(FAQ) What does it take to become a really, really good pool player?

(About the Author)

For such a small physical area of contention, played under well-light with well-defined specifications, the game of pocket billiards has a level of complexity for players at every level.

For the bar-banger (an insulting term of any bad pool player), there are the simple pleasures of knocking candy-colored balls to pockets. For the intermediate players, there is the challenge of making the balls and then (somehow) getting the cue ball to a position for another shot. For advanced players, there is the challenge of precise positioning. At each level, more and more mental work is required.

How do you get there from here? There are multiple levels of development.

Here is the simple explanation. First learn how to shoot object balls into pockets. Then learn how to move the cue ball under control. These are physical skills. Those will improve based on the amount of time you are willing to put in at the practice table. The formula is basically very simple. The more time you spend on skill improvements, the faster your skills will improve.

For physical skills, get comfortable with all of the many different shots, especially those that you don’t like – off the rail shots, over ball shots, awkward hand bridges, mechanical bridges, etc. Work on specific cue ball control activities. Gradually develop that control from a diamond square area down to the square centimeter. Learn the many ways to kick and bank balls start with single cushion and move up to three and four cushion kicks and banks. This helps you get out of trouble and gives you specific skills to get your opponent into trouble.

Next is your physical stamina. How long can you play before you start getting tired? The problem is this: when you get physically exhausted, your body starts interfering with your brain. If you can’t play with full mental abilities for more than two or three hours, it will be difficult to become a serious competitor. If you want to be a serious pool player, you must be in good physical condition.

Next, you must experience the analysis of thousands of shooting situations and the consideration of the possibilities for each situation. On the practice table, play the ghost. Break the rack, start with ball in hand, and run the balls out. If you run the balls out, that counts as a win. Miss any shot and that is a lost game. Play as many tournaments as possible. Search out slightly better pool players and put something of value on the line. Even a buck or two at risk will improve game focus.

These are all physical and tactical efforts – and will help you advance your game a lot. It will get you to the advanced intermediate level. If you really want to go beyond this level, there is a lot more work to do.

You must study the pool game. This requires just as much commitment and time as you spend gaining the physical skills.

When you see a game, watch each pool player – intensely. For every table layout you observe (in person or on video), develop a playing plan. Evaluate the situation and come up with multiple solutions (within your current abilities). Then observe how the players handle it.

This is necessary to understand how other pool players think. Their solution may be better, or be something you didn’t consider. Did they have the skills to complete their plan? Many shooters have personal expectations that exceed their competence. Identify weaknesses and strengths. Come up with a set of standard solutions to take advantage. (Just as these individuals have problems, many of your competitors will too.)

Study the greats of the past and present. Video of many of these famous players are available on the internet. Look past the playing competence of these individuals and focus on the particular speed and spin applied to each stroke. The cue ball action will tell you exactly what they did. Think about the mental process that decided on that particular shot. Would you have made that playing decision? Why (or why not)? Watch and learn from any pool player – including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Use the pause button – A LOT!!!

Instead of being a “spectator”, think like a predator studying prey. Look at each table layout and figure out what a good pool player should do. (Use the pause button to work out different choices.) Then watch what the shooter did. On any interesting layout, pause and sketch it out for the practice table.

Take these new abilities and skills in table analysis to your local pool hall. When you identify a better pool player, watch the games. When you have determined a pool player’s level, design a strategy and offer a challenge. Join local leagues and match yourself up against the best pool players of other teams.

And, don't forget the lessons to be learned from mistakes. These errors point out specific areas that need attention and practice. When a mistake is made, never, ever throw away or attempt to forget the experience. Mentally replay the shot with the correct speed and spin.

It is an excellent idea to find a mentor, some expert long time pool player who is wise in the ways of the Green Game. His or her advice will save you the time of making dozens of mistakes.

Carry printouts of blank table layouts everywhere you go. Sketch every interesting situation to be worked out on the practice table.

The great pleasures of the Green Game are not just in the quest for perfection, but also in the assurance that no matter how good you get – there will always be competitors to challenge your competence.

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