Playing within your comfort zone means knowing your limitations and playing within them as much as possible. Never let peer pressure or your ego take you out of your comfort zone. These “status concerns” (caring about what others think of you) are not good for your game.
Winning requires shooting the shots that you have the best opportunity to pull off. These are called high-percentage shots, shots you can make at least 7 or 8 times out of 10. These are the shots within your comfort zone.
If you’re faced with a shot that you don’t feel comfortable with, it’s likely because you’ve missed the shot more often than you’ve made it, in which case it would be considered a low-percentage shot for you – it’s outside of your comfort zone. Winning involves avoiding these types of shots when possible.
This is how winning players decide whether or not to go for any particular shot or to play a safety. It’s all about percentages, playing the correct shots within your current limitations.
How often have you made a really tough shot, then missed an easy one right afterwards? It’s because we tend to pay more attention and give more respect to difficult shots, while taking easy shots for granted. Not giving each shot the same respect, regardless of difficulty, can cause us to miss when we’re not supposed to miss.
A PSR (pre-shot routine) is a consistent approach, a starting point for every shot. It allows you to consistently treat every shot with equal attention and respect. And if there’s any secret key to playing great pool, that’s it – consistency. The more consistent you are with your actions, the more consistent your game will be.
In addition to developing consistency, using a PSR is the best way to keep your mind on the shot at hand. Too often we are thinking of a previous shot or even thinking we’ve already won, and this takes our mind off of the shot we are currently shooting. This game is all about shooting one shot at a time.
The only way to win is to stay in the moment with 100% attention and focus on the shot at hand. Nothing else matters.
Nothing is more frustrating than going for a breakout and not having a shot afterwards. It happens to a lot of players because they simply fail to pay attention and plan ahead. With that said, here’s some great advice…
Try to never go into a cluster of balls without knowing for sure that you’re going to have a shot afterwards.
The key to having a shot after going into a cluster is to have a backup plan, a little insurance in case the breakout doesn’t go as intended. It’s smart to always make sure that you’ll have an open shot, and it’s really just a matter of paying attention and saving an easy ball every now then for backup purposes (like a ball lying in front of a pocket).
I should also add…Never break out balls that don’t really need to be broken out. All too often players rearrange balls that don’t need rearranged. This can lead to causing more trouble for yourself, decreasing your chance of winning. So pay attention and avoid moving balls that don’t need to be moved.
One of the quickest ways to lose is to immediately start pocketing balls after the break when there is very little chance of running out. This applies to both experienced and inexperienced players. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you can typically run 7 to 8 balls without missing, or if you’re new to the game and struggle pocketing 2 or 3 in a row, it’s important to remember this:
If a runout is unlikely, do not start pocketing a bunch of balls!
A winning player only attempts running out if the opportunity is there, when the runout is determined to be high-percentage. It’s no different than deciding if an individual shot is within your comfort zone. In other words, going for a runout without being reasonably sure (80% or better) that you can pull it off, is no different than firing at a low-percentage that will likely end in disaster and give your opponent a winning opportunity.
So if there is no run out, what do you do? That’s where playing smart comes into the picture. Playing smart involves looking for ways to give yourself an edge, an advantage over your opponent. It also involves making the game more difficult for your opponent if such opportunities present themselves. Rolling one of your balls in front of a pocket to block your opponent’s ball is a good example. Creating trouble for your opponent by bumping one or more of his/her balls into a cluster is another good example. These options come up all the time, and all you have to do is learn to recognize them and take advantage of them when you can, if it can be done safely, which means don’t do it if it’s going to compromise the shot you’re playing.
And of course playing smart includes playing safeties. When you happen to be facing a low-percentage shot, like a bank or a kick or a jump or masse or whatever… be sure to walk around the table and look at all of your options. Most of the time there’s a smarter option available, one that won’t sellout the game if you don’t pull it off perfectly. And don’t think a good safety always involves hooking your opponent. Simply leaving your opponent with a long shot and the cue ball froze on the end rail is a good safety. Leaving your opponent a shot with a slim chance of getting another shot afterwards is also a good safety.
Basically, playing smart means doing whatever it takes (without cheating) to give yourself the best chance of winning. A good example would be fouling on purpose to make it difficult for your opponent to win. Let’s say your opponent is shooting his last stripe, but the 8 ball is tied up with one of your solids and has no open pocket, not even a bank shot anywhere. So your opponent tries to pocket his last ball and break the 8 free, but he misses the breakout and also misses the shot. Now the 8 is still tied up and your opponent’s ball just happened to roll up where you're blocked from being able to hit any of your balls. You’re in a bad situation here. Failure to get a hit on one of your solids will give your opponent ball in hand, and his last ball is on the same end of the table as the tied up 8 ball, so with ball in hand he’ll be able to pocket his last ball and likely break the 8 free and win the game. Even if you get a hit and don’t give up a ball in hand, you could leave a shot that allows him or her to win. A smart play would be to foul on purpose by either shooting your opponent’s ball into a pocket or rolling it up table into a position where getting the breakout on the 8 would be very unlikely, even with ball in hand.
I could fill dozens of pages with examples like this. We can’t cover them all. You just have to remember, when your back’s to the wall and you don’t think there are any winning options, look for these types of moves. You’ll win more games.
One common mistake many players make is not using their legs enough. Think of how many times you’ve done this: You have 4 balls remaining and your opponent has just missed and left you a fairly easy runout to win the game. You play the first two shots as planned, but leave the cue ball in a bad place. You planned on shooting your 3rd shot into the side pocket and rolling down table for your last ball, the 2 ball near the end rail. But now you’re facing a very thin cut into the side or a bank into the other side, and neither of these shots makes it easy to get position on that 2. You think to yourself, Screw it, I can do this…stick with the plan…all I have to do is make this shot and get on the two ball.
In this type of situation, the fact that it’s a low-percentage shot can easily slip our mind. We had a plan, and now we’re out of line. We should reevaluate the plan, but instead we decide to continue with the original plan, despite the fact that it just got a lot tougher. This is the ego taking control. It jumps in and says, So what, you’re out of line a little…drill the ball and show them you’re a player! So you fire at the bank shot or you try to whiz the ball into the side pocket, but you miss and leave your opponent a shot and end up losing the game.
We’ve all been there. It’s so common it should be on a t-shirt. But here’s the secret to winning from that position more often than not: Use your legs. Walk around the table and look for a better option, an option that doesn’t sellout the game. There is almost always a better option. Sometimes we have to go for it, but most of the time there’s a smarter option to be found. Use your legs and walk around to find that winning option.
The rules are out there – learn them. If your opponent breaks a rule, either on purpose or by accident or simply because they don’t know any better, it could cost you the game. And that goes the other way around also… If you break a rule, either on purpose or by accident or because you don’t know any better, it could cost you the game.
Winners pay attention to what their opponent is doing. If your opponent breaks a rule or fouls, immediately call them out on it. No one else can call a foul for you, so you must pay attention to what’s going on in front of you. And you must know the rules so you can spot a foul or an illegal stroke if or when it happens.
In order to do anything successfully you have to give yourself the best opportunity to succeed. That means you have to trust and believe in yourself. And I’m not talking about wishy-washy unrealistic expectations. I’m talking about knowing your current boundaries, your comfort zone, and being confident within those boundaries.
Pool is largely a mental game. We are constantly visualizing shots, imagining where the cue ball needs to go, imagining the object ball going into the pocket, etc… Winning often boils down to this simple concept: Be the type of player to focus on what you want to happen, not on what you’re afraid might happen. That’s optimism.