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Monday, September 1, 2008

10 Minute Pool Warm Up - The fastest way 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.; the point 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
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 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.

I will be sharing a list of shots that every good player should learn because of how often they come up in a typical match. Once you master them, it will take care of 80% of your pool learning. The last 20% will take the rest of your life time.


That's it. This is all I do now days. And its all I seem to need.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Table length draw - How to develop the perfect 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.

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.

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 in three months

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 different drills. 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.

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", I started getting an ego. If I did miss, I forgot rule 3. 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.

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 I never really shot them. I saw it 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 shooting, I wanted to see how far I could take it, 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 aiming the shot. The balls just go in on their own. I seem to get so zoned out, I seem to lose track of time and place. I can now play entire pool games and not remember shooting even a single shot.

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

This article was originally published on my blog on Enlightened Living here. http://enlightenedgeek.blogspot.com/2008/08/aiming-without-aiming-how-to-shoot-pool.html