Joe Waldron*
Jan 2009

The Need for Self Assessments

People are good at rationalizing or making statements that fit their current needs. The best definition of rationalize is, “rational lie — sounds good won’t fly.” When someone asks how well we play we have a knack for remembering our best games, matches or tournament wins and stating that this is how well we play. Perhaps it is how well we can play but it is not how well we usually play. So the answer that contains our best games is not actually a lie, it is true, an exaggeration but technically true. Over time we internalize our public statements and then come to believe that this is the truth. These beliefs can become so engrained that we get angry with ourselves when we do not play up to our best prior experiences. This of course is silly but more than that it is harmful to one’s development when we are expecting our best performance every time we play.

The problems soon compound themselves when we rationalize our abilities. We hear that “X” cue tip is better than “Y” cue tip and we decide to give it a try. The rationalized ability score that we have in our head is the benchmark that we use to evaluate the new equipment. This is of course unrealistic and so many of the new things we try turn out to not work for us but they do seem to work for others. Now we have to find fault with the new equipment. “If it was all that good it would have worked for me too,” is the way we think. In this way we may miss many good opportunities to improve our play.

Any serious player needs an accurate self assessment of their Usual Ability. This assessment can be used to determine if suggestions for changing our way of playing really do work. Realistic self evaluations can be used for handicapping our matches with other players. And a personal self assessment can be used to evaluate the potential use of new equipment, and new playing circumstances. A good self assessment method can be used to determine how much of an improvement was obtained and this is of use in helping us decide if we should continue with the new method. Self assessments will be used throughout the current text to help you determine if and how much the suggested techniques help you with your game.

Self assessments are complicated by several factors. It is often thought that they are not realistic. In a sense self assessments are obtained under laboratory conditions and are only estimates of how well one usually plays when in the real world. Self assessments usually do not cover the gamut of experiences and skills that are required and for this reason they are often thought to be useless. It is not possible to duplicate the tension or pressure of playing in natural circumstances and for this reason they are not used by many people. And, of course, it requires time and effort to obtain an accurate measurement. Finally, many people are not trained or knowledgeable with regard to how a good self assessment is conducted nor are people trained in how to interpret the results. These issues will each be addressed in what follows.

Laboratory Results and the Real World

Laboratory results are used in many areas of life, from blood tests to taking one’s temperature to diagnostic X-Rays and brain scans. Do they have applicability to the real world? When phrased as stated here the answer is undoubtedly “yes.” Lab results guide us in decision making. In many areas of life we simply will not proceed with out the diagnostic results. Every person is different and each individual’s circumstances and complicating factors are different. None-the-less lab results are necessary if we are to provide the best intervention possible. Each set of lab results needs to be evaluated in the context of the presenting problem and, depending upon the discipline under consideration, it takes various amounts of knowledge to work with the lab results. For instance, a mother can use the results of a child’s temperature reading to determine if a child is “really” sick and allowed to stay home from school. A physician might use the same temperature reading to learn many other things.

Lab results are used to guide our decision making in the face of the idea that they are somewhat artificial. A temperature of 98.6 may be normal for most people in the world but a temperature of 101 is high enough to give any mother pause. If Mom obtains a temperature of 99°, the results are not useful for her decision making and she will simply have to use other ways to come to a conclusion. All lab results have limited usefulness. So too with the results we will obtain in your pool playing self assessment. They may be artificial but they are useful under some circumstance and they can be used to guide our decision making.

At times the lack of information or significant differences from the expected number is useful information. With a 99 degree temperature Mom might proceed like any physician, give the child an aspirin and tell the child to see her when he gets home from school! So too with your pool playing self assessment, if you do not find a significant difference, the new idea may or may not be useful.

Due to time limitations and the available facilities it is usually not possible to conduct a complete assessment of all of the skills needed to play pool. This is true and we have two issues here. First we want to have a self assessment procedure that is general and covers as many skills as is reasonably possible. Second, there is a trade off between the amount of time we spend in assessments and the generalizability of the information obtained. A self assessment should be broad enough to have a relationship (correlation) to many areas of pool playing.

In addition to the above, we need a procedure that is reliable or one that will return the same results each time we use it, given that all other things are equal. Reliability theory is a topic in itself and it will not be further discussed here. It is sufficient to state that reliability issues have been addressed in the recommended procedures and the interested reader can consult Hogan’s (2006) text book for additional information on this topic.

The knowledge about how to use the results of a pool playing self assessment is discussed below. It does not take more knowledge than what is presented in the current text. Pool instructors or coaches can make better use of the results. None-the-less, the methods discussed below are of use to the average pool player for decision making. Somewhat like Mom and the use of a thermometer, anyone can use the results; those with more expertise can make more specific decisions.

You can use self assessment results to handicap your matches against another player because you will know how well you usually play. In addition, you can evaluate the results of instruction if you have pre and post assessments. There should be at least two weeks between the pre-post testing to allow sufficient time for the instruction to take.

Pre-post testing can also be used when you decide to take up a new way of shooting such as the use of backhand English. Here too one needs to give the new technique sufficient time to have its effect.

When new tools have been selected, such as a low deflection pool stick, one can proceed a little more quickly if the instructions that come with the equipment are followed to allow a fair trial.

One of the more important aspects of a self assessment is to evaluate one’s progress over time on a semi-annual basis. This will keep you in check with regard to how well you really do play. In this scenario one only needs ten sessions every six months or so to keeps track of one’s usual ability.

Do you need to conduct a Self Assessment?

Answer the questions listed below to determine if you need to conduct a self assessment. To answer these questions you should consider the last five times you engaged in the behavior described and then answer with your usual score. The word usual is here defined as about three of the last five times.

Question Ans.
When you walk to the table after your opponent has broken the rack and it is your turn, how many balls do you usually run in a game of 8-Ball?  
When you walk to the table after your opponent has broken the rack and it is your turn, how many balls do you usually run in a game of 9-Ball?  
When you walk to the table after your opponent has missed leaving you a shot, how many balls do you usually run in a game of 14.1 continuous?  
How many racks of 9-Ball do you usually run in a race to 10?  
What is the usual distance of the cue ball from the head rail on a lag shot?  
What is the usual distance (in inches) of your cue ball from its targeted position when playing a length of table shot (more than 5 diamonds away)?  
If you are pocketing an object ball placed in the jaws of a corner pocket, from how many diamonds away can you usually place the cue ball and draw the cue ball back to within one ball’s width of the starting position?  
Can you usually roll a cue ball forward one diamond to within one ball’s width of the target position after pocketing an object ball that is three diamonds away?  
In what ways can people usually get you angry when playing in a match?  
Under what circumstances do you usually lose your stroke when playing in a match?  
How many beers (or alcohol of choice) can you usually consume before it has a bad effect on your game?  
How much money can you usually bet on a match before it affects your game in a negative way?  
What is your usual unforced error when playing pool?  

If you had difficulties giving realistic usual values for these questions, you probably need to conduct a self assessment. There are several ways to do this that depend upon your willingness to keep score and the type of assessment you prefer.

How to Conduct a Self Assessment

To conduct a self assessment we need three kinds of things:

1. A Shot Card for the type of assessment.

2. A list of the Types of Errors that were made.

3. A Table Diagram of the mistake.

Shot Card

A shot card lists the results of each inning for each game in a session. Shown below is one way to establish a benchmark for your game. It can be used for all of the different games you play. Photocopy this card which is also shown in Appendix A and keep records for the next 5 matches you play and then calculate your usual score as indicated below.  Game notes can be kept using a system of notation such as “G1, I3” or Game number one Inning number three

Opponent _____________________                         Date ___/___/___

Game  ___________

Game/Inn 1Er 2Er 3Er 4Er 5Er 6Er 7Er 8Er 9Er 10Er Tot M W/L
Ref Set1                          
Test Set                          

Enter the number of balls pocketed and the error type for each inning in the column.

Er: is the number of the error from the Error type card (shown below)

Tot: sum of all innings results.

M: Mean is the (sum of balls pocketed) / number of innings

W/L: is win or Loss

Usual Score:

Cross out the 5 best and 5 worst inning results (assumes 50 innings).

Usual Score = sum of inning results / number of innings results used.

Ref and Test are for analysis purposes.

Type of Errors

The types of errors that are made can be recorded on the Shot Card with a numbering system such as the one shown below.

Type of Error Card

Opponent _____________________                         Date ___/___/___

Game  ___________

Num Type of Error ……………………………………………….. Frequency Count
1 Did not sight while standing  
2 Did not walk into the shot  
3 Placement of feet / off balance  
4 Alignment problem  
5 Open bridge problem  
6 Closed bridge problem  
7 Eye pattern problem  
8 Stroke problem  
9 Follow through problem  
10 Concentration problem  
11 Came up on the shot  
12 Left English  
13 Right English  
14 Draw  
15 Follow  

Num: Error Number

Type of Error: Description of error

Frequency Count: The frequency of each type of error from the Shot Card

Table Diagram

The figure shown below (and in the Appendix) can be used to diagram missed shots. The balls shown are the right size for the table.

A solid line shows where the cue ball traveled. A dotted line shows what was attempted. It may be useful to include a third ball to show the area for the intended position of the cue ball.

The cue ball shown to the right of the table is to record the exact place the CB was struck to produce the shot.

The Power used in the shot is written following the P: symbol. Power = 1.0 is the power required to move the cue ball one length of the table (8 diamonds). A lag shot from the head string requires P = 1, 6 (14 diamonds). For most players P=1, 8 from the head string, hitting two rails and returning to the center pocket is a normal stroke. The player should allow for some practice sessions to determine what the different levels of power feel like. Power in the range of 0,1 to 5.0 are the amounts commonly used by players.

The E: symbol is used to record the error number as needed.

Table diagrams are of use when building a practice regimen. Group the types of errors that you make and then build the remedies into a practice routine. It is often surprising to learn that one is consistently missing one or another type of shot. You may find that when you are shooting to your right side with English that you tend to miss because your perception is slightly out of line. An identification of the consistent errors quickly leads to a set of practice shots that will correct the problem and improve your ability to have longer runs or get out from difficult position.

When you cannot determine why you are making a particular type of error the set of diagrams can be shown to a coach or instructor who can help resolve the issue when there is a sufficient amount of information at hand.

Types of Assessments

In a Real World Estimate the entries are based on match play with another person. The Ghost Assessment is based on playing alone where you have some time to consider your contributions to the errors. The Q-Skills Assessment is used to establish a benchmark for your usual play. It yields the best results for evaluating any new technique or tool you might want to consider. All of these assessments use the tools previously described.

Real World Estimate: A real world estimate uses the tools described in a match setting. The tools are sufficiently generalized and your progress can be kept for most types of matches that you might play. To obtain a Usual Score there should be about 50 innings.

Playing the Ghost: This is a self assessment / game. However, it is similar to match play. This type of assessment creates tension as the match progresses because you want to keep your score as high as possible. Each session (or game) should consist of ten innings to keep the tension as high as possible. Five sessions are needed to calculate the Usual Score.

Select a game such as 8-Ball, 9-Ball, 10-Ball or One Pocket


  1. Break the balls from behind the head string.
  2. All balls pocketed on the break count except the game ball (8-Ball etc). The game ball is spotted and must be made in turn.
  3. Play with ball in hand after the break: The Ghost never misses and this is your only advantage.
  4. You have one turn to run the table.
  5. Each ball pocketed counts one point.
  6. In 8-Ball your high score is 8, etc.
  7. If the game ball is made on a combination the score is 1 less than maximum score.
  8. When you miss or foul you must re-rack and play the next game; simulates competition.

Q-Skills: This is a self assessment solitary game using 15 object balls in which the player makes any ball for the first ten balls and then plays the remaining balls in rotation. Play one rack of balls to warm-up.

Rack: To rack 15 balls on the foot spot.

Inning: One turn at the table. In general when you miss or foul it is the end of an Inning. Exceptions are noted below. The Inning score is the number of balls pocketed in this turn at the table minus any penalties.

Game: 10 innings


1. Rack fifteen balls on the Foot Spot, in any order, and place the cue ball on the Head Spot.  If there is a miscue or missing the cue ball completely, re-rack. Break again and subtract one from the Inning score.   If there is a miscue and contact with the rack is made, player may choose to continue shooting, leaving the balls where they lie and not take a foul.

2. If there is a scratch on the break subtract 1 from the Inning Score. If the cue ball leaves the table, subtract 2 from the Inning Score. After a scratch on the break, place the cue ball on either the Head Spot or on the Foot Spot and shoot any ball on the table or place the cue ball anywhere behind the Head String and shoot any ball above the Head String. On the break, if player scratches or the cue ball goes off the table, all balls made on the break stay down but do not count as points towards the Inning score.

3. If player does not scratch on the break, all balls made on the break count as one point each.

4. After the break, if player does not have a shot or player does not like the shot, there are three options:

(1) Place the cue ball anywhere behind the Head String and shoot any ball above    the Head String.

(2) Place the cue ball on either the Head Spot or the Foot Spot and shoot any ball. (3) Place the rack over the cue ball (where it lies) and move the cue ball anywhere inside the rack and shoot any ball.

(4) If any of these options are used, subtract 1 from the Inning Score. 

5. After the break, player proceeds to shoot, calling each shot. Try to run the table, shooting the balls in any order until there are five balls remaining.

6. The last five balls must be shot in rotation (in numerical order starting with the lowest number ball).

7. Anytime the player misses a shot the Inning is over.

8. The first ten balls score 1 point each. The last five balls are scored as 2 points each if made in rotation.  The maximum score per Inning is 20 points.

9. When there are six balls on the table and player pockets two or more balls in one shot, they all stay down and are each worth 1 point. Shoot the remaining balls in rotation, in which each ball is worth 2 points each.

10. Ten Innings is a game. In one game you can score a maximum of 200 points.

11. The score from five games (50 racks) is used for the Official Rating. The highest possible Official score is 1000 points.

Hopkins Rating System for Balls Per inning

Rank # Per Inning # in 10 Innings # in 50 Innings
Recreational 0.0 –   3.0 0   – 30.0 0 –   150
Intermediate 3.1 –   6.0 30.1   – 60.0 151 –   300
Advanced 6.1 –   9.0 60.1   – 90.0 301 –   450
Developing Pro 9.1 – 12.0 90.1  – 120.0 451 –   600
Semi-Pro 12.1 – 16.0 121.1 – 160.0 601 –   800
Professional 16.1 – 18.0 160.1 – 180.0 801 –   900
Touring Pro 18.1 – 20.0 180.1 – 200.0 901 – 1000

Scores from the Q-Skill can be submitted Allen Hopkins for an Official Q-Skill Rating Card. Mail an application to Allen Hopkins Productions telephone (609) 652 – 6116, Q-Skill Rating, PO Box 325, Absecon, NJ 08201. Send your name, address, table size used, name of club (and its address), along with your signature and the signature of an official witness.

Fargo: Developed by Mike Page (2008) and Ron Shepard (1997) Fargo is a game that consists of 10 innings (or frames). The player’s game score is the total of the scores for these 10 innings. In each inning, the player scores points until the player either misses or succeeds in shooting all 15 balls. Except when clearly contradicted by these additional rules, the General Rules of Pocket Billiards apply.

Rack: To rack 15 balls on the foot spot. Player racks his own.

Inning: One turn at the table. In general when you miss it is the end of an Inning. Exceptions are noted below. The Inning score is the number of balls pocketed in this turn at the table minus any penalties.

Game: 10 innings

Scoring: Each inning consists of a “random phase” and a “rotation phase”. In the beginning of each inning the player places a coin on the table rail with the heads.Balls are then pocketed in any order (i.e. in “random” order) and they count one point each. At any time during the inning, including before the first ball is pocketed; the player may choose to turn the coin over. This designates the beginning of the rotation phase. After the coin flip, the lowest numbered ball on the table must be contacted first (i.e. the balls are shot in “rotation”). Any legally pocketed balls after the coin flip count two points each. There is only a single coin flip each inning.

Opening Break:  At the start of each inning the player breaks from behind the head string and has a free break (no special balls to cushion or other requirements once the break stroke commences, and there is no penalty for scratches or jumped balls). Any balls pocketed on the break shot or jumped off the table are spotted, and the player begins by taking ball in hand anywhere on the table.


1. Fargo is a call shot game. The player must designate the ball and call a pocket for each shot. He need not indicate kisses, caroms, combinations, or cushions (all of which are allowed). A legally pocketed ball entitles the shooter to continue at the table until he fails to pocket legally a called ball, or until he has pocketed all of the balls.

2. The player is entitled to any additional balls that are pocketed on a shot, as long as he pockets legally his called ball; the additional balls count the same as the called ball.

3. If there is more than one player, initial playing order is determined by lag, or if several opponents are playing, by lot. Shooting order for subsequent innings is determined by the scoring results of the preceding innings – the player with the highest score shooting first. If several opponents are playing, all of the players shoot in order of their partial scores, with the higher players going first. In the event of a tied score the playing order is the same as for the previous inning. When playing on separate tables or in separate locations as in an internet competition, the player order is determined by the Tournament Director as appropriate and practical for the situation; this includes the option of playing the entire 10 innings and reporting the scores to the Tournament Director at the end of the game.

4.There is no point penalty for fouls; the player’s inning ends and any balls pocketed on the foul stroke do not count. After the coin flip (i.e. during the rotation phase), contacting first an object ball other than the lowest numbered ball (a bad hit) is a foul

Ranking System

Rank Score
Pro 221+        
AA 160 – 220
A 130 – 160
B 100 – 130
C 60 – 100
D 0  –  60

Analyzing the Results of Playing the Ghost, Q-Skills and Fargo

To evaluate a new tool or technique we will need your Usual Score and a Test Score: This is the score you obtain with the new tool or technique.

The Usual Score is calculated as the sum of the middle 40 innings from five games. From the reference games (REF) on the score card remove the bottom five scores. Remove the top five scores. Add the remaining 40 scores and divide the sum by 40.

To obtain a Test Score use the test results from two games of ten innings. Remove the bottom two scores and the top two scores from this data set. Add the remaining 16 scores and divide the sum by 16.

The Test Result = Test Score – Usual Score.

The table shown below can be used to evaluate the results of a new tool or technique.

 Test  Result Explanation of tool or technique effect on your game
0,1,-1 None or can not tell from this study.
2 Probably useful, further study is needed.
3 Useful, consider much more study
4 Definitely useful.
-2 Probably detracts
-3 Detracts
-4 Harmful

In general, if the Test Result is at least two points the new tool or technique is probably of use to your game and more study is recommended. Higher values on the Test Results are of more use.

This analysis assumes that the range of scores in your data sets is less than 8. If you subtract the lowest inning score from the highest inning score in the final data set (used for analysis) the answer should be less than 8. Scores in the data sets might range from 12 – 5 or from 17 – 10, etc.

When the range of scores is greater than 7 the above table should be modified and higher Test Scores would be required for the same statements. For instance, if the range of scores was “9” then a Test score of “3” would be needed to say a new tool or technique was “probably useful.” The other statements are adjusted accordingly.

If the range of scores is higher than “9” then the player needs more practice to improve their consistency of play before evaluating new tools or techniques.

The analysis presented here is for general use and is an approximation of an answer based on a statistical analysis. The technique presented is as “math free” as possible so that it can be easily used. Players who are interested in conducting the appropriate statistical analysis should review the one tail Z-Test found in most college Introduction to Statistics text books.

Progressive Drills

Bob Jewett (2008) created a set of progressive drills that is another way to asses one’s abilities and simultaneously design a practice regimen. Jewett’s progressive practice method adjusts for the difficulty of shot making based on one’s current level of ability. No bookkeeping is required. His system can be found in progpract.pdf.


Hogan, T. (2006). Psychological Testing: A Practical Introduction 2nd Ed.  San Francisco, CA.: Wiley.

Hopkins, Allen. (1992). Q-Skills. Absecon, NJ. Allen Hopkins Productions.

Jewett, Bob (2008). Progressive Practice Drills. Originally published 1992 now available from  progpract.pdf

Page, Mike (2008) Video instruction materials.

Shepard, Ron (1997).  Amateur Physics for the Amateur pool player 3rd Edition. Also contains a handicapping system.


*Colin Colenso reviewed and suggested changes. His assistance is appreciated.

Table Diagrams for printing