Play The Odds

by Jim Meador

Imagine never missing a shot. Even Mosconi, who holds the record with a run of 526 in straight pool, finally missed one. So pool is a journey, not a place. It is a process whereby we attempt to pocket balls without missing. But we do miss. The question is, should we be prepared to miss, or is that negative thinking that could cause us to miss? Is missing a self-fulfilling prophecy if we calculate a stroke that will leave our opponent a poor response in the event of a miss? Well, I believe it is simply playing smart, and coming to grips with reality.

Until we reach a level of skill exhibited by Mosconi, we must be realistic. We must accept the fact that there are certain low percentage shots that range from possible to probable, depending on who is shooting them. Calculating a defensive shot that will not cost you the game should not cause you to miss, any more than calculating any other position shot, if the calculations are made before bending over the table. Plan your position, and then focus on making the object ball. If you don't make the calculations in advance, there is a possibility that you will try to adjust mid-stroke, and choke.

Playing the odds is nothing more than recognition of the fact that perfection is beyond our grasp. It is using every device at our disposal to win the game in the face imperfection. Obviously, playing the odds, even when we play them wisely, does not assure the win. There is nothing we can do about how well the other guy shoots, or how lucky he gets. Lets go through the process, keeping in mind that the percentages I use are only examples, and I do not think in terms of percentages when I am shooting.

First, I consider anything under about 70% a low percentage shot if missing will result in turning my opponent loose. If I approach the table and see that I am left with a dead bank, I know the odds of my making it are high, so I will take the shot and play for position. I don't worry too much about my opponent's balls. If I miss, it doesn't mean I made a poor choice. It just means I played good odds, but missed. It happens, and I deserve to lose the game if I miss an easy shot.

If I approach the table and see that I am left with a difficult bank, I consider the odds. If I believe the chances of making it are, let's say 50%, I will play safe, or go for it, and calculate a leave that will force a poor response from my opponent. In other words, I will play my 50% odds to leave him with 10%. I have increased the odds of my coming out ahead in the exchange from 50% to 90%. I force an exchange of shots that will improve my odds of winning. If I beat the odds and make the bank, at least I have another opportunity to shoot again. I'm still in the game.

The percentages expressed are hypothetical. A 30% chance for me might be a 50% chance for you. And if your opponent is Efren Reyes, you might want to crack him across the bridge of his nose with the butt of your stick to improve your odds of winning. The point here, is not to approach the table with blinders on. If the table is working against you, you must give it an attitude adjustment and improve your odds.

During a typical game the advantage, in terms of the table layout, may shift from one player to another, often several times. If you are not constantly aware of where you stand with regard to your odds, your opponent may be changing them in his favor, either by accident or with malice and forethought, without your noticing it. It is called "managing the table." Don't forfeit your management opportunities, or underestimate your management potential. A lot of players get obsessed with every little nuance of their stick, and completely ignore more important factors. You can not go to the sales counter and buy brains the way you buy a stick. You already have one. Use it.

I am not suggesting that the mental game is more important than making balls. But there are a lot of elements in pool that can affect the outcome of a game, and the player who controls all of them is better off then the player who controls a few. Like any other sport, winning consistently is a matter of being completely prepared, physically and mentally. Playing the odds is one of the elements that matter most. Play the odds and watch your winning percentage improve dramatically.

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