learning to bounce back from bad nights and using your emotions to win under pressure.

Since I improved my aiming, I find myself spending almost as much time on “inner game” as on “outer game”. I am still trying to figure it all out. But every time I discover another piece of the puzzle, I try to share it.