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

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2 replies
  1. Will Tyson
    Will Tyson says:

    Thanks for that, last year a couple of years ago, when I first started playing I entered an under 20’s event at my local club. I drew out a guy who had been playing for 7 years with lessons every week and his own table, and a he had made century breaks, my top break was then something like 30. I somehow got the first frame, but then when I though there was more chance for me and the pressure was on I managed to throw away the next two. I think that was because of the pressure so i know what you mean.

    I also understand what you mean about overestimating yourself, last year in my league I won the first say 6 matches and I then showed up the next week expecting a simple game that i could thrash my opponent at – he beat me with ease. I think that loss helped me though as I now know that no opponent can be underestimated.

    Thanks for the help mate, and I’ll await more :)

    • Mayur J
      Mayur J says:

      One my m8’s often quips that snooker is a 6 inch game played on a 12 foot table. The six inches he refers to isn’t on the table but is between our ears. It’s a mental game and all it takes to lose is to be 1% out of focus with the job at hand.

      There is a path, fortunately, to overcoming a lack of focus and diligence regardless of who you play. It’s one I hope to uncover for you over the next few posts.

      Thanks Will. By the way, if you have any m8’s that would appreciate some good advice, please do send them my way.