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The Physics of Pool

by Lou Figueroa


Lou Figueroa I have played pool, off and on, since I was a teenager and first fell in love with the game. I'm now 47. Here and there, there have been times during which I've abandoned the game for periods of months, and in some cases, years. Currently, I am in the sixth or seventh year of my latest infatuation with the game. Over these past half dozen years or so, I've regained some of my old skills, found that I never lost others, learned new and marvelous things about the game and myself I'd never imagined before, discovered one pocket, and then, sat at a skill plateau for four years. Four years of effort, work, dedication, and frustration.

That's four years of regular practice, occasionally playing in tournaments and money matches, fueled by an unrelenting love and study of the game. I have read Ron's treatise, as well as Marlow, Capelle, Koehler, Harris, and a number of more obscure works only a hard core fanatic would track down and read. I've watched countless Accu-Stats tapes, and watched the instructional works of Kinister, Feeney, Byrne, Rossman, Mathews, Icardona, Briesath, Sigel, Rempe, et al. And here's what I've learned:

The equations don't mean squat.

When you are leaning over that critical shot, it is all about those hours you've spent, hitting countless balls into the pockets, and how much attention you've paid during that time and what you have taught yourself during those hours.

Don't get me wrong. The equations are interesting. To some, they are fun. And I believe there is no such thing as "too much knowledge." Certainly there can be no harm in learning and understanding them. But a great pool player they do not make.

I think, we sometimes make the mistake in this group, of placing way too much emphasis on the x and y of it, instead of practical ways to learn the physical act of shooting pool balls. Stance, head position, bridge, grip, levelness of cue, and delivery are what it's about. Now before the science guys (and the wannabe science guys :-) go ballistic, I want to say that I like the diversity of the group and the fact that you can go from the discussions about gyroscopes, to the first person accounts of road trips taken.

But my point is that it's become impossible not to notice the almost elitist disdain meted out by those wielding slide rules, against those that advocate "just hit the damn ball." Whether the science guys like it or not, these folks are closer to the truth and pass the test of Okam's Razor better than any equation in APAPP ever will.

What makes a great, or at least a better pool player, is hours on the table, not hours on the calculator.

Though I have been called "a natural" when it comes to pool, nothing could be further from the truth. I work hard to achieve the modest success I occasionally enjoy at pool. I do believe that, as in other walks of life, there are some people who are complete and total naturals when it comes to a particular skill. It is, in many respects, like setting out on an attempt to conquer Everest. Some people stumble upon the mountain pass shortcuts that lead them, almost effortlessly, to the top, clear weather all the way. They pick up a pool cue and their physique, natural setup, and God given hand-eye coordination, makes them play extraordinarily with virtually little cognitive effort. Others have Sherpas that guide them through via the shortest passes to the summit. But the majority of us read the maps and books and struggle up the mountain, sometimes weathering blizzard conditions that necessitate camping out on the whatever out crop we can find. Despite all our study, work, and preparation, the journey is sometimes hardest and longest for those of us in this camp.

But the ultimate secret about pool can be found on page 46 of Capelle's "A Mind for Pool":

"The big secret is that there is no single big secret."

No aiming system, no aim and pivot, no backhand english, no equations.

Just hit the damn ball.... over, and over, and over again.

Lou Figueroa

cue stick