By Jeanette Lee
2006 - Archive
Q. On league night last week, I played one match totally in the zone. I mean, I couldn't miss if I had my eyes closed. The next match, I was terrible, and I just about lost it. How can I consistently get in dead stroke, and stay there?
- John Liu; Los Angeles, Calif.
A. Everyone says the zone is indescribable. I'm not so sure. I think it is intensely personal, though, so you have to find out what it means for you, what it feels like when you are in the zone. If you treat it like a mystical happening, it will remain an unpredictable muse. The next time you emerge from the zone, analyze what happened internally. What did it feel like? What were you thinking about? Were you walking around the table differently? Moving around more or less than usual? The more clearly you can recall these elements, the better your chances are of returning to that state, or at least of duplicating its conditions, so that you are freed up to play your best. If you start playing poorly, I can give you two words of advice: Don't panic. If I am playing poorly, I will adjust my game and play a little bit safer. Take easy shots, or play defensively, making your opponent shoot difficult shots. Don't get frustrated. Even it that moment you can't outshoot your opponent, you can still outsmart him. Pretty soon, he'll be cursing himself, and you will have regained the upper hand.
I mostly play 9-ball but I have recently been playing 8-ball with the APA. I frequently make most of the balls on the table with ease, but I can't close the game. I have considerable difficulty with winning, when I know I can outplay most of my opponents. What can I do?
- Alfred Gomez: Miami, Fla.
A. If you are talking about having trouble finishing a rack that's open with no trouble spots in sight, then I would suggest two things. Work on better pattern play - meaning, better decision making - and work on your endurance. What I mean by your endurance is your ability to stay focused rather than get focused. My best advice for both of those is to play straight pool. You will learn about pattern play and how to keep your focus rack after rack, as opposed to 8-ball or 9-ball where you get to regroup after every rack. In straight pool, you have to sustain your focus through 100 to 200 balls. When I ran my first 100 balls, it wasn't because I got better at pocketing balls. The shots don't get harder after 100 balls; it just gets harder to stay focused. You might want to take some lessons with a top pro like Jerry Briesath or Mark Wilson for pattern play and stroke mechanics. And again, make sure to practice staying focused rack after rack, without breaking your focus to talk on the phone, get a beer, etc. Focus comes from your brain, which is a muscle. Work that muscle, baby, and it will endure!
Q. I can't decide what my boyfriend loves more - me or pool. The only time we spend together is at the poolhall. How do I decide if he's really serious about me? How do you convince someone that being obsessed with something (like pool) is bad for him?
- J.H., Denver
A. I don't know if it's a bad thing to be obsessed with something. A lot of great things have come from obsessed people. But it can be bad for a relationship. You both have to make compromises on how much time you spend together and how. If pool is just some random hobby, and he's not willing to make some compromises, then he may be someone you need to let go, even if it's only to show him what he's missing out on. If he doesn't realize it then, he never will. If it's someone who is completely passionate about something he loves, that he's "investing" his time in pool because he believes in it and has a goal toward it, I would say, please don't kill that in him. Support it, maybe groom it, guide it, but don't crush it. Don't crush what's in a man's heart. For one thing, talk to him more about it, so you can understand him better. Something that he's that serious about is worth understanding. Also, maybe you can be involved. And if you can't, then he needs to find some time for you doing things you like also. If he sees you making the efforts to support him and he can't make similar efforts to support the things you love at some point in the day, then he may not be worth keeping. He needs to know that you're investing too, and he needs to appreciate and respect that.
Q. I'm so tired of the terrible equipment that we play on at my local room. It makes the weekly tournaments almost meaningless, and I know it's bad for my game. Everyone agrees. How do we get the owner to sink some money into some decent tables and better (or just new) cloth?
- Andy Cho; New York, N.Y.
A. You may never convince someone to help you, when it comes to their pocketbook. But as far as competing goes, my advice is to never complain about the equipment. That's a loser move, and a sure sign of a faulty attitude. Professionals do it all the time. "Isn't this cloth a little fast?" they'll ask. "I love this cloth," I'll tell them. "Aren't these pockets kind of thin," they want to know. "The pockets are perfect," I respond. Truth is, I love whatever I'm playing on. Because whether I love it or not, I'm playing on it. We all are. And the first player who stops fighting the inevitable and learns to embrace it has the best chance to win. It's not that I don't recognize when conditions are different from what I'm used to. I just accept the challenge. I know that if I had played my whole life on that cloth, with those pockets, it would be no problem. It's just a question of adjusting, and I can do it in an instant, because I know it can only help me. What good does it do to complain? Will the cloth get slower? Will the pockets expand? I don't think so. Same goes for the layout of the room. If your opponent hits a shot that leaves you in a tight spot near the wall, where you have to use the shorty cue, grab that shorty cue off the rack with a smile. Make your shot.
Q. I'm so frustrated with my game. I'm at the point where I can make some pretty sophisticated shots - banks, kicks and English - but I still miss the easy ones. What am I doing wrong? Is it mental or physical?
- John Tyler; Phoenix, Ariz.
A. It still amazes me when I miss a straight-in shot after having played for so many years. It shows how billiards is a mental and physical sport, rather than something like, say, chess, which is fully mental. Pool requires knowledge and a good stroke, and playing great pool requires more. It requires a level of focus that needs to be developed. It requires that we improve and then trust our swing, a swing that needs perfect timing in order to have accuracy and consistency. Sometimes, we get up to the table and see a tough shot that we know requires our full attention, and so we thoroughly go through the pre-shot routine and make the commitment necessary to execute the shot. Then we might have a simple shot that we take for granted and thus skip certain steps of the routine. The problem is that every shot is so delicate that it only takes the slightest lapse in concentration to miss. Anyone in the professional ranks can make great shots, but the champions miss fewer easy ones. They are more disciplined and do not take the simplest shots for granted. That's not to say it still doesn't happen. Often, I catch myself taking my eye off the target, worrying about where I want my cue ball to end up. But even that means that I did not go through my pre-shot routine and did not focus fully on the shot at hand.
Q. Settle an argument between me and my dumb boyfriend. He thinks that he plays better when he's had a couple drinks, that it "cures" him of the tightness in his stroke. I can sort of see his point, but isn't the trade-off in your losing your ability to make good decisions?
- J. Slattery; Denver, Colo.
A. Tightness can lead to tentative, jerky strokes that leave you with no fluidity and no control over your shotmaking. That is why some players believe they play better after a drink or two. It relaxes them, and their stroke becomes more fluid. Unfortunately, their concentration also blurs, and when they keep drinking, their vision falters, their breath begins to stink, and they start mumbling incoherent and ineffective pickup lines. But I digress. It may be true that one drink can loosen you up. But the effects wear off quickly, and the answer is not to take a second drink. It just doesn't feel the same; you'll start to lose your focus, aim and coordination. The real reason players rely on alcohol, I think, is to get confidence. That is a little pathetic, though, and certainly not good for you in the long run. Liquid confidence is a poor substitute for the real thing, which is earned through practice and studying the game. When I have real confidence when I walk into the tournament arena, everyone in the room - the crowd and my opponent - knows it. They know I've come to play. You can't tell me that doesn't provide an advantage before the match even starts.
Q. I'd love to play pool for a living, but apart from the IPT tour, I don't see how you can make any real money (unless I was as talented and pretty as you). Can you honestly recommend going pro?
- Lauren L.; Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
A. To be honest, I rarely recommend this to anyone. Play pool? Yes! I recommend everyone play pool. Being a professional is a different story. A professional pool player means you need to be good enough to beat most people in your state, if not everyone. It means you make your living on prize money and endorsements, which usually will require you to do shows for sponsors, give lessons and clinics and do trick-shot shows. Sponsors and events don't usually fall in your lap. So you also need to be able to maintain a base of customers and continue to market yourself. Having good looks helps, but all the stars are not gorgeous. You must have great talent and personality, an image that is memorable to fans, and a story that reaches people's hearts and gets them to pull for you. It means that no matter how tired you are, you must be gracious at all times. You must travel all over the world, rarely seeing your friends or family, not knowing when you will get another appearance or do well in another tournament or how long your contracts will last. For a woman who wants stability in her life, I chose a profession that has very little of it. So why do I do it? I love pool, I love competition, I love people. But I tell you, everything in life has a price. Do you love pool so much that you are willing to give up so much? It's up to you.
Q. How is it that pro pool players - people who have dedicated themselves to this one sport - can miss dead-on easy shots in tournaments? I'm amazed when I see a player make a two-rail kick shot on the 6, then blow a hanger on the 7. What's going on there?
- Nate Rodgers; Indianapolis, Ind.
A. What a great question. What allows us to miss a hanger after coming with an incredible shot is exactly what keeps us coming back for more. If this game was simply mathematics, we would use a calculator and be done with it. Pool is the balance of the physical and the mental. The physical training allows us to develop the proper swing, know where to hit the object ball and understand where our cue ball is going. It's our mental game that does the rest. We have to calm our mind and trust ourselves. We have to stay focused on one thing at a time. How simple is it to drive? Sit and let the car move forward. But people still crash, because, as easy as it is to drive, just adding one more thing to your brain, like turning the radio on, can take your focus away, sometimes with a costly price. It only takes a second to lose your focus from the shot at hand. And we are human. As pros, we are better overall, but the more you know, the more things you can think about and question and doubt. It's not how easy the shot is, it's what we're thinking about at that precise moment, which makes it possible to mess up the simplest tasks. But, as we train more, we will learn to focus on the shot at hand and nothing else.
Q. I remember that you used to get accused of sharking players a lot. Just the other day, a guy at my poolhall tried to start a fight with me, because I drank from my beer when he was down on his shot. Is that really sharking? I wasn't trying to do anything (although everybody does at one time or another).
- John H.; Madison, Wisc.
A. It is very tempting to use whatever advantage you can to win. But it seems more important to me to win with dignity. That is why I was so upset when players accused me of sharking when I first joined the WPBA tour. I think it may have been easier for them to claim that I was distracting them than to face the fact that I had ripped them up on the table. If you want to avoid similar accusations, here are a few simple rules to follow. Don't move, blink or breathe while your opponent is shooting. Don't flip your hair, don't pour your drink, don't light your cigarette, and don't go into your old high school cheerleading routine when your opponent is about to shoot. These tricks are old - everyone knows them, and you look cheap. My theory is this: Rather than trying to distract your opponent, step up to the plate. Practice, and improve your skills until you can win fair and square. It feels infinitely better. To tell the truth, when I'm shooting I could care less what someone else is doing. You could yell "Fire!" and I'd still go through my pre-shot routine. But most people are not like that. They get distracted by the music, the people walking past, and by the firemen rushing past with hoses blasting.
Q. What are some of the things that you know now but wish someone had told you when you first started?
- Peter; Houston, Texas
A. I really wish I knew the importance of the stroke - that sure and consistent stroke. There's been so much importance placed on such elements of play as decision making, strategy, position play, the break, and using English. However, the bottom line is that if your stroke isn't consistent, all the knowledge in the world has little value. I wish I knew that. I would have spent more time developing a slow backswing and perfect timing, instead of practicing goofy bank shots. If your stroke is consistent, then you you can always tell how and why you've missed a shot. But if your stroke is all over the place, then there is no telling. Get that thing solid and smooth. See if your body finishes while still down on the shot and whether your cue tip finished all the way through the ball instead of up in the air to the left or right. I also wish I knew more about the break shot back then - that the faster and harder you pull back to break the balls, the more energy that's going in the wrong direction. I wish I had been more aware of the importance of taking my time and keeping a steadier pace and my composure. Now I see so many amateurs who are so disciplined at the table. I wish I knew how many careless misses I could've avoided. Some people would tell me to slow down, but they didn't tell me why.
I'm appalled at what some women are wearing to the poolhall these days. It seems like there's a fine line between sexy and trashy. I know you got some guff early in your career for your style of dress. What would you tell women today about how to dress for pool?
- T. Stoudamire; Chicago, Ill.
A. Aw, shucks! Yes, I did get some guff earlier in my career, but to my amusement, those same women now are dressing more like me! I have always felt that women should celebrate their femininity rather than feel like that have to chew tobacco and spit in order to be respected as sportsperson. I also feel that, as women, we need to respect ourselves if we are to be respected by others. I do agree that there is a fine line between sexy and trashy. When I go to the poolroom, I like to be comfortable. I would feel a bit silly going there to practice in stiletto heels. Too much makeup and overly revealing clothing seem to send the message that you're not there for pool, you're there to pick up guys. Which is fine; I'm not one to judge others. Just remember that what you wear sends a message. What's great about pool is that you can go there and hang out for so many different reasons and have a great time. I'm there to play pool and don't want the distraction of guys gawking at me, so I dress more casual. Bottom line, what do you want people to focus on, your pool game or sex? I want only to be attractive enough to lure them to the pool table, not to my bedroom. Whatever you choose to dress in for pool, respect yourself and have fun.
Q. I live in a small community that I thought had a competitive pool environment until I went to Las Vegas for the BCA National 8-Ball Championships. My question is this: How do younger players continue to grow in their game when they are in an environment that isn't that difficult to stand out in?
- James (no address)
A. Well, it sounds like you've been doing a pretty good job already if you made to the illustrious BCA Championships. There are a lot of books and videos that have all kinds of drills that you can practice to help with position play, banks, systems, etc. There are tons of tapes from Accu-Stats Video Productions that you can buy of championship matches where you can analyze pattern play, pre-shot routines and fundamentals along with the commentators, which will help exercise your mind and decision making. For on-the-table experience, there are local and regional tournaments everywhere. You may have to travel on weekends, but many people do. If you travel and end up cashing, keep going. If you win those tournaments, perhaps it's worth investing in the entry fee for a national event. If you can't even win the local events, then you might keep practicing at home and make appointments to play the best players in your area until you beat on them. And when you practice, bear down on every shot. Pretend that you are in a tournament and want to crush your opponent. When the nerves start working, you will already have good habits to fall back on.