No matter what level of play you are capable of right now, a snooker coach can provide beneficial input and advice. A quality coach can assess your current abilities and provide the right advice to improve your snooker game. I provide coaching formally to students, but have also chosen to write my thoughts on this blog to share what I know. If you are looking for snooker coaching advice, please feel free to read through some of the blog entries I have posted below and share a comment, or just contact me directly on my Snooker coaching page.

Tony Fun – Interview with a Canadian Snooker Player

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I had the pleasure to interview Tony Fun, a close friend, and someone I have learned a great deal of snooker from. Tony has been a competitive snooker player since the 1970’s, is a century runner that visited England, played with Peter Ebdon, and was the recipient of Marco Fu’s first 147 maximum break. Enjoy the interview and please do leave some comments below.

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Tony’s accomplishments and Personal History in snooker

I first saw a pool table at the age of 6 at a friend’s house. I gravitated to it right away. The more I played the more I enjoyed it. I found over the next couple of years I was making friends with just about anyone with a pool table. In 1972 or 73 at 11 or 12 years old I saw a snooker match being played on TV, I don’t know who was but I remember seeing these guys in tuxedos playing on a table the size of a football field. That was it. A year or so later I was playing some straight pool at Brentwood Bowling Lanes on a 4 ½ x 9 ft table and a friend invited me up to a snooker room by the name of Jubilee billiards. The only snooker room in Vancouver with a 24 hr licence, a smoke filled hall boasting 12 beautiful 6’ x12’ snooker tables.

At 13 I didn’t have a curfew and often joined friends to go up and play snooker until very late in the morning. I was playing a game now that was so exciting I couldn’t sit still on the days I knew we would be going up there. In order to get cash for table time I would save birthday money, Christmas money, take in bottles and even wore my lacrosse jersey to go house to house looking for donations to team tournaments that didn’t exist. On days I made enough I would tell my friends to leave me in the pool room at 3 or 4 am and I would take a bus home. I would play until I ran out of money and then brush tables for more practice time. I was not yet playing well but was quite determined. Many occasions I got to watch some of the top players on the front table; this would just inspire me more. I remember once traveling on the bus and whenever I could see my reflection in the windows I would stand, take my snooker stance and stroke looking behind in to the reflection to see if I was cueing straight. Many a bus driver had to wonder what the hell this skinny kid was doing.

By the time I was 15 going on 16, I had left home and in to my first apartment in White Rock BC. My landlord knew I was under age and that I was lying about my age but seemed to like me. I had a mattress, a small tv, 1 pot 1 pan and cutlery for 1. In the town was a small pool room with one snooker table and the rest were 5 x 10’s. No one played on the snooker table so the owner let me practice on it if I kept it clean and freed it up should someone wanted it. Within a couple of months my landlord offered me his push button Valliant if I would put gas in it…back to Jubilee. I played some of the locals and faired ok but then early one morning I was practicing on the front table as there was no one else around. A young oriental guy named Danny Dee stood watching me; I asked if he would like to play. He said no thanks, but this guy will. This was the first time I met Tommy Lee…we played for 2 dollars a game. I remember thinking “wholly crap, this guy only shoots black balls”. I was a quick study so Tommy only took 4 dollars from me and I paid $1.80 in pool time. I began to play him every chance I got and even moved closer to Jubilee so I could bus or walk to the hall. I played with Tommy for 2 solid years and became a first class ball spotter and my math was fast and accurate. Two of the most dominate things in my game came out of the beatings I took from him, one was my long potting game as it was the only way I ever got in. The 2nd was learning to make everything possible when I got in because there was seldom a chance I would get a second opportunity in the same frame. I cannot count the amount of times I had breaks of 60 + points and lost the frame. Over the next 4 years there were endless games of cut throat (or follow) the last whole evenings or sometimes days.

Around my 17th birthday I was playing a set on a Friday night with Rene Gauthier (The younger brother of Tom, a very well-known cue maker). The match started out as any other with Rene a very competent potter, missed a first red in and I compiled my first century break of 108. I had worked so hard at achieving this I couldn’t believe it. To me, running a century meant “you are a player”. It was possibly one of the greatest nights of my life; I still wonder if I knew how many points I had through the run would I have been able to break the barrier. I kept the same shirt I was wearing that night for 36 years. Now I wanted every possible century break available, always keeping an eye out if there were 10 or more reds on the table. Always keeping an eye out to clear the black if was hung up somehow because there was a never ending goal in mind. The second century seemed even harder, but more importantly I was breaking many more 60’s 70’s and 80’s. Now you couldn’t get me off a table with a whip and a chair. Over the next few months I had met Brady Gollan from Kelowna who was 15 at the time. We got along well and I had a car…we spent a lot of time together when he was in town visiting different clubs. Around that time I believe he had just won the Jr and under 21 Canadian championships. He was incredible, one of the most naturally talented snooker players I have ever met with an insatiable hunger for action. This is a whole other story.

At the age of 19 I was beginning to enter local tournaments and joined the BC Snooker association. I did ok at starting rounds but up against the stronger players still around like Tommy Lee, Jimmy or Johnny Bear, Jerry Kapchinsky and many more I was a little fish. As I continued to practice, play and gamble the game of snooker was sliding away in interest. Tournaments were getting less all the time; the top players were no longer around or just not playing. It seemed I and a few others were the last of the new generation. There was some action, a few tournaments and the odd head to head matches but nothing compared to earlier years. I was now in my twenties and compiling quite a number of centuries but not against the players of yesterday, this was disheartening as it felt like I missed the opportunity to push past the cliff of being in my mind “average”. So snooker maintained at this “average” for a few years.

At the age of 26 I started to have some tingling in my hands and sore joints, not understanding what the cause as I was in quite good health considering how much I smoked over the years of playing snooker. After 4 months of testing it was concluded that I had a rare spinal disease that was at that time 1 in 900 thousand that were affected. The disease had “no cause and no cure” With an expectation of much pain and an eventual wheel chair. Sometime later I began to lose sensitivity, strength and feeling in my hands and legs. The night before the surgery I had to sign a waiver that because they were working so close to my central nervous system I may permanently lose the use of my legs. Funny that in all that, the only thing I could think of was losing the ability to play snooker. Nothing meant more to me.

The surgery was successful and relieved much of the pressure in my spine; however recovery was about 18 months…no snooker with stitches from the base of my neck & halfway up my skull. As soon as I could walk and move around I would go up to the snooker club to sit and watch all day. This was more painful than the surgery to watch others play; at times I just wanted to jump up, grab my cue and push someone aside off the front table. About 14 months later I would stretch as much as possible, each day trying to get a little further over the table. A total of 18 months later I could get back to my physical form over the balls, but couldn’t play. It felt like starting over and could only stand a couple of hours a day at most. About this time a small golf shop opened next to what was now the new Jubilee, a gentleman by the name of Doug Bogle worked there and was often in the club for coffee. It turned out not only was he a player from the old days of snooker but had spent quite a bit of time with Cliff Thorburn when he was in his prime. I got talking with Doug and it turned out he was monumental for my recovery; he was a great snooker coach and golf coach. He spent many hours in repositioning my body to combine comfort and freedom with a solid platform. It took about 6 months of which time I had never felt so grateful to continue playing this incredible game again, to not only achieve the level of game I previously attained but now starting to surpass it. I had been studying snooker by video tapes for almost 2 years (and actually wore 3 tapes completely out) and was now beginning to learn to apply some of what I had learned to my own game. In 9 months I was playing to a level I had yet to achieve. I was 28 and compiling centuries to the level I quit counting.

At this time I woke up every single day gracious, but again there was not much going on for snooker. I had gone back to work for the most of a year and saved some money. My mother had recently passed and I had a small inheritance so with this combination I was by no means wealthy but didn’t have to work immediately. I thought I may have reached a plateau as I was headed to Calgary to play a tournament at the Crystal Palace, the night before leaving had 2 century breaks over a 2 hr session against Wade Bryant and 1 against Tom Gauthier at the original Alpha billiards in New Westminster BC. Back in Vancouver I was sitting in the Jubilee snooker club daydreaming about when I was 11 or 12 watching snooker on TV and how I had always dreamed of going to England, the home of snooker. The next morning I went to the passport office to get a passport as fast as possible. In such short notice they would only grant me a 6 month passport. 3 days later I was on a plane. I had no hotel or accommodations booked nor did I know anyone. I had a suitcase, a snooker cue with a Canadian flag on it, and on arrival at Heathrow had nowhere to go. Come to think of I had not told anyone I had left. Two weeks later I was playing in a house tournament against Peter Ebdon at Kings Cross, of course not knowing who he was. (He was the #1 amateur in England at that time). From there was 5 months of snooker heaven, playing in sometimes 2 tournaments a day. Peter was such an incredible host…so much more to tell.

Almost to the day…6 months later I was home. I kept a pair of 6 month old low heeled shoes as a souvenir as they were most comfortable for playing long hours of snooker. 4 months after buying them I had played so much snooker that I had worn completely through the leather on the right outside portion as this was a pressure point in my stance. My baby toe was sticking through the shoe. Well again, there was not much going on for snooker in Vancouver…but it no longer mattered. Looking back I was fortunate enough to play against these younger players and got a firsthand look at the quality of the amateurs that were on their way up. I won a number of matches based on experience and being on form that day but also lost many matches simply by being outplayed. I was so overwhelmed at how talented and deserving these players were. Their achievements came from nothing short of hard work and dedication. They wanted every point available but played with the discipline in making good choices. The first lesson that came my way was in modesty. Was I disappointed in my outcome, absolutely not…I didn’t go to England in hopes of turning pro, I went to find out what my best was and could be. And I did. After playing on the conditions of English tables that were for the most fantastic and consistent, then coming home to Brunswick Anniversaries where your fingernails were dirty after 2 frames and no one to play…I quit.

A few years later, friends that had a club in Port Moody BC called me up and asked if there was any chance I could come down on the Saturday to their Snooker hall. I said that I wasn’t playing and had a date that night. Bob the owner said “were not looking for you to play, there’s a kid down here we want you to look at, he had to ban from the junior tournament. He’s 13 and knocking in 70 breaks. No one else wants to play”. I immediately considered my date secondary, cancelled it and went down to the club that Saturday night. As I walked in I saw a very typical looking Chinese man with a kid next to him. Bob said “Tony, I’d like you to meet Marco Fu and his father Willie” We chatted for a few minutes, Marco’s English was much better than Willie’s but both were very polite and I enjoyed speaking with them. We decided to have a game on an 18th century Samuel May table. I watched as Marco pulled out a 15 oz snooker cue with about a 8.5 or 9mm tip. The butt looked like a weathered fence post as the stain had worn off. We played a few frames and ended up pretty much even, I wanted to play snooker again. I began to meet Marco for practice sessions (watched intently by his father Willie). Marco was all about offence, not surprizing the way he could pot. Willie asked me to work with Marco but in a very short time I felt I had reached my limit as I too was very much a feel player and had limited teaching capabilities. After watching Marco long enough to know he was something special, there was another strength which was his maturity and ability to concentrate to a level beyond his age. At that point I did not want to cause any complications with Marco’s progression and thought it best I introduce him to Tommy Lee. Much more to tell, but about 18 months later Marco and I both played at the Canadian Championships in Guelph Ontario where Marco was the youngest qualifier ever to play in the event. Marco was not allowed to attend the dinner where there was an honorable mention in his name as his mother heard there was alcohol present.

I played over the next few years as new members on the BC Snooker council were getting more tournaments together. In a practise session at a new club Embassy Snooker where I met Marco for an afternoon session, I expected Marco to beat me up a little as he was starting to excel again. But today was a little different, I broke and he broke his first maximum break…I think he was 15. At this point Marco was winning every match and tournament he entered, at one point I believe Marco had gone 34 matches without a loss. For me it is worth mentioning that Marco ‘s winning streak ended when I won 5 to 3 over him at Western Canadians in Vancouver. The last game came down to a final black. After 3 well played safety’s on Marco’s behalf, I was left on the green side of the table with the cue ball 2 inches up and 1 inch off the side rail and the black 3” up from the top rail and an inch off the side rail. Safety was marginal at best, so bridging over the corner pocket I released my cue as if the black was over the pocket. I did not see the black disappear…but it sound like someone snapped a piece of wood. I would have to say this was a tournament best for me based on Marco’s performance over the last months without a loss.

Over the next few years I had played at the Club 147 in Langley BC on a gorgeous BCE Westbury with a gentleman named Bill Beatle. Bill was from The 70’s and knew Cliff quite well. This table was identical to those played at the World Championships, including the cloth. Bill was a great player and an expert at everything he did – world class target shooter, jewelry maker, wine coinsure and a hell of a snooker player. This club was the last I played regularly at, had quite a number of centuries on this table as well. The last larger tournament I played was at the Western Canadian Championships in Winnipeg Manitoba. I was happy to finish as a quarter finalist with my health again becoming challenging. A thousand dollar check was a nice added feature to the trip. Over the last couple of years of play I had Marco Fu join me in an exhibition match with proceeds going to a local hospital. This was quite close to the time Marco was leaving for Hong Kong and then England. Great to watch his progression over the years, I am not surprized at his success whatsoever.

Summary: Shortly after I met my wife, changed careers and had kids… snooker began to show up in the rear view mirror. I play now and again at Kevin Deroo’s home about 20 minutes from mine, but it feels like little gas is left in the tank. I’ve gained some weight, eyes going and have somewhat taken a spectators seat. I look back at my life in snooker at 55 and feel so incredibly fortunate to have had the experiences I have with the sport I love. Having the privilege in meeting and playing with professional players like Cliff Thorburn, Bill Werbenuik, Jim Wych, Kirk Stevens, Peter Ebden, Dennis Taylor, Willie Thorn, Brady Gollan and Marco Fu as well as a number of the top Canadian players was amazing. The time spent playing the game of snooker and the experiences of what comes with the clubs, the people, the gamble and the never ending curiosity of what the next day brings is hard to put in to words. I always said if I put the effort in to anything else as I did snooker I couldn’t fail. This is true as like the game of snooker only gives us what we put in; it forces us to be honest with ourselves in order to make it to each next level.

Stories you can ask me about

  • The longest follow game I ever played – 42 hrs 7 different players
  • Jubilee Billiards – Standard Sat. night raid
  • Tommy Lee – falls asleep on a perfect game of blues
  • Tommy Lee vs Jim Wych – Seymour billiards – penalty frame
  • Brady Gollan – follow game in Port Coquitlam. Paul Stanton, Reed Unger,
  • Brady Gollan vs Bill Werbenuik
  • Brady Gollan Vs Tom Finstad – Western Canadians Washroom break(Jerry Kap)
  • Bill Werbenuik – pints of lager Ace Billiards trick shots
  • Crystal Palace – Russ Schuster Pranks
  • Jubilee – newspaper set on fire – bet
  • The flight to England – almost kicked off the flight
  • First day in England – Ritz snooker club
  • Meeting Peter Ebden first time in final of house tournament (breakfast)
  • Kings Crossing – Kids & practice
  • Snooker clubs in England – private rooms, sound proofing, tv waiters, block irons
  • My snooker cues stolen and retrieved
  • Baz Nagle & Willie Mosconi
  • My buddy Charlie Brown – gambler, rounder – cards, snooker, 9ball, golf
  • Brady Gollan – Little Paul snooker and golf 400.00

Ton Fun’s Achievements

  • Qualified and played at 2 Canadian Snooker Championships
  • Guelph Ontario, Vancouver BC
  • Qualified and played at 2 Western Canadian Championships
  • Vancouver BC, Winnipeg Manitoba Finished ¼ finals
  • Qualified for pro am Vancouver BC
  • Including Cliff Thorburn, John Bear, Brady Gollan
  • Won BC Tournament at Chenier Billiards
  • Placed 1st in BC Qualifiers for the year 1995
  • Century breaks – unknown played 13 years after my first

Memorable Photos

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Tony Fun with Marco Fu at the Black Dog Billiards, a charity fund raising exhibition match

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Black Dog Billiards, a charity fund raising exhibition match. The cheque is being accepted for New Westminster Memorial Hospital

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Canadian Snooker Championship in Guelph Ontario with Hal Grobman

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Tony Fun at the Canadian Snooker Championship in Guelph Ontario solo photo

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Thank you for reading!

Do you want me to answer specific questions about snooker?

I’m happy to share what I know and answer specific questions any readers may have. Please feel free to use the comment box below, and I will personally answer any questions you may have. Thanks!

 

Snooker Breakbuilding Tips and How To – 62 Break Explained

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Breakbuilding is crucial to your success in snooker and other cue sports. The best way to win in cue sports is to clear up all the balls. I have been working on my break building for many years and have finally started knocking in several 50+ breaks. I was at my friends last night – he has a 5’x10′ table – and I knocked in a 62 break. I have recorded my commentary and tips in the break and placed them on Youtube so can learn and get better at your snooker breakbuilding and cue ball control skill. Shot selection is crucial in snooker and I have tried to provide some ideas and tips in this break.

Got comments? Leave them below!

WITH Commentary:

WITHOUT Commentary:

How to Fix your Cue Action and Stance – Analysis of Duane

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A commenter, Duane, asked me a number of questions recently as you can see at the following comments on a few of my articles. Duane sent me some videos of himself playing on a pool table and I provided a bunch of feedback through analysis and assessment of his cue action. If you are looking for FREE assessment or analysis of your cue action, stance, stroke, or game play, send some videos of you playing snooker, billiards, pool, or any cue sport. I love watching these videos and learning from my students and providing feedback to help them.

SCROLL to the END of the article to see the video

Hello Mayur
I am working on approach and coming down slowly it does seem to be a key ingredient in great play when you say look at the cueball while feathering do you mean on your practice strokes and then are you looking at the object ball aim point only once at the flow through

Thanks this is great insight into the game

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Hello Mayur
Thanks for responding to my question .It has been very helpful. I am currently implementing some of your suggestions and am having some good results.Yes I am interested in hearing more of your thoughts n this subject. I believe steering is a major reason why I and others miss balls.I in particular fall victim to this because I have difficult looking at the object ball last

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Great instructional video on fundamentals. I learned a lot about what I should be doing and shouldn’t.
Here are some question I have problems with.
One ,what is the best way to make sure your stroking arm is on line ,and straight ,mine tends to chicken wing out off line or in ,but not fall straight on line.
Two what is the best way to release the cue straight( follow stroke) some times I feel I jerk the cue especially on firm strokes I feel aim holding the cue loose but I still am steering. Thanks looking forward to hearing your response

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Hello everyone. Great article on pressure and how to use it. I never thought about it that way And it really shed some light on why I Need to play more safe, instead of just going for it.

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Hello I live in the US. I am a serious student .I have played pool ,snooker and billiards for 25 years. I currently play 8 ball, 9 ball, and 10 ball, and one pocket.I have been recently getting lower on the ball for improved aim My high run back 15 years ago was 69 on 5 dx10 but have not played snooker in several years .I play with a 60 inch cue 19 oz with Predator z 2 shaft 11 3/4 mm. I am trying to make it to the next level and believe that fundamentals is one of the main ways to do this. I would appreciate any help you have to offer. Thanks Duane

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In the video below, I provided various feedback to Duane, talking about:

  • Importance of having a stable, predictable, and well planned stance and how it’s important to stand in the right place, facing your shot head on, with both feet, and learning to walk into the line of aim correctly.
  • General recommendations on height vs cue size
  • Thinking about how to play safe in 8-ball and 9-ball vs snooker and why playing safe is an inevitability at some point in any cue sport. I also mentioned about the art of safety play on the smaller table. I also mentioned about the push shot in 9-ball off the break.
  • Mentioned some strategies to prevent steering – namely that steering actually starts from the stance and pre-routine.
  • How to think about the ghost ball in you pre-shot routine and mentioned that it helps in identification of the 1/4, 1/2 ball, and 3/4 ball
  • How to prevent aiming when you are down and why aiming in cue sports is so difficult.
  • How to create an approach system for getting into your shots
  • Accuracy in cue sports (snooker, pool, 8-ball, 9-ball, billiards, etc)
  • Talked about traditional cue action mechanics and getting your head down low and why it’s important to actually have your head down vs being a stand up player.
  • What happens when your head is above the cue
  • Slight variance about missing shots
  • Twisting of the wrist and why it’s happening and when Duane’s wrist came out of line on the backswing
  • Conscious vs Subconscious potting and wrist issues
  • How to create a stance that actually works
  • I also mentioned Mark Allen, Mark Selby, and Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • Thinking about the body being a starting point that can either inhibit or enhance your aiming system

There are MANY more comments in the video. PLEASE comment and enjoy!

CLICK HERE to watch on YOUTUBE. COMMENT on YOUTUBE or in the comments below or on Facebook! Thanks!!

CLICK the video below to PLAY

Knowing when you might miss a shot

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We all miss shots. Missing a shot is something you need to learn to accept, evaluate, and eliminate. Missing shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, but instead as a learning experience that provides you the necessary feedback to improve.

Getting Upset

I see players that miss shots and then are upset with themselves. It’s natural, in a match or in practice to get upset initially, but you should move on quickly from that mistake. It’s history. It can’t be changed. The consequences of that action are already playing themselves out. Once the cue ball is struck, what happens after is not within your control. If you find yourself getting upset often, then your expectations exceed your ability. Or perhaps you lack the emotional control required to deal with failure. Whatever the reason, something you are doing needs to change.

Why you miss

If we could look back at videotapes or ourselves playing, it would be easier to identify why we miss shots. Recently I have been recording my own match play at a friends house. I have had the advantage of seeing a lot of video of myself and it has helped me become more self aware. Some people struggle in identifying their weakness or are unwilling to accept that they lack the skill. They stubbornly stick with the same way of thinking, unwilling to work on their weakness, and then wonder why they continue missing and get upset.

There are many reasons why we might miss shots:

  • difficult cueing – over a ball or near the cushion for example
  • pressure – either in a match, or when trying to reach a new personal best in practice
  • imperfect mechanics – either from your stance, your eyes, your hand, your grip etc.
  • difficult pot – the pot itself is inherently difficult like a long shot, or thin slice or having to pot into only a portion of the pocket
  • unwilling to sacrifice position – sometimes, potting the ball successfully means that you just won’t get the position you desire and need to reassess your outcome
  • equipment issues – kicks, bad cushions, miscues, etc.
  • inadequate understanding – of english, ball striking, ball control, cushions, etc.
  • unreasonable expectations given our level of skill

Everyone is individual and will have shots they are more or less likely to miss compare to someone else. For example, depending on your eye dominance, you may miss “right angles” more than “left angles” or visa versa. Pros on TV are no exception – some are just better at some shots than others.

Some shots, as a general rule, are also missed more than others by everyone. For example:

  • down the cushion
  • very thin cuts
  • shots with the rest
  • long shots

Playing your best vs playing perfectly

What if I told you that you won’t play the kind of snooker you WANT to play, and that you WILL miss shots you didn’t expect to? Most snooker players are always looking to improve their game and so always see a gap between their aspirations and their current ability. Would that make it easier to accept misses? I doubt it. Missing still hurts because its unexpected.

Now, what if I told you that for any shot you attempt (safety or pot) that there is ALWAYS an estimated chance you will be successful? That knowing your past history with that shot, we can guesstimate your success rate for the next one? This success rate is something we all know as snooker players. We know when it’s a tough shot vs an easy shot. For most players, that’s as far as their thought process goes: it’s hard vs it’s easy. It’s nearly impossible, however, to determine success rate on a shot by shot basis and then make a decision based on past performance.

Success Rate

Success rate is an important feedback mechanism in shot planning. I believe one day we might even start seeing success rate for any given shot for pros as they already have the ability to measure distances between cue ball, object ball and pocket on television with the technology available.

Since you have the ability to assess your own individual success rate for every single shot you play, are you able to use that in shot planning? I would venture to guess you probably already are. Subconsciously, you probably turn down shots that others wouldn’t pass up. Are you willing to pass up shots you haven’t yet perfected because you know based on past experience that your success rate is unacceptably low?

Knowing our own success rate from shot to shot often comes into the pre-shot decision making process – going for the pot or playing safe. Our success rate also gets used by our opponents in determining what shots they decide to leave us. I remember many years ago, friends would always leave me side pocket shots because I struggled to pot them until I practiced and overcame my own lack of skill.

We can also make general rules about success rates for different kinds of shots also and suggest that some shots are always harder to execute. For example, I have one friend that consistently plays his cue ball on or near the cushion. He claims that doing so is a defence mechanism against his opponent – as most people have trouble off the cushion, but I also know his success rate off the cushion isn’t that much better than anyone else.

Accept misses as part of the game, and work hard on perfecting your own skill level in the game and improving at your own pace. If you personal high break is 30, carefully monitor what shot you missed, and practice it until you fully understand it. Each time you do this, you increase your chance of beating your last performance.

Monitor your own progress

Watching videos of yourself playing will tell you a lot about your own game. I have also found that practice routines will give you this feedback. One practice drill in particular – the lineup – provides great feedback for most players.

I have been doing the lineup recently in practice (2 reds below black, 6 below pink, and 7 below blue). In every session I have discovered certain patterns emerging. At first, I was having trouble clearing more than 5 or 6 reds, but once I started assessing what shots I’m missing more than others, I worked on them and overcame the difficulties. The lineup – and any other practice routine – is great for this kind of individual feedback because the balls are always in the same position, and if you play close attention, you can pickup on patterns for yourself. You will, however, need to be disciplined in how you approach practice so that you can gain this additional benefit and feedback: if you miss, or cannon a red, start over. With the lineup start with the 2 reds below the black (nearest the cushion first), and then directly above the black and either side of the pink, followed by all the remaining reds in whichever order you prefer.

Practice is great for understanding what shots you are more or less likely to miss, but what about when you are in a match? I think as snooker players, we tend to have a black/white method in our decision making on shot selection – either we go for the shot, or play safe. This polarity in shot selection, however, doesn’t translate into our success rate on producing the outcome we desire. Overall past success is much more grey and uncertain. Depending on our personality or mood, we might be more courageous than past performance allows.

Should you ignore past performance?

I’m sure some of you are reading this article thinking that past performance shouldn’t be an indicator of future success. I fully understand that courage, determination, and perseverance shouldn’t be ignored and that you need those qualities in match play. I know that you should overcome your fears and doubt, and take the shot on that’s called for, but I also know that you will need to accept failure as a possible outcome, if you decide to take that path.

I have found that it’s very hard to play matches by taking any shot on. Offense has it’s place in snooker, but so does knowing when to play the safety as well. Being realistic about our own abilities, and following our own success formula in match play, and then working on our weakness in practice will reduce the pressure we place on ourselves, and provide a system for improving our offensive and defensive capabilities.

Think through your past results when faced with a difficult shot. Knowing how often you missed a shot in the past, can provide a good baseline to make decisions from. If you decide, in the end, to take the shot on anyways – regardless of past performance – you can at least do so knowing that the results might not go your way.

Reader Question: How to deal with new cloth on the snooker table

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A reader asked me the question:

What would I notice as different if I were to play on a good Simonis cloth? They are putting a Simonis cloth on the snooker table where I play this week. I live in Michigan. It is very difficult to even find a Billiard Parlor with a snooker table.

Thank you,
Bob Q

Bob, thanks for getting in touch!  Here is my response:

Generally, pool rooms will try to find a balance between durability and playability. Simonis isn’t the recommended cloth to use on a snooker table – pros play on the 6811 Strachan. The 6811, although the best cloth, doesn’t have the durability compared to other cloth and is also more expensive, so it’s rarely used in public billiard rooms. Some rooms swear by the Hainsworth Smart cloth as the one to use. Hopefully, the fitters re-cover the cushions as well (it’s standard practice). Initially, when a new cloth is placed on a table, there is a period of break in time whereby the balls don’t respond as they are meant to.

The type of balls you play and condition also bear a significant role in overall play condition as well. I highly recommend that you own and carry around a good set of snooker balls as well in the off chance that the pool room doesn’t provide a clean and properly weighted set. The cue ball also should be weighed at least once a year to ensure <1g tolerance between all balls. Pros use Snooker Aramith Tournament champion balls 2 1/16th. A light cue ball can be hard to control and you will find that the angles you know don’t seem to work out. You never reach good cueing when the cue ball is out of weight compared to the other balls. Even when the cue ball is correctly weighted, some cue balls still don’t respond because the resin density is off as well. My friend, at his house, swears by the heavier “feeling” Steve Davis balls.

As a courtesy, if your pool room doesn’t regularly do it, you should brush the table before you play. This provides a longer life to the table cloth – the chalk has chemicals that wear the cloth out. Brush the table from the balk down to the black spot. You should also find out if they block or iron the table and volunteer that service if they don’t. It will help your enjoyment of the game in the end.

I hope that helps Bob! As always, please comment and suggest the next article!
 

Request for Next Article

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Hello Loyal Subscribers! I’m getting read to spend some time writing a bunch more articles over the next few months. I really have enjoyed your comments and feedback and I’m getting excited about doing some great articles this year to provide more information and education on the game we all love!  I don’t spend enough time writing because I try to spend every spare moment on the snooker table :) Can you blame me?

I have combed through the comments and here are some indications for topics that I need to pursue further:

  1. Commentor Thiagan asked me about the shape of a tip. I’m thinking about doing a video of a tip change as well as talking a bit about tips.
  2. Commentor Spike has asked about the next article in the series “Snooker Success Principles and Shot Selection”. I got as far as Part 3, but I think Part 4 and Part 5 are very much overdue.
  3. A LOT of comments and live web chats are asking questions like “I’m doing this and this and this with my cue action and it’s broken cause I can’t make balls. How do I fix it?”. This is the most difficult question to answer because it’s so open ended. That’s what coaching is all about – figuring out the particular broken bits, and sorting them out. It would be in appropriate to prescribe any one solution through an article, but I may be able to provide general guidelines.

Do you have some ideas and suggestions for a topic you would like to see written next? Let me know!  After all, I write for you, my subscribers!

Happy Potting!
MJ

How to Win in Snooker

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Everyone has their own theories on how snooker should be played. I’m of the opinion that scoring heavily truly is the recipe for success. Break building is something every snooker player should aspire to work on. By scoring heavily you ensure success for several reasons:

  1. Your opponent has no chance of scoring
  2. Your opponent can’t snooker you or play safe
  3. You increase your confidence

There is one aspect of consistent break building that is often missed by aspiring players: the ability to clear the balls under pressure. If you are a consistent and heavy scorer, that skill helps you to win frames, but it also helps you save frames. Under pressure when you need all the colors to win, being a consistent heavy scorer has it’s benefits:

  1. You become skilled in moving the cue ball into various positions
  2. You know how to play cannons and kisses
  3. You know how to clear the colors at the end of the frame
  4. You aren’t scared of taking chances and scoring heavily
  5. You are willing to split the pack early and clear the balls

So how do you become a good break builder and heavy scorer?

Many snooker players try to approach break building from the perspective of a pro. They go into the pack off the blue and then try to score. The problem with this approach is that they often aren’t ready or skilled enough to clear the table. Often it’s a complex mix of many primary issues:

  1. Lack cue ball control
  2. Lack potting ability
  3. Have poor ball selection
  4. Have poor mechanics
  5. Have poor focus and concentration

Often it’s a complex combination of the above primary skills that let them down. I think it’s actually more important and more useful to break down the individual pieces of a big break and deal with them one by one as individual practice routines:

  1. Clear the colors from a ball in hand position
  2. Learn how to go from black to yellow from different cue ball positions
  3. Learn how to go from pink to yellow from different cue ball positions
  4. Learn how to go from blue to yellow from different cue ball positions
  5. Clear 3 reds, 3 black balls and all the colors
  6. Clear 5 reds, 5 black balls and all the colors
  7. Clear 7 reds, 7 black balls and all the colors
  8. Open a pack of 3 reds below the pink with the cue ball low on the black, clear all reds with blacks and pinks, and all the colors
  9. Open a pack of 6 reds below the pink with the cue ball low on the black, clear all reds with blacks and pinks, and all the colors
  10. Open a pack of 10 reds below the pink with the cue ball low on the black, clear all reds with blacks and pinks, and all the colors

Focus and concentration can’t be worked on directly through any of the individual practice systems. Your focus and concentration develop as a side effect of practice assuming you are trying your best and looking to practice perfectly rather than imperfectly.

Once you have worked on the above practice routines and have had some success with each of them, it becomes much more apparent that you can score sufficiently when in match play because situations will become familiar to you and you will be able to draw on practice experience, knowledge, and muscle memory.

Break building is part science and part art. If you work on the fundamentals of cue ball control, potting, mechanics, and so forth, the rewards of practice eventually pay off in match play because things become familiar. As something becomes familiar in practice, it becomes familiar in match play when you need to “turn it on” and score. As it’s often said in cue sports, “practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect”.

Did you like this article? Let me know by leaving a comment and sharing your opinion!  Thanks!

Review of Saeed’s Cue Action and Review

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When asked I review the cue action of people that get in touch with me on Skype or email. Email and Skype are OK, but I prefer to see videos because I can see what is going on. See this video below of Saeed who got in touch with me and asked me for help.

Notice the position of his feet, the movement of his body and shoulders to the right as he measures and cues. Please watch the video and leave comments! Thank you!

Tutorial: How to stop missing certain angles in snooker

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There will always be some shots in snooker that you will consistently miss. I have put a lot of thought into why I miss shots over many years of playing. Often, when I leave the table after a missed shot, I try to recreate the shot in my head to see if there was something I missed. I often ask myself questions like:

  1. Was I rushed?
  2. Was I standing in the right place?
  3. Did I rush the shot?
  4. Did I cue poorly?
  5. Did I not concentrate?
  6. Was I on a big break and got nervous?
  7. Was I distracted by something or someone?
  8. Did I understand the angle correctly?

Whenever you miss a shot, this is good practice to do. It’s important that you do this because you can experiment and change the next time you face the shot (or any other shot) or remember to work on the practice table as well. If you pay close attention, you will find with some experience that there will always be some shots that you consistenly miss. You end up having to concentrate more on these shots which in turn makes you miss even more. Many of the common issues that will cause you to miss a shot can be corrected through a fundamental approach to every shot:

  1. Step 1: Determine where you want the cue ball to go
  2. Step 2: Determine where the cue ball will strike the object ball
  3. Step 3: Determine how to strike the cue ball – pace and position
  4. Step 4: Stand behind the intended line of the cue ball (NOTE: this is where a lot of amateur players get into trouble)
  5. Step 5: Walk into the shot in a specific consistent way
  6. Step 6: Feather and pause as needed
  7. Step 7: Strike the cue ball

However, even if you do everything suggested above, there will still be some shots that you miss often. A common example of a shot we all miss is shown below.

Shotmaker-Snooker-Scene1

I tried over the years to determine WHY I missed this shot and I discovered that the MOST common reason players miss this shot is that they miss-read and misunderstand the angle.

What I mean by this is that even if you do any of these steps you could still miss:

  1. Stand in the right place
  2. Approach the shot correctly
  3. Feather and Pause correctly
  4. Cue perfectly

Somehow, either during practice or prevoius (or recent!) bad habits, you have learned an incorrect point of contact. This can be especially true if you previously played with a lot of side spin to “throw” the object ball into the pocket and you have sinced picked off that angle consistently incorrectly. I try to illustrate this point below. Notice the first cue ball making contact with the object ball below in grey. It strikes the black ball which in turns heads in the direction shown to the left. The second cue ball is shown in slight pink.

ghost-ball

Other possible reasons you may be missing the angle or point of contact in a consistent basis are:

  1. You have changed your cue tip size
  2. You have changed from center-ball striking to striking with more side spin or visa versa (NOTE: always use center ball striking in snooker. Side really should not be learned until you become a regular 40-50-60 break player with center-ball striking.
  3. You simply haven’t practiced the shot enough
  4. You use some other imprecise method for aiming

Over many years of trial and error I have discovered a very useful method and practice routine you can use to understand angles of some shots better. This process involves working up to the angle from an angle you know (full ball for example) to an angle that you are uncomfortable with and don’t know (like the shot shown earlier). It’s a simple process that you can follow as shown below:

Start with this shot and count your success out of 50. You should be able to make this shot 50 out of 50 without difficulty.

Start with this shot and count your success out of 50. You should be able to make this shot 50 out of 50 without difficulty. It’s a good shot to start at because it will show you all the technical issues you may have.

After you have success with the previous shot, try this shot. Count your success out of 50. Try hard and concentrate.

After you have success with the previous shot, try this shot. In this shot, the cue ball is just slightly below full ball. It’s about 1-2 inches away from full ball and you should comfortably be able to make this shot. Count your success out of 50. You should be able to make this shot at least 45 out of 50. Try hard and concentrate.

Now the shot is getting harder. If you are not making this shot at least 40 out of 50, then there is something wrong and you shouldn't progress any further. I explain what to look at and pay attention to further below.

Now the shot is getting harder. Again, move the cue ball another 1-2 inches further away from the previous shot. If you are not making this shot at least 40 out of 50, then there is something wrong and you shouldn’t progress any further. I explain what to look at and pay attention to further below. Often, as mentioned in this article it’s a combination of your mechanics and technique and not recognizing the correct cue ball contact point on the object ball.

With this shot, you are starting to work towards the toughest shot and you should be see whats going wrong. Again stop with this shot until you fully understand the shot and are making it 40 out of 50.

With this shot, you are starting to work towards the toughest shot. This is a common angle to start missing because some players tend to look at the pocket and in this shot, this will be difficult. Again stop with this shot until you fully understand the shot and are making it 40 out of 50. When I say ‘understand’ what I mean is to keep studying the angle, and the cue ball path until you intimately understand the shot and you can visually see the impact as well as the cue ball path instantly.

Only attempt this shot if you have mastered the other 4 shots. You should be able to make this shot at least 40 out of 50.

Only attempt this shot if you have mastered the other 4 shots. You should be able to make this shot at least 40 out of 50 with practice and study. You should really spend focused time when doing these practice routines. Focus on angles, contact points and pace. Work hard and study your body and the reactions of the balls. You should be paying attention when in practice.

 

With the above tutorial, it’s a simple process of doing the shot from easy to hard and creating some success. If you believe it’s just about muscle memory and angles, you are missing the point. The real growth will come when you study the missed shots. It’s when you miss and then study what went wrong, that you understand what you need to do. When I say understand the shot, what I mean is:

  1. Perceive the angle perfectly
  2. Feel when it’s wrong
  3. Sense where the cue ball will go
  4. Know the object ball will get pocketed

I use a lot of “right brain” (creative) ways of describing how to understand the shot because I believe that success in this game is part science (angles, collisions, spin) but also part art as well. Only you can fix the shot based on your own brain’s ability to perceive and sense where it’s going wrong.

I hope that helps!  Please leave comments and rate below!

 

The current state of Snooker cues from China

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Snooker is quickly becoming an international game.  For the longest time, it was a game dominated by players from the British Isles – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – but it’s not that way anymore. Now there is a strong following in Germany, China, UAE, Saudi Arabia, India and many other countries.  It’s even gaining a bit of momentum in Canada as well.

Why has snooker become more popular internationally? Well, in part, technology and televised sport has played an important role.  Players from all over the world can now go online to watch their country men (and women) play. Snooker can also be more easily broadcasted outside of the UK now with Satellite and online streaming of events and feature programming.  Self-recording and uploading amateur and home made content is a breeze now as well with Youtube and cheap video cameras available. Even World Snooker, the governing body, has an online Snooker streaming web site at www.worldsnooker.livesport.tv so that you can watch live officially sanctioned events and matches anywhere in the world. Access to more matches, more content, and more information (like this blog), has inspired younger players to continue playing and support the sport.

China, in particular, has had some incredible success with Snooker.  There are several top 100 players from China now and it’s suggested that China will bring the next World Champion before any other country outside of the British Isles. That may well happen given the number of snooker clubs and players in China – several times more than in the rest of the world combined. Incredibly, in a recent televised World Championship round when two players from China were competing, there were some 100 million people watching back in China!

Cue making, however, is still being lead by British Isles cue makers.  Or is it?

I think it’s inevitable that since China is investing and supporting the game of snooker, they are bound to support the cue supply needs of their snooker players as well. In addition, making and shipping a cue from UK to China is still relatively expensive compared to the cost of making a cue in China and selling to the local market.

But are Chinese or Asian cues just as good as their British counterparts?  I think for a few makers in China, they are. In fact, I can honestly say that they are easily as good, if not better than British made cues.  I’m not just basing my opinion on my own experience – I actually have a few cues made in Thailand which are sold in UK under the “Greenbaize” brand.  They are superb cues, have intricate and perfectly aligned points and inlays, and hit better than some British made cues I have tried.  I’m also saying this because I am starting to see the standard improve as I see more and more cues made in China. It’s bound to happen given that so many cues are still being imported from Britain to China right now. Chinese cue makers will eventually master their craft and produce cues at the same level of quality as you would get from England.

If had to be ultra critical of Asian made cues, I would say that some years ago, the shaft woods were not as good. Was it the lack of high quality, old growth Ash and Maple? I think it’s less of an issue now though. In the past, British cue makers (and some Canadian cue makers like Kevin Deroo) may have done a slightly better job. But it’s not a hard and fast rule anymore.

If you have hesitated about buying an Asian cue, fear no more. Do your research, read up advice on TheSnookerForum, and go for it. The prices are competitive, and the quality is just as good.

Snooker Success Principles and Shot Selection – Part 3

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I started this topic in a previous blog post because I had a visitor comment about some difficulties he faces over shot selection and execution. Namely,

  1. Taking shots they aren’t 100% committed to.
  2. Consciously missing shots by thinking about missing vs thinking about making.
  3. Being stuck in a rut of not stepping back and analyzing the current situation thoroughly.

You can read those comments and concerns here (scroll to the bottom to see the comments).

In Part 1, I introduced some of the mental “mechanics” that you should think about like shot execution for yourself, vs for a pro and mentioned that practice was the jewel that led to greater consistency and confidence in playing the right shot more often.

In Part 2, I introduced the idea of pressure and how it played a pivotal role in snooker and I gave an example of how I chose to focus instead on shot selection, execution, and my own thoughts rather than getting caught up in the match, the opponent, or the pressure from someone else.

In this blog post, I want to talk a bit more about pressure as I think it’s such an important topic to fully explore. I will then introduce the idea of control and how we can control the pressure we feel and apply.  In Part 4 of this series, I will cover a game plan and system that will give you a map to work with that solves all the issues we commonly face as snooker players.

Let me ask you a question:

Under which of these situations do you feel the most pressure? 

a. It’s the finals of a major tournament, best of 35, and the frames are tied 17-17. Your opponent just scored a 50 break and you are 50-0 down with 51 left on the table (3 reds). All the colors are on their spots. You have a very marginal red tight on the cushion (which you are likely to miss even in practice) to get in and score.  You could pass the shot up for now and play safe.  The other two reds are in more open positions and if you miss the marginal red, it’s likely your opponent will pot one of them.
b.  It’s the finals of a major tournament, best of 35, and the frames are tied 17-17. You just scored 50 and there is 51 left on the table. All the colors are on their spots. There are 3 open reds left but you can’t get to them now as you didn’t play position correctly from the last color.  You have to play a good safety now. The only reasonable safety shot you can play will leave a red on but in marginal position tight on the cushion. Your opponent would only have the marginal red after you have played the safety shot. The other two reds would be easily available if he misses.

Is there a right answer to the above?  Nope. The actual answer is different for everyone. We all see things differently. Some see the cup half full, and others see the cup half empty. Our entire life experience becomes part of our decision making in snooker. We stop and go, defend and attack, based on our survival instincts and feelings. Some like to play offense, and others like to play defense.  Some might choose option a, while others choose option b.

Let’s explore each of the two pressure situations above a bit more.

Option A – You are 50 down with 51 on (3 reds).  There is only a marginal red available at the moment.  If you make it, you can get on the black and the other two reds are easily accessible, but if you miss, you are likely to lose the frame and match.

Let’s say that option a is where you feel the most pressure.  The first problem you encounter is that you know you must score 3 reds, 3 blacks and all the colors to win. The red your opponent has left you, however, isn’t an ideal shot to begin the break but it’s the only offensive shot you have right now. If you make it, you would certainly be on the black, but if you miss – which you are likely to do even on a practice table – you would lose the frame.

The odd thing about this situation is that, regardless of difficulty, most players still take the red on.  Why is that?

  • Some people are only thinking about scoring and see this marginal red as the one they must play.
  • Some people take it on because they feel that the longer they wait, the less chance they have and they just don’t want to miss this (slim) chance.
  • Some people just give it a go because they are suddenly overly optimistic about their own abilities.
  • Some people feel so much pressure that they just want to take the shot on so that they can release themselves of the pressure.
  • Some people underestimate their opponent and feel that the repercussions are not severe enough. 

All of the above reasons are situations under which we will make an attempt at the red even though it’s a low percentage shot.  Regardless of skill, the odds just aren’t in our favor. This current opportunity isn’t one you created, it’s one the opponent has left you.

Is it possible for you to play safe and develop a chance on one of three reds yourself? Let’s think about it a bit more.

What if I was there with you and we could sit down and have a discussion about this situation you face now?  Let’s think it through. Let’s accept that it’s a tough shot under any circumstances and your chance of winning are slim from this red right now.

Let’s consider another option: that you pass this red up for now and play safe. Do you think you can regain control of the table and earn a better shot?  Do you think you have a chance of winning a safety battle and keeping your opponent from scoring on any of the 3 remaining reds? Are the odds a little better? Even though, you face an uphill battle, the odds might be more in your favor if you pass this red up for now.

The proper approach regardless of the pressure you are under is to evaluate the odds and act accordingly. Your primary aim should be to take control and score on your own terms.  That’s the right way to play this game.

I want you to consider two very important things: pressure and control.  In this scenario, pressure is being applied upon you to score, and control is something that has been taken away – at least for now.  The opponent is currently dictating the terms through the use of pressure and control. If you can regain control, however, through the use of a smart safety shot, you might be able to turn the odds around.

Understanding and using control and pressure in your favor is the biggest secret in this game.  If you have control of the table and control over the shots your opponent plays, then the pressure comes off your shoulders and gets transferred to the opponent.  Instead of being under control, you are in control and instead of feeling pressure, you are applying it.

What shot would I play under these circumstances?  Well because I know the pressure is on to score, and I’m not in control, I’m going to pass that red up.  I don’t want to take it on, yet.  I want to take it on when I’m in control or at least regained some control during the frame.  I want to take the pressure off my shoulders, and give it to the opponent.  If, in the next few shots, the opponent plays a bad safety and leaves me that same red, I might take it on.  Why?  Because by applying pressure on my opponent to play a good safety, I’m turning the pressure and control around.  I don’t want my opponent to dictate the terms all the time. I want to have a say as well. It’s an important point to remember. The moment we start taking control away from the opponent, they start feeling pressure and then they start missing. That’s what we want.

Winning in snooker is all about odds. Either they are for you, or against you and it’s the control and pressure that you apply onto your opponent and release from yourself that can often dictate the terms of how a match will end.

Let’s look at option b now.

Option B – You just scored 50 but there is 51 on (3 reds).  You ran out of position and need to play a safety now. One of the reds is easy to play safe from and would leave it essentially out of play tight on the cushion, but still pottable for your opponent. 

Most snooker players would wonder if you should feel any pressure at all here. What are the chances your opponent could score now? If you feel that this is a higher pressure situation, you are probably in fear of losing the frame even though the odds are in your favor. You are thinking about all the situations under which you could lose the frame and in the worst case, that the opponent would make a miraculous clearance.

What you need to understand is that you are in control.  You now dictate the terms and it’s your opponent that will be feeling a lot of pressure to score.  In reality, the odds are completely in your favor.

Often, the fear we feel isn’t based on truthful information.  A common definition of F.E.A.R, is False Evidence Appearing Real.

In this situation, you need to understand that you are removing the pressure on yourself by having scored a 50 break. For every point we score and get into better frame winning positions, we transfer pressure from ourselves onto our opponent.  Pressure gets further applied when we can stay in control of the table by playing a good trap or snooker.

In Summary

I hope the scenarios above have highlighted something important about pressure and control in snooker: either pressure is being applied upon you, or pressure is being applied by you. Either you are in control, or your opponent is in control.

The best situation to be in, undoubtedly, is to always be applying pressure and staying in control. Eventually, it takes its toll on your opponent.

What happens when we STOP feeling pressure? We start potting balls and playing well.  Our cue action becomes more fluid and natural. We stop seeing danger and start seeing opportunity. We get “into the zone” and we start winning.

Pressure and Control are tools that you use.  They are the architects of your success if you know how to use them.

Remember: stay in control and apply pressure either through heavy scoring or good safety play and success becomes more likely! Don’t become a victim of pressure and control, become the master!

In the next and last article in this series, I will bring all of the concepts I have discussed in these first three parts together and talk about a match strategy that will help you win more frames.

Stay tuned!

Snooker Success Principles and Shot Selection – Part 2

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I started this topic in a previous blog post because I had a visitor comment about some difficulties he faces over shot selection and execution. Namely,

  1. Taking shots they aren’t 100% committed to.
  2. Consciously missing shots by thinking about missing vs thinking about making.
  3. Being stuck in a rut of not stepping back and analyzing the current situation thoroughly.

You can read those comments and concerns here (scroll to the bottom to see the comments). In the last post, I started discussing what the right shot was at a given moment and how that would affect your anxiety and stress over making the shot.

The example I used in that discussion was a 3/4 blue with angle to screw into the pink and open the reds.  It’s a shot we see pros take and make all the time.  But what about us?  Should we follow the same routine and take that shot on?  What if we aren’t prepared for the repercussions? Playing the right shot – or what we think is the right shot – is an ongoing discussion every player has in their head.

Even the pros face the same challenge of trying to determine the right shot and when to play it. Sometimes, they pass up a long red to get in and score, and other times, they take it on. Why is that? Are they playing by feel? Some might be yes. Are they playing the score? Yes, perhaps that’s taken into consideration as well. Are they surveying the table to see the risks? Yes, probably that plays a role also. Why do pros take certain shots on?  Do they have a system or method for determining when to play a shot? I don’t have a complete answer quite yet.  Keep reading.

The Use of Pressure

At this point, it’s absolutely essential to bring a new facet into this discussion. Namely the use and application of pressure.  Pressure is an absolutely key ingredient that plays a huge role in all cue sports. Pressure is something we feel when we are behind points, or something the opponent feels when you are in the lead.  Pressure comes from being in a snooker (or hooked as Americans like to say), or needing one to keep the match alive. Pressure turns it’s ugly head when we miss a shot we shouldn’t.  It’s like a kettle ready to boil over.  If we don’t understand pressure and how to use it to our advantage, we end up being a victim of it in match play. Let me elaborate further.

Pressure and the use of pressure is something we create in our heads.  The ball layout, the score, the frames won or lost, the skill level of the opponent.  All of these and more add to how we feel and determines where we focus our thoughts on during a match. If we let the pressure get to us, we lose focus, and then the inevitable happens: we start missing.

It happens to the best of us and the worst of us. Every pro has missed a shot they wouldn’t miss in a hundred tries on a practice table.  Just ask Steve Davis about 1985 when he missed the black. How could he miss a routine shot? Sure it’s probably not routine for us, but for him, surely it’s a shot he can make right? But he missed. Why is that?  Did he not prepare for the shot properly?  Was his alignment off?  When you start missing routine shots in match play, it’s likely that pressure played a major role.

I had an experience recently of playing a match as the defending Champion at my snooker club. Last year, I was the champion and took first prize. I played the tournament again this year as it was the proper thing to do and I enjoyed the challenge. Deep down though, I knew my chances weren’t good as I had recently changed cues and have also done some fairly drastic re-construction of my grip and cue action over the last 6 months.

I won my first 3 matches in the tournament. The first match I won comfortably against a better player. My opponent wasn’t in good enough form himself to bring his top game to the table and I played well enough to win. The second match I hoped to be an easy win but the game didn’t go my way. I expected to win the best of 5 match with a 3-1 or 3-0 win, but I ended up being down 0-2 after the second frame. Fortunately, I had some new mental strategies to rescue myself out the match and eventually win the next 3 frames.

My first thoughts at the interval before starting the 3rd frame was my lack of good cueing and poor focus.  I had made the mistake of starting the match immediately upon entering the doors.  I wanted to see, as an experiment, if I could cue properly without some practice prior to the match.  Some of my m8’s at the club had suggested that practicing before a key match can actually turn against you because you start to discover imperfections that you think about during your match play.  Not practicing before a match, however, turned out to be a mistake and it’s something I didn’t do for the other matches I played.

The second mistake I made was assuming the match would be an easy win. The moment we start to overestimate our own abilities, or underestimate the skill of our opponent, we set ourselves up for a lot of pressure coming our way. What if we can’t cue like we expect?  What if the opponent, knowing you might be the better player, raises his game from within himself, zones in, and takes the lead?  It happens more often than you think. The underdog is a good one to bet on in snooker for the simple fact that the better player gets into their head that they are bound to win.

What ended up happening is that I decided to focus on good cueing, proper shot selection, and keeping the pressure on my opponent with good offense when I was in, and better defense when I didn’t have a shot. I changed my focus away from the poor situation I was in, and placed it instead on the things which I could control: my mechanics and my thoughts. I stopped thinking about losing, and started thinking about winning.

I started saying to myself that if I was going to lose, I was going to lose playing somewhere near my best.  Scoring, making great shots, and winning with a strong offense is the game I have chosen to play over the years and it’s suits me to a T. I can play the defense game but I don’t think it’s how this game is meant to be played anyways. Knowing I could lose any moment, also took some of the pressure off me and I started playing my natural game, free flowing, scoring and winning without getting into a protracted safety battle.

Pressure is the funniest thing.  Someone else, being down 0-2 in a best of 5 might feel so much pressure on winning, that they play worse. Maybe they need to win, or have never won, or have a poor record against the opponent, or maybe all their m8’s are watching and they just can’t lose. Either way, they feel so much pressure that they start shaking in their boots, and then their cueing fails them, and then they miss routines shots, and then the pressure get’s worse and worse and worse.  It’s like a kettle you can’t turn off and every time you miss, you just keep adding more water.

If you let pressure take control, it can have a terrible affect on your game.  Sometimes, when we don’t play well in one match, we carry that poor performance on the next day or the next frame, or onto the next shot. As my m8 often quips, it’s better to play this game like a dog: forgetting what happened 10 seconds ago and just sniffing out the next opportunity. But we aren’t dogs.  Pressure will always play it’s role.  Some people understand it, embrace it, enjoy it, and thrive on the challenge. Others, let it control them, and under pressure, they can’t perform.

If you watch pro-level snooker and listen to the commentary, you might hear Steve Davis say the now famous quote, “Play like it means nothing, when it means everything”.  Many of the commentators also have talked about playing each shot, and forgetting about the frame, the score, the match, the opponent.  Focusing on the shot at hand and playing it to your best ability.  They are all eluding to pressure and how to ignore it.

I’m going to continue this discussion in Part 3 of this series. Specifically, I’m going to talk about 2 things which can turn pressure around in your favor:

  1. A systematic approach to match play
  2. A shot selection system that accounts for your current skill level

Did this blog post help you?  Let me know!  Leave a comment and subscribe!

Read Part 3 of Key Success Principles and Shot Selection

Snooker Success Principles and Shot Selection – Part 1

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I’m starting this blog post in response to a visitor’s comments concerning shot selection and committing to shots they aren’t completely prepared for.  You can see those comments on the previous blog post, A Snooker Player Life Cycle, here (scroll to the bottom to see the comments). The main concerns, the commentor had were:

  1. Taking shots they aren’t 100% committed to.
  2. Consciously missing shots by thinking about missing vs thinking about making.
  3. Being stuck in a rut of not stepping back and analyzing the current situation thoroughly.

I’m going to make an attempt in this blog post to provide a clear answer on how to avoid the problems above. I caution you, however, that if you come here looking for a complete answer, I might not satisfy you.  This topic opens up an entire area of the game concerning shot selection, mental approach, committing to shots and more, and I think it’s going to create just as many new questions as answers!

What is the right shot?

First of all, let’s talk about taking the right shot vs taking the right shot for you.  It’s a good one to discuss.  If we look at how professionals play snooker, and if we tried to emulate their style of play and ball selection, we might think we should do the same. Maybe we should.  After all, if a professional does it, we should too right? Makes sense.  If we follow the same principles they do, we should get the same results if we do it enough times right? Is that how that works? But then should we be following their lead verbatim?  Are we supposed to play the way the pros play?  What if we can’t?  Or should we be doing something different until we reach that level of skill?  Does that even make sense? After all, how do we reach that level if we don’t play the way they do? It’s a conundrum isn’t it.  Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? Can this be solved? Do we play differently until such time that we play like them? Does that happen? I believe I have some of the answers. Read on.

Let’s start with a good example of a shot we have all seen played, and probably tried ourselves. In most cases, when professionals are 3/4 on the blue with an angle to open many reds by potting the blue with pace and screwing into the pink, they usually opt to play that shot. Quite often, they win frames directly as a result and so it’s deemed to be the right shot to play under most circumstances. As far as the pros are concerned, it’s the right shot and they take it on.

There are exceptions of course (like anything else in an individual sport) like Stephen Lee, who isn’t as flamboyant (or courageous or daring) and is well known to pass that shot up. Stephen Lee often opts for a softer cannon into the side of the pack or leaving the pack alone altogether.  Is it fair to say that because he isn’t as aggressive, he hasn’t had the level of success in snooker that most believe he should have had?  I’m not entirely sure I can say as I don’t know Stephen personally nor how his game has changed over the years.  Perhaps he learned a different way to play and has his own reasons for passing that shot up. I can’t say. On a side note, it’s remarkable he doesn’t open the balls up more often, given his tremendous skill at potting and his superb cue action.  Personally, I think with someone of his caliber and superb skill, he should open the balls up much more often.

The important question to ask right now is, “Should we play the same shot under the same circumstances? Is crashing into the pink the right shot for us too?”.  My gut instinct says yes but you need to understand you take more risk than a pro does in playing that shot.

The first and most obvious risk is that you miss the blue all together, and open the reds up for your opponent. That’s a complete disaster. If you can’t reliably pot the blue with pace and screw into the pink, then you shouldn’t be playing that shot at all.  Yes, I’m actually saying it’s the wrong shot for you. I mean, think about it.  What is the point of taking what’s considered the right shot, if you can’t do it yourself?  All you end up doing is frustrating yourself which in turn makes you miss more shots.

The second risk you take in playing that shot like a pro is that you don’t follow up that shot with a frame winning break.  Scattering the reds everywhere serves you no useful purpose in winning the frame if you can’t score heavily enough to win.  So then it’s not the right shot for you either…. or is it?

We are starting to run into a chicken/egg problem again.  If you can’t reliably pot the blue and open the reds, or you can’t consistently win frames with heavy scoring, then how on earth are we supposed to get into frame winning positions?  Is the shot the pros play the right shot just for them and not for us? Should everyone play the same shot, even if they can’t execute and follow up like a pro?

Let me give you a few things to think about.

Firstly, if you decide you want to give yourself the best chance of winning the frame by scoring heavily, and you want to play the shot the ways the pros do, then take the shot on.

In regards to that shot in particular, I want to give you some cautionary guidelines.I’m not a big fan when nearly all the reds are in tight formation under the pink. Under that condition, the black get’s tied up too often. I only think it’s the right shot when you are fairly certain you won’t tie up the black – like when there are only a half dozen or so reds under the pink.

In any event, be prepared for the less desirable circumstances that may occur for you if you still choose to play the shot:

  1. You might miss the blue altogether, open the reds, and lose the frame
  2. You might not score heavily enough and lose the frame
  3. You might not be able to commit to the shot 100% because you understand the repercussions stated above
  4. You might think about missing the blue, and actually miss it

Do the last two above sound familiar?  Yep, that’s exactly what one of my visitors had to say about their own concerns with their current level of play and it’s the reason I started this post.

Is there a path to reducing our anxiety about opening balls off the blue and playing like the pros?  Yep.  It’s called practice.

Practicing shots we aren’t familiar with is the only way of reducing anxiety when in match play. In the meantime, start accepting that if you choose to play shots you aren’t ready for, that you won’t be fully committed, or you might doubt your skill when faced with a tough shot.

Believe me, even the pros hesitate on shots they aren’t familiar with.

Eventually though, they head over to the practice table and work out their own issues with shots they don’t like. Practice is truly the ONLY way we can become more comfortable with shots we have fear over.

Think about fear in other areas of life that you had to overcome – moving jobs, public speaking.  A lot of the time, it’s practice that reduces our anxiety and fear. As we do it more often, we become better at it and eventually, master the challenge instead of having the challenge master us.

Anxiety,stress, fear and all the other mental factors that get a hold on your subconcious are all part of the game.  It’s normal. The pro’s don’t show it, but they feel the same anxiety you do in certain situations. Just not as often!

Anxiety is something we need to embrace and get comfortable with. It teaches us and shows us where we are weakest. As we face our fears, practice on our weak areas, and learn from those ahead of us, we get better. That’s how snooker works. Coincidentally, that’s how life works too.

I’m going to continue this discussion in a future blog post and spend more time on the particulars of practice, coming up with a game plan and system to follow, solving the shot selection dilemna, and overcoming challenges. Subscribe and stay tuned!

Read Part 2 of Key Success Principles and Shot Selection

 

Do you have a problem with your Cue Action or Mechanics?

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Are you wondering if your cue action, stance, or general mechanics are causing you to miss shots? Congratulations!  You aren’t alone!

I think it’s quite common for players to question their mechanics when they miss a shot. For the lucky few that have a certified coach or knowledgeable adviser with them, they get the correct answer right away. For the rest of us, however, we don’t always get a clear and accurate answer unless we fully understand how to self-diagnose our misses. Some people can fix their own mechanics through trial and error, but it’s usually a long and painful process.

When I talk about your mechanics, I’m really talking about everything you do physically from start to finish including:

  1. how you physically approach the table
  2. how you stand
  3. where you look before and after
  4. how you grip
  5. where your cue is in relation to your elbow, shoulder, head
  6. how your head gets into line.
  7. how your arm moves
  8. how your eyes move

Having a cueing action or mechanical imperfection is actually more common than you might think.  I think it’s one of the primary factors that separate pro-level snooker players from everyone else. Fixing a mechanical imperfection isn’t that easy. The first challenge is  knowing and discovering what that mechanical imperfection is, and then secondly making the correct adjustments to fix it.  Quite often, we might be misled by our own diagnosis.

For example, if you tend to dip your cue into some of your shots (a common problem), you might believe it’s your grip, or your elbow, or your shoulder, or even worse the cue itself. It could well be any of those things, but what if it’s how you approach the table and how your head and eyes come into line with the shot?  If your eyes aren’t in line with the shot when you stand, they might not be when you get down. As a result, it’s entirely possible you could be introducing that cue dip because your eyes and head weren’t in line in the first place. This could cause you to dip into a shot because you are trying to make your cue follow a line that you can’t see perfectly.

Sometimes, errors can be solved by changing one or two moving parts in your overall mechanics, but that doesn’t always make it more correct or perfect. Some people might change their stance, or their cue, or their grip action and sometimes it ends up working for them and they stick with it. These little mechanical corrections and patches – I call them kinks – can end up being minor flaws that can introduce more errors into your cueing later on. One kink introduces another which introduces another and so on. Before you know it, your cue action and mechanics starts looking like a series of kinks and flaws that are bundled together into one big mess. Yes, these cumulative errors may work to bring your cue into line and straight, but that still doesn’t make it correct.

I think a classic example of how far you can go with strange kinks, mechanical patchwork, and cueing imperfections is Barry Pinches.  His approach to the table is so mechanical and pre-determined, that he literally has to remember a 20 step dance routine just to get in line. I’m not saying it doesn’t work for him.  It has thus far allowed him to get to the current level of competitive play and ranking.  I’m convinced, however, that his mechanics will limit him to a certain level of play and when he reaches a plateau in his abilities, he will be constrained by the previous errors in his mechanics.

Even the great Stephen Hendry, has at least one kink that I know of: just before he gets down on the shot, he cocks his head to the right momentarily as he approaches the table. It could be that he tried it one time in practice, and he just stuck with it because it worked. Maybe it’s something he does unconsciously – although I doubt that. Hendry’s kink is minor and generally when he is down on the shot, his cueing is near perfect.

I see it all the time at my club. Bad mechanics that limit a player to a certain level of play. Kinks that work themselves into a players concious and subconcious because they just found that it worked. In their defense, it’s not their fault as they don’t have a qualified coach or resource to fall back on.  I think in most clubs and leagues everyone has at least some minor cueing imperfection that hinders them. These kinks often have a direct affect on the success a person can achieve in their game.  For some, it’s how far they can go with break building, and for others those kinks become crutches that prevent consistency, long ball potting, or something else.

Think about things you might be doing in your mechanics that just ended up working fine for you. Are you using patches and tricks to get the job done? Have you been doing it for so long you no longer think it’s an imperfection?

So what is perfect cue action?  Well, it’s not an easy question to answer.  I think given the history of snooker, we can look at some general characteristics and recommended guidelines on good cueing and good mechanics.  You can look at the top players in the game that have published material on the subject of mechanics like Steve Davis, Ray Reardon and the like.  You can also learn through observation by looking at other great cueists like Shaun Murphy, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Lee, Ding Jun Hui and the like. World Snooker Coaching and certified coaches are also great resources for learning what is considered good mechanics and flawless cueing.

I think comparing your own cue action and mechanics with the recommended guidelines is a perfectly acceptable – and actually necessary – thing to do. Those guidelines on how to achieve flawless cueing and mechanics are based on the cumulative knowledge about the game from many players and coaches. It’s hard to argue with. Start there first.  Analyze your own mechanics with a video recording or a mirror and compare it with the recommended guidelines on good mechanics. You can even get other professionals to analyze you by posting a video of yourself on TheSnookerForum or on AZBilliards Forums. There are plenty of coaches and cue mechanics there that can give you some valuable feedback.

Has this blog post helped you think about your mechanics differently or inspired to you fix flaws you know about?  Let me know!  Post a comment below!