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


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4 replies
  1. Will Tyson
    Will Tyson says:

    Hi, thanks for that, another fantastic read. I see what you mean about the risk of cannoning and leaving it completely open if you’re unable to clear the table or make a frame winning break. Keep them coming pal :)

  2. Tom
    Tom says:

    Good article! Only one mistake in this case: if you miss the blue, you won’t open the pack… Greetings

    • Mayur J
      Mayur J says:

      Thanks Tom for the comment. Yes, in some cases, if you miss the blue you don’t open the pack as intended. I should have been more precise in my article, however, by saying that you might still cannon reds and leave them on for your opponent.