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The Physics of Pool - 07-16-2019, 01:55 PM

I originally wrote this close to 20 years ago as a post to RSB.

It's been reposted around the interweb a few times and a recent thread here gave me the thought of blowing the dust off it.

#####
I have played pool, off and on, since I was a teenager and first fell in love with the game. I'm now 65.

Here and there, there have been times during which I've abandoned the game for periods of months, and in some cases, years. Currently, I am in the eighteenth year of my latest infatuation with the game. Over these past dozen and a half years or so, I've regained some old skills, found that I never lost others, learned new and marvelous things about the game and myself I'd never imagined before, discovered one pocket, sat at a skill plateau for years, and blessedly made incremental improvement. That's 18 years of effort, work, dedication, and frustration.

That's 18 years of regular practice, occasionally playing in tournaments and money matches, fueled by an unrelenting love and study of the game. I have read the works of Marlow, Capelle, Koehler, Harris, Shepard and a number of more obscure works only a hard core fanatic would track down and read. I've watched countless Accu-Stats tapes, and watched the instructional works of Kinister, Feeney, Byrne, Rossman, Mathews, Icardona, Briesath, Sigel, Rempe, et al. And here's what I've learned:

The equations don't mean squat.

When you are leaning over that critical shot, it is all about those hours you've spent hitting countless balls into the pockets, how much attention you've paid during that time, and what you have taught yourself during those hours.

Don't get me wrong.

The equations are interesting. To some they are fun and I believe there is no such thing as "too much knowledge." Certainly there can be no harm in learning and understanding them. But a great pool player they do not make. But I think we sometimes make the mistake in this group of placing way too much emphasis on the x and y of it, instead of practical ways to learn the physical act of shooting pool balls. Stance, head position, bridge, grip, levelness of cue, and delivery are what it's about. Now before the science guys (and wannabe science guys) go ballistic, I want to say that I like the diversity of the group and the fact that you can go from the discussions about gyroscopes to the first person accounts of road trips taken.

But my point is that it's become impossible not to notice the almost elitist disdain meted out by those wielding slide rules against those that advocate "just hit the damn ball." Whether the science guys like it or not, these folks are closer to the truth and pass the test of Occam's Razor better than any equation. What makes a great, or at least a better pool player, is hours on the table, not hours on the calculator.

Though I have been called "a natural" when it comes to pool, nothing could be further from the truth. I work hard to achieve the modest success I occasionally enjoy. I do believe that as in other walks of life there are some people who are complete and total naturals when it comes to a particular skill. It is, in many respects, like setting out on an attempt to conquer Everest. Some people stumble upon the mountain pass shortcuts that lead them, almost effortlessly, to the top, clear weather all the way. They pick up a pool cue and their physique, natural setup, and God given hand-eye coordination, makes them play extraordinarily with virtually little cognitive effort. Others have Sherpas that guide them through via the shortest passes to the summit. But the majority of us read the maps and books and struggle up the mountain, sometimes weathering blizzard conditions that necessitate camping out on the whatever outcrop we can find. Despite all our study, work, and preparation, the journey is sometimes hardest and longest for those of us in this camp.

So to wrap this up, I'll just say that IMO the simple, ultimate secret about pool can be found on page 46 of Capelle's "A Mind for Pool." It sits there waiting in black and white for anyone who stumbles upon it:

"The big secret is that there is no single big secret."

No aiming system, no aim and pivot, no backhand english, no equations.

Just hit the damn ball.... over, and over, and over again.
#####

My only addendum to what I wrote (oh so long along) is: if the myth makes you run more balls and makes the cue ball go where you want, go with the myth and forget the science.

Lou Figueroa
  
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07-16-2019, 03:10 PM

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Originally Posted by lfigueroa View Post
if the myth makes you run more balls and makes the cue ball go where you want, go with the myth and forget the science.
By happy coincidence, Dr. Dave just posted about his new Top 10 Myths video. Any of those myths in particular that you like better than the "science"?

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07-16-2019, 03:14 PM

Lou, didn't I just read this recently here on AzB? But I can't find it now. Was it in a thread that has been deleted?
  
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07-16-2019, 03:26 PM

I am reminded of Irving Crane's stated aiming system. When someone asked him, at an exhibition I attended in New Brunswick, New Jersey in the winter of 1978, what his aiming system was, he said "I try to aim the same way I aimed last time I made the shot." I remember thinking that it can't be THAT easy, but perhaps it really is that simple. Crane had hit every flavor of every shot so many times that he practically had the aiming points memorized, or at least he thought so.

In other words, Lou is right in suggesting that success over the glorious green felt is more about hitting enough balls than learning the sciences that underlie the game. At very least, Crane would probably have agreed.
  
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07-16-2019, 04:16 PM

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Lou is right in suggesting that success over the glorious green felt is more about hitting enough balls than learning the sciences that underlie the game.
I've never heard anybody say otherwise...?

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HAMB will always beat theory!
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HAMB will always beat theory! - 07-16-2019, 04:36 PM

About the same time I was learning how to play pool I was learning how to build and set up circle track cars. I read all I could get my hands on, did my measurements, rebuilt an old crate that had ran pretty good in it's day into something that was set up like the latest and greatest. The old men beat me like a rented mule! To add insult to injury I could look at their cars before or after racing and find a half-dozen or more issues with how they were set up. I would have straightened them out if they weren't beating the socks off of me every week, sometimes twice a week!

I have competed at pool, in circle track cars of various types, with rifles and pistols, a few other things. One thing I have learned about all of them that involve equipment. The equipment used for this form of competition uses a different set of laws of physics than anything outside of the competition. This definitely includes pool. For example:

XY times .001 is equal to XY times .00085.

XY times .001 is also equal to XY times .00115.

Sometimes twenty percent is used instead of fifteen percent. It matters not, with thirty or forty percent variance the result is exactly the same. The rules of math tell us if the first two statements are true then XY times .00085 has to be equal to XY times .00115 also.

As I was cleaning up after the storm I was considering this. The only logical conclusion is that tips and chalk are meaningless and a miscue with no chalk or tip on the same spot as a good hit using a tip and chalk has the same value. This also leads to the conclusion that masse shots are a form of dementia suffered by pool players, they aren't possible!

One of the first things I learned in R&D, if the math doesn't match the prototype shop, bet on the shop every time! I may be wrong about why some shots work but as long as the balls keep falling I don't care. I have been beaten by a lot of old pool players that weren't nearly as smart as me! If you chased after why a shot worked too long they would get angry. They didn't know why the shot worked, it was like the sun coming up in the morning, it just did. No, I didn't try to explain to them the sun didn't really come up!

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07-16-2019, 05:02 PM

The physics is always there and in charge. But what is going on during a shot can't be fully described by a simple equation anyone can consciously solve in his head.

It's usually best to let the subconscious mind do the heavy lifting and tell you how to hit the shot just like it tells a batter when to start his swing or a skeet shooter when to pull the trigger. I doubt most F1 drivers could explain how to calculate exactly when and at what rate to apply the brakes at each turn to maximize the lap speed...but some clearly know when better than others. It isn't because they are better at math.

It isn't that physics isn't real, it's that we try to simplify it down to a level we can understand and don't want to admit we are missing half the equation.

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07-16-2019, 05:03 PM

"'The big secret is that there is no single big secret.'

Just hit the damn ball.... over, and over, and over again."

hi lou, good post, and I agree with you here.
what's ironic is that there is much science in "just hit the damn ball"
I wish there wasn't such a stigma about science and math, that we need this divide between "common sense" and "statistics"- in truth, it seems one proves the other, but here we are.
anyway, you allude to finding some balance in your pool-playing journey, mentioning that it's cool to know the equations, but also that spending time crunching numbers is no substitute for clicking balls.
there is science in that, too...keep clicking!


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Physics never changes
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Physics never changes - 07-16-2019, 05:31 PM

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Originally Posted by logical View Post
The physics is always there and in charge. But what is going on during a shot can't be fully described by a simple equation anyone can consciously solve in his head.

It's usually best to let the subconscious mind do the heavy lifting and tell you how to hit the shot just like it tells a batter when to start his swing or a skeet shooter when to pull the trigger.

It isn't that physics isn't real, it's that we try to simplify it down to a level we can understand and don't want to admit we are missing half the equation.
Physics never change but they are often incompletely applied as you mention or even an entirely wrong area used to try to explain something. You can't get around "an equal and opposite reaction" for example but it is often a combination of reactions instead of just one. I read some funny things on here sometimes but they aren't going to hurt or help my pocketbook so whatever!

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07-16-2019, 06:32 PM

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Originally Posted by sjm View Post
I am reminded of Irving Crane's stated aiming system. When someone asked him, at an exhibition I attended in New Brunswick, New Jersey in the winter of 1978, what his aiming system was, he said "I try to aim the same way I aimed last time I made the shot." I remember thinking that it can't be THAT easy, but perhaps it really is that simple. Crane had hit every flavor of every shot so many times that he practically had the aiming points memorized, or at least he thought so.

In other words, Lou is right in suggesting that success over the glorious green felt is more about hitting enough balls than learning the sciences that underlie the game. At very least, Crane would probably have agreed.
Having the confidence of knowing you've made the shot before you even shoot it can only come by having successfully executed that shot tens of thousands of times before. The tricky part is when, under pressure, you happen miss that shot, how do you process that going forward?
  
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07-16-2019, 09:22 PM

Good post, Lou. However, logic should lead one to believe that a good system (one that doesn't require experience or a database of shots) could drastically speed up a player's learning time. For example, take Buddy Hall's clock system for maneuvering the cb. Instead of relying on a few hundred or a few thousand shots before acquiring enough knowledge to precisely execute the ins and outs of position play, a new player can immediately have a jump start, a road map of sorts, to quickly develop an understand of how the cb reacts to varying english.

Same goes with aiming. A good aiming system in the beginning could weed out the countless misses that occur due to poor aiming experience/judgment, allowing the player to develop a more consistent stroke in much less time than using the traditional rote method of just hitting countless shots until it starts working. In other words, if you know exactly where to send the cb, but you miss the shot, then you know with 100% certainty that there was an error in the stroke or some other fundamental. If you aren't exactly sure where to aim (because you haven't hit enough shots yet to get a feel for it), when you miss balls you really don't know if it's due to faulty aiming or poor stroke delivery.

Sometimes knowing a good theory or equation can lead to great shortcut for many players. Just because you and I and many others invested years of our lives on the pool table in order to become better players, it doesn't mean that's the only path a new player has today. Rote is old-school. It's a new world now, and there are better (more efficient and more effective) learning options available. That doesn't mean that no table time is needed to develop a strong game, just that considerably less table time is needed.


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07-16-2019, 09:29 PM

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Originally Posted by ChrisinNC View Post
Having the confidence of knowing you've made the shot before you even shoot it can only come by having successfully executed that shot tens of thousands of times before. The tricky part is when, under pressure, you happen miss that shot, how do you process that going forward?
If you dont know why you missed as soon as the cb comes off the tip, you need to stop and think.

I can tell immediately if I pulled the stroke, let off the stroke, or just flat out saw the shot wrong ie aimed the ball a hair off.

If you cant figure it out, chalk it up as a shot you need to practice.


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07-16-2019, 09:33 PM

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Originally Posted by RiverCity View Post
If you dont know why you missed as soon as the cb comes off the tip, you need to stop and think.



I can tell immediately if I pulled the stroke, let off the stroke, or just flat out saw the shot wrong ie aimed the ball a hair off.



If you cant figure it out, chalk it up as a shot you need to practice.


Finally a logical explanation. You listen to so much BS about this or that but at the end of the day what you just said is the reality.


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pool players won't use what is in front of them. - 07-16-2019, 10:59 PM

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Originally Posted by BC21 View Post
Good post, Lou. However, logic should lead one to believe that a good system (one that doesn't require experience or a database of shots) could drastically speed up a player's learning time. For example, take Buddy Hall's clock system for maneuvering the cb. Instead of relying on a few hundred or a few thousand shots before acquiring enough knowledge to precisely execute the ins and outs of position play, a new player can immediately have a jump start, a road map of sorts, to quickly develop an understand of how the cb reacts to varying english.

Same goes with aiming. A good aiming system in the beginning could weed out the countless misses that occur due to poor aiming experience/judgment, allowing the player to develop a more consistent stroke in much less time than using the traditional rote method of just hitting countless shots until it starts working. In other words, if you know exactly where to send the cb, but you miss the shot, then you know with 100% certainty that there was an error in the stroke or some other fundamental. If you aren't exactly sure where to aim (because you haven't hit enough shots yet to get a feel for it), when you miss balls you really don't know if it's due to faulty aiming or poor stroke delivery.

Sometimes knowing a good theory or equation can lead to great shortcut for many players. Just because you and I and many others invested years of our lives on the pool table in order to become better players, it doesn't mean that's the only path a new player has today. Rote is old-school. It's a new world now, and there are better (more efficient and more effective) learning options available. That doesn't mean that no table time is needed to develop a strong game, just that considerably less table time is needed.


Years ago I got Joe Villalpando's first two DVD's. I had a hard time going between wow and being angry. A beginner could spend three months working with those DVD's and shave years off of their learning curve, the same years I put in learning things the hard way. I lost those DVD's in a hurricane and flood. A few years later Joe sent me his last DVD set. More pure gold, put down in a different manner. He basically goes through a three day class, just edited for time. You would think these DVD's couldn't be sent out fast enough but I doubt more than a few handfuls, hundreds at most, have been sold.

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07-16-2019, 11:11 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by BC21 View Post
Good post, Lou. However, logic should lead one to believe that a good system (one that doesn't require experience or a database of shots) could drastically speed up a player's learning time. For example, take Buddy Hall's clock system for maneuvering the cb. Instead of relying on a few hundred or a few thousand shots before acquiring enough knowledge to precisely execute the ins and outs of position play, a new player can immediately have a jump start, a road map of sorts, to quickly develop an understand of how the cb reacts to varying english.

Same goes with aiming. A good aiming system in the beginning could weed out the countless misses that occur due to poor aiming experience/judgment, allowing the player to develop a more consistent stroke in much less time than using the traditional rote method of just hitting countless shots until it starts working. In other words, if you know exactly where to send the cb, but you miss the shot, then you know with 100% certainty that there was an error in the stroke or some other fundamental. If you aren't exactly sure where to aim (because you haven't hit enough shots yet to get a feel for it), when you miss balls you really don't know if it's due to faulty aiming or poor stroke delivery.

Sometimes knowing a good theory or equation can lead to great shortcut for many players. Just because you and I and many others invested years of our lives on the pool table in order to become better players, it doesn't mean that's the only path a new player has today. Rote is old-school. It's a new world now, and there are better (more efficient and more effective) learning options available. That doesn't mean that no table time is needed to develop a strong game, just that considerably less table time is needed.
I think the problem with this is that most aiming systems are so convoluted (because there isnít really a simple answer to finding the exact contact point other than ghost ball) that they distract from learning and enjoying the basics of the game.

I played snooker for about 20 years before playing pool, and I had never really heard serious discussion of aiming systems until I started playing pool. I recently, just for interest, tried using CTE, and seriously, it did my head in. I canít imagine explaining it to a beginner and expecting them to get anything productive out of it while trying learn and enjoy pool.

The ghost ball is a solid concept to explain aiming, and I think beyond that, I agree with the OP; itís repetition. And I donít think learning approximate potting angles takes all that long, at least to the point where your brain understands whats going on. I think playing 20 full ball, quarter ball, half ball, and three quarter ball shots with a ghost ball would be enough to get most people in line with how aiming relates to the movement of the object ball.

In my opinion, cuesports are difficult enough, offering enough to think about, without introducing aiming systems that have as many exceptions and qualifications as English grammar (a system which some people fail to implement correctly even after 60 years of using it everyday). I think they are also an entry point to the rabbit hole of cuesports insanity, that place that sucks in those too willing to obsess over the search for a magic bullet that will solve all their pool playing woes.
  
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