Have you calibrated your pool cue recently?
Several years ago, I wrote a few articles about the concept that I call cue calibration. Actually, your calibrating your stroke to adjust for different characteristics of the cue. Different cues can give drastically different results, with all other conditions being constant.
If you switch cues or even tips, you may need to recalibrate your stroke and retrain your brain to compensate. Even with the same cue, other conditions can change, such as humidity, cloth, rails, cue ball weight, cue ball size, etc. Any changes to these variables would require you to recalibrate your stroke. Many players do this already, whether they know it or not. The mind is making many tweaks as you play with different equipment and changing conditions.
You really need to be aware of all of these changing conditions and know that you can take some steps to mitigate the potential negative effects on your game. I thought it might help to republish this series, with the hope that it might help someone. I’m going to talk about this in Episode 3 of the podcast, too. I hope you find it helpful. So, here is the 2-part series on cue calibration.
Step 1: Calibrate your stroke & aim
I am going to show you some techniques that I have used to improve my shot-making and consistency. A lot of players get frustrated, because they don’t execute shots the way their mind envisions it. I know I’ve had this happen many times. The typical reaction to that is “what the $$#@ just happened”. In order to figure out what happened and to prevent it from happening again, it is critical to dissect the shot process into components that can be analyzed and improved. Let me explain what I mean by all that. Let’s look at the shot shown in the diagram below.
This is an example of a typical type of shot that comes up in 9 ball. The illustration shows the 4 ball being pocketed in the upper left corner and hitting the cue with low right english. The english is needed here to lengthen out the angle of the cue after it hits the rail. The low right english is, also, what causes the make-percentage to go down somewhat. Anytime you add complexity to a shot it makes it progressively more difficult to execute. A very consistent player should pocket this ball a very high percentage of the time. However, even intermediate and advanced players will “mysteriously” miss this shot more than they think they should. Many players that miss this shot will give different reasons for the miss like jumping up, lost focus, lack of concentration, distractions, skidding, etc. While these reasons may be true in some cases, I believe most misses of this type are due to, basically, inaccuracy.
How do you cure inaccuracy?….Practice, Practice, Practice.
More importantly, the right kind of practice is needed. The kind of practice that I prescribe is a sort of “calibration” for your stroke. It’s a very simple process, really. We’re going to break your shot process into components and find out where the inconsistency is breeding.
Let’s look at the shot in diagram 1, again. In its simplest form, this shot is comprised of two major components. First, you have to find the correct contact point to pocket the ball. Second, you have to hit that point using the correct speed and english, of course. It sounds simple, but there are a lot of other things that factor into the shot such as, cue deflection, squirt, cloth conditions, friction-induced throw, etc. There are lots of books and materials out there that go into many of these things in detail. My goal with this guide is not to explain all of those things, but to provide you with a tool that points out what part(s) of your game need improved and helps improve your consistency.
Instinctively, players focus on improving their aim as the first step to being more accurate. However, there is a fundamental flaw in that approach. How do you verify that you aimed at the right point, if you don’t know if you hit the point you aimed at. My point is this, you have to know that you can hit the point you aim at (i.e. you can shoot straight), before you can tell if your aiming correctly. This is especially true when learning how to play using english.
So let’s get to it. Let’s get your consistency to new levels and keep you “in stroke” longer. Let’s start calibrating your stroke.
Can you hit the mark?
The diagram below shows an exercise that will quickly tell you how straight and consistent your stroke is. Start by placing an object ball near where the 9 ball is in the diagram. Place the cue ball about 12 to 18 inches back in line with the corner pocket. Try to set the shot up so it is perfectly straight into the center of the pocket. Shoot this shot with center cue ball, medium speed. Shoot the shot 10 times and record the number of makes and misses. Next, shoot another ten shots from a longer distance, near cue ball position A. Lastly, try the same exercise from cue ball position B. Naturally, you’re more likely to miss more shots the longer the distance gets.
You should keep practicing these shots until you can make them at a fairly high percentage of the time. More specifically, the first shot should be made 9 out of 10 times. If you’re struggling to make this shot 90% of the time, then you need to work on your fundamentals. This type of shot should be a very high percentage shot. You should be able to make 8 out of 10 from position A. You should be able to make 7 out of 10 from position B.
Keep in mind there are some factors that might justify “tweaking” these standards. One of them being pocket size and table size. For this guide, I’m assuming a 9 foot table is being used with standard size pockets. Tighter pockets might warrant loosening the standards a little for positions A and B. Conversely, a smaller table would require a higher make percentage.
Use your best judgment when performing these exercises, but don’t kid yourself. If you’re really hitting them good, the cue ball won’t float left or right after contact the object ball. It is possible to hit it a little bad and still make it, especially on very loose tables. Be honest when doing this…no mulligans. The goal isn’t to artificially make the numbers look good. Rather, it is to create a stroke that can be replicated to produce a desired result time after time. Depending on your ability level, it might take some work to get there or you might already be there. Regardless, the first step is to be able to master this simple exercise. If you are making these shots with the required consistency, try them at different speeds varying from slow rolling to firm stroke. Don’t be surprised if your make percentage goes down when hitting the shot harder. Again, if you find that to be true, then that is an area of your game that you’ll need to work on.
What if you just keep missing certain shots? More experienced players will probably be better able to identify what is going wrong with their stroke and make the proper adjustments. That’s why I like this short exercise, even for advanced players. Other players might need some help to identify what they need to change. Ask other players that you respect to help you. Getting a coach or instructor to help you, is a great idea. They will be able to spot problems with your fundamentals quicker than most. Video recording yourself and reviewing it later is a great way to see your form from another vantage point. This could help you spot your problem. Otherwise, just practice, practice, practice. You’ll get it, eventually.
Step 2: Calibrate your cue (and other equipment conditions)
Ok, so you completed Part 1 of the stroke calibration training and you’re hitting the balls straight. Now, you’re ready to improve your accuracy when using english. We’re going to do the same exercise that we did in Part 1, but first let’s revisit the shot from your last lesson.
In this example, we need to hit the cue ball with low right english. Hitting this shot with english makes it a little more difficult to pocket. You have to compensate a little for the english that is applied. How much you have to compensate is determined by several factors including…
- Cue ball squirt
- Cue ball swerve
- How hard the shot is hit
- How much english is applied
- How level your cue stick is
- Collision induced throw
- Table conditions
It is possible to play great pool without understanding these characteristics of cue ball science. Many players do it. The power of the human mind is amazing. It can, unconsciously, calculate these affects and make the appropriate adjustments in your aim and stroke to allow you to play at a very high level. Though, it can take a very long time to “train” your brain and give it enough data through trial-and-error to become a consistent player.
Unfortunately, many give up or develop too many bad habits before they get to that point.
That is why I recommend using this very structured calibration technique to help you compensate for factors such as squirt and swerve and the others listed, above. Approaching learning and practice in that way, by itself, can help you overcome such shot-making inaccuracies. I don’t believe you have to understand what causes swerve or squirt, necessarily, but it could be a real advantage if you do understand it. For that reason, let’s dive in a little deeper.
I want to focus on explaining squirt and swerve, so you can get a feel for why we need to recalibrate to compensate for changing equipment conditions. I think these are the two factors that come into play when executing shots with english and/or an elevated cue.
I was wondering how I was going to convey these two crucial concepts, when I found a fantastic video by Mike Page. Mike Page is a long-time billiard forum contributor and a BCA certified Instructor. His video does a great job of explaining the difference between squirt and swerve. It also does a good job of illustrating just how much they can affect the cue ball path. Click on the middle of the video to play it and I’ll continue below.
Mike really provided some great information in that video. There are a couple of key points that I think you should remember.
Firstly, your cue stick shaft has the biggest impact on how much your cue ball will squirt. Some shafts, such as the predator shafts, are designed to produce very little squirt. Others produce much more squirt. Therefore, it is very important to practice with the cue you will be playing with, especially the shaft. If you have to switch shafts or sticks, you should take some shots with side-spin to get a feel for how much it squirts so you can make some adjustments as needed.
Secondly, elevating your cue when using side-spin will cause the cue to swerve. As you saw, the speed and amount of elevation both affect how much the cue ball will swerve. If your stroke is flawed, you can create some swerve when you don’t desire it, so watch out for that. That can be caused by elevating the back of your cue too much during a “normal” shot. Also, it is possible for your cue tip to “dip” down and to the right or left during your stroke. That can cause some cue ball swerve that can affect your accuracy, especially on longer shots and/or tighter pockets. That is why you do the stroke/aim calibrations first. You have to make sure you have those bugs worked out of your “basics”.
You can see on the video just how drastic the effects can be. That is why it is so important to be aware of these issues and to realize that you have to recalibrate, when you change cues, cue shafts or even cue tips. The exercises I’m giving to you will help shorten the learning curve drastically. Wouldn’t you rather go through this learning process during practice, instead of during game situations?
Also, table conditions can affect how the cue ball reacts to english, specifically the type, newness and cleanliness of the cloth. That’s why I recommend using these drills to help calibrate your game when playing on foreign equipment. It will help you become comfortable more quickly.
Let’s take a look at the exercise from the previous session.
At this point, you should have a good completion percentage for steps 1 thru 3 performed at a variety of speeds.
The next step is to repeat the process using left english, then right english. As in the previous session, be sure to shoot from all three positions using different speeds. The amount of english and the speed will both affect how much you have to compensate for throw and swerve. As you do your 10 attempts in each step, try to be consistent in the speed and the amount of english applied to the cue ball.
Depending on your experience level, you may be surprised at just how much english affects the path of the cue ball, especially the longer shots. It is very typical for people to start using english without understanding its effects. When that happens, missed shots often get misdiagnosed and people make the wrong adjustments. One thing is for sure, though, a systematic process like this will shorten the length of time that it takes you to master cue ball english use.
Keep using this drill, trying to increase your make percentage using different amounts of english. When you miss, be sure to watch where your cue ball hits the object ball, so you can tell which way you have to address.
I strongly recommend recording your results to keep track of your progress.
You can also try some low-left, high-right, etc. to see how consistent you are at those types of english.
Let me know how your doing with these exercises. I’d love to hear about it.