Perfect Position vs. Options

skipbales

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There are two distinct approaches to pool training I have been exposed to.
1. Drills to develop perfect position coupled with concepts about picking the most forgiving areas of position. Some of these methods involve pre selecting a series of specific pockets to shoot specific ball in before beginning the run. Not much discussion is had about alternative planning if things don't go right. I like this for practice and improvement but don't think the game is actually played this way.
2. Practicing more way the game is played. You have a plan, it can be a full table run, 3-4 balls ahead, figuring out a solution for problem balls, or however you feel the particular table will work out. But then instead of specific position for a specific shot, you plan for contingencies. So maybe something like trying to get perfect on a trouble ball but having an alternate or maybe multiple alternate shots if the position doesn't work out. Or a better way of saying it might be avoiding single ball position attempts unless there is no alternative. Like maybe not going for perfect position on a specific ball when you could choose to have pretty good position on a variety of balls and picking the best opportunity depending on exactly where you end up. Learning to see the game this way appeals to me as I am not sure I will every learn to get perfect all the time. I am not sure anyone can, maybe Shane? But it seems even the best players still look around and change their patterns based on circumstances. I have heard it said "pool is a game of opportunity" and I believe that is true.
Where I end up is striving for perfection, having a full run out plan, trying to perfect my speed and position during practice. But I am also trying to practice seeing options that allow for the largest number of possibilities and to remain open to small and even complete rearranging of my patterns as things develop.

My questions are for Instructors and experienced players alike: Is one method of practice more important than the other? Do you even agree that both are important or do you favor one exclusively? I have had instructors totally dismiss each of the above as being valid things to practice. They seem to be very polarized.
 

BC21

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Both, imo. Sometimes you have to be very precise on position, but most of the time all you need to do is get the cb into a general area that provides you with the best options. Anytime you go into a cluster you should strive to get the cb into a general area that provides multiple options to continue shooting. I'm sure you already know all of this.

I think practice should include some very precise position play, because in a match there will be certain shots where playing for a general area won't cut it. Precise cb control, even if you don't need it most of the time, is a necessity for playing runout pool or master safety plays. Practicing for precision is a good habit to get into, so whenever you need to play precise position you'll have a better feel for it because you've practiced it.

With that said, playing "perfect" position is subjective. I mean you'll have your idea of where the perfect cb position would be, and if you get close to that then it's perfect enough. If you get the cb exactly where you want it, where you consider it perfect, another player may see it as not so perfect, too thin or too thick to match their idea of perfect. One thing is certain though: Regardless of what you or anyone else thinks is a perfect position play, leaving yourself multiple options is always a great way to play when that choice is available, but even then it takes good cb control to do this consistently.

In most games, especially straight pool, you need both concepts, playing for multiple options most of the time, but also playing for precision shape on occasion. It's good to feel confident when precision is needed, and confidence partly stems from good practice habits.
 

Patrick Johnson

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I think it's best to do both on every shot: choose a "position zone" that has maximum room for error, and then aim for the precise spot in that zone that gives the most options.

pj
chgo
 

skipbales

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I like that: " In most games, especially straight pool, you need both concepts, playing for multiple options most of the time, but also playing for precision shape on occasion."

That is the way I see it in play. In practice I am trying to spend equal time on precision drills into a specific target area and staying on the correct side of the ball. Then I play a modified straight pool exercise where I focus on leaving myself as many options as possible. Even then, I have an exact target in mind but don't fret too much if I miss it so long as I have a clean shot and one of my other choices. What is really funny is when I don't get a shot at any of them but end up with a shot on something I didn't even think of. duhhh
 

skipbales

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Patrick Johnson
I think it's best to do both on every shot: choose a "position zone" that has maximum room for error, and then aim for the precise spot in that zone that gives the most options.

Often there is a trade off. Exact position on a tough ball can mean no other available shot. Whereas pretty good position on that ball may open up lots of other options. At my level, in play, I opt for less than ideal position if it means I will have an extended good area. When I practice I do some no compromise perfect position (small target area) drills to keep myself from getting sloppy. But I also practice looking around for patterns which offer a lot of options. I was just curious how many people think really perfect positioning is reasonable attainable. Tor Lowry bases all his teaching on picking a pattern and sticking to it. He mentions wide windows and rails and angles to increase the areas for position but he does not discuss changing your mind much and his drills do not cover this type of thinking. CJ emphasises not trying for one ball position if you can avoid it and if it has to be one ball try for 2 pocket choices for that ball. Sometimes it is just a matter of setting up for a little longer shot to put the cue ball more in the open so there are other options. He plays a very fluid game and takes advantage of options all the time.
 

FranCrimi

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What good is any of that if you can't pocket the balls? Shot-making should be every player's number one priority. Once you become a confident shot-maker, the rest will follow much more easily. You won't even have to ask about how to play position. You'll start to see it once you can confidently pocket balls.

I can't even begin to tell you how many players bypass the shot-making part. They may think they're shot-makers, but they're not.
 

BilliardsAbout

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If your skill level is below the top/perfect position, then play/practice/think not only about a precise landing spot for the cue ball, but whether a little short of that spot or a little long is the wrong side of the shape, and adjust accordingly.
 

bbb

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If you play perfect position as long as you pick the correct shot to play position for
You don’t need any other options
I am not An instructor
 
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Low500

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What good is any of that if you can't pocket the balls? Shot-making should be every player's number one priority. Once you become a confident shot-maker, the rest will follow much more easily. You won't even have to ask about how to play position. You'll start to see it once you can confidently pocket balls.
I can't even begin to tell you how many players bypass the shot-making part. They may think they're shot-makers, but they're not.
Finger Blank.jpg
Absolutely correct.
(now that's the way a REAL instructor talks):thumbup2:
 

BC21

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What good is any of that if you can't pocket the balls? Shot-making should be every player's number one priority. Once you become a confident shot-maker, the rest will follow much more easily. You won't even have to ask about how to play position. You'll start to see it once you can confidently pocket balls.

I can't even begin to tell you how many players bypass the shot-making part. They may think they're shot-makers, but they're not.


Great point -- it does no good to practice position play if you can't consistently pocket balls. But I believe the op can already pocket balls. He was asking about practicing for precise cb control or to always play shape for multiple options, or a little of both. And position play is a separate skill development than simply pocketing balls. It doesn't just come to you automatically once you become a great shot maker.

We've all seen players (usually bar bangers) that are absolutely incredible shot makers, but horrible at shot selection and position play. They became great shot makers due to years of playing lousy position, always out of line, always shooting tough shots, never learning the basic concept of staying on the correct side of the shot line, etc... They easily outperform the average player when it comes to pocketing balls, but their lack of cb control causes them to lose quite often to players who aren't as skilled at pocketing balls but have a better idea of position play and can pocket most shots as long as they they don't get too far out of line.
 

skipbales

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Of course Fran makes a good point. If you miss the shot the position only matters if it is bad for your opponent, which is another whole way of approaching the game. Roger Long taught a completely defensive game which was all about the bad leave. He would bank a ball that was a simple cut just to leave the opponent bad if he missed. Not my style.

I think it is hilarious when someone says "look at the shape I got" after missing the object ball.

The other side of that though is you have to be able to make the shot while trying to get position. It is one thing to make a shot in practice when all you are doing is making the ball. Another thing to make it while also thinking of where you want the cue ball to go, even if no side spin is applied. It is really common to subconsciously try to cheat a pocket to "help" the cue ball slide just a little and end up missing the shot.
 

BC21

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Of course Fran makes a good point. If you miss the shot the position only matters if it is bad for your opponent, which is another whole way of approaching the game. Roger Long taught a completely defensive game which was all about the bad leave. He would bank a ball that was a simple cut just to leave the opponent bad if he missed. Not my style.

I think it is hilarious when someone says "look at the shape I got" after missing the object ball.

The other side of that though is you have to be able to make the shot while trying to get position. It is one thing to make a shot in practice when all you are doing is making the ball. Another thing to make it while also thinking of where you want the cue ball to go, even if no side spin is applied. It is really common to subconsciously try to cheat a pocket to "help" the cue ball slide just a little and end up missing the shot.


Yep. Shot practice should be geared toward both skills -- pocketing balls and cb control.
 

skipbales

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BC21 is correct in his assessment of my post. I am looking for the most effective way to improve my game. Deciding what and how to practice is the goal. I only have so many hours in a day. I do ball pocketing drills and always have a target for the cue ball as well. I document shots I miss in tournament play, set them up and shoot them until I can make 10 in a row and get the position outcome I was looking for originally. I think all that is important. But things like picking the simplest way to run a rack and the easiest way to get position and when to play a safety, in other words, the mental side of the game are important too. That is why I do some precision practice, some pattern run out practice, and spend some time analyzing different ways to think about the game. It is a matter of which of these should I spend the most time on to improve. I didn't play for almost 40 years and could still walk into a bar and beat the average player just because I understood the game better.
 

BC21

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BC21 is correct in his assessment of my post. I am looking for the most effective way to improve my game. Deciding what and how to practice is the goal. I only have so many hours in a day. I do ball pocketing drills and always have a target for the cue ball as well. I document shots I miss in tournament play, set them up and shoot them until I can make 10 in a row and get the position outcome I was looking for originally. I think all that is important. But things like picking the simplest way to run a rack and the easiest way to get position and when to play a safety, in other words, the mental side of the game are important too. That is why I do some precision practice, some pattern run out practice, and spend some time analyzing different ways to think about the game. It is a matter of which of these should I spend the most time on to improve. I didn't play for almost 40 years and could still walk into a bar and beat the average player just because I understood the game better.

Here is an example of the difference between two types of players... A player with solid position skills will play for the 2 ball in the side from within the blue position zones, A or B. From here any ball can be played next without having to shoot a world beater shot for position. From either area you can easily play position for the 3 whether it's at 3a, 3b, 3c, or 3d.

A great shot maker with poor position skills/knowledge would simply shoot the 1 ball and try to keep the cb anywhere in the yellow zone (C) for the 2, because he or she feels confident that the 2 can be pocketed no matter where the cb stops. But you can't easily get to all 4 of these 3 ball positions from just anywhere within the yellow. Depending on where the cb ends up, the shot maker is gonna have to pull a great shot out of his bag in order to get good on the 3. Or he'll just settle for a tougher shot on the 3 because he's a shot maker. Eventually, however, this great shot maker will hook himself or play such horrible position that he ends up missing and selling out.

More often than not, playing smarter is playing easier. That's why better players most always seem to be shooting easy shots....because they are smart enough (and skilled enough) to set themselves up on those types of shots.

 
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skipbales

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We have a lady player in our league who is a great shot maker but clueless about position to the point it is maddening. Given 7 open balls she will run them if she happens on a clear shot each time. But she is much more likely to roll behind an opponent's ball and totally hook herself towards the end of her run. Even simply rolling forward a few inches or drawing back a little escapes her. She makes a great shot, stops the cue ball then has to kick at her remaining ball(s). It is painful to watch.
 

skipbales

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If you notice the replies most people think in terms of make the shot, get shape for another shot that sets you up for shape to the 3rd ball. Mostly it is at least a 3 ball plan. Another way to view the table is to identify problem areas, have a plan to solve one problem first and see how that goes. If things roll well you develop a plan to continue. If you don't have a path to a run you play safe. Every part of the plan is based on outcomes, one shot at a time. Even players who say they don't do this actually do. All you have to do is watch them play. They don't simply go from ball to ball without looking around. They look at other options after every shot. It is just natural. You see them bend over and sight down a ball to see if it clears, etc. They are looking to see if they got lucky on a hard position ball and if they didn't they continue with the plan they started with. But if they got that crazy between two balls perfect unexpected shot at a problem ball, all bets are off and they go a totally different direction. I just think it is smart to realize this and actually take it into consideration when I plan my run out. either or planning.
 

BC21

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We have a lady player in our league who is a great shot maker but clueless about position to the point it is maddening. Given 7 open balls she will run them if she happens on a clear shot each time. But she is much more likely to roll behind an opponent's ball and totally hook herself towards the end of her run. Even simply rolling forward a few inches or drawing back a little escapes her. She makes a great shot, stops the cue ball then has to kick at her remaining ball(s). It is painful to watch.

I understand completely. I know a couple guys locally who play that way. Here's the funny thing though.... If they were to start trying to move the cb better, try to get position on the next shot, they'd find themselves missing more shots. It takes a combination of acquired skills and knowledge to pocket balls AND play position. One without the other usually makes for a losing record. And these skills require practice to learn and experience to polish it all up.
 

skipbales

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lol. Yes. I watched a video of Tor Lowry working with a student who kept missing a pretty basic shot. Tor told him "you could make that shot 50 time in a row if you didn't have to think about where the cue ball was going". I try to always have a target for my cue ball to help with that. It is still easier in practice then a tournament though.
 

FranCrimi

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.....A great shot maker with poor position skills/knowledge would simply shoot....

I think we should seriously rethink the whole 'great shot-maker poor position player' thing. It's almost an oxymoron. You almost can't be a great shot-maker and a poor position player. There may be a brief cross-over period but it's very brief.

Most players think they're decent shot-makers, but they're not. Their poor position skills reflect that. Only when you can pocket balls with cue ball spin can you start to think about position play; and by then you're already doing it.

You only have a certain amount of time? Then practice making every shot on the table.
 
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Bob Jewett

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I think we should seriously rethink the whole 'great shot-maker poor position player' thing. It's almost an oxymoron. You almost can't be a great shot-maker and a poor position player....
I had one student who overall was an APA 5. He had been playing for a long time. He could make shots that stronger players would not attempt. He did not play position and was not interested in playing position. If a soft shot was guaranteed to get good position, he would hit it with medium speed and shoot the resulting 75-degree cut or a bank. I briefly got him to play a few position shots and he kind of agreed that was useful, but the next week in league he was back to the style he felt comfortable with -- shoot and then look around for another shot.

It is not common but it is quite an eye-opener when you see such a person. I think he may have originally learned snooker which might explain hit potting ability and disdain for making the next shot easier.
 
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