Pool is definitely one of my 5 favorite games, along with Backgammon, basketball, Pinochle, and CvS2, a fighting video game you’ve probably never heard of. I’ve always loved pool but I never got to play much as a kid. I occasionally bugged my parents about getting a table, not really thinking about things like the fact we had nowhere to put it. Details, details…
When we moved into a bigger house that had a full basement though, it was on. And I had a table fall right into my lap. Not literally of course. But a friend of a friend had one he didn’t want anymore and said I could have it for free, I just had to move it myself. Sold! Dad and I refelted it with awesome black felt (Pro tip – DO NOT do the rails yourself. Ugh, what a pain. The bed itself is easy though), I bought some black chalk, and it was on.
I ended up keeping that table for about 11 years, moving it 5 times and refelting it two or three times. Spent a lot of time playing with friends or just practicing by myself, usually with obnoxious music blasting. Good times. I got pretty decent for an average Joe, but certainly nowhere near a pro or semi-pro.
Most people don’t really know the rules of pool. They’re generally used to the abomination known as “bar rules” and were always surprised when I explained the actual rules to them. One of the great things about owning a table: my table, my rules. Or in this case, the actual rules. Here’s a few examples of things that leave people generally scratching their head:
- The table is always “open” after the break. That means it doesn’t matter if you sink a stripe or a solid, or both, you aren’t one or the other until you make a called shot. Sinking a ball does mean you get to keep shooting though.
- Slop never counts. That is, if you make a shot you didn’t call your turn ends (“Bonus balls” as I call them, are OK though. That is, if you sink additional balls that’s fine). Not that you have to literally call every shot, just anything that isn’t obvious.
- But as a corollary, all that matters when you call a shot is ball and pocket. Ball…and…pocket. Often in bar rules you have to describe everything that’s going to happen to the target ball on the way to the pocket but that’s not correct. If you say “7-ball in the side pocket” it doesn’t matter if the 7-ball goes off three rails, caroms, combos, or jumps, as long as it goes in that pocket.
- Jumping is legal, but never by hitting your cue under the cue ball, “digging” it up and making it fly. The only legal way to jump is to hit downward on the cue ball forcing it to bounce off the table. Here’s a good demo of how to do it. By the way, I’ve never ever been able to get the cue ball to jump. But I’ve never tried it with a jump cue either.
- Here’s the biggie: anytime you scratch opponent gets ball in hand. Not “in the kitchen”, but anywhere on the table. That one really throws people. But it only makes sense; there are plenty of times where having to put the cue ball in the kitchen sucks, so it’s actually advantageous to scratch. That’s just silly. With ball in hand scratching always hurts, as it should.
- Last one: sinking your final (solid or stripe) ball and then the 8-ball on the same shot is illegal, even if you call it. A guy I knew took a pool class in college (yeah, I know) and his teacher “insisted” that was a legal move. “Yeah, well he’s wrong” I told the guy.
So how do you get better at pool? Obviously playing a lot helps, but if you’re by yourself what can you do to improve your skills? Nobody wants to do boring drills, but there are a couple practice methods I found that really really help your game.
The first one is to rack the balls and break as normal, but then pick up the cue ball and put it anywhere you want on the table. Then try to sink as many balls as you can, regardless of whether they’re stripes, solid, or the 8-ball. Sink as many as you can until you miss. Then, you get ball in hand for a second time, again sinking whatever you can until you miss. After that you get a third ball in hand, and once you’ve missed again you write down how many total balls you sank, anywhere from 0 – 15 (if you sink all 15 you’re done for that round). Go through 10 racks this way, and see how many total balls out of a possible 150 you can sink.
This is a great way to practice because it gets you thinking ahead to the next shot(s). It’s kind of pressure-packed because you don’t want to miss and get a crummy score, so you’re always shooting and thinking carefully. And it’s fun because you can just sink whatever is in front of you. The book I read this in suggests that if you can get 130 consistently (13 per rack) then you move down to only having ball in hand twice. Get 130 consistently with that and you’re down to one ball in hand. And if you’re sinking 130 consistently with only one ball in hand the book declared you a “very good amateur pool player”. I never made it down to one, sadly. I would just get to the point where I was ready to go from two to one and then I would not practice for a while and have to stick with two. I enjoyed this though, and even got some of my friends trying it.
But usually what people want to do, even when they’re by themselves, is just play pool. That is, play both sides of a regular game, alternating turns between solids and stripes. And that’s fine, but to really improve make one small change: whenever you switch sides, it’s ball in hand. This little tweak makes a huge difference. The book I picked this up from suggested it made your practice time 7 times more efficient or something like that. I don’t know about that precise number, but it definitely is far better practice that way. The reason is because you have to think about cue ball placement every single time. So it’s not just looking around the table and sinking the easiest shot; it’s trying to find the best spot to place the cue ball so you can sink the immediate shot and set up the next one. You’re forced to think about cue ball placement, and it makes you better so much more quickly than just sinking balls. This is the easiest and best way to get better in a hurry, trust me!
Having a pool table is the only thing I really miss about having a house. Hopefully I’ll be in the house market sometime soon and having space for a table will be one of my top priorities! It’s a great game and having a table at home means you’ve always got something to do, and your friends are always willing to come over. Oh, but never buy a table that isn’t slate. They’re heavy and a pain to move, but they’re the only type worth owning.