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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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2004 - Archive
December 2004

Q. What is the most effective way to silence your opponents' mind games?

— Alex Cheek

A. I'm not sure exactly what you mean, but if it's squashing an opponent's attempts to shark you mentally, I can help. There is no single solution to this. I try to prepare myself for these kinds of things before the match by deciding to completely ignore sharking. I'm giving them no fuel, and almost laughing at their desperation. I show them no reaction at all. Let them focus on sharking me, while I focus on pocketing each ball. If it's too late, and they are already doing something to the point where I just can't take it anymore, again, I will not show them any strong reaction. I will politely walk over and ask them very sweetly to stop whatever it is they are doing. Usually this is enough, and then it's off my mind. I can play pool again, and they're sitting there embarrassed that they were caught. Often, they are confused and disappointed that they couldn't inspire a more hostile reaction from you or take you out of your game. If you don't get upset and lose control of their game, it hurts their games that much more. They just aren't expecting you to react so graciously. Again, if you can ignore them completely, that's great. Inside your mind, decide that what they are doing is silly and just focus on pool. Otherwise, handle it quickly, quietly, and move on.

November 2004

Q: What are your thoughts about the pre-shot routine? How important is this for improvement of your game? — Richard Diphoorn
Utrecht, The Netherlands


A. Having and following a pre-shot routine is vital for improvement of your game. I approach my shot, make a solid decision, picture the entire shot (direction, speed control), find my smallest possible target, and then I bend down and shoot the shot with all the confidence in the world, even when I don't have it. I truly believe that almost all errors in a pool game are made when one of these steps in the routine are not followed. It's a basic checklist that allows your mind to focus better when it comes time to make the ball. Body alignment is so important, so that's the first step. I never change my stance while I'm down on a shot. I will get up and reposition myself. I make my decision while standing and commit to that decision. When I picture the shot, I picture the cue ball traveling, contacting with the object ball, the object ball going in the pocket, the path of the cue ball after contact and the speed and direction that the cue ball takes. This is super-important for developing your feel for speed control and position play. Once all these steps are completed, I find my target. I focus so tightly on my target that nothing else can enter my mind. Just trust yourself and let the shot go with a pure stroke, staying down to see the final contact of cue ball to object ball. The more you practice this routine, the more consistent you will become.

October 2004

Q: I know you have endured back pain all your life. I have degenerative disk disease. Bending over to make 4 or 5 shots in a row is trouble. Do you do special exercises to help with your back pain?

— Richard Lowell
Magnolia Springs, Ala.

A. I'm not a doctor, by any means, so I can only tell you what I do. I keep my stomach tight to help support my back through many stomach crunches and sucking my stomach in at all times. Squats are helpful when picking things up off the floor rather than bending at the waist. I only do low-impact exercises, nothing that is bouncing or jarring, like jogging. I walk briskly and, best of all, I swim. Swimming supports your back while strengthening it. It develops your chest and back muscles and helps regulate your breathing which can be tough when your back is really hurting. When I lay down, I keep a pillow under or between my knees depending if I'm on my side or back. I practice in half-hour segments. Any longer than that strains my back, which affects the quality of my practice. I never practice break shots, jacked-up shots, powers shots or jump shots repetitively because I wear out. But I do practice them. I also sit in chairs with back support. It sounds like a pain, but I've accepted that I have been blessed with a bad back so that I can be a role model, and in order to do that I've got to be a tough cookie and find a way to win.

September 2004

Q: I'm 19 years old and I've been playing for about 3 years. It's my dream to go pro, but I wonder if it's worth it. What do you think?

— Glen Rogers
Boston, Mass.

A. I meet people all the time who want to go pro. It's great to have a goal, but you need to be sure that's what you want and why. If you want to go pro to become a millionaire, you may have to pick a different sport, ... for now anyway. I started pool because I loved it and I still do. But as I got older, I learned the importance of my other responsibilities - mainly, paying my bills. I didn't make enough in pool tournament earnings, and I still don't, to provide the style of living that I wanted for myself. So I started thinking about it. There are many ways to make money in the field of billiards. You can teach private or group clinics, or do trick-shot and challenge exhibitions. You can be a retail dealer, poolroom operator, salesperson, work for a billiard company, or of course, get a sponsor. But to be sponsored, you need to be marketable. You need to convince your sponsors that through their support, they will get positive exposure and sales that they might not otherwise get. This means playing great pool, speaking well, living well, and being a leader and an ambassador. Most of all, show that you understand the value of a win-win. This means networking and understanding your sponsors' goals and helping them achieve those goals. Play pool because you love it. Remember that. You can be a champion in anything that you are willing to work hard and sacrifice for. Do some research on what it takes to be a pro, what the costs and benefits are. And work your butt off. If you aren't up to that challenge, quit and do something else, because you won't make it if you don't work hard. All the best.

August 2004

Q. I read that you had laser eye correction. What were the pros and cons of the treatment afterwards, including in regard to your pool game?

— Tony Ciaffone
Middle Village, N.Y.

A. Yes, I had eye surgery. The obvious pros are that I can wake up in the morning and see the alarm clock, and I can see the shampoo and soap in the shower. It's so cool. The expenses of time and money for eye appointments and errands to buy new contact lenses are all gone now. In terms of playing pool, I can see the edge of the ball a little crisper. I always wore contacts, so although glasses weren't an issue, I often had cloudy or dirty lenses in smoky places, and they would get really dry in dry weather and irritate my eyes, which made them tired. As far as cons, I haven't had any that I can think of in pool. The biggest thing that bothers me now, after having worn contacts lenses for so long, is my sensitivity to different air conditions. Things like smoke, chopped onions, cleansing sprays, detergents, etc., are unbearable. I didn't realize that I had never cried cutting up onions, but, without the protective contact lenses, my eyes felt everything that most people are already accustomed to. It's not bad, but it's the worst thing I can think of.

July 2004

Q. I am a 15-year-old kid and have already become addicted to gambling. I am a solid pool player who can run racks and take money off a lot of people, but I feel my gambling often gets out of hand and I am somewhat powerless to control it. Do you have any advice on how to deal with it?
— Nick
Chicago, Ill.

A. I used to love to gamble but was never quite addicted, because my love of pool overpowered it. I don't think there's any good in hustling someone, but sometimes the pressure gambling puts on you can strengthen you, forcing you to make smarter decisions. Unfortunately, it's crippling as well if it controls you. Once the love of gambling takes over, getting better is irrelevant. You begin to only care about winning at any cost and ignore the importance of improving. Once love of gambling takes over love of sport, improvement stops. You don't want to practice anymore; you only want to play when there's action, because who wants to show their real game for free, right? You say you're powerless. That cop-out answer is why we have so many so-so players out there. A person can think any way he wants to think. We can't choose what happens to us but we can control how we respond. Do you want to be someone who is pitied or someone who inspires? You need to believe in yourself. I believe in you. I believe that you can do anything you want. Get yourself out of that environment and give yourself back the control.

June 2004

Q. What would you say is the best thing for a pool player to practice and master?

— Andrew Schubert,
Colorado Springs, Colo.

A. Fundamentals, through and through. Of course, what you know doesn't matter if you can't get your cue ball where you want it to go consistently, but what's the most important of all? I'd say the stroke. Get that thing solid and smooth. Slow backswing, smooth finish. If your stroke is consistent, then you can always tell how and why you've missed the shot. But if your stroke is all over the place, then there's no telling. Focus less on whether you pocket the ball and more on perfect delivery of the cue and whether your cue ball contacted exactly where you meant it to hit. Pay attention to whether you are executing your intention. See the hit - the contact between the cue ball and the object ball. If you can do that, then you will always be learning. 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. There is so much to learn, but, as in all other ball sports, it's about the perfect swing/stroke more than any strategic process. Learning how to aim and planning position play is secondary. The perfect, consistent stroke is the best and quickest way to billiard mastery. My personal coaches for that are Jerry Briesath and Mark Wilson. If you're having trouble, a coach can get you there. Good Luck.

May 2004

Q. My wife loves to watch women's professional pool, and has started to really enjoy playing pool. However, she seems to not like the way I coach her. Any advice on how to help coach a beginner?

— John Brewer,
Grand Junction, Colo.

A. I've learned from one of my coaches, Jerry Briesath, that there is an art to teaching that people take for granted. My honest opinion is that you forget teaching her, get her an instructor either recognized or certified by the BCA, and leave your time with her fun and relaxing. It'll be better for your marriage to have something that both of you share and enjoy rather than you taking the teacher role. Leave the teaching to a pro and play with her in a way that is challenging for both of you. Perhaps you can give her ball in hand at the beginning of her turns or let her make her balls in any order while you make yours in rotation in 8-ball or 9-ball. There are many different games you can play. If getting another instructor is not an option, then make sure you are patient and encouraging and keep things fun. Don't sweat the small stuff; she won't get everything right away. First focus on a smooth and steady stroke. Keep fundamentals basic and don't try to make her perfect. These things will come with slow progression. Keep a slow backswing and perhaps pick up a book, "The Black Widow's Guide to Killer Pool" (hee hee), to give you more pointers on where to start.

April 2004

Q. It seems like my biggest problem right now is concentration. When I bear down and focus, I do well. But eventually my mind drifts off, and I make very basic mistakes. Do you have any tips on maintaining your focus?
— Jeremy; Edmonton, Alberta

A. I wish it was easier to control the human mind. The best we can do is train ourselves to be more disciplined. Here are some suggestions.
1) Bear down on every shot during practice. Pretend that you are in a tournament and that you want to crush your opponent. If you do this during your practice time, then doing it during a tournament will feel more familiar. When the nerves are there, we lose our feel, and habit kicks in. If we have good habits, then they will get us through the match. Focus only on the current shot - no cell phones, no conversations, no unnecessary breaks.
2) When entering a match, get as familiar with your surroundings as possible - every painting, every person, every detail. Let nothing catch you off guard and distract you during the match. Get used to the equipment and everything else in the room as best you can. By match time, everything but the match will seem uninteresting.
3) I used to have a hard time playing weaker players, who tended to bring my game down. Now, it's a matter of attitude. I challenge myself to shut them out, 9-0. Perfect pool. Crush them. I don't want to lose a single game, and I think about that right before a match. And I go into the match hungry and determined.

March 2004

Q. There is a girl who comes into my local poolroom and plays pretty well, and I'd like to get to know her. But I'm not sure how to approach her without looking like all the other bozos who hit on her. How can I introduce myself and make a good impression?

— Bob Brown, Chicago, Ill.

A. I'll tell you the truth: It's really hard saying what makes a man stand out. If I'm a pretty good player, then, for sure, a man who plays well is attractive. If he's good, he might go get on a table nearby and play pool by himself or with someone and look focused and intense and give her a chance to notice how good he is. I would just play pool and be myself. Act like a gentleman and not a showboat. At first, I wouldn't even look at her. Maybe take a break to talk to someone briefly enough to let her see your smile come out. A guy with a nice smile is always endearing. I definitely would dress nice, but in a casual way. Pay attention to how she dresses and what she eats. Healthy or not, dresses up, or in grunge. Maybe strike up a conversation about that. But whatever you do, don't be too direct. Allow her to notice you without making her feel on guard with you coming at her right away. If you both already know each other, then you have no excuse - ask her out. If you have some signal she likes you, then ask her out or at least ask her if she wants to play some pool. If you don't get any, just try being friends first and let your personality win her over. Go with your instincts.

February 2004

Q. My girlfriend constantly complains about how much time I spend in the poolhall. How do I deal with this? How do I get her to love the sport like I do?

— John Capalbo, New York City

A. I couldn't stand how much my husband watched basketball until he lovingly asked me to join him. This was of course after he'd spent the last few days doing things I enjoyed. I sat down and watched as I had before with boredom across my face when he started to ask me if I knew anything at all about the game. He proceeded to tell me the rules. He made us popcorn and told me about certain moves that I could recognize, like the pick and roll, lay-ups, etc. Learning terminology and strategy made it so much more fun for me. And every time I took the time to watch, he'd tell me a little more. Now, it's something I enjoy regularly and look forward to when I can watch him play at the gym with the guys. You may not ever get her to love pool the way you do, but the best chance you have is to make it fun for her. That means teaching her in a really fun way and giving her fun experiences. Give her incentives or make deals with her just to start. Make sure you never let her feel she's competing for attention. Tell her how much you appreciate how supportive she is and ask what you can do to be more supportive of the things she loves. It's always a give and take, and the more you give to her, the more she'll be responsive to your needs.


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