Pool Position Play

Getting shape is controlling the Rock Not the Rack

Some of us never stop to ask directions

By Blackjack David Sapolis


Position. Shape. When we can, it's our ticket to paradise. When we cannot, it's our ticket to hell. In pool, nothing is more important than having control of the cue ball. Most of the shots that we miss are due to "letting go" of the cue ball. Most times when we miss shape, it is also due to "letting go" of the cue ball.
What is "letting go" of the cue ball?

Letting go of the cue ball means that you are surrendering control of the cue ball to the elements and conditions of the table. “I” should control the cue ball, not the table. The table will provide me with "pot luck" position. To avoid pot luck position, I should always be aware of four factors that affect position:

a) The shot I am facing
b) The distance to the next shot
c) The route or path to the next shot
d) Any and all obstacles in between

Along with these factors come the following questions:

Where am I going?
How am I going to get there?
Should I use any english?
Should I use a soft, medium or hard stroke?
Am I following or drawing back?
Am I utilizing left or right hand english?
Am I using running or reverse English?
Do I need to use a rail?
If I do need to use the rails, how many?
Is there anything in my way?
If there is something in my way, how am I going to get around it?
Do I need to take an alternate position route?

The list can go on and on, but these 12 questions cover just about everything. Now think back to the last time you were faced with a tough shot and near impossible position. Chances are that you didn't ask yourself half of these questions. You probably stabbed wildly at a shot and either got lousy shape, or hooked yourself. I did it yesterday. I don't do it all of the time, but I'm not immune to it, and neither are you. The questions are important because they guide you through the factors, therefore guiding you through the conditions that you are facing.

When looking at the questions, we can break them down into different categories so that we understand exactly what it is that we are asking ourselves.

Should I?
Am I?
Do I?
If I?
If there is?
Where am I going?
How am I going to get there?

Let's start with “Should I.” It is a determining question that we ask ourselves when we are faced with more than one option. “Am I” - is a self-examining question we ask as if we are performing a checklist. “Do I” is another determining question we ask ourselves when we are looking to choose the best option out of many. “If I” is a cautionary question. We ask this when we are searching for any bumps in the road along the path we are examining. We ask this when looking for any hazards along the path the cue ball will be traveling. “If there is” - is the solving question we ask ourselves when we have identified the hazard, and we take the appropriate measures to avoid it. This leads us to the two most important question: “Where am I going, and How am I going to get there?”
Where are you going? Are you going the length of the table? Are you stopping the cue ball? Are you taking three of four rails? Next time your shooting with a buddy, ask him "Where are you going with the cue ball?" Chances are he'll tell you how he's going to get there. Why do I know this? Because most players skip through the PLANNING STAGE. He can tell you how he's going to get there, but he hasn't got a clue as to where he is actually going. One of the keys to playing pin point position is: IDENTIFY YOUR PREDETERMINED DESTINATION It is extremely important to know exactly where you want the cue ball to go. Every top level player will tell you that being a hair or two off target can mean the difference between running the rack or racking the balls.

How am I going to get there?

Once you have identified where you are going, then we will look for a way to get there. Remember, we plan, then execute. We never do this in reverse, and we never do both at the same time. They are two different and separate tasks.

How do the questions relate to the 4 factors?

Factor #1: The shot

Where am I going? M
How am I going to get there ?
Should I use any English?
Should I use a soft medium or hard stroke?
Am I following or drawing back?
Am I utilizing right or left hand English?
Am I using running or reverse English?
Factor #2: Distance to the next shot

Where am I going?
How am I going to get there?
Should I use a soft, medium, or hard stroke?
Do I need to use a rail?
If I do need to use the rails, how many?
Factor #3: The route or path to the next shot

Where am I going?
How am I going to get there ?
Should I use any english?
Should I use a soft, medium, or hard stroke?
Am I following or drawing back?
Am I using right or left english?
Am I using running or reverse english?
Do I need to use a rail?
If I do need to use the rails, how many?
Is there anything in my way?
If there is something in my way, how am I going to get around it?
Do I need to take an alternate position route?
Factor #4: Any and all obstacles

Is there anything in my way?
If there is something in my way, how am I going to get around it?
Do I need to take an alternate position route?

By running through the factors, and the questions, you will learn that getting shape is a process of careful forethought combined with flawless execution. It's no longer pot luck. The factors and questions relate not only to pool, but also in every day life. Take any goal that you have set for yourself and run it through these questions:

Where am I going?
How am I going to get there?
Is there something in my way?
If there is something in my way, how am I going to get around it?
Do I need to take an alternate route?

This is how we can set and accomplish short term goals during practice. Shot by shot, we can enhance our goal setting skills by experiencing the completion of the small tasks we are faced with during each rack. We are not only setting goals, but we are realizing the completion of our goals. Small goals lead to bigger goals.

Pin point position is achieved by practicing a structured and consistent pre-shot routine. Simply wishing and hoping for position (as well other “stab in the dark” techniques) all have one thing in common: The absence of careful planning. Use the steps outlined and watch your accuracy increase.

David Sapolis, aka Blackjack has been playing pool since he was old enough to see over the table. He am a former road player, tournament player, and touring professional. For the past few years he has been teaching this game to players of all ages. He is the author of 2 books, Stroke of Genius, and The Growling Point, and is currently finishing his next book titled Building the Perfect Game: A Practical Approach to the Mental Aspect of Pocket Billiards. We hope that you find these instructions helpful, informative and enjoyable.