Getting Better at Pool – A Pool Odyssey

Game Tables Online would like to welcome Mark to the GTO Blog for an all-new billiards series! The series is entitled, “A Pool Odyssey.” Why the name? Getting better at pool is a journey! We’re here to steer you in the right direction and lead you to pool excellence.  Mark knows what he’s talking about so listen up!

Mark Finkelstein Billiards Instructor

Mark Finkelstein is a professional pool player, a BCA Master instructor, an American Cue Sports (ACS) Level 4 instructor, and House Pro at Slate Billiards in New York. He is also a former UPA Touring Pro and has played on the Joss 9-Ball Tour. Mark is leading instructor and can be found at other sites including Easy Pool Tutor and Inside Pool Magazine. Mark has also authored a book with McNally Jackson aptly titled, “Pool Ramblings.”

Take it away Mark!
I wanted to start off this new series with an overview of how to get really good at pool. We all love this game, and at the same time get frustrated sometimes with just how difficult pool really is. Why is it one day I play like a god, and then next day I can’t make a hanger?

Anyone can get good at pool. It takes some sort of instruction, practice, competition and time. What we are going to do is give you some of the instruction part in this series. It is up to you to put in the time, practice and competition to get really good.

Let’s get started.

What exactly do you have to learn to play excellent pool?

First we need a repeatable, reliable stroke. Without this, we are asking for frustration and problems. Taking the time to learn a proper stroke is the foundation skill for pool excellence. It is best to learn a stroke with a reputable instructor who will video tape you and analyze your swing. Please don’t skimp on this. You can have all the knowledge in the world, play for 40 years, and compete daily, but your progress will be limited by a faulty stroke!!

Next is knowledge. Knowing the physics of pool, pattern play concepts, banking and kicking systems and the thousands of pieces of information that go into an excellent pool game come next. To be a competitive player you need knowledge. Reading books, the internet and other players are all sources of information. Be careful though that what you hear as information is in fact grounded in the physics of pool. Just because a good player says something, doesn’t mean it is actually true.

Now that you have a stroke and the knowledge, the next building block of a competitive pool game is developing your skills. You might know what to do, but being able to follow the cue ball one diamond the first time, every time when you need it, is a whole different story. I have found that the best way to develop skills is to first do repetitive drills to form the baseline skill, and then do random drills with one try to more closely simulate playing in a game.

The final step is that you have to go out into the world and compete. Competition develops that inner fire that pushes you to excel. Competition also hardens you and makes you mentally tougher. There is no magic to getting mentally tough. Compete enough and you will get mentally tough. Breathing, visualization, and positive self talk all help, but in the end getting out there and battling will toughen you up the most.

Mark Finkelstein Billiards

Mark in action! Photo Credits: NYC Grind

To close this first article I want to give you two ideas that will immediately improve your pool game. I want to change how you think about pool and what you say to yourself. First off, pool is a very difficult game. There is no easy shot, you don’t have to make any shot, it isn’t written in stone anywhere that you should run this rack out, etc. Everything in pool is hard!

Because of this, we always want the cue ball to get as close to the next object ball as possible. INCHES COUNT HERE! The closer you are to the next object ball, the higher your pocketing percentage will be, no matter what your stroke is like. On every shot, ask yourself, “how can I get closer to the next object ball?”

And finally, because pool is darn hard, STOP BADMOUTHING YOURSELF WHEN YOU MAKE A MISTAKE! You are not stupid because you missed and jacked up, table length draw. The game is just really hard.

So that’s it. Pool is hard, so get close to the next object ball, and when you make a mistake, which you will, be kind to yourself.

-See you on the road.

More on How to Get Better at Pool from Mark Finkelstein:

  1. Getting Better at Pool – A Pool Odyssey I
  2. The Basics – Hitting Softly I A Pool Odyssey II
  3. Keeping It Simple – Stay on the Vertical Axis I A Pool Odyssey III
  4. 3 Drills to Keep Your Cue Stick Level I A Pool Odyssey IV
  5. How to Stand at the Table: 5 Steps to the Perfect Pool Stance V
  6. What Do We Look At? – A Pool Odyssey with Mark Finkelstein VI
  7. Controlling Our Cue Stick I BCA Instructor Mark Finkelstein VII