Understanding and mastery of cue ball speed is one of the keys when learning how to play pool. So much so that one book on the subject, the author (George Fels, I think) opens with a statement that even though he probably doesn’t know you or ever seen you play, he’s willing to wager that you’re hitting the cue ball too hard. Yet, if you ask most players what speed they would hit a given shot on the table and the best you’ll get is soft, medium or hard for an answer. Much too vague for most to translate and execute at the table. A few players may answer the good old “pocket speed” but pockets don’t move so how can they have any speed? Pocket speed is how an object ball is played with just enough speed to make it drop off of the ledge or shelf and into the pocket. While pocket speed is a good principle to play by it isn’t good as a measurement. Shot A may have the object ball a diamond away from the hole and Shot B may be from 5 diamonds away. Both can be played at pocket speed but if you hit shot B at the same speed as shot A you will likely be giving up a ball in hand because no balls hit a rail and the object ball has stopped well short of the pocket.
A fundamental building block is to set up a cue ball speed measuring system. Now I’m not talking about breaking out a radar gun or break speed app on your phone while these usually do a fine job of measuring break speed they are of little use for any other type of shot on the pool table. No, an effective system translates to the distance the cue ball will travel when struck. A good baseline speed is the lag shot. How often do you practice lagging? I’ve heard many players state the break shot is the most important shot of the rack but how can that be when it’s the more accurate lag shot that gets to you to the table to break? The speed systems I’m familiar with will tag the well played lag shot as a 1 speed (1 table length and back) or a 2 speed (2 table lengths, though it’s actually shorter since this exercise has you shooting the cue ball from the spot). From there using zones of a diamond to 2 diamonds in length to determine other speeds (see pool table graphic). Shoot the cue ball from the spot without “trying” to land it anywhere on the table specifically 100 times. Record your result after each shot and when you’re done average out the numbers. This will tell you what your natural or stroke speed is currently. From there take 4 shots at each speed “zone” to see how well you currently control the cue ball. The first attempts at this exercise may surprise, disappoint or frustrate you (or all 3!) but if you stay with it your position play should improve over time as a result. Once you’ve got that down combine the speed exercise with a stroke straightness exercise to take the difficulty (and your skill) to the next level. Mix it up even more by randomly selecting different speeds for each shot for 10 or 20 shots. This will more closely simulate real game conditions.
If you’re playing in a league or want to compete in tournaments try this on as many different pool tables as you can! You will quickly be enlightened to how the variables of table length, cloth type and speed, bumper speed and even the humidity in the pool room affect the cue ball’s behavior. Or don’t and just complain about table conditions every time you play and lose. The choice is yours. Choose wisely grasshopper!