This is for all of you pool players who played pool back in the day (20, 30, 40 or more years ago) and you’ve decided to get back in to playing pool. Chances are you played “old school” 8 Ball. You know, ball in hand only in the kitchen, call shot, no defense. “Wait, what do you mean no defense?” I hear you youngsters asking. When I first picked up a cue and started playing, the only defense you could play was a two way shot and you had to be discreet about that! Failure to adhere to this unwritten “rule” was a sure way to provoke a physical attack even if there was no money on the game. So when I first joined a pool league about 13 years ago I lost matches that I shouldn’t have simply because I refused to play defense! I was brainwashed into thinking that having to resort to defensive play to win made it less than honest. The turning point for me, I think, was when I started playing open tournaments where most of them had the 3 foul rule. Meaning, if a player fouls 3 consecutive times it’s a loss of that rack. After losing a rack via 3 fouls and the match due to being outplayed I figured out that I was a one legged man at a butt kicking contest! Determined to even the playing field, I stopped trying to pocket a ball every time I got to the pool table.
I started playing defense, or at least attempted to, and it wasn’t long before coming to the realization that many defensive plays or safeties are more difficult to execute than ball pocketing shots! Defensive shots typically require superior speed control of both the cue ball and object ball. I learned quickly that if I wanted to improve my defensive play that practicing specific safeties were a necessity. Not really knowing how to commence, I just started recreating shots that I missed and would play them repeatedly but not with the intent of pocketing the object ball. Instead, I played them defensively, observing the results and tweaking cue ball speed and spin on each attempt until seeing some consistent success on these shots. Admittedly, I felt a little guilty when I hooked my opponent the first couple of times but that quickly went away when my opponent shot a jump or kick shot pocketing the object ball or better yet playing a good counter safe and hooking me! To this day, I still don’t practice defensive play as much as I should (I don’t think I’m alone on that) but my pool playing skills have expanded dramatically. Yours will too if you’ll forget about the past, incorporate defensive thinking and play into your game with the help of skill specific practice. Don’t feel guilty or apologize when you lock your opponent up in competition either. Just smile and say “Welcome to Alcatraz!”