Beat People with a Stick
By Tom Simpson
Pool, as you know, calls for amazing precision. And as we become better players, we actually like to make it even harder. We shim the pockets on the “player tables,” making the pockets even narrower and less friendly. It would be helpful to see how accurately we are pocketing balls and get feedback on exactly which part of the pocket a ball entered. After all, if we’re going to tighten the pockets, we’d better improve our awareness of our results.
Corner pockets are typically about two ball-widths wide at the point where the balls drop into the pocket. There is considerable variation in this, but it’s a good rule of thumb. That means there is a lot of leeway for where we can enter the pocket. Side pockets are even larger. We can use this leeway to “cheat the pocket.” Cheating the pocket means intentionally sending the ball into one side or the other of center pocket, either to avoid hitting another ball that is blocking part of the pocket or to make the cue ball come off the object ball at a slightly different angle to gain position. When the object ball is close to the pocket, the margin for error for making that ball is higher. This means you can purposely cut the ball to different parts of the pocket to change the angle for the cue ball’s subsequent path. Very useful.
As your angle of approach to a corner pocket gets tighter (closer to shooting down the rail), the pocket opening available to your ball effectively becomes smaller. You have to watch your speed, because the pocket will reject the ball. In general, the harder you shoot, the smaller the pockets become. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to really know where the center of the pocket is, because that’s where the pocket will be the most generous.
Pockets have an effective center relative to your angle of approach. Effective center is simply the line into the pocket where you can miss by the same amount on either side and still sink the ball. Pockets are designed to accept shots that don’t happen to go in the center, but not as readily. The photo shows a simple practice aid you can make that will help you see exactly where your shots enter the pocket. I call these Pocketgates.
You can make and install a set of Pocketgates in about 20 minutes. Cost: about 12 cents. Billiards writer Bob Jewett has suggested putting “hole reinforcers” (those white paper donut shapes you stick on three-ringed paper to reinforce the holes) at the center of each pocket opening, right where the rail gutters cross each other. Any shot going in the effective center of the pocket rolls over this spot just as it falls in. This spot is called the ideal aiming point (IAP). Bob had a good idea. I practiced with this for a while and found I could, with peripheral vision, clearly see where center pocket was. Now I’ve taken the idea a bit further and hope you find it useful.
A Pocketgate is a thin white line that stands up vertically right on that IAP spot near the edge of center pocket. It’s made of ordinary paper (1/8″ x 2-1/4″) and is held in place by two-hole reinforcers, one on either side. Balls roll over Pocketgates like they’re not even there. They rarely interfere at all (and they’re just for practice anyway).
The photo shows what they look like. Try to place the bottom of the paper exactly on the IAP. The reinforcer on each side holds them in place and makes them stand up straight. You may be surprised at what you see when you try this.
I’ve found these to be really helpful for practicing sighting, aiming, and cheating the pocket. For sighting and aiming, Pocketgates help you see and focus on exactly where you want to send the object ball. You can even see well on long back cuts with your chin on the cue.
After you shoot, watch the object ball fall. You’ll be able to see precisely which part of the pocket it entered. Use this visual feedback to practice heart-of-the-pocket shots, cheating left, and cheating right.
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