The date on the following comment is summer 2010.
I recently played at the Brass Ring again. I've played there before, but not before really working on improving my pool skills. The tables there are some very nice Diamond Billiards tables, probably their "professional" table. Darn nice table, and lighting too. It is amazing what you appreciate once you start doing something regularily!
What's the difference between Pool and Billiards? There are two kinds of billiards games -- 3 rail billiards, where the balls are banked around the table to hit other balls, and pocket billiards, where balls are sunk in pockets. Pool is a synonymous term for Pocket Billiards.
Several pool folks, either BCA instructors, or people interesed in pool, have put together some great YouTube YT presentations on billiards. I find that they helped glue together things I already knew by making some nice presentations of the material that were neither too complex, nor too simple.
The BCA's Professional Instructor Program was rebranded as PBIA -- Professional Billiard Instructrs Association in Summer 2012. Same exact organizations, different titles.
Checkout my Playing Better Pool section for lot of instructors and their info. I should probably re-organize this so all "instructors" are here; but they are in the other section because they often have great resources!
Many of the larger pool tournaments are tied into events, and they are sorta all mixed up here.
Here in the US, almost everyone knows the game of 8-ball, it's almost universal. In British based countries, the same is true of Snooker. 9-Ball is more random and seems regional in nature.
10 Ball is a reaction by better players to the luck factor in 9-ball. It is basically like 9 ball, but a called pocket game; you can't just go wild and hope to drop the 9 ball with random shots. The biggest difference that I see between 9 and 10 ball is the necessity of running an extra ball. To me, this changes the character of the game quite a bit, since it gives a distinct advantage to better shooters. From my POV as an intermediate player, 9 Ball is a great combination of skill, and good shooting with a bit of luck thrown in. 10-Ball forces you to have longer run-outs to have a chance to win, which definitely favors better players over intermediate players. I enjoy the game, but it isn't 9-ball with the luck factor removed. I'ver seen exceelent 9-ball players who don't compete as effectively at 10 ball due to this factor.
I've tried to get people to play some of these games. They are quite challenging, hard to play, and are well worth your time if you want to become better at pool.
The funny thing about it is that so many players say that the feel that playing these is like cheating! They don't get it that you need to do stuff like this to get better -- and you are doing it in an environment just like you shoot in competition:
Don't be fooled into thinking that mass-produced cues are bad cues, and that hand-made cues are great. Cues are individual constructs made out of wood and other natural materials. If an individual cue plays well for you it is a great cue for you. You can pick up an identical cue next to it, and it may not play the same way.
If you like a cue a lot buy it (or put in on layaway) Otherwise you risk losing out on great cue for you for forever. I mention this because it happened to me, and I don't want to let it happen again!
Just because a cue is old doesn't mean that it is the greatest thing on earth .. no matter who made it An old cue is an old piece of wood and can warp and deform like any piece of wood can. A brand new cue can suffer the same fate as it leaves the controlled envrironment of the cue maker and starts responding to temperature and humidity!
That being said, just because a cue is old, does not imply that it plays poorly. Old school cues can be the pinnacle of older style cue design. A cue doesn't need to be hi-tech to play well. For example, I found that that a simple Brunswick Centennial cue, with a crappy shaft, a triangle tip, and a brass joint... It can play remarkably well. Amazingly enough -- you can use english with this cue with very little change of aim, or by using parallel english (which is a no-no these days) .. and the cue shoots just fine. The problem can be that modern techniques outpace the older cues. One thing I do note is that the balance of these cues is bad for me -- the weight is in the butt, and my playing arm's elbow joint quickly tires from holding the majority of the weight of the cue.
I think that the other thing that out paces older cue designs is the way that the games are played have changed. There are more high-power shots, high-power breaks, jumps, extensive use of power draw and spin. I think that this is where the construction of some older cues breaks down -- they aren't designed to have that kind of power put into them. For example that Brunswick Centennial cue I mention above starts doing goofy things when you put a lot of power into it. But softer shots ... it's like a dream. My newer cues don't mind the power at all ... they're like a tiger lurking ... ready to spring forth and leap onto prey. The older cues can't do that ... they are more like a rodent snuffling away to scavenge things ... but they are amazingly good at doing that one type of play.
The games played have changed as well -- runout 8-ball, 9-ball and 10-ball are staples these days. Before, it was straight pool (14.1) and 8-ball .. the game has changed over the years. Of course, you could look at one-pocket's resurgence, and say that maybe the old style of play isn't a dinosaur yet!
As another example, look at Sailor Stellman's Cues. They are very old school manufacture -- he's been making them the same way for years. They are awesome playing cues, outpacing any of the newer high-tech cues and shafts that I've run across or tried out. A lot of the old cue makers are pool players, and they started making cues because they wanted a good playing cue! His cues are great in both old and new environments .. and they seem to let you shoot hard shots with less effort. That is critical if you are playing tournament pool all day long... or if your accuracy decreases quite a bit with big power increases.
WI has more cue makers than any other state!? McDermott, Viking, Jacoby, Schon, Pechauer, Sailor, Jackson, Schmelke!?!?!? Go figure -- must have something to do with our long winters!
Sailor Cues are made by the famous pool player Frank "Sailor" Stellman. Sailor cues are all wood (no metal except the joint & pin). The weight is fixed -- built into the construction of the cue, it isn't an adjustable metal weight. You'll most likely notice his cue by shorter grip area that is located toward the butt of the cue, and by a ring around the butt cap. I find that Sailor cues play wonderfully -- I can pick up a Sailor cue that I've never seen before, and shoot like a demon compared to how I shoot with my fine Jacoby cue that I've had for years. It is an amazing difference, and I believe it is due to it being a different kind of cue. As of 2014, Frank is getting elderely, and may retire from cue making soon. Feel privileged if you have one of his cues -- they are superb.
Chris Cues -- Chris Whitaker in Southern IL is a small custom cue maker. I met him because he visits WAMO each year to sell cues, and he does a heck of a job working on cues on-site. I always enjoy talking to him and discussing his work with him. BTW -- Chris shoots a nice game of pool as well as building cues! You'll know one of his cues when you see it, it has a double interleaved "Cc" pattern on the butt. I know of many superb local players who enjoy Chris's cues -- he visits us once a year, and we get exposed to his cues. He does a superb job of cue maintenance at a venue with thousands of pool players needing everything from general maintenance to emergency help with their cue.
Many pool tables are made in the USA, and overseas in both Europe and Asia. Most well-built tables are superb to play on.
You can checkout my page about the Pool Table for details of construction, sizing, and play differences.
Shooting on a pool league has moved to its own page.
There is a somewhat confusing selection of rules about pool. Just at a simple short count you have International Rules, European Rules, American Rules, League Rules, Bar Rules, and House Rules.
In my opinion the ruleset to know and love is the BCA, Billiards Congress of America, ruleset. It carves the stupid parts off of the international and european rules which reduce the fun and enjoyment of the game -- while leaving all the really important things there.
That isn't an arbitrary choice. For example the APA rules are IMO, set towards paying money to the APA so you can be in their global handicapping system. There are better handicaping systems which can rank players who have never played against each other, and have NO licensing cost.
If you know BCA rules, you will be set for understanding most other rulesets. Where do most rulesets have differences? They are usually small differneces in Fouls, Legal Breaks, Legal Shots, and Winning Shots, and Cue Ball location on fouls or scratches.
Bar Rules are usually a simplified version of real pool. Cue ball in hand in kitchen aka Ball in Kitchen. Typically there are less fouls (cue ball scratch being about the only foul). Winning may require the 8 be sunk with a bank shot, or be pocketed in the same pocket your last ball was sunk, last pocket. Typically you are stuck with any balls you sink on the break. Often scratching while trying to sink the 8 ball is a loss.
My recommendation is to play standard pool. It will make you a better player, instead a victim of pool sharks. You can go look for bar pool games, but most people who want to play pool are quite willing to play by league or international rules. They are willing to win on their skill, not the rules they use to win.
The easiest way to negotiate and make sure you and your opponent are on the same page when two people play a game of 8 ball is to check the following items:
9 Ball is usually played in sets. The important thing to take care of here is that you are negotiating for two things. The other thing to take care of is that 9 ball games/sets are usually handicapped in someway to make play more equal.
For the individual game
For the Set
There are a number of Performance Cue Shafts on the market. Hi-Tech compared to the traditional solid-wood shaft. The big thing about hi-tech shafts is that they use advanced manufacturing techniques to eliminate cue ball squirt. They do these by laminations, reduced cue shaft end mass, and proprietary techniques. They may also offer innovatvie ferrules, anti-vibration damping, or other secondary features.
Why hi-tech shafts? The big thing here is use of sideways spin or english on the cue ball. When a cue ball is struck with english it is actually pushed slightly sideways by the cue ... so the cue ball doesn't go where you aim it. To make the cue ball travel where you want it to go, you need to adjust your aim.... which can be an inexact science. Aim change depends on cue ball speed, table conditions, ball conditions, amount of english applie, and other factors. The advantage of the hi-tech shaft is that it greatly reduces the squirt (sideways deflection) of the cue ball. This means your cue ball is more likely to hit where you intended.
One thing to note is that many traditional wood shafts are also of a Low Deflection design. I was surprised to find that my Dave Cue (my GW Cue by Dave Pearson) has a lower deflection shaft. It doesn't eliminate deflection, but it reduces the amount you need to offset a shot by. XXX move this. I really like Dave Cues because he puts a high quality maple shaft on all of his cues -- making a good quality shaft accessible to any level of player!
I play with both conventional and hi-tech shafts. For the most part, I don't notice a difference between the two. They just play well. Part of that is most likely that my conventional shafts are pretty low deflection to start with -- they are quality shafts. Putting one of my cues in the hands of someone who uses english a lot, ... they notice a big difference compared to their conventional shaft (of another brand). I tell them to use less aim correction, since the shaft is low deflection, and that usually fixes the problem. If you are shooting at slower speeds... I don't find that the correction changes all that much between the two ... at least among my cues. I will say that I often see unexpectedly good draw action from the hi-tech shafts. However .. I've also seen table-length draw with a bar cue. The skill of the player is usually the limiting factor!
I've noticed that low-deflection shafts often create unintended masse action compared to a conventional shaft. Even with near-zero english (spin) it can generate an enourmous amount of masse. This typically doesn't happen with an ordinary shot near center-ball. I see it happening mostly on shots with follow (top) spin. This masse causes the path of the cue ball to curve instead of being straight. This can be a good thing, but it is usually a bad thing ... because the cue ball curves off the path you need it to follow.
I believe it occurs by an amplification of bad technique (such as the wrist rolling) that allows the bendy shaft to magnify that effect because the cue-ball is trapped underneath it, and a lot of spin is added in. A conventional shaft would just apply some spin, but so little that you don't see a noticeable masse effect.
Some of the newer even lower-deflection shafts coming out are of reduced diameter, the Europe Taper instead of a Pro Taper. This helps reduce deflection and let you apply precision english ... but does the shaft fit your hand & bridge? One thing I've noticed playing around with the hi-tech shafts I have access to (Predator and OB) is that you don't feel the hit of the cue ball very well -- it sorta gives mushy feedback to the user.
Many of the major manufacturers deliver hi-tech shafts as either their main product, or as an upgrade from traditional shafts. Predator is probably the most well known of the brands, with OB trailing slightly in name recognition. It turns out that Tiger cues is also a founder of low-deflection technology, even though I don't hear their name spoken WRT to it. Lucasi also has a low deflection HX design, and newer Zero Flex shafts. I believe that Players / Lucasi is also the manufacturer of the low-deflection maple shafts that Dave uses on his cues.
Pool Ball Colors:
If you are watching tournament pool on TV sometimes the balls are different colors. This is due to "old" analog TV, where the chroma levels on certain colors made them difficult to distinguish from each other. Newer digital TV doesn't have any bias towards colors, and traditional balls show up great. In particular, because of "red" chroma's effect, it is difficult to distinguish the Purple 4 ball and the Maroon 7 ball from the 8 ball. You might still see the older "TV balls" in some matches, so here are the changes:
The cue ball is often dotted so the TV viewers can see the spin put on the cue ball by draw/follow and "english".
In Seven Ball, the Seven-Ball itself is quite different from the normal seven ball. It's sorta black and Maroon in a stylized pattern that makes it look sorta weird... but it's there for when you play Real 7-ball!