Playing the Game from Your Chair
We have all faced that moment, many times: The ball you shot into the corner pocket rattled, and didn’t fall. Dejected, you trudge to your seat as your opponent jumps eagerly out of his chair, ready for battle.
I know how it feels. You want to keep your opponent in his chair as long as possible, while you run out rack after rack. Or, you want to play a lock-up safety on him, knowing that there is a very favorable chance you’ll be coming back to the table in a moment, hopefully with ball in hand.
But, alas, that is not to be. You have left him with a duck, and you know that you’ll probably be sitting in your seat for a while. Oh, well… at least you’ll get to enjoy a few of your fries, right?
Hold on a second there! Don’t be so quick to give up. Your job is far from over!
Many of us pool players are known for playing poker. Maybe it’s the gambling that draws us. Whatever the reason, we love to play. And as you might know, poker is a game that takes a lot of focus and observation, even (or especially) when you are not in the current hand. You need to watch your opponents, to see how they are playing, figure out their tells, and look for weaknesses.
Pool is very similar. I would go so far as to say that sitting in your chair observing your opponent is an incredibly vital part of the game.
Of course, we always want to keep our opponent in his seat, and run rack after rack. But that rarely happens, even amongst the pros. You will have some time in your seat, and while you are there, you have a job to do.
First, observe the table. You are not standing over it now, so your perspective is a little different. You might notice something you completely missed while you were at the table. Maybe there’s a cluster that can be broken up, or a safety you might be able to play. Perhaps you’ll see a pattern that was not clear before. Study the table carefully, and plan what you would do to run the table out, if you were in your opponent’s shoes.
Second, watch your opponent. Observe the choices he is making. Is he going for that long, straight shot in the corner, or is he thinking about playing safe? That might indicate that he is not comfortable with his straight distance shots at the moment.
Is he looking to bank his next ball across to the side pocket, or is he looking to cut it down to the corner? Have you ever seen him bank? Does he make most of them, or is he struggling? Does his cut shot go in every time? If not, does he have a tendency to overcut, or undercut?
If you left him safe behind another ball, is he opting to jump, or kick out of the safety? Is he capable of jumping a full ball? Does he prefer to masse?
Look at your opponent’s face, and his body language. Does he look confused, or annoyed? Have you been leaving him safe a lot, making him frustrated? Is he talking to himself, or to the balls? Or, does he look focused, and determined?
And why do you care about any of this?
The fact is, this game is more mental than anything else. Yes, it’s important to know how to make balls, and leave your cue-ball where you want. But if you are fairly evenly matched, then whether you win or lose is really going to come down to which one of you is more mentally prepared. If you can get your opponent to start talking to himself, you have a distinct mental advantage!
Observing your opponents and discovering their weaknesses will help guide you in your decision-making. If he’s having trouble with the long straight shots, then leave him a tester if you need to play a safety, instead of locking him up behind a ball. Give your opponent a chance to make mistakes, and you might get him to unravel a bit.
One last piece of advice, while you are planted in your seat: root for your opponent to do well. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of hoping on every shot of his that he’s going to miss. And when he doesn’t, you get more and more frustrated, watching him march slowly toward that final ball for the win. If you can get into the mind-space of cheering him on, then you won’t get frustrated unless he misses – and guess what? You’ll get over that frustration awfully quickly when you realize that miss means you get to eagerly jump out of your seat, ready to attack the table while he trudges to his chair in dejection.
And because you’ve been studying the table, you know exactly what you are going to do, and how you’re going to do it.
Keep your head in the game – especially when you are in your chair. You’ll give yourself that mental edge, and you’ll be much better prepared to win!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I can also be found hanging out with fellow billiards enthusiasts at reddit.com/r/billiards. Come on by and join the discussion!