Snooker Success Principles and Shot Selection – Part 3
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,
- Taking shots they aren’t 100% committed to.
- Consciously missing shots by thinking about missing vs thinking about making.
- 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.
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.