Beat People with a Stick
By Tom Simpson
This is primarily a guy problem. As guys, we are sometimes driven by our testosterone to do the “manly” thing, whether that manly thing is a smart thing or not. We may know better and do it anyway.
In pool, players at every level feel compelled to take the hard shot. We want to “go for it” and try for that low percentage shot. We are pulled by our desire to make the great shot, and at the same time, we are pushed by our fear of looking like a wuss for not taking the shot. In many places, defense (safeties) is viewed as “dirty pool”-definitely not the manly play.
Taking the tough shot, we have a chance to pull it off and look good. At the same time, if we miss the tough shot-hey, it was a tough shot. We have an excuse for the miss. Missing with an excuse might be better than just missing, but is this the way we should play? I don’t think so.
How many times will you have to shoot that table-length super-thin cut shot on the 9 ball and hang it in the pocket before you decide it’s time to play smarter? Our testosterone makes us want to take the dumb shot. How do we overcome that? Is missing shots enough? Is losing enough? Realizing that the players who beat you all the time don’t make these mistakes-is that enough?
Here are some ways to begin to avoid testosteroneous shots:
1. Catch yourself. When you’re about to go down on a difficult, low-percentage shot, stop and look at the situation again. Reevaluate your plan. Is there a simpler, easier shot or a good safety? Could you play this shot as a two-way (if you miss, the other guy has nothing good to shoot at)?
2. Consider your priorities. Top Pro Buddy Hall has a terrific way of thinking about any game situation: “How do I win from here?” This is strong because it focuses you on the desired end result-winning. Is making that manly shot more important than making the smarter move that could win the game? It’s your call. If you get more out of celebrating the amazing shot you occasionally make than you do out of winning, well, that answers the question.
3. Consider the situation. Assuming you really do want to win, there is more to consider than just the layout of the moment. To play strategically and give yourself every chance to win, you’ll need to consider:
-Your opponent. What are your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses? Can they kick decently if you hide the cue ball? Are they afraid of long straight-in shots? Are they playing well? What can you do to make it difficult or impossible for them? Can you demoralize your opponent with strong defensive play?
-The layout. You’re playing 8-ball. Your opponent only needs the 8, and you need to pocket all of your balls. Several of your balls are tied up with the 8, and you don’t see a good way to break them out. Should you try to run out anyway, or should you play safe and try for the smart win?
-The game. If you’re playing 9-ball and all of the balls are on the table, playing a tough combo on the 9 may be a reasonable risk. If you’re playing one-pocket, and your opponent needs one and you need six, you probably should consider playing defense over taking a low percentage shot that will give the game away if you miss.
-The match. Where are you in the match? If it’s a race to seven in 9-ball, and you’re up 6-1, you might consider taking more risk than if the match was close.
-The equipment. If you know the balls tend to roll off on this table, but the shot calls for a slow roll, what should you do?
-Yourself. Be realistic about your ability and how you’re playing right now. If you can make this shot one time out of three on your best day, should you attempt it right now? Play the right way. There is something to be said for playing the way a good player would play. Taking the right shot at the right time in the sequence, with the right position plan, is rewarding in itself. This is what all the great players do, assuming it makes good pool sense in the situation. My personal approach is to ask myself “What would Willie do?” I have good images of Mosconi playing smart shots and patterns. Use whomever you want, but try having a great player as your imaginary coach. Use your testosterone to give you the courage to do the right thing. Excuses don’t win.
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