Part five of a short series on breaking
Other Gimme a Break! articles:
Ok, I know I said my last article concluded my series on breaking. Consider this an epilogue.
I recently returned from the 6th Annual Chuck Markulis Memorial Tournament in Sacramento, CA. Yes, I played. No, I will not discuss my performance. Ahem. Let’s just say I became a spectator fairly early and leave it at that, shall we?
As I was watching some amazing 9-ball, I carefully watched the pros as they broke. There were many styles and speeds, but two of them stood out for me: Corey Deuel and Shane Van Boening.
As many of you may know, Corey loves to soft-break. He has nearly perfected it, and when the tournament rules favor him, he will use it to his advantage. In this tournament, you did not have to break from the box, and there was no requirement for the balls other than 4 of them had to hit a rail. Perfect for Corey, and most of the time he made the wing ball in the corner pocket. About half of the time, the one-ball was making its way into the side pocket as well. Textbook.
Shane, on the other hand, smashed the balls, “squatting the rock” in the middle of the table almost every time. He, too, made the wing ball on almost every break, but his would blast into the corner like it couldn’t leave the table fast enough. The man is a breaking God. We’ll get back to his break in a moment…
While I was observing, I ran into Joe Tucker. If you don’t know him, he is one of the premier pool coaches and instructors today, and has produced a fantastic book/video series on racking and breaking. I strongly recommend his Racking Secrets videos if you want to know more about how to read racks, and learn how to pocket balls on the break.
I have studied his techniques, and I thought I had them down pat. After one of Shane’s perfect ear-shattering breaks, Joe turned to me and said “did you see that?”
My response was something along the lines of “yeah, he really smashes the hell out of them!”
Joe looked at me for a moment, then said “No, he broke from the box. He moved the cue ball in from the side,” (where he had been breaking) “and made the wing ball. That’s impossible.”
Impossible? Seemed possible to me, Considering that we just saw him do it. I watched with interest the next time he broke, and he was right! Shane seemed to be taking his time, making sure the balls were all tight, with no gaps. He then placed the cue ball about 9 inches left of the center spot, lined up the break, and smashed them again. And wouldn’t you know it, the wing ball rocketed into the corner pocket again! Joe turned to me and said “See? Impossible.”
So what does this mean? Without going into too much detail, according to Joe, the only way that can happen is if the ball at the bottom of the rack has a small gap. This can happen after a while during a tournament — the balls just won’t rack tight any more. It can be a pure coincidence, of course… professional players will experiment with break position until they find what works, and when they do, they can become unstoppable.
In Shane’s case, he was breaking from about 4 inches off the side rail every match, and he suddenly switched to the new “inside the box” break position. Does this mean that he was “fixing” the rack, leaving that gap on purpose? It didn’t look like it to me, but I suppose that is possible. More likely is that he just couldn’t get the rack perfectly tight, observed where the gap was, and adjusted his break position to compensate.
I’m not calling Shane or Corey’s integrity into question here. If anything, I’m simply observing that if you put enough time into studying the game and practice incessantly, you’ll eventually get to a point where you can make the balls do whatever you want. I saw many players just smash the hell out of the balls, hoping something would drop. And many times, they did. But the most successful players understood where the balls were going, controlled their cue ball, and played clean, precise pool.
Congratulations to Justin Bergman for being the cleanest and most precise, and winning the tournament. It was an incredible show of amazing 9-ball.
If you are interested in knowing more about Joe Tucker’s techniques for reading racks and breaking, I strongly recommend you visit his website at joetucker.net and picking up a copy of his books and DVDs. I have always respected his knowledge, but to see it in action at the tournament was quite something. I was very impressed.
Do you have some tips on breaking that you’d like to share with me? Do you have any suggestions for future articles? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can also be found hanging out with fellow pool enthusiasts at http://www.reddit.com/r/billiards. Come on by and join the discussion!