Learning to Love One Pocket

Love it or hate it, it’s a very challenging game

I am a very lucky man.  My gal is very supportive of my love of pool, and goes with me to every tournament, and every league night.  She keeps track of my pool lesson appointments for me, and even gets on me to make sure I get my articles submitted on time every month.

Before we met, she knew nothing about pool, and had no desire to play or watch it.  Since we have been together, she has learned to love pool.  She gets most excited about 9-ball.  In her words, she loves to see the ball “zooming around the table” to get into position for the next shot.

She also enjoys 8-ball, but I strongly suspect that is because I play 8-ball in a local BCA league, and she loves socializing with our friends at the local pool hall (Crown Billiards in San Ramon, California).

Pool takes up a lot of our free time, and she’s pretty gracious about it, for the most part.  Often, I will tell her about a tournament I want to play in, and she’ll tell me OK, and put it on the calendar.

Unless it’s One-Pocket.  She hates One-Pocket.

I am sure most of you are familiar with One-Pocket.  If not, head on over to onepocket.org for a detailed description of the game.  Essentially, you and your opponent battle it out to be the first person to pocket eight balls in your assigned pocket. A simple premise, to be sure, but the nuances involved are very deep, and take a very long time to master.

One-Pocket is a very different animal from most other pool games. There is a lot of maneuvering and safety play, and very little actual shot-making.  I think that is where her boredom comes from: “I want to see balls go in the pocket!”

If you are in the same camp, and really don’t see the appeal of the game, I invite you to watch a match or two.  You can find some good matches on YouTube by searching for “One-Pocket.” Find a match with Scott Frost, and pay attention to the following:

Do not leave a clear shot for your opponent. Most of the time, you’ll want to leave the cue ball near your opponent’s pocket.  In doing so, you are forcing him to shoot away from his pocket, making it very difficult for him to score a pot.  Of course, you also want to make sure that you don’t leave a relatively easy bank shot for him, either.

You don’t always need to leave the cue ball near his pocket.  If you tie the cue ball up with other balls, you can not only leave him a difficult shot on his own pocket, you might make it difficult for him to play safe on you.  In most games, there is a cluster of balls near the foot spot, called the “stack.” If you put the cue ball next to the stack on his side of the table, he will have tremendous difficulty getting the upper hand on you.

Positioning balls near your pocket. One of the keys to doing well in this game is to ensure that you have some easy “ducks” sitting in front of your pocket, ready to be potted. The more you have sitting there, the more pressure it puts on your opponent, because if he misses a shot, you are going to be able to earn some points, and possibly even run out!

If you leave a ball on the long rail and one on the short rail, your opponent will have a difficult time leaving the cue ball in a position where you cannot put one of them in your pocket. But don’t just leave a bunch of balls near your pocket.  Make sure they are in position for easy pots.  If you tie some of them up, you might hinder your chances of making easy shots.

Remove balls from near your opponent’s pocket. This is really a corollary to the previous point.  In fact, the game really boils down to these two things: remove balls from your opponent’s pocket, and reposition them near your own.

This is where some of the “wow” factor can come in.  If you realize that a player is attempting to remove balls from his opponent’s side, and his shot ends up clearing 4 or 5 balls away, only to leave them near his own pocket, you have to recognize the tremendous skill that takes.  Seriously, watch Scott Frost’s matches.  He does this on a regular basis.  He’s a beast!

Don’t just blast those balls away, and put them on your side, though.  It’s not enough to put balls near your pocket; you must also protect them.  Leave the cue ball in a position that a) leaves no shot on your opponent’s pocket, and b) is hidden from your ducks by other ball(s).  The stack is very useful for this!

One-Pocket has often been compared to chess.  While chess obviously requires much more strategy, the analogy still holds up.  Often, you will move your pieces around, building up a strong defense around your king, while simultaneously forming a strong attack.

Don’t approach One-Pocket with the intention of potting 8 balls.  A game can last over an hour, and with that perspective, it’s VERY boring. Instead, approach it like a battle, and position your “men” in the best spots to give yourself the overall advantage.

As a spectator, don’t watch for the players to pot balls.  Instead, watch how they maneuver the balls around the table, and pay particular attention to their cue ball control.  95% of the time, they are focused mainly on putting the cue ball in the PERFECT position.

It takes tremendous skill, and some of the best players are masters at their craft.


If you would like to share some of your success stories (or even the failures), or have suggestions for future articles, please feel free to drop me a line at pool@billiardsprofessor.com, or leave a comment here. I can also be found hanging out with fellow billiards enthusiasts at reddit.com/r/billiards. Come on by and join the discussion!

Posted in Article, One-Pocket, Table Talk, The Break / Rackem / Stroke Magazines