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!

Playing Poorly? Is it your Snooker cue?

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Are you concerned your cue isn’t up to snuff?  Do you think it’s too light, too heavy, too narrow, or thick, or the wrong tip size? Read on and measure your cue up against my recommendations below.

Snooker requires a delicate, consistent, and precise acceleration of your cue. There are some basic characteristics of a good cue that I believe are a minimum requirement in playing snooker:

Cue Weight

A cue weighing between 17-19oz.  Players with more upper body mass, bigger hands and Popeye arms can probably get away with a heavier cue but I think you can’t go much more than 19oz to play the game properly.  Rumor has it that Jimmy White plays with a 21oz cue and if that’s true, it’s explains in part his inability to control the white ball precisely (although his cue action is to blame as well). If your cue weighs much more than 19oz, you will find it difficult to accelerate the cue precisely and play the controlled stuns and screws required.  Conversely, if your cue weighs anything below 17oz, you may find the opposite problem of over-accelerating your arm to get any consistent cue ball movement.  There are some instances where you can get away with a very light cue.  Some of the old vintage cues you see on Ebay weigh 15-16oz but the wood is old growth Ash and Maple that’s well seasoned and lively.

Cue Length

Cue length is a controversial one to recommend.  A few factors play a role in what length is good for you including the average distance between your bridge and cueing hand, your height (shorter people should actually have a longer cue), and how you cue (a long backstroke vs a short one).  If you tend to have long back swings, a longer cue might be beneficial. If you tend to lock out your bridge arm below vs keeping it bent (what my m8 calls the “broken wing”), then a longer cue is useful to have. I’m 5’9 and although a 57.5″ cue is typical for someone of my height, I tend to stretch my bridge hand out quite far and have a wide distance between my bridge hand cueing hand and so I feel more comfortable with a longer cue.  If you don’t know for certain and are looking to acquire a cue, start with the standard specs of 57.5″ in length. As you learn more about cueing, cue action, and body mechanics, you can get a more appropriate cue, or adjust the one you have.

Tip Size

A tip size between 9.5mm and 10.5mm.  I think right around 9.8mm is perfect.  Tip size is rather important because it determines the contact surface on the cue ball.  In snooker, 9.8mm works very well because it allows for accurate cueing at distance and enough contact surface when you are up close playing delicate stun and screw shots. If you use a tip size below 9.5mm you will find it very difficult to get any consistence on long ball potting as you will often get unintended side spin on the cue ball (and miss the pot).  Above 10.5mm is too large and it becomes hard to find the right contact point to play precise stun and screw shots.  Tip size isn’t a hard and fast rule and if you know what you are doing, experiment and try something different. I do know of at least one player locally who is a very capable century breaker that plays with a 10mm ferrule fitted with an 11mm tip!

Butt Diameter

Butt size is rather important.  If you are just starting to play snooker, go with a standard butt size of 29.5mm.  If however, you have been playing the game a while, and the basics of your cue action have become second nature (someone having played more than 6 months for example), it’s recommended that you stay with the same butt size as was on your previous cue so that your cue action isn’t dramatically affected.  If you have longer than average fingers, or above average height, than a larger butt size may be beneficial.  If the butt size is too big for your hand, your hand won’t release properly from the cue during delivery.  Generally, when cueing you are supposed to have a soft touch with your cueing hand until after the cue ball has been hit.  Think like this when cueing: soft hand feather, soft hand feather, soft hand feather, soft hand backswing, cue ball strike, grip the cue to catch it. The heaving gripping shouldn’t happen until after delivery so a comfortable butt size is important. Conversely, if the butt size is too small, you will find that your wrist starts to twist, turn, and flick.  Some wrist flick is useful to have on certain shots, but if your cue butt size is so small it’s happening on every shot, it’s not good.

Bevel or Not?

On a side note, having a bevel or champfer is something I don’t have a clear answer for. The first 5 years I played the game I used a beveled cue.  Then I stopped for a few years, acquired a few more cues and now am playing with a round butted cue.  I don’t think I would go back to a champfer or bevel now.  I actually believe the champfer could cause more problems than it solves but again, I’m not sure I have the right answer yet.  If you don’t know for certain yourself, or are just starting out and are ordering a custom made cue, have it sent without a bevel.  You can always add it later.

Shaft Taper Characteristics

How a cue shaft is tapered affects how it plays.  I think the “milk bottle” taper is how a snooker shaft should be. This is where most of the shaft is thick until the taper becomes more prominent in the last 12 or so inches up to the ferrule.  This taper provides the strength and horizontal force for long, straight cueing, and the heavier taper in the last 12 or so inches provides just enough flex to get the easy spin and soft touch when in the short game.

Cue makers tend to have a preferred taper they ship cues out with. Some cue makers base their judgement of the taper based on what they believe the wood needs in order to play.  Some like to reduce the cue ball squirt and so thin out the shaft significantly, whereas others like to leave a lot more wood on the shaft and keep the shaft stiff and rigid.

Lower end cues that use less dense Ash and Maple wood tend to ship standard with a very thick shaft. It’s done this way to provide the rigidity but at the cost of cue comfort for the user.  Older vintage cues can be made quite a bit slimmer than average as often the wood is more dense and hardened.

American pool cues come with a straight taper where the last 18-24 inches of the shaft are the same diameter.  It’s done this way because you can impart more side spin on the cue ball – which is standard practice in American pool.  American pool is a top and side spin game, whereas snooker is a screw and stun game. Different shafts are needed to play each game well.  For pool I have a Predator shaft (laminated maple, light weight, less squirt), whereas for snooker, I prefer a very dense and stiff Ash or Maple shaft and am not as concerned about squirt.

I hear players talk about how their cue is “lively” but often, it’s just the way the shaft has been tapered.  You can take a dead hitting cue, increase the shaft flex by tapering it down on a lathe or by hand, and give it a lot more “life” than it had before.

Ash vs Maple and the Shaft Wood

What’s important is the wood itself.  Good cue makers have select Ash or Maple that is well seasoned, aged, dried, and less susceptible to warping. Having straight arrows and lines is a controversial subject and it’s worth some mention. Dense shaft wood with bad arrows will generally play better and with more stiffness than young light weight wood with perfect arrows. Sometimes, lines represent the stiffer part of the tree and so a shaft with many lines can hit well but in other cases too many lines from another tree make the shaft soft and whippy which becomes hard to control and doesn’t play well at all. Don’t be too concerned about arrows or lines if you don’t have a preference or full understanding either way.  Just ask the cue maker for dense, stiff, well seasoned wood and leave it to them.  Some cue makers suggest that arrows affect sighting and won’t ship you a cue without at least some straight arrows on the top part of the playing cue.

Even if you have a first rate cue, it’s still possible the cue just isn’t right for you.  The best way to approach this dilemna, is to go and try some other cues for an extended period of time. If you are lucky enough to have a m8 with a quality cue, ask to borrow it for an hour or so on the practice table.  Please don’t “test” a cue on the match table. Your focus is different in a match situation and you don’t get the focused time as you would in practice.

Still aren’t sure?

Do you want some sage advice on your current playing cue?  Do you need some ideas on what cue you should purchase?  Check out my Snooker cue maker list or leave a comment and share your thoughts!

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!



PHOTOS: Canadian Snooker Players from the 70’s 80’s and 90’s

Some years ago, I helped a friend organize a Snooker Tribute to Bill Werbeniuk at our local Snooker Club.  As part of the tribute, Canadian Snooker Legend Cliff Thorburne came over from Toronto and performed an exhibition.  My friend asked me to also scan in these photos and display them on a projector.  There are some great photos here from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s of all the Canadian Snooker Legends like Cliff Thorburne, Bill Werbeniuk, George Chenier and more.

Leave a comment if you have more photos to share or enjoy these old memories!

A Snooker Player Life Cycle


If you want to become a master violin maker, you follow some fairly predictable stages throughout your career:

  1. Beginner Level where you are learning about violin making. Nothing is straightforward and you make a lot of mistakes.
  2. Awkward Level where you can build a violin but it’s not anywhere near perfect and it doesn’t have a world class sound.  You know the fundamentals but there is a lot you need to learn.
  3. Competant Level where you can now build a fairly decent looking and complete violin. It has enough life and personality to be a musical instrument that some musicians may want to buy. You don’t know everything but you know enough to do a decent job.
  4. Master Level where you now can build a world class violin that is highly sought after by musicians of all levels. You have gone through all the trial and error and you now understand the process quite well. You don’t ever stop learning but you know what works and you have some fairly good ideas on what it takes to have success as a violin maker.

I’m showing the typical stages above with a violin because it’s easier to see with something tangible that we can all understand and probably relate to.  I have never built a a violin but I’m sure that 90% of violin makers go through the above stages.  It’s all hard work and years of knowledge, practice, trial and error, learning from others, sharing ideas, experimenting and much more. Getting to the master level takes some real dedication and most violin makers never reach that far.  The few that reach master level do it because they love the work.

Now think about your snooker game.  Can you relate to one of the stages above?  Are you at the Beginner level where you are constantly seeking ideas, advice, experimenting, making mistakes, getting frustrated?  Whatever stage you are at, I can just say “Congratulations!” You are doing what nearly every other snooker player has already done in their career!

Now let me take the above metaphor with violin making and describe the stages above in snooker terms:

  1. Beginner Level where you are learning about snooker and cueing action.  You understand the basic rules of the game and you are trying to become a competent potter and positional player. Nothing is straightforward and you make a lot of mistakes and are very inconsistent.
  2. Awkward Level where you can now make the odd 20/30 break but it’s not anywhere near perfect and it’s certainly not world class positional play. You lose the white ball a lot and you play a series of recovery shots throughout a break.  You know the fundamentals but there is a lot you need to learn.  You probably struggle with staying in position and you all too often miss a black or pink or other ball off the spot.  You think it’s cueing, and it probably is, but it’s other areas of your mechanics and understanding of the game too.
  3. Competant Level where you can now build a fairly decent break in the 40’s and 50’s or higher and you know what it takes to win frames. Your safety play is decent and you can make plenty of balls now.  Your potting ability has matured and you know how to make just about every shot at one time or another. Consistency, however, eludes you. If only you could string 25 shots together (yes, that’s all you need for a century – 12 blacks plus a red and any color higher than yellow) you would make a century! You still don’t know everything about break building and positional play but you know plenty enough to win matches and become a decent player. For some that reach this stage (like me), you start looking at the mental side of the game in this stage because you know it’s a stumbling block.  For others, it’s the cueing or positional play that isn’t perfectly understood and that becomes your stumbling block.
  4. Master Level where you now are a very capable and near complete snooker player.  You have made at least a few centuries and you can now see cueing action imperfections and minutae like a bouncing white or an slightly imperfect cue action – both in yourself and in others. You have gone through all the trial and error and you now understand the process of winning, break building, match play, and practice time very well. You don’t ever stop learning and there are probably a few areas you need to improve but you know what works and you have some fairly good ideas on what it takes to have success as a snooker player.

I would say for myself, I’m at the Competent level right now.  I’m an excellent potter and I can string the odd break together but it’s the mental side now that will likely be my stumbling block. I know what it takes to win but I can’t execute quite yet because I don’t have the level of familiarity needed to be playing at a Master level.  I still lose the white every so often but on balance, I can stay in position if I’m focused and playing well.  My 50 breaks usually consist of mostly blacks and pinks and the odd blue or baulk color.

I’m highlighting the above stages because I think as snooker players, we all get into ruts where we start to hate the game.  We know we need to improve but we don’t know how or where. Maybe it’s the cue?  Maybe it’s the cue action?  We aren’t entirely sure sometimes but we keep trying and experimenting.  For the lucky few, we progress but for most other players, they reach an impasse and never get over it.

It’s common for snooker players to have an ego but for many it gets to their heads and they never progress because they think they know what it takes to win. Even when they are getting beat, they think it’s the table, or the balls or the cue or something else and they never progress. Sometimes, winning is the worst thing that can happen to you because you fail to see the truth about yourself or your game. Maybe the above examples will help you realize the shortcomings in your own game are real and not made up.

So what then do you need to do to get to the Master Level in snooker and become a regular century maker and world class player?  Well, let’s turn the question around and think about what you would tell a violin maker if they asked you the same question. The answer, of course, would always be, “go seek out the best Master violin maker you can find.  See if they will show you the ropes and be your guide. Take a course or hire a teacher if possible. Trust their judgement and advice and learn as much as you can from them.”

If you want to grow from the stage you are at now, it’s almost certain that you need someone to lead you there.  It’s very rare for us to see the shortcomings in our game. The odd video recording of yourself might show you a thing or two but that’s assuming you are able to see yourself and your game in a completely objective manner.

Don’t have someone around that can show you the ropes?  Whatever stage you are at, I’m  happy to be your guide. By watching you on video, or seeing you in person, I can give you a helping hand with your game and help you highlight your shortcomings. Get in touch with me.

Defense Game: Trap vs Snooker


Hi readers. I’m starting this post both to share my thoughts and also to see what others think about the defense game in general. The discussion revolves around which is better (the snooker vs the trap) and when to play each during a frame. I walk you through a frame that I won tonight all because of a good defensive shot.

I had a session with a m8 tonight who more often than not will play the trapping game when playing defense positions into baulk or neutral areas. His theory is that few opponents can score frame winning breaks and so he opts to take that gamble on. In addition, because he knows my approach to the game (ie: if I’m not sure, I try to pot my way out), he will more often leave me in trap positions where I have to either pot a difficult red/color to get in and score, or find a safe route out (often even harder).

When in trapped positions, I have always taken Hendry’s approach to the game. Hendry stated in an interview some years back that safety was over-rated and that if he was trapped, he would pot a ball (and I guess often did). Hendry’s approach probably did work in an era when there were few century makers playing and when his reputation preceded him. Looking back on my own game now, I don’t think it’s the best match strategy any more. I still take on the odd low percentage shot to keep my opponents on their toes, but I think on balance, it’s not the best way to win because I allow my opponent to put me under pressure instead of dictating myself.

In the last few months, I have decided to take a more measured approach to the game (thanks in part to coaching from my m8). I’m starting to learn that traps and snookers can often leave you in excellent frame winning positions, when played at the right time. Yes, snooker is a game of scoring but you don’t have to be offense all the time.

This is how one frame in particular went tonight: 

I broke off, opening about 4 reds. After some minor scoring, and several missed shots and pack opening safety shots from each of us, he managed to trap me with the reds fairly wide open. During safety play, the pink and blue went out of play and the black was partially tied up near the cushion with reds near by. I was near the baulk line and had no easy pot to take on. I could see almost all the reds, but only one or two went, and both had no easy way out so there was no clear benefit gained from taking the shot on. I decided regardless of the risks, to take the marginal red on anyways and send the white crashing into more reds which further spread them open.

Predictably, I missed but was lucky to leave him little to shoot or break build from. A few more safety plays later and I managed to take the upper hand when he scratched the white. I had ball in hand and made a middle distance red stopping near the blue which was now on it’s spot. Instead of taking on the blue on the wrong angle, trying to maneuver tied up reds, and never using a black that didn’t go at the time, I decided to bring the pink into play instead which was on the side cushion 12 inches from the baulk line, I left him trapped on the baulk cushion with only a few 10 foot back cut reds to shoot into the far corner. These reds would open up the black to go into the same pocket later which was part of my plan also. I purposely left him those 2 reds even though the risk was high I could lose the frame or be behind in points with the pink now somewhat in play. It was either his frame to take or potentially mine if he missed.

Of course, under the pressure, and with the difficulty of making either red, he did miss and left me in close range with reds everywhere. I had at least 4 reds to shoot into the corner and middle pockets and a chance to get on pink, blue, and the black, which now went. I took a red, got on the blue, and then maneuvered and played some good cannons and positional shots to re-spot the black. In total, I made 1 blue, 5 blacks, and 1 brown scoring 51 before losing position from the brown back to a red. The score was now 60 to 8 and I was in a good position with 3 reds gone earlier in the frame, 7 reds gone from my break, and 5 reds on cushions and in odd positions. Of course, I eventually won the frame potting the last two reds and winning by a long margin. I kept the pressure on my opponent and I think he was pretty deflated by the break I made.

Post-frame thoughts:

Traditionally, if I made a red like the first one I tried, I would have tried to pot my way into a break using the blue and baulk colors to get into scoring. This time, however, I decided to play the odds, take a small risk, and open the pink which could help me score later on. It turned out to be a very good decision and left me in a good position after the 51 break.

I think because we see pros playing snookers at the very first opportunity if they can’t continue a break, we think we should do the same. Perhaps, at pro level playing the snooker is the better shot because the pros are such strong potters that a trap won’t bother them. At league and in local clubs, however, that’s not always the best approach. I believe most people (pros included) are actually better at coming out of snookers than they are potting in trapped positions. Why is this? Well for one, there is small sense of relief that you are snookered because you have options and potentially ways to play so you don’t leave much. That gives you some semblance of being in control and as snooker players, we like that. We like knowing we can still participate in the frame and have some choice. When trapped, however, the dynamics change and you feel the pressure of either potting the ball your opponent wants you try, or finding a safety way out. I think in most cases, traps lead opponents into playing the marginal shot anyways because their ego and mind tells them that’s the only reasonable way out of the situation. Their minds become so focused on potting that ball they don’t consider playing a 2 cushion or 3 cushion safety, dump or anything else – which of course is a shot they could always have played from that position.

There are, of course, times in a frame when playing a snooker actually is a better option. For one, if there are only a few reds and the points are close. Even when there is a big spread with only a few balls left, the odds become greater someone can string a run together. As long as you or the opponent is well ahead and not requiring snookers, a full on snooker is sometimes the right call. It all comes down to pressure and keeping your opponent tied down and on the ropes.

What you have to assess when deciding which type of defense shot to play is how you want the frame to proceed. Firstly, the table conditions. Do you need reds off cushions? Is it beneficial to leave the opponent trapped so some other balls may come into play? Are the colors in play and him likely to clear if he gets a chance? Are any colors tied up and out of play? Secondly, you need to assess your opponent’s state of mind and ability. Will he try an offensive shot if trapped? Does your opponent attack when cornered? How good is your opponent at hitting balls when snookered? Can they hit a ball and still get safe? What are they likely to do given the current situation at the moment? Are they behind frames and need to win? Lastly, you need to know your current level of play at the moment. Are you ready to score if you get in? Are your nerves under control? Are you tense? Can you win the frame at the next visit? Do you need only a few more to secure the frame? Are you prepared to score heavily?

Ultimately, defense creates opportunities for offense. You can’t have one without the other and if your defense is weak compared to your offense (for most younger players that’s the case), think about adding some strategy and tactics to your game. It really will allow you to score. I proved it tonight!