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Pool - The Short Game

By Tony Mathews


P1060012c_2.jpg Try this sometime. Break a few racks of 9-ball, and take ball-in-hand before every shot. Even beginners can succeed in running a few consecutive racks this way with their elementary pocketing ability. This proves that it is position play and cue ball control holding them back, not their ball pocketing ability.

-- Ron Shepard - Rec.Sport.Billiard

Some time ago I read a book by golf guru David Pelz. What he did was to follow around some PGA pros and take detailed statistics of their games. The result of the analysis of these statistics pointed Dave towards a new way of teaching golf. He found that Golf could be broken down into segments, ie: the long game (driving) the short game (pitching etc.) and putting. The surprising result of his work was that the segment that contributed most to scoring was the short game (hitting the ball from 100 yards in). It was not long drives or great putting. He determined that there was an area around the hole that he called the "golden 9". It is a 9 ft. radius around the hole that is the ideal location for ball placement for scoring. He put several pros through their paces on the putting green trying to hole puts from 1 ft. to 30 ft. He found that as the distance from the hole increased, the chance of holing the put decreased dramatically. It was not linear at all. So he theorized that a player with decent golf skills, that focused their main practicing efforts on their short game would find a dramitic improvement in scoring ability. This is the main reason for the success of Tiger Woods. Yes he hits the ball long, but so do other guys (John Daly anyone?), but he has the best short game in the world.

What does this have to do with pool?

A few years back I started going to tournaments and began to take statistics of matches. I wanted to find out if a similar relationship held for pool. What I found was that you could make a case that the break shot is the long game,position play is the short game and pocketing skills are analogous to putting skills. My results showed that the players that were consistently in the top of the tournaments had the best position skills. Not the best break shot, or the best potting skills. Some other interesting results: most misses occurr immediately after a position error.

While safety skills are important, it is the player that runs out more often that wins. Sinking a ball on the break while playing position on the one ball (these were 9 ball tournaments) was more important than blasting 3 or 4 balls in on the break and losing control of the cue ball.

Both Koehler and Cappelle do a bit of analysis on the importance of position play. I started to think of landing withing the ideal position area as analogous to the "golden 9". Leave yourself too thin of a cut and it becomes hard to pot the ball and even harder to control the cueball. Leave it dead on and you may not be able to get down table for the next shot. Leave your cueball too far from the object ball and it gets tough to pot. Too close and you may not be able to judge the angle correctly or you may need a special technique to get the job done. Stay on line with a reasonable angle and the run-out looks easy. Watch a pro tournament and you will be impressed with how easy their games look. No tough shots, not fancy multi rail position shots with inside reverse spin, no crazy combos etc. etc. Just simple basic position play. They rarely ever get out of line. And when they do they play safe more often than they go for a low percentage shot!

Another reason why the pros don't worry too much about squirt, in many racks they rarely have to use much english at all, and when they do it is rarely more than 1 tip of side spin.

Some thing to think about!