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Dear Jeanette
By Jeanette Lee
International billiard icon "The Black Widow" answers your questions about life, love, and everything else that happens in the poolhall.

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2007 - Archive
December 2007 - Slow play

Q. My friend, in my opinion, takes an inordinate amount of time to shoot. Is there a rule on pace of play? Or do I have to suffer in silence?

- Zeke; Detroit

A. No, there isn't a rule on pace of play except in professional televised events that need to be finished within a certain time frame. You can either stop playing him, or teach yourself to focus on other things when he's shooting. This is an opportunity, believe it or not. Your friend will not be the last person you play that does something annoying. So you can either be a suffering victim or you can figure out a way to not let these distractions bother you. I have learned to not look at this opponent at all. Just focus on the table. Or I will just imagine myself running out the table. I picture finding my perfect aiming points on the balls into each pocket. I pick the perfect place to hit a cut shot or bank shot. I keep my mind on the table so I am still focused on the match and ready to shoot. I'm patient. This will help you so much. So, personally, I would still play your friend once in a while to work on this area of your game, which will be useful. One more thing: You should remember that everyone has a particular pace and is trying to do what's necessary to improve. They rarely do it to annoy others; they do it because they are trying so hard to get it right, and I think that should be respected. One of the worst and most common mistakes that we make at every level is rushing to shoot. Fast players make more careless errors than slow players.

November 2007 - Nonsmoking poolhall

Q. The owner of my local poolroom refuses to go nonsmoking. He says he'll lose all his business; I think he'll get more business from people like me. Why do we have to suffer just because some people have no respect for their own health?

- D. Lee; San Francisco, Calif.

A. Some things in life just aren't fair, and all you can do is make your own choices. Many poolrooms across America that have chosen to go to nonsmoking have lost some business; it's a valid point. They gain a healthier lifestyle and tons of happy nonsmokers. But lots of smokers also drink, and, therefore, the rooms lose money. You're just gonna have to decide how important it is to you.

Q. I play sets for $20 here and there. There is one guy at my poolhall whom I usually beat and then he says he'll pay me later. Is there a set rule for this kind of thing? I want to show him your answer to let him know how it's supposed to be done.

- D. Patterson, Portland, Ore.

A. I think he very well knows how it's supposed to be done. And frankly, it's on you not to play a guy who hasn't paid you the first time. At first I go on the honor system, but when he breaks that code, then it's "put the money up first" every time. If you gamble with him when he doesn't have the money, then having to remind him is the price you pay for that $20 greed. You don't need to show your buddy my answer, you're the one making the decision to play him. Jeanette Lee

October 2007 - Lazy boyfriend

Q. I can't get my boyfriend off the sofa unless it's to go to the poolhall. OMG, he is so lazy! He thinks he's going to make a living playing pool. How do I tell him that there is no future in pool (you're the exception), and that he needs to grow up and get a job?

- L. Briaz; Staten Island, N.Y.

A. It's hard to tell anyone that there's no future in something, because it's not the particular subject that makes or breaks a person. It's the person's own actions. You can make a future doing anything in the world. But one thing I can guarantee: You won't make a future on the couch. Whether it's pool or anything else, it takes dedication and hard work and passion, above and beyond the average Joe, to make a real future. So this guy doesn't have a job? I would give him a certain amount of time to go after whatever career choice he wants, if he can afford it, meaning at least a part-time job to cover bills during this process. Support him and encourage him, ... but, that means he should be working hard 18 hours a day trying to make that career choice work. Otherwise, what are you waiting around for? If I see a guy working hard at pool, doing drills, competing in tournaments, watching tapes, playing morning and night, and he's really improving and treating this like training for the Olympics, then fine - I'd see what his plans are, and, if it's reasonable, then support them. If he thinks hanging around, sleeping and playing a little pool is going to make his future, then I'd get off his train, because it's headed nowhere.

September 2007 - Inconsistency

Q. I try to practice ten hours a week for my weekly tournament. Sometimes I'll shoot lights-out at the tournament, and sometimes I'll play like I've never seen a table before. My inconsistency is out of control. Is it just a matter of upping my practice time?

- A. White; Cincinnati, Ohio

A. Mapping your practice time is never a bad idea but it's not the first thing that I'd ask you. I wonder about the quality of your practice and whether or not the environment and your attitude in practice is much different than your competitive side. The more we practice under tournament conditions, the more our real game will show up under pressure. What I mean by that is, during your tournaments, you probably focus harder, talk less on the phone or take fewer breaks, have higher expectations of yourself, are more critical and analytical. Most people play pool during the week, and they play very relaxed and fun and have phone calls and eat something while they play, etc. But then, later in a tournament, you become a different, more serious person that your pool game doesn't recognize or know how to handle. If this is the case, get serious. When I practice, I make my opponents lag for the break. We take a five-minute break per set and no talking, no phones, no food. Just pool. I focus on staying in the moment and being ready for my next opportunity at the table. That's it. And if you only play ten hours a week and then compete, then you should be working the same way. If you plan to be a competitor, then practice as you compete.

August 2007 - Judgmental in-laws

Q. I love my league night. How can I explain to my judgmental in-laws that pool is not just a sport for guys who curse and drink?

- S. Gupta; Richmond, Va.

A. Option one: Ignore their ignorance. They'll never get it, and it's not their fault. Option two: Educate, advocate and get them involved. As a Korean, I invite as many people to Korean meals as I can. I show pictures of our traditional dresses or talk about customs I respect and appreciate. But, ultimately, telling them does very little. Bring them to your billiard place, invite them to your leagues, introduce them to people that are not just "guys that curse and drink." Change comes from action, not words.

Q. I'm thinking about proposing to my girlfriend at the poolhall we go to. We met there, and we both love pool, so it seems like a natural, but I'm wondering if this is just a "dumb-guy" idea that I will regret.

- "Lefty" (location withheld)

A. If you both met there and go there regularly, I think it would be very sweet. It's not so much where you do it, it's how. The major thing you have to remember is that she will be asked 3,000 bazillion times how she was proposed to. It's gotta be something she can brag about. So, make sure it's very romantic and unique. If you're sure she'd say yes, then have a bunch of her friends around to witness the coolest moment of her life, make it very original, and for goodness sake, at the final moment, get on your knees when you ask her. Good luck! Oh yeah, don't forget the rock!

July 2007 - Overbearing Dad

Q. My dad owns our poolroom, and he's driving me nuts. I can't practice or play a league match without him constantly correcting me, sometimes in front of dozens of people. I've asked him to cut it out, but his response is, "But I'm right." I don't want to be so drastic as to go to another room. What can I do?

- J.W.; Miami, Fla.

A. I understand your problem. We all want respect from our parents, and we also never want our confidence undermined, especially in public. When you ask him to "cut it out," is that also in public? I wonder if you can take him aside or even write to him, expressing not that he is wrong, but instead, how it makes you feel. Him respecting your need to grow as a player on your own is not a matter of him being right or wrong. We can't do everything for our children, but by stepping back, he gives you an opportunity to learn from your own mistakes and be prouder of your own accomplishments. Communication is the first step. Tell him you know his advice is intended to be helpful, and you appreciate that. I'm not sure if he's helped you, but if he has, you don't want that to stop, you just need to give him appropriate boundaries on how that's shared. Let him know you still respect his opinion and want his help, but to offer it in private. The bottom line is that pool should be enjoyable. If Dad can't work with you after you are sincere and tell him in private, then it might be time you go on your own. It'll stink paying table time somewhere else, but if it means you'll improve faster it might be worth it.

June 2007 - Follow-through

Q. Everybody tells me that I should follow through more, but I see plenty of guys get around the table with pokey strokes. What's the big deal?

- Blake Brannigan; Ames, Iowa

A. Follow-through is a mystery. It shouldn't matter, but it does. Big time. A stroke that stops just after contact with the cue ball is invariably short, jerky and ineffective. Follow-through makes a noticeable difference. Imagine a baseball player who took a mighty cut and stopped as soon as the bat made contact with the ball. Or a tennis player whose racket froze in midstroke. It doesn't happen, because following through helps keep the rest of the stroke on line. In pool, you should follow through at least 12 to 18 inches on every shot. Sometimes the lay of the table makes this impossible, but, whenever possible, you should try to shoot through the cue ball by this distance. If you don't, your stroke will become jerky, and your accuracy will disappear. So remember: all the way back, all the way through. People have told me that I have a long stroke. The insinuation, of course, is that it's too long. Maybe. All I know is that it has served me well, and I like it. Earl Strickland and Efren Reyes also have long strokes, and I haven't seen it doing them any harm. Perhaps it is easier to control a short stroke, but the important thing is to find a stroke you can live with. In truth, everything else is extra. If you don't develop a reliable stroke, you will severely cramp your ability to grow as a player.

May 2007 - Quitting

Q. I've been playing terrible lately in my league matches. And when I try to make adjustments, it just gets worse. I'm thinking of just quitting. Maybe I'm not cut out for this. What should I do?

- Andrea W.; Beloit, Wisc.

A. Don't turn on your game. I often hear people who miss a series of shots walk away from the table saying, "I suck." That's a good way to get yourself into a rut, not a particularly good way of getting yourself out. And never start working on your stroke in the middle of the match. Trust me. Your stroke is there. It's been there. It did not abandon you, so don't abandon it. If you were lost at sea, would you throw away your rudder? If you were in the middle of a war, would you toss your best gun aside and pick up an untested one? No. So, relax. You are not going to improve on hours of practice with 30 seconds of adjustments in a pressure-packed situation. It just doesn't work. Dance with the partner you came with. Don't get flustered, and don't let your opponent see that you are unnerved. If you saw someone moaning and crying at the table, would you be afraid of him? No. You would think he was ripe for the taking. So don't give your opponent that edge. The best thing to do is sit calmly while your opponent shoots. Don't waste time kicking yourself. Instead, think about how much you are looking forward to your next turn at the table. Tell yourself that you are warming up, that you're just getting going, and that when you do, there will be Hell to pay. That should end your streak of misery pretty quickly.

March 2007 - Too competitive

Q. I am a very competitive person, and sometimes I want to win so badly, I think it sharks me. If the match is close, I tend to psyche myself out and give the game away. Is there such a thing as wanting it too much?

- R. Skinner; Memphis, Tenn.

A. A lot of people say that the difference between winning and losing comes down to which player wants it more. I think you can want it pretty badly and still lose. There is a difference between desire and motivation: It is easy to want something; what is hard is translating that desire into action. When I was a young player coming up, I wanted to be number one so badly I could feel it boiling in my blood. It was the first thing I thought of in the morning and the last thing before I went to bed. But it didn't happen just because I wanted it to. I used that desire to motivate me. It became the force that woke me up every morning. It whipped me to get to the poolroom an hour before my friends so I could practice before we played. So set your goals high and do what it takes to meet them. Desire without action is a waste. You've got to let your hunger lead you somewhere. But it's important to enjoy every small step of your improvement, especially once you have set lofty goals. Otherwise, it is easy to get discouraged. What if you still can't beat the town ace after 20 weeks of practice? Doesn't matter. Beginners get all wrapped up in results. Forget about results. They will come. You will meet your goal when you stop bludgeoning yourself for your failure to meet it.

February 2007 - Pre-shot routine

Q. I really feel like I'm aimless and floundering when I'm at the table sometimes. I need a solid pre-shot routine. Any suggestions?

- L. Beaz, Washington, D.C.

A. The four-part shot routine is the best way to maintain focus, no matter what conditions you face. First, make a decision about what you want to do. That is the easiest part, but it is important. Look for the best shot available, always keeping in mind that you want to establish cue-ball position for your next shot. Second, picture the shot happening exactly as you intend it. Picture it in as much detail as you can. Visualize the speed of the cue ball and its entire path around the table, from start to finish. The more detailed the visualization, the more your body will make it happen. The third step in the routine involves your aim. Get down on the shot and find your smallest possible target. Look at the cue ball, the object ball and your pocket. Then focus on the object ball and find that one atom-sized dot, the tiniest place in the universe that you can imagine. Narrow your vision. The fact is, the more precise your aim, the more accurate you will be. Period. The final step may be the hardest. You have to trust yourself and let your stroke go. Just let it go. Take your practice strokes and say, "I know this ball is going in." If you have any doubts, do not take the shot. Once you make it, get up and start again from step one. Seriously. And remember: You cannot question yourself once you are down on the shot. Negative visualizations will result in missed shots. Get up and make a new decision. Jeanette Lee

January 2007 - Bridge

I'm just a beginner, and I'm still not comfortable making my bridge. I can't seem to remember how to make the right shape - muscle memory or something. What am I doing wrong?

- Sheila S.; Oklahoma City, Okla.

A. Just keep with it. Repetition is the key. I'll tell you story about how I first developed mine. I copied the bridge of Johnny Ervolino, who played at Chelsea Billiards in New York City. (Don't be afraid to imitate great players. If it works for you and it feels right, incorporate it into your game. If it doesn't, drop it.) After studying it for hours, I walked home to my studio apartment, trying to keep my fingers locked into the shape I saw him using. But as bedtime approached, I became convinced I would lose it overnight. So I rummaged through a drawer and found a roll of electrical tape. I wrapped the tape around my left hand, which I had kept frozen in the bridge position. I drifted off to sleep like that, and when I woke up in the morning, there was the bridge. I padded over to the shower, but once I turned the shower on, the tape got wet. As I lathered up the shampoo, the whole sticky mess turned inside out and caught in my hair, and I had to pull it out, piece by piece. I toweled off and taped my hand up again. So it went for about three weeks. Every time the tape came off, I rigged it up again. When I had no tape, I would just put my fingers in that position and try to keep them there. After about three weeks, I had a sturdy, reliable bridge.