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Practice Room 107

A Very Beginner’s Guide to Winning Pool

storytelling and advice by John Woods


An occasional poolroom patron introduced himself one afternoon to the house instructor saying he had made a $50 bet with an arrogant buddy who, when they played, gloated over every win. The bet was his girlfriend could beat his buddy in a game of 8-ball.

The game was set for that evening. The patron wanted his girlfriend to have a one-hour $50 lesson before the match. They showed up ninety minutes before game time, and it was quickly apparent she would not win by making balls, because she couldn’t. She could not make a bridge, stroke the cue, or do anything associated with competent play. She had to rely on strategy.

All afternoon word got out. By the time Buddy showed, glowing with confidence and boasting about his eminent victory, a crowd of a dozen or more regulars and friends waited for him around a table near the center of the room.

Girlfriend’s strategy was to never make a ball and if possible block a pocket. The game went on for several innings. Finally, Buddy was chasing the eight but he couldn’t get a shot and each time he failed Girlfriend would tap one of her balls to a rail and again leave no shot.

The crowd whispered and laughed as Buddy became frustrated and embarrassed that he could not win. His brow furrowed. His face reddened.

Then suddenly, staring squint-eyed down the table at yet another shot he could not make, he fired hard into the long rail, attempting a kick shot. But the cue ball lofted off the rail, kissed the top of one of Girlfriend’s not made balls, shot off the table and bounced across the room!

The crowd roared. The boyfriend jumped up and down waving his arms and telling Girlfriend how much he loved her. The crowd applauded. Buddy said some things also.       

Years ago a billiards magazine reported on a national Equal Offense competition. Players broke ten full racks, made as many slop counts balls as possible without missing, then they averaged their totals to determine their rank.

The 90th percentile, (better than 89 out of 100 competitors), could on average make less than eight balls. Not very good when you consider the quality of the field comprised of regular patrons.

More than 2/3rds of the more than 35-million that play once a month rarely enter a poolroom. So those who competed in Equal Offense tournaments were among the most dedicated, and yet, nine out of ten could not be expected to run a rack of 9-ball. This presents an encouraging circumstance for any beginning player.

Most players can’t win in one inning. In fact on average more than half of all Equal Offense players only rarely win a game of 8-ball in two innings.

A casual survey of local league statisticians revealed most games of 8-ball end in the fourth inning. This suggests during the first, second, and often third innings there is time to “make the table right” and create a winning opportunity for the fourth inning.

Many players try to “get out.” Most can’t and then feel helpless and pathetic. A beginning player can take advantage of this, just like an experienced hustler, by offering their opponent a more than challenging opportunity to run out. The typical resulting failure discourages the opponent and destroys their momentum. A succession of hooks, safeties, and failures to get out will frustrate most mid-level players and may convince them they have no chance of winning.

You will know this is happening by the growing intensity of an opponent’s laments. Let them whine on and on until they go broke or go home. Don’t acknowledge their painful sighs and bitter heartbreak. The safest approach is pay no attention because otherwise, they will turn their disappointment into resentful rage against you, and fuel determination to focus on beating you rather than losing by beating themselves.

A consistent novice, capable by practice of adequate control of the cue ball, may set that up often enough to win without making a ball.

Copyright all John Woods 2010

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