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How to Grip the Cue and Stroke the Shot.

I was practicing in the pool hall last week. I don’t go there that often because people always come over and ask me questions while I’m trying to practice.

Just because you’re a good player it doesn’t mean that to you don’t need to practice anymore. The truth is that you need to practice even more than the other players are practicing. It’s the only way to keep ahead of what the other players are doing.

Anyway so this guy is watching me for a while and then he comes walking over. I always try to be nice to people because I want to encourage them to do as well as they can even though it’s a little bit rude to interrupt when someone is practicing.

So he starts to ask me questions. He asked about a particular shot that I was working on.

How was I hitting the ball?

What stroke was I using?

Was my grip loose or firm?

I showed him what I was doing and how I was hitting the ball. Then he asked me to play a different type of shot for him, which I did.

By this point he looked very confused. He didn’t understand why I would hold the cue or strike the ball differently depending on what type of shot I was playing.

This guy had apparently been working on a specific grip for quite some time. He had been trying to make this grip/stroke work for all shots on a pool table.

This does not work and you will waste so much practice time trying to perfect a one grip suits all shots approach.

I use at least three different types of grip and at least three different types of stroke:

  • Soft finesse stroke.
  • Punch stroke.
  • Follow through stroke.

Now I can combine these strokes with the different types of shot:

  • Top Spin
  • Back Spin
  • Stop Shot

Of course I know there are some more shots.

The point is if you combine the three shots with the three Strokes that’s a lot of combinations.

Well nine combinations anyway.

So there is not one particular way to hold the cue and stroke the ball that will work for all shots.

Whilst standing in the pre shot position, decide which stroke to use in order to achieve the desired shape.

Play the Shot through in your head before getting into your final stance.

If you are in the habit of thinking that one grip or stroke fits all, try to spend some time alone on a table and discover the different ways you can make the ball move by changing your grip.

Just as an example of the differences you can make, try playing a punch stroke and gently squeezing with your back fingers as the cue goes through the ball.

The draw shot or screw back is another example of how the stroke and grip can change the end result: follow through with a loose grip or snap through with a tighter punchy grip and the results will be totally different.

You have to set time aside to experiment and test things out in a practice session. Time spent on this exercise will pay greater dividends than running out racks against the ghost.

Playing the ghost will maintain your existing skills, whilst experimentation will expand your range of shots and may  take you to a new level.

How to grip a pool cue – the pool stroke.

The pool cue grip determines the way the cue is delivered when striking the ball.

The grip should be firm enough to pick up the cue from a table, yet relaxed enough so that the cue moves slightly within the hand.

The thumb should Point downwards and the knuckles should be parallel to the cue in the set position.

The shaft of the cue should rest lightly on the pads of your fingers with no pressure being transferred to the butt.

As the cue swings backwards and forwards in a pendulum motion the fingers generally open and close to accommodate and maintain its level movement.

When striking the cue ball the grip pressure is gently transferred from the front to the back of the hand.

In the finish position the knuckles finish pointing upwards with air to the palm of the hand.

It is a mistake to think that this grip as described above is good for all shots.

There are several different strokes in pool.

  • Follow stroke
  • Draw stroke
  • Punch stroke

Each Different Stroke requires a slight adjustment to the grip described above.

However the general basic principles of the grip remain the same throughout.

Nine Ball Pool Practice Runout When Things Go Wrong

Random Run out at Nine Ball

Short video of a 9 ball practice run where many of the shots did not go as planned.

 

Nine Ball Pool Practice Runout When Things Go Wrong

I still made all of the balls and got out but not as planned, nearly all of the positional plays were off line which makes the connection to the next shot more difficult. In isolation some pool shots are more difficult than other and require added skills. So when you add all of these challenging shots together it interrupts the normal flow.

Plan Your Route to The Next Shot to Reduce Risk.

In addition to the physical aspects complicated runs like this take up too way much mental energy which needs to be conserved throughout the long competition. It is exciting playing hard shots and overcoming the obstacles one by one but the big swings in mental excitement can be drain on resources.

Good shot makers can still win like this but its not the best long term plan for consistent winning pool.

In order to play pool like a professional try to move the white ball as little as possible. Plan out the routes to the next shot to allow for mistakes and inaccuracies.

Down the Line Shape to Increase Percentages.

down the line position

For instance if your position play takes the white ball “down the line” of the shot just like the diagram above even if you over run your shot  by a couple of feet you will still be in line.  This can usually be achieved by using a two rail route like, usually this will send the cue ball down the line .

This route has a fairly large target area and a big margin of error because if you over run or under run the target area you will still be on line. In practice start to look for alternative routes for position in particular try to avoid playing for pin point position unless it cannot be avoided.

Sending the cue ball off two rails might seem to be more risky but you have to weigh the benefits of better shape against a slightly tougher shot.

Across the line Shape Reduces the Target Area For Shape.

across the line shape

Across the line shape on the other hand send the cue ball across the positional target area which is quite small in comparison. Small margin of error low percentage positional play.

It is harder to judge the position with this route and the ball is crossing the shape target area.

In contrast with down the line shape the ball enters the target zone and where ever it stops you will be in line. You may be closer to the ball than you wanted but you are still in line.

Choose your routes wisely to make the game easier.

That is how the pros make it look so easy and you can too!

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How to Handle the Pressure – The Mental Side of Pool

This is a basic introduction into the mental side of pool.

How the way we think affects the way we play pool. The emphasis on the role of our mind becomes greater as we improve our game and move up the rankings.

It has been said that at the professional level pool is 5% physical and 95% mental, but, more often than not, the occasional bar room player probably has these figures reversed.

So what do we mean when we refer to the mental side of the game? It’s not so much a separate function as it is a need for our physical and mental components to work together.

The mental side of poolThe mind is like a gateway to peak sports performance.

When learning about billiards the all novice players are concerned with the mechanics of the stroke and the movement of the balls around the table.

How we learn skills affects our perception of the game and is a key element in performance related issues which can affect your game to some extent as you progress in your sport.
When we learn a skill, we move from position 1. to position 4. on the chart to the left.

This transition can take several days to a lifetime to complete and involves hours of dedicated practice and repetition to the point where we no longer need to think about what we are doing.

If you drive a car you will be familiar with this process as you moved from learning the highway code in step 1. through to driving talking and listening to the radio at the same time in step 4.

In other words the car just drives itself with no conscious thought or intervention coming from the driver.

Playing any sport at a high level requires confidence. We also need to feel comfortable at an optimal level of arousal and be excited about the game & challenge ahead of us in order to exhibit our peak performance. It is important that we not be anxious anxious or fear failure.

So What Is Mental Pressure?

Mental pressure is a reaction to a situation or expectation, either yours or someone else’s. Pressure can be real or imagined.

Possible pressure situations:

  • In a match where you are easily supposed to win but are struggling.
  • Where you have a big lead but start to lose games.
  • You are on the live stream table and feel self conscious.
  • The match is outside of your usual comfort zone.

What is the Mental Side of Pool/Brain side of Billiards?

Is it thought?
Determination?
Is it intense concentration?
The will to win?

These are all important elements, yet not the whole picture, although one might think so after observing the style of play and body language at a local competition.

It is being “in stroke”. Being “in the zone” or “unconscious”.
in the zoneThese are the terms used by pool players to describe the desired state of mind.

It is an effortless effort. Like the game is playing itself. Everything feels good and you are completely relaxed. The shots seem to play themselves and every choice is the right one. The pockets look like huge buckets and even tough run outs are a piece of cake.

If you have been there you know what I mean. Perhaps you have experienced this state once or twice but are not able to turn it on at will. This bring us to our next question. “Can we learn to achieve the zone or will it remain a mystery only to be obtained by a few lucky players?”.

It is a skill and skills can be learned by anyone with the right knowledge and appropriate practice.

 

What is actually happening when a player breaks down mentally?

A number of things happening and the exact process will vary between individual players, their personalities and specific situations. There are however some common threads that will help us to understand what takes place and how to rectify the situation and regain control.

There is usually a trigger:

Pre match-nerves and anxiety building up in the mind before an event.

  • Television appearance
  • Large audience
  • Highly skilled opponent
  • Moving up in competition class
  • First final match appearance

During a match-loss of control during actual competition.

  • Verbal criticism
  • Overwhelming scoreline
  • Jeering or laughing
  • Being totally out played
  • Fear of losing

The symptoms of a mental breakdown are subtle in the beginning but will rapidly disrupt your pool performance.

All of the scenarios above are different but they are all based in FEAR.  

Fear and apprehension increase the anxiety level to a point where performance declines causing more fear and anxiety. In our attempt to control our feelings we slow down and try to think more about the game and our tactics. However we have already learned that peak performance comes from the unconscious mind and so the cycle of decline continues.

Confusion often sets in and starts to build up as we desperately try to remain in control and look unrattled to our opponent and spectators but it’s already too late. We are way past the point of no return now which will manifest itself as humiliation and embarrassment possibly leading to anger and eventually to complete capitulation and surrender.

Giving up completely in these situations sometimes appears to be the only way to salvage some pride,

after all ……“I wasn’t even trying so this loss means nothing.”

I have heard of players giving up playing pool or their chosen sport completely after one of these experiences because they never want to feel that way again.

 

How do players prevent this from happening?

goals in sportThe first thing to do is to realize and acknowledge that you have a problem!

(Privately of course, no need to tell the world about it.)

This may seem like a cliche but it’s true.

The sooner you come to terms with this the quicker you will accept the solutions and be able to move on to new levels.

  • Learn to recognize the signs of anxiety developing
  • Have a mental recovery plan in place for emergencies
  • Learn how to anchor
  • Set reasonable performance and personal goals
  • Visualize your match situations, practice winning
  • Develop a solid pre-shot routine

 

Developing a solid reliable pre-shot routine is Essential

pre shot routineFirst thing to do is develop a pre shot routine.

This is the routine that you will go through prior to every shot. Watch some professional pool players before the shot, tennis players before the serve, or basketball players at the free throw line.

 

What do they all have in common? Their pre-shot routine. No deviation whatsoever.

It’s a routine, done the same way every time. If they get even the slightest bit distracted the players start all over again, this is most obvious when we look at the tennis serve. The pre-shot routine gets the player ready for action. Repeating the same motion over and over coordinates the mind and the body.
This tells the brain what you are about to do, gets it ready to execute the skill that is stored away in your muscle memory from years of practice.

Beautiful, effortless.

As pool players and golfers we have a great advantage over tennis players and soccer players because we only strike the ball when when it is stationary or not moving. This gives us the opportunity to use our preshot routine on every shot that we take. That gives us time to prepare mentally and physically for every stroke.

Form a pre-shot routine that fits in with your style, rhythm of play and personality.

If you are not sure about it borrow a routine from another successful player to start with and make your own adjustments if necessary, but just make sure that you get one!

Your routine should include definite start and finish trigger points that communicate “I am ready to shoot now” to your mind and body. Then once you step into the shot and take up your stance there must be no other verbal communication or “chatter” going on inside your head.

You have already decided on the shot and visualized the successful end result. The only action that is left is to execute the skill. If you are disturbed by anything including your own mind, stand up immediately and go through your pre-shot preparations again.

That is what it takes to master the mental side of pool.

 

Does Your Bridge Length Matter When Playing Pool?

Pool Player Bridge Length.

The length of your bridge is the distance between your bridge hand and the cue ball when you take a shot. This distance has an effect on many aspects of your cue action and can in fact affect the accuracy and the smoothness of your stroke.

Here are some examples of professional pool players with really long bridges if you watch the video you can see how the stroke is long and smooth however as previously mentioned this will come at the cost of loss of accuracy if there any are  faults whatsoever while delivering the cue.

The short Pool bridge – the good and the bad.

short bridge mike Segal world championIf you bridge is too short you will tend to have a very limited back swing and a very jerky short style which will limit your acceleration through the ball making it very difficult for you to perform some of the shots such as follow through draw shot and the topspin follow through.
The next example is of Mike Segal a player whose bridge length is fairly short. He was a very successful player and did win the World Championship.
So even though his stroke was short and stabby I have got to say that when it is done right it is a successful way to hold your cue.

Having a short bridge also means that you will be closer to the ball and lose some perspective on the aim.

Does Your Bridge Length Matter When Playing Pool?

On the plus side with a short Bridge your accuracy level will be increased and any anomalies in your stroke will be greatly reduced, in other words if you tend to drop your elbows slightly to the right it will have little effect on the exact location that the tip of your cue strikes the ball.

If you look at the picture to the right the length between Mike’s bridge hand and the cue ball at the address position is about 5-6 inches.

His back grip hand is about 9 inches from the end of the cue butt end probably fairly close to the balance point. He has plenty of room between his back hand and his chest which allows for a good follow through and finish of the stroke.

The long bridge – Good and bad points.

With a long bridge players tend to exhibit a much smoother stroke which accelerates through the ball making it easier to can extreme spin on the cue ball for follow through shots and draw shots. It is easier to sight the shot from a little further back increasing the players perspective and accuracy.

One player in particular has what I consider to be the longest stroke his name is Santos Sambajon jr.

The downside to this is a loss of accuracy caused by greater amplification of stroke mistakes. In other words the more cue shaft in front of your hand the more any imperfections will show up in your stroke.

In the above image of Santos the players front hand is around 11-13 inches from the white ball at the address position this gives a very good view of the potting angle but demands absolutely straight cueing for accuracy.

His rear hand is about 8 inches from the end of the cue butt. His shoulders are turned in line with the shot. So he probably naturally fell into this position due to his fairly short height.

Some Basic Physics for Those in Doubt.

In order for this to make sense for the comparison I will assume:

  • That the distance between any pool players back hand grip and the “v” or loop in the forward bridge hand will remain the same, 4 feet.
  • Neither player will make a subconscious adjustment in their alignment.

Player #1  has a perfectly straight alignment and cue action.

The length of his bridge has no effect on the accuracy of his shots.

Player #2  has a 1″ elbow movement to the right as he strokes the cue stick.

If the length of his bridge is 6 inches he will have a 0.125” (1/8″) error at the cue ball.

48 / 1 = 6 / 0.125

However, if the length of his bridge is 12 inches this will translate into a 0.25”  (1/4″) error at the cue ball.

48 / 1 = 12 / 0.25

It doesn’t seem to be that great of a difference but the error could easily result in applying side spin by accident.

Personal Experiments in Bridge Length

During my coaching sessions one of the things pointed out by my coach was my tendency to play with an overly long bridge.  He said that could be reducing my accuracy. I didn’t realize what I was doing as no one had ever pointed it out before. I had always played that way and it seemed fine to me.

Then over the next few weeks experimented with reducing the distance between my bridge and the white ball. I found that on certain shots it helped to shorten up but on other shots staying fairly long was ideal.

Billiard Bridge length and Pivot Points.

Pool cues have a pivot close to the bridge point.

This point varies according to the taper of the shaft which could be standard, European or pro taper. The size of the tip / ferrule. The type of material used mostly wood, carbon fiber or a combination of both.

Most shaft manufacturers will state the pivot point length on low deflection shafts. That way you can select a shaft with a pivot point that suits your natural bridge length.

  • Cuetec
  • OB1 and OB2
  • Predator
  • Meucci

With your bridge “V” at the pivot point the deflection of the shaft will cancel out the cue ball squirt when playing shots with side spin inside and outside English.
Note: Not exactly but with practice and the right ball speed the amount of cue ball lateral movement can be almost eliminated.

This is especially true when using “back hand English.”

So, does your bridge length matter when playing pool? Most definitely!

 

 

Three Quarter Ball Position Practice Drill.

This Video is a Practice Drill

This is a pool practice drill that my snooker coach demonstrated to me during an hour session in Nottingham.

The idea is to play all of the shots from the same cue ball and object ball  location and achieve different track lines by changing your stroke.

Changing the Stroke Changes the Track Line

The position of the hit on the cue ball combined with changes in your stroke will result in the white ball travelling down a different line. By learning how and when to adjust your grip and stroke you will develop a “feel” for the shot and the ability to direct the cue ball in many different directions.

The pace of the shot will also affect the track line, generally speaking the white will follow the tangent less on softer shots.

Control the white so that the white ball just touches the target ball softly if it doesn’t then make adjustments.

The Tangent line and Cue ball Speed.

This is important enough that it needs to be the subject of its own article but I will sum up the issue for this practice drill.

The cue ball will follow the tangent on all cut shots prior to leaving the line and moving in the intended direction due to the applied spin.

The harder the white ball is struck, the longer distance it will stay on the tangent line.

The softer the shot the quicker the spin will take effect.

Observing the Results of Your Actions.

When you are practicing set specific goals, observe the results, make  necessary adjustments to achieve the goal. Then observe/adjust, observe/adjust.

 

Draw to Center of the Table – Pool Practice Drill

In this practice drill you will be finding the hit on the cue ball in order to draw the ball back to the center of the table. Set up the shot around three quarter ball.

Mark the ball positions on the table for consistency. Use ring binder reinforcers or something that will not mark the cloth permanently.

There is no one technique that will work for all players because everyone’s stroke is a little different.

You have to spend some time at the table in order to find your own way:

  • Adjust the tightness of your grip
  • Experiment with tip contact position
  • Try the shot at different cue speeds

Video Drill-Draw to Center of the Table

Always  start out a practice session with a definite goal in mind. Check your progress towards that goal, look at your results and make adjustments.

Do not be judgemental, there are no bad shots. If you miss the pocket or the intended position you have just learned what doesn’t work and that is a positive achievement.

 

Center Table Three Quarter Ball Pool Practice Drill Video.

Here is another warm up practice drill for you to practice….


After playing each shot look at the finish position of the white ball and note the route or the track line taken. Try to remember the shape in picture form and combine the picture with the feeling of speed and tip position.

There are probably hundreds of different ways to play each shot in the sequence. Numerous changes to the cue balls track can be made by adjusting the power, the grip and the follow through length.

Try to get comfortable with a number of different stroke combinations and outcomes.