Dr. Dave's answers to frequently-asked questions (FAQs), mostly from the AZB discussion forum
Why is it I sometimes play better when I drink alcohol?
First of all, you need to separate actual level of play from perceived level of play. Alcohol can affect both. For some people, a small amount of alcohol can actually increase relaxation and result in less tense (and better) play. For much more info, see "Beer-goggle effects" (BD, June, 2008). Here's the featured diagram in the article:
Here's an article from Wired magazine with some citations of scientific studies on the matter.
doing what feels "natural"
Should I do what feels natural, or try to change my stroke?
Concerning doing what is "natural," I don't think this is always the best advice. What many people do "naturally" doesn't always give the best results. For example, not dropping the elbow, or pausing in the final back swing, doesn't come naturally to many, but these changes can still help (some but not all people), even if it doesn't feel "natural." Now, with lots of practice, anything can be made to feel natural.
However, many people have stroke/stance/grip/bridge flaws that feel natural but cause inconsistency or inaccuracy. Sometimes, if these "natural" flaws are removed (through lots and lots of practice and maybe some instruction), improvement can result and the new technique (with the flaws removed) can become natural and relaxed (and more effective).
improving your game
What can I do to make my game better?
The best way to improve is through smart and focussed practice, especially if you work on your trouble areas during that practice. Excellent practice (pool workout) routines include the Billiard University (BU) Exams and the sets of games and drills in the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Practice (VEPP). Many other useful drills can be found on the drill resources page. As illustrated in my Pyramid of Progress and Rack of Skills illustrations, to be a good pool player you need to have solid fundamentals, be a good shot maker, have good cue ball control, have complete and sound game knowledge and strategy, and have the confidence, focus, and desire necessary to improve and win. Also, see: what it takes to play like a pro.
It might also help you to see an experienced and qualified instructor or sign up for a multiple-day intensive course (e.g., a BU Summer School Boot Camp). A good instructor can often see problems or deficiencies with your mechanics and game that you might not know are there. They can also provide good advice for how to improve. Finally, if you haven't done so yet, you should read some books and watch instructional videos dealing with pool. Improving your knowledge and understanding of the game might give you a wider arsenal of shots, help you be more creative at the table, help you be more aware of important factors for different types of shots, and help you improve with less practice. The following resources might be helpful in this regard:
Top 100 Pool and Billiards Tips, "Secrets," and "Gems"
George Fels' 101 tips to improve your game
recommended pool instructional books
Will 10,000 hours of practice make me a world-class pool player?
10,000 hours is generally accepted as the length of practice required to reach a world-class level in almost any sport. However, not everybody has what it takes (vision, patience, focus, natural ability) to reach a top level, regardless of the amount of practice. For more information on this topic, read "Sports Gene" by David Epstein, and see the works of Anders Ericsson.
See also: why do drills and what it takes to play like a pro (and "nature" vs. "nurture").
Do I need to have "textbook" fundamentals and keep my elbow still to play at a top level?
"Textbook" fundamentals are certainly not required for all people to play at a high level, but solid fundamentals can certainly help most people. And over time, technique among the ranks of top players does seem to migrating more toward "best practices" fundamentals that result in better accuracy and consistency.
For example, many pool players in the past used to:
1.) have their head far above the cue with a very upright stance. Most top players now have their chins very close to the cue (because there are advantages to a low stance).
2.) use a closed bridge for most shots. Many top players now use an open bridge on many (if not most) shots (because there are advantages to using an open bridge).
3.) use high-deflection shafts. Most top players now use LD shafts (because there are advantages to using an LD shaft).
Technique and equipment continues to improve over time as we learn more from past mistakes and modern instruction. I suspect the fairly new trend of having a fixed-upper-arm pendulum stroke into the ball will also continue to grow in popularity (especially with certain types of shots where cue-tip-contact-point accuracy is critical), because there are some disadvantages associated with dropping the elbow.
from David Marcus in AZB post:
I find that if you consciously think about these two words when you are down on a shot you will be amazed at how much better you will play, especially in pressure situations or if you are just having a tough session.
A couple of years ago I asked AZBers to single out the ONE IDEA that would most improve your pool game and they came up with a couple of dozen candidates. I narrowed those suggestions down to the eight you see below.
1. BE STILL over the shot, with as little movement of the head and body as possible.
2. STAY DOWN on the shot. Jimmy Reid once said he could tell who the good players were in a pool hall within a few minutes of entering the room. He said all he had to do was watch to see which players stayed down on their shots. Watching the cue ball contact the object ball is a good way to work on staying down on the shot as you stay down to watch the cue ball on its path to the object ball. This one is similar to #1, but deserves its own slot.
3. Treat EVERY SHOT with the same respect. "I quit missing those shots when I came to the realization that there is no such thing as an easy shot." (Luther "Wimpy" Lassiter)
4. Have a PRE-SHOT ROUTINE and follow it!
5. While standing up, decide on the shot (offense/defense, speed, sidespin), then make a COMMITMENT to shoot the shot as you have decided to shoot it. Most shots are missed because of indecision. Another way to say this is to have a plan before every shot.
6. Do the highest percentage thing that YOU KNOW HOW to do (not what Efren would do).
7. Don?t let DISTRACTIONS cause you to lose focus on the shot. If something distracts you, stand up and go through your pre-shot routine from the beginning.
8. HAVE FUN! ? Your game may improve dramatically after reminding yourself that you are playing pool primarily to have fun.
Here's a suggestion for you. Take a small card, like a business card or an index card, and write a short version of the above suggestions on the card. Maybe the short versions would read something like this.
1) Be still
2) Stay down
3) Respect every shot
4) Follow the pre-shot routine
5) Commit to the shot
6) Play within your abilities
7) Defeat distractions, reset if necessary
8) Have fun!
Of course you may want to OMIT any of the 8 that really don't relate to your game. And you may want to ADD a few that are especially important for your game. Maybe you would add reminders to grip the cue lightly, pause at the end of your last back stroke, check your stance alignment, snug up your bridge, or whatever you have learned is useful for your game. If you carry that little card around with you, it will be handy to read over when you?re shooting poorly or in a slump.
from DeeMan, with a little humor thrown in:
Here are a few things to think about if you are really serious about improving and moving beyond banger status.
Some rules most don't have to think about but are impediments to playing well.
1) Don't shoot harder then you need for the shot and to gain position.
2) Know which direction your cue balls will go and think about how far it needs to travel.
3) Don't hit other balls on the table without a reason.
4) Learn to hit the center of the cue ball very precisely before worrying about hitting it off center.
5) Try not to leave the cue ball on a rail if not necessary.
6) Shoot balls first that clear the way for your other balls.
7) Identify packs and clusters and balls that won't "go" early and get a strategy to open then up or move them. To try to run out without this plan is foolish.
8) If you don't think you have a shot or safety you are playing Efren or just not looking hard enough.
9) Don't twirl the rack or do any other trick moves to impress people unless you are trying out for the circus.
10) Learn to stay level and shoot smoothly and don't think running boring balls rack after rack is something stupid or lucky.
11) Learn that draw and follow are for more than following or backing balls up.
12) Learn to "kill" the cue ball. NOTE: This does not involve a gun.
13) Don't put powder all over the table unless you are changing your opponent's diaper.
14) Don't show disappointment to your opponent when you mess up. That way, when you learn to intentionally miss, they won't know.
15) Don't whine, we have a guy named Earl that will handle that for you.
16) Chalk with your opposite hand.
17) Learn to read kisses. Not related to Madonna and Brittany.
18) Learn your limits and don't think your draw will all of a sudden resemble Cory's. That means learn to take your medicine and shoot the possible shot, the percentage shot.
19) Play the table (unless you are stalling).
20) Don't listen to guys on the internet giving you pool advice, especially DeeMan.
knowledge can be useful, but you still need skill
What is the difference between "knowledge" and "skill," and do they go hand in hand?
See knowledge can be useful, but you still need skill.
mental aspects of pool
How do you deal with, be aware of, and improve the mental side or mental game of pool.
See mental aspects of pool.
physics "understanding" sometimes provides useful insight
How can physics analysis and understanding help my pool game?
See physics "understanding" sometimes provides useful insight.
pool tips, "secrets," and "gems"
What are the top 100 things all great players know and wish they had known when they were younger?
See pool tips, "secrets," and "gems".
proper pool etiquette
What are generally accepted rules for proper pool and billiards etiquette?
The following resource covers the topic well:
PBIA Pool Etiquette Rules
selecting an instructor
How do I decide how to select an instructor?
I have met several "instructors" that were great pool players but terrible teachers. I have also met countless great players who would make terrible instructors. An instructor obviously must be knowledgeable and understand all of the intricacies of the game, and certainly have enough experience to appreciate those intricacies. An instructor must also be a good teacher and communicator and know how to connect with various types of people. Also, a great instructor should be a total "student of the game" (i.e., read everything, discuss and debate stuff on forums, communicate professionally and open-mindedly with other instructors and players, etc). Great instructors have too many things on their plate to be great players. To be a great player, one must have sharp eyes, a near-flawless stroke, and near-perfect speed control. That takes hours and hours of practice and play ... youth can also help. Only people completely dedicated to playing pool can put in the amount of time necessary to be great.
I don't think the true value a coach or instructor provides is information. Lots of great information can be found in good books and videos (and sometimes, even on the Internet). To me, the most important value an instructor offers is the ability and experience to work with a player as a unique individual, catering the instruction to best help that person improve.
FYI, a good list of well-respected and well-known instructors can be found here:
Talk to their former students. Ask them how the lessons were structured, did they feel it was worthwhile, and why. What was good, what was bad? Would they pay this instructor for more lessons in the future? Then ask yourself whether the described style of instruction is what you want.
Talk to as many as you can find, so that you're not captive to one person's glowing praise or damning complaint. You'll also learn how the instructor customizes his agenda to an individual student, or whether he has a "cookie-cutter" approach.
In other words, don't depend on the person selling you a service to tell you whether that service is good or bad. There's a huge temptation to tell you what you want to hear. Find the former students and get the story from the perspective of someone who was in the position you're about to be in. For a well-known instructor, or even a not-so-well known one that is local to you, there should be plenty of discussion available.
I don't think a great teacher is necessarily a great player as they are two very different skill sets. Someone that is blessed with both is truly exceptional and may still not give a great lesson if the student isn't prepared to learn but then, that's the students fault.
A teacher has an abundant knowledge of the game, and knowledge of the mechanics for playing it properly and the willingness to share these.
A good teacher has that plus a methodology (often in the form of drills) for passing the knowledge to the student, for demonstrating the techniques and providing appropriate feedback to the student when first attempting them. This helps the student to build success with the new skill.
A great teacher has all that plus superior communication skills. This allows them to listen to the student, understand what the student is hearing and how they learn and then adapting their communication style to better fit that student. This provides a faster application of the new skill, a better cementing of it in the student's memory and a higher motivation to perform it correctly. The great teacher also assists the student in defining and developing reachable goals for their improvement. Without goals, there is little chance for long term success and application of what's been learned.
An excellent lesson, in my opinion, is 50% the responsibility of the student. If the student is anywhere above rank beginner, they should come prepared to learn with at least some idea of why they are taking a lesson, an initial goal, if you will. "I want to get better" is not a goal, it's a dream. "I want to improve my APA rating from a 4 to a 5" is better but it still is very results oriented. Best might be "I want to build a consistent enough stroke to be able to...."
what it takes to play like a pro (and "nature" vs. "nurture")
What does it take to play like a pro, and can anybody become a pro with enough work?
The main things top players have in common are:
And the biggest thing they have in common is: they have put in many more hours practicing and playing than most of us have. That's how they have developed all of the things on the list above. (A little "natural talent" in all of these areas can help also.)
Concerning "nature" (genetics and natural talent) vs. "nurture" (hard work and dedication), see the book: "The Sports Gene." Both nature and nurture are extremely important to reach excellence in anything. For certain sports (e.g., anything involving jumping or speed like some track and field events), "natural talent" (nature) can be much more important than nurture effort. If you don't have the right muscle physiology (enough fast-twitch fibers), no amount of hard work and dedication can transform you into a world-class athlete in those sports. Also, someone with good eye-hand coordination (e.g., from genetics and/or previous experience with other activities and sports) will have an advantage in many sports over someone who is not very coordinated.
People who have poor eye-hand coordination (part nurture, part nature), and don't have good fine-control motor skills (part nurture, part nature), and have difficulty mentally focusing and concentrating (part nurture, part nature), and don't have excellent vision and visual perception (mostly nature) would be at an extreme disadvantage concerning becoming a top pool player. For them, you could easily say that nature is more important than nurture. However, for the majority of people, training, hard work, dedication, and focus can lead to excellence in pool. However, not all people will have the ability, desire, or time to do what it takes to reach excellence.
Bottom line: Some people could never excel at pool, but many could if they had the desire, focus and time (and if they worked hard at it).
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