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Practice Room 107

Recent Changes in Stance and Stroke

Reporting and opinion by John Woods


Many pool players now use what may be called a European Stance. Maybe it is more a snooker stance, or maybe the best stance for our time based on how we now play and the games we play most often.

Whatever it is, it is very different compared to the stance recommended and demonstrated by many of America’s legends.

This is easily confirmed by looking at photographs of Mizerak, Martin, Fats, Mosconi, Moore, Boston Shorty, and Nick Varner, (surely there are many others). 

All of them very distinctly address the cue ball with their stroke arm elbow either level with or lower than its respective shoulder and their eyes are several inches above the cue.

In dramatic contrast, the new style is to raise the elbow above the shoulder to near its maximum extent and to lower the chin down to a few fractions of an inch above the cue.

What a change! What does it mean?

Many years ago, a snooker champion explained the way to lock up a ball and make it for sure, whether or not the cue ball gets shape, get the chin down on the cue, stretch the bridge arm out as far as possible and tighten every muscle in the body except the minimum necessary to move the cue ball to the point of contact on the object ball, then flick the cue using a wrist only stroke.

In other words, when absolutely certain accuracy is the overwhelmingly dominant concern, get down, straighten out, tighten up, and lock it in.

Does giving up on the classic American stance mean the games we play and how we play have changed, or mean we imitate the Europeans because the more they win the more obvious it is they are doing something that works?

Maybe the new style is popular because the most common pool on tv is Nine Ball, where accuracy alone can win, and especially coverage of the WPBA, where European women have been taking advantage of a simple strategy: make a ball, get any shape, make the next ball, get any shape, until all are made. Sure it wins, but some may suggest it is hardly the Art of Pool.

We may guess Mizerak, Fats, and Mosconi would not be inclined to change their stance unless they were losing because of it. But they are historic and legendary winners because of what they knew how to do and how they did it.

When the elbow is lower than the shoulder, it is natural to let the arm continue on after impact with the cue ball and finish an accelerating follow-through roughly symmetrically equal to the backstroke.

But the European stance restricts the stroke entirely, shifting mid-stroke to a point well before contact with the cue ball. Any follow-through is completed in an almost separate complex compound motion that requires radically dropping the elbow and raising the wrist to extend the stroke beyond contact. If this shoulder-wrist motion occurs during impact, (rather than after), it will likely apply unintended follow.

And because this stroke turns the wrist back under itself it could be really difficult at times to get a lot of backspin on the cue ball, or to get any at all. It may also slow stroke speed beyond mid-stroke and therefore kill the cue ball’s speed and spin…great for accuracy, but often really lousy for getting shape.

Some may suggest shooting pool well consists of getting the best shape, not just any shape, and of being able to do whatever is required of stroke to move the cue ball to the best position.

The best stroke freely, naturally, and precisely caroms the cue ball to a new at-rest position, wherever the lay of the table requires, rather than accepting the center ball default of any shape that offers a hit on the next object ball.

Great American players have already shown what their strokes are capable of doing to a pool ball. Now we are seeing what a radically different stance and stroke is doing.

Copyright all John Woods 2009/2010

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