You are in an 8 ball tournament. You're in stroke, well focused, and in the semi-finals. Your opponent breaks the balls, scratches and gives you ball in hand behind the head string with a wide open rack. You approach the table and size it up. Wisely selecting the six ball for the side pocket, you carefully position the cue ball. You make sure your body is positioned correctly for the shot. Shifting your feet firmly into the carpet, you lean over the table and form a bridge, curling your index finger sensuously around the shaft. You look great!
The shot requires no spin. It is a short, easy, straight-in shot. A simple stop shot will do nicely. You try to ignore the critical eyes squinting in judgment of your choice. You aim and, mid-stroke, a lightening bolt runs up your leg, enters your spine, and zaps all of the pool neutrons in your brain. Your lower jaw drops to the general vicinity of your socks. The sound of the miscue echoes throughout the room and everybody turns to watch your face fall off. It all happens in about a millionth of a second. The horror is stored in the catacombs of your jellied brain for the rest of your stupid, insignificant life.
You turn toward your chair trying to appear as if the miss was deliberate! A brilliant, sharking tactic only the most seasoned hustlers would understand! Returning to your seat, you trip over a piece of lint, and drop your cue stick. It hits Butch "The Rattlesnake" on the head...just above the scar he got in a beer bottle fight.
Your opponent offers his condolences and, grinning like Jack Palance in the chariot scene from Ben Hur, approaches the table to strip you of any remaining fragments of pride. After running five balls, he is forced to play you safe, but fails. What luck! You have a chance to redeem yourself.
All nine of your balls are in the open, seven of them on the table where they belong. Again you examine the pattern, and play the sequence for the first three shots in your mind, forgetting that your brain was fried earlier. You make your choice for the first shot and try to concentrate on the object ball, which is, at most, only twenty or thirty yards away. As you lock your eyes on the object ball, what's left of your brain keeps playing reruns of the previous miscue. The target pocket keeps shrinking and you suddenly realize you have Parkinson's disease. At least you hope it's Parkinson's disease and not an attack of "jackass-shooting-pool syndrome".
Before going any further, and since I am going to offer some advice, let me describe myself. I have a nice collection of "how to" books and video tapes on pocket pool. All were written or produced by professionals who offer valuable advice to beginners and advanced players. I read the books and watch the tapes, and I try to apply the more achievable techniques to my game. I practice regularly, play league pool, and participate in tournaments on small and full sized tables. I have been playing pool for 35 years and I have a table at home.
This week I played in three 8-ball tournaments: one against a field of 50, another against 42 players and the third with about 15 players. Most of the competitors were better players than I, but I "managed" two first place titles and one fourth, winning about 27 matches and losing 4. I point this out only to let readers know I am not a beginner, and that my observations and suggestions might be valid. I also lose a lot, usually because of the jackass-shooting-pool syndrome. Since I am not too advanced, I can empathize with the great majority of week-end shooters.
I can't offer advice on advanced techniques, such as jumping or curving around balls. I use them on rare occasion, but I can't explain how. But that kind of instruction is not only useless for average players, it is harmful in that it can cause them to focus on dynamics for which they are ill prepared. I will stick to the mental game, which I believe is most important, and can be shared in print.
Everyone is familiar with the word focus. It is a synonym for concentration. Games are won and lost as the result of focus, or the lack of it. When focus is lost, even briefly, we become exposed to the dreaded jackass-shooting-pool syndrome. Please try to understand what the jackass-shooting-pool syndrome is. It is not, in itself, a lack of focus. It is an airborne virus, floating around in pool halls, looking for unfocused pool players. It requires no gestation period. It is, in effect, instantaneous. Once it strikes, it not only affects one shot, it gets in the blood stream and attaches itself to our nerve endings. It makes us super sensitive to the smallest distractions, like being awake and conscious. We become aware of oxygen and hair, and can hear people walking around...outside...three or four blocks away.
Syndrome victims become paranoid, distrusting of things like chalk, rails and pockets. Every table is unlevel and every stick is warped. In order to free ourselves of the disorder,we shoot harder, or try position shots that would frighten the Miz. Difficult shots are somehow more logical than simple ones. Playing safe seems cowardly. The syndrome tells us to compensate for our incompetence by playing stupid. Those infected believe that respect is achieved by "going for it" instead of playing safe. The jackass-shooting-pool syndrome rearranges our DNA and makes us believe that losing is a virtue, as long as it is accomplished with vigor and aplomb.
The truth is, trying to beat the virus directly only makes it angry and more determined to morph our brains into something resembling pond scum. The only cure is focus. But how is this accomplished when we are in the grip of such a formidable foe? Well, obviously it is best to remain inoculated to the disease by staying in focus from start to finish. But, since this is not easily accomplished, getting back in focus is critical. The best way to get in focus is to keep it simple. Stick to basics.
First, know thyself, and to thyself be true. It has taken me 35 years to discover the kind of pool player I am, and what my limitations are. Of course I am continually trying to reduce my limitations, but during the game, I try to play within them. I am not Jim Rempe or Johnny Archer. I am Jim Meador. I shoot a fair game when I do what I can do best. I can run from the break, and on very rare occasion I do. But that isn't my goal. My goal is far simpler. I simply try to make the object ball while positioning the cue ball for a reasonable second shot. If I am trying a low percentage shot, I try to leave the cue ball in a position to make it difficult for my opponent should I miss. Keep in mind, a safety is not necessarily a shot that leaves your opponent no shot. Making it difficult on your opponent is often enough. The object is to win the game, not prove to your opponent that you know how to make difficult shots.
By playing within your limitations, you increase your chances of remaining focused. Most players loose their focus trying to play over their heads. Trying shots, of which you are not confident, will result in misses that will leave your opponent open. It is easy to lose focus after a few misses. If you want to try difficult shots, try during practice, not a tournament or league game. Leaving your opponent a tough shot, will force him to take a risk that can affect his (or her) confidence. You can, in effect, cause your opponent to lose focus and make them vulnerable to the jackass-shooting-pool syndrome.
If, when you approach the table, you know you will not try something stupid, there is less reason to feel anxious. If you are relaxed, it is easier to remain focused. You will also enjoy the game more, and probably live longer. Best of all, you will be inoculated against "the germ".
Read the books. Watch the tapes. But remember it takes years of practice and competition to develop your shooting skills-one logical step after another. Leave the jump shots to the pros. Practice making balls, and little by little introduce positioning to your game. Play to win, but realize that luck is involved at every level of the game. There is nothing you can do about someone who runs the table on you. You can't expect to win every game, regardless of how well you are shooting. Be grateful when you are lucky, and gracious when unlucky. Just hang in there for the long term and measure your improvements by months, even years, but not hours. If you know an advanced player, ask for help. Most players love to help beginners understand the game they love. Keep the game simple and within your skill limitations and you'll avoid the jackass-shooting-pool syndrome.
If you are ever in Newport News, Virginia, I play at the Obelisk Billiard Club, located at the intersections of Warwick and Denbigh Boulevards next to Burlington Coat Factory. It is a clean family place frequented by some very fine players. You will find the Obelisk at 14346 Warwick Blvd, Newport News, VA 23602.
Happy Shooting! Jim & Pat