If you and I devoted some time to it, we could easily come up with a list of two dozen things the top players do better than mere mortals. But which are crucial? Where is that difference between 0.6 and 1.6 really made? Is it a matter of improving details across the board, gaining 0.01 here and 0.01 there? Or are there a few big chunks, responsible for tenths at a time? I will make an effort to give you the four major categories in which the 1.6-ers are far ahead of the 0.6-ers. I am pretty sure this isn’t fiction, which is why I want to call it F.A.C.T.
So many things come together under that umbrella. It’s not just forgetting about the room, ignoring the waitress and the kid with the bag of chips, your opponent moving in his chair and making noise as he’s “working on his tip”. Focus is about making the whole point, not “part of the point”. If you approach a shot, thinking: “I need to hit this really thin… really thin”, you’ve lost focus already. There is a good chance you will neglect a kiss, make it TOO long or find another way of screwing up. Focus is not always zooming in on the detail. It’s also zooming out to see the big picture.
Focus is about playing billiards on THIS particular table, with characteristics you may love or hate, but have to live with. True focus will allow you to accept what a table does, and not fight it, disagree with it, curse it. We all know this, but need to be reminded once in a while: you can argue with a table till the cows come home, but it will never concede that it was wrong and adapt to you. You are going to have to adapt to it.
This game of ours is an absolute joy to play at times, and everybody has a great attitude when the sun shines. Going from one natural carom to another, with three balls out in the open or a third ball in the corner, as big as a melon. Who does not love that? It never lasts long though, it’s the Friday afternoon office cocktail at 16.00, not the work week. Attitude is about balls frozen to rails, unavoidable kisses, fantastic hits that miss by a hair and opponents that present you with shitty position after shitty position. It’s about the flukes they make, and the way your deliberate defensive shot leaves them with a ticky.
Life is unfair, on some days you are the pigeon but on most days you are the statue. How you handle that, is a major factor in your chances of becoming a good 3C-player. With a winner’s attitude, you are “in the moment” at all times. You are not trying to change things you have no power over. You are not still beating yourself up over that bad miss from a few minutes ago. You are not neglecting your defense just because you are way ahead. You are playing one point at a time, and you treat the easy ones and the tough ones the same: they get your full attention.
Choice (of shot).
This is as much about character as it is about talent. Yes, the naturally gifted billiard brain will make the right choice more often, and quicker. But the work horses (which is: most of us) can catch up with the show horses if they want, with study and lessons, with trial, error and stubbornness. The knowledge is out there, it’s available online for everybody who is hungry and determined. Many talented players hit their ceiling early, several guys who are now world class needed two decades to get their game plan balanced and complete.
Picking the right shot is a “conditio sine qua non”. You can’t do without. If you have perfect focus and flawless technique, you’re still shooting blanks if you keep playing the wrong shot. So educate yourself, in a billiard room, on Kozoom or on YouTube. And here’s a tip: when the position is difficult: experiment! Trying a 4 % solution over and over again will get you nowhere.
Choice of shot has everything to do with position play, and it is as important to top 3-cushion as sequels are to Hollywood. Today’s phenomenal averages don’t come from solutions to difficult problems, they come from avoiding them.
Have you ever watched yourself play? In a mirror, or better still, on video? If, like me, you are not Jae Ho Cho, Murat Coklu or Pedro Piedrabuena, it will be a shocking experience. We don’t stand still, we jerk, we pull, we lunge, we have more moving parts than a Rolex, especially in a tense match situation. All of us are in denial about it, but believe me, when we miscue it’s not the chalk’s fault. Look at any player in the world’s top 20: you’ll find he stands still and strokes straight. Some have more discipline, some have more elegance. But all have learned that a cue goes forwards and backwards. Never up and down. Never side to side. Ignore those laws, and you will limit your potential average, it’s as simple as that.
Then there is “quality of stroke”, which is directly related to cue ball memory. Do you just let your ball roll and bounce between cushions, or do you send it out with marching orders? Watch Merckx, Dong Koong Kang, Sanchez. Their cue ball has defined spin even when they hardly use speed. If they do, that cue ball will still remember its assignment after the 5th and 6th cushion.
Technique could well be the prime legacy of the legend, Raymond Ceulemans. In terms of problem-solving and position play, he has been overtaken. But he demonstrated for four decades that shooting straight as a laser, leaving your bridge hand on the table and standing like a statue paid off. And you know what? It still does.
F.A.C.T. This is where you find the full point, the one between 0.6 and 1.6. How to get to 2 average, you ask? Be born a bloody genius, then work your ass off.