In my last column, I started a three-part series on Lasik surgery for pool players and invited you to share any experiences you have had with me on the subject. I’m holding off on the second part until next month, though. Instead, I want to look at the issue of control.
In pool, almost every player understands the value of controlling the cue ball, and until you can do that at a reasonable level, your concept of control will be focused there. Once you have developed a level of mastery with the cue ball, however, you can then see that the issue of control is broader and wider in scope. It becomes an issue of controlling the table. In fact, when advanced players meet in competition, the whole focus of the beginning of the contest is a fight for control of the table. Since both players know how to control the table, the match is often determined by who can take control first.
This is why most players, when they jump up to a higher level of competition, are so often surprised. A senior league player, for instance, who can dominate at the local sports bar, is going to get severely punished when he or she first enters a professional level event. What has worked against lower-ranked players will not work against more advanced players. The penalty for making a mistake that gives up control of the table will be much higher. At one level, you can easily recover because the weaker players will give you back control of the table. At a higher level, you may never even get back into the match.
We learn by experience, and sometimes it takes a real impact to change our ways. Any shot in the beginning of a game that will give up control of the table if you miss is not the right shot to play if you are playing an advanced player. If you try such a shot on league night, changes are you will regain control of the table because your opponent will make an unforced error and give control back to you. You have benefited, in other words, not from your own ability, but from your opponent’s lack of ability. Since it worked, that is the association you will continue to have with that shot. If the same table situation comes up again, you’ll probably try it again. Eventually you’ll get the chance to try it on a more advanced player, and you’ll get clobbered.
Most players undergo a dramatic shift in their shot selection when they begin to view the table situation in terms of control. There is a big difference, by the way, between being in possession of the table and having control of the table. Having possession of the table only gives you the first move. It has nothing to do with having control unless you can use that first move to take control. On the other hand, you are never in control of the table if you don’t have possession of it. There is a common conversation among pool players about controlling the table while in the chair because they left their opponent hooked. This is faulty reasoning. You may have left a difficult situation, but you are never in control of the table when you are in the chair. Your opponent may fail to use the opportunity to take control, but that doesn’t mean you have it. Even having ball in hand does not necessarily mean you have control.
Control is a slippery thing to see, but once you have the distinction, it will change the way you play. The first question to ask is who has control of the table? This can only be answered three ways. He does. I do. Or it’s up for grabs. If you have control, then the outcome of winning is totally in your hands. You would have to make an unforced error to fail. The question at this point is how can I stay in control? If your opponent has control of the table, he is in the same position, and there is nothing for you to do but sit and wait for an opportunity to get back to the table. At that point you will either be in control or it will be up for grabs. If it’s up for grabs, the proper question is how can I take control? The number one thing, at all times, is to avoid giving control of the table to your opponent.
Good luck good shootin’!