Product Reviews – 99 Critical Shots In Pool

Ray Martins The 99 Critical Shot in Pool

This book should be required reading for anyone that wants to improve their game. Ray Martin is a no-nonsense kind of guy and it really shows in his book. His “just the facts” approach to instruction is a breath of fresh air. This book has been around a long time and it continues to be at the head of the pack as far as instructional materials are concerned.

What surprises me the most about this book are the people who buy it, read some of it and put it on a shelf to collect dust without ever really giving it a serious effort. I know a guy that bought this book and still asks me how to play a certain shot. I tell him, “You got the answer, its been sitting on your shelf for over a year!”  This book wont make you a better player, but it will tell you what you need to know to make yourself a better player.

Do you ever sit and watch other players (good ones) and say “Wait a minute, how did they make that shot?”  Well, chances are that the answer is in Ray Martins book.  At first glance you may think that Ray has pulled a fast one on you. I remember thinking all he was doing was introducing 30 shots or so and showing different variations of them, but that simply isn’t the case. Ray does a great job of illustrating shots that come up allot more than you think and shows you the best way to deal with them when they do. He has an impressive background in straight pool  that shows in his shot selection. He explains how to hit each shot, what english to use and how hard or soft to hit the cue ball.

Ray is a big proponent of keeping things simple. He comes from the same school of thought that dictates that you don’t move the cue ball any more than necessary.   Plans changes with every hit of the cue ball so its important be able to change your strategy during the match.

The biggest thing I took away from this book is confidence that I now knew how to deal with certain shots that my opponents most likely wont know. If you can just study 10 shots a week, master them and memorize them, your game will take a huge leap by the time you finish the book. If nothing else you should gain a valuable new perspective on how to look at table layouts and that alone will be worth the purchase price.

Get this book, read it and memorize it. Then, 6 months later do it again. You wont be sorry. You can’t go wrong with this book. If it doesn’t help you it’s either your fault or you are already so good that all instruction is beneath you! (I’m betting is your fault!)

Have you shot all 99 shots?

Choosing A Cue, New, Used, Custom Or Production

Everyone who plays pool on a regular basis is eventually faced with the question of buying their own cue.  I have been buying cues for over 20 years, I have bought everything from cheap walmart cues, to high end custom cues. I wish when I started out that there was someone giving me a little insight on what to look out for when buying a cue. So here is my $0.02 worth on the subject.

The first thing you should do is decide on a budget. Believe it or not quality cues can be bought on almost any budget. I have seen excellent cues selling as low a $40.00 and as high as $300,000.00!  Decide how much you are comfortable spending and stick to it. How a person feels about a cue’s performance is very subjective. One person may like a very whippy, flexible shaft like a Meucci, others may prefer the firm hit of a Huebler. There is no one size fits all answer. If you like it, it doesn’t matter if it costs $20.00 or $2,000.00, as long as its right for you. So don’t get caught up in all the hype of certain cue manufactures, how others feel about a cue does nothing for your game.

Now that you know how much you want to spend I think it’s important to know some of the pitfalls of cue buying. I have NEVER seen a cue at Walmart (or similar discount store) that was worth the tax paid on it. Stay away from discount store cues all together. They are typically made from extremely cheap materials that are not designed to handle the stresses that a cue is put through. Here is a good example;

When a shaft is made for a cue the process usually starts many years before actual production begins. The shaft wood needs to be aged properly. You cannot take fresh timber and turn it down on a lathe and get a decent shaft from it. You will end up with a piece of wood that looks more like a hockey stick. The wood is bought years in advance and stored in climate controlled areas to insure proper drying and aging.

Then the shaft is turned down in stages. A cue maker will only remove so much material at a time. If this process is done too fast the shaft will warp. The wood needs time between turning to let the wood relax, if any warping occurs at that time  a good cue maker will decide if the shaft can be saved or if it’s doomed for the scrap pile .

Discount store cues are not made this way. They use cheap wood and the machining is done very quickly in order to maximize profits. These cues will not last. Don’t waste your money on them. I made this mistake when I was a kid and I learned very quickly that it is hard to play pool with a cue that looks like a question mark.

Some will argue that all they can afford is a Wamart cue. Well, i have seen their cues sell as high as $60.00 and I can tell you now that if you are patient, you can get a very good production cue for that same money or less on the secondary market.

USED CUES

Used cues can’t be an excellent way to stretch you cue budget and get the most bang for your buck. The wanted/for sale section on AZBilliards website is a great place to find a good deal on a new or used cue. Your local pool hall can also be a good spot to get a deal on a cue, it may sound bad but the folks that gamble on pool games at times use their cues to raise cash in a hurry. Good deals can be made in that manner, just make sure the person your buying the cue from is really the owner of that cue! (yes, it happens…..allot!)

When buying a used cue there are a few things you will want to look at. First, check the shaft over thoroughly. Look for dents in the shaft, look for cracks in the ferule and at the base of the shaft and joint collar. I like to look at the tip to see if it has been maintained well. Chances are if the tip is flat, the owner doesn’t care much about the condition of the cue and probably has a bad habit of hitting the balls too hard. When checking to see if the cue is straight it is a good idea to roll it together and as separate pieces. This will help you determine if the joint is in good shape or not as well.

Another trick is to lay the butt end of the cue on the table and position that joint on the rail, letting the shaft hang over the edge of the table. Now roll it and watch the tip of the shaft. You would be surprised at how many cues wobble when tested this way. (this type of test is a bit on the picky side, most cues will have some slight wobble to them)

One thing I stay away from is a cue that has the clear coat wearing off the butt end. A cue refinish can cost well over $100.00 and may quickly make that great deal go bad. I also consider the person I am buying from as much as the cues condition. If you don’t feel like you can trust the person it’s a good idea to walk away from the deal. Cues are bought and sold everyday and another one will come along soon so don’t put yourself in a bad position by taking a chance on a stolen cue.

NEW PRODUCTION CUES

Cues manufactures like Joss, Schon, McDermott,Meucci etc. They all make a good product. The best thing you can do for yourself if you feel this is the route you want to take is to go to an authorized dealer that will let you try out the cue you are interested in. How else are you going to know if you like their style of cue.  If a dealer is unwilling to let you do this, walk away.

My personal recommendations for production cues are based solely on my own use and experience. I have found that Joss makes a very good product that lasts a long time and is not too bad on the pocket-book. I like their piloted joint better than say a McDermotts wood to wood style joint. The forward balance of most of there cues seems to suit my style of play.

Another cheaper production cue that I have been very impressed with is Players. It is true that their components are not as good as a lot of the other bigger named manufactures but for the money they are hard to beat. I bought one of their sneaky pete’s for around $70.00 online and it has been a great cue. Worth every penny.

Here are some of the brands I have used and enjoy.

Joss Cues

Joss has several cues at a reasonable price. At the $200-$400 dollar range they are hard to beat.

McDermott Cues

McDermott seems to be gearing towards the more affordable cue range. They have several cues around $100.00 (although they offer many higher end ones as well) and they play decent in my opinion. I used to have one of their mid range cues in the late 80’s and I loved it.

Schon Cues

Schon cues are higher end production cues. I feel the hit of their cue is almost the same as two of my Joss cues. They have some nice designs to choose from and range around $500.00  to  $2000.00.

Players

I couldn’t find a site for players other than a distributors site. I didn’t feel it would be fair to cater to just one retail site so i leave the search to you. Players cues are a value cue that plays great in my opinion. Their price range is $40.00 to $140.00 dollars on most retail sites and they offer a wide range of styles to choose from. If you are on a tight budget than I think you should consider this brand.  They probably wont last you a life time but they are worth the money.

CUSTOM CUES

Now this is where things can get expensive. A person can spend anywhere from $300.00 to tens of thousands on a custom cue.  The first thing to do is to find a cue maker with a solid reputation. If you can find one in your area that you can visit that’s even better. Know what you want before you talk with them. There is nothing worse than asking a cue maker to make you a custom cue and then when he asks you what you want you say, duh  I dunno, sumtin kewl!

He is going to want to know what material you want it made out of, what type of inlays and rings you want. What weight and length you desire and what your budget is. He can help guide you as long as you have a good idea of what you are looking for. You need to understand that you will have to be flexible. For instance you want a 16 oz cue but you want the entire butt to be made of Gaboon Ebony, a very heavy wood.  You need to trust the makers experience and listen to him/her when they tell you that something is not a good idea.

Most custom cue makers have a website these days. Take the time to go through it before calling or emailing them. It can save you both a lot of time.

As for my custom cue, it is a Cameron Custom Cue made by Barry Cameron. I have some others but this is my favorite so far. Barry was a great guy to deal with, he made me feel at ease and walked my through the process very well. He gave me an estimated price and stuck to it and completed the cue on time.  He was patient with  me and I was careful not to change my mind too much! The cue turned out beautiful and every time I take it to a new pool hall people ask me where i got it. Best of all, Barry’s prices are very competitive. At the time I got my cue you could have a basic cue made by him starting at $500.00, and that included 2 shafts! I haven’t spoken with him recently about his prices so please understand that costs may have raised some in the last 3 years.

It is also important to understand that what they do takes time. A reasonable build time can range between 4 months to a year+. Some cue makers have a waiting list as long as eight years! Most, though, can take care of you in less than a year. It is important to understand that what they do is an art, and they take a great deal of pride in their work. After all, it’s their name on the cue and they want their name to stand for quality.

Below is a list of cue makers that I have either bought from or used their cues.  There are several out there that I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting or trying out their cues but if you have read much of my blog then you know that I prefer to only recommend products that I have used personally. But, just because a cue maker isn’t on my list doesn’t mean you should stay away from them, There are dozens of great cue makers out there that have a solid reputation.


LINK—->Cameron Custom Cues

Excellent work at a fair price. Has a good eye for detail.

LINK—->Bob Dzuricky of Dzuricky Custom Cues

Bob work has amazed me and he is such a nice person to deal with.

LINK—->Richard Black Custom Cues

High end pieces of functional art! His cues are some of the finest that you will see. (a bit out of my price range though)

I hope you found this article helpful. Just remember there are tons of cues out there and everyone has their own favorite. Opinions will vary, but what makes you happy, it doesn’t matter if it’s a 50 dollar yard sale find or a $100,000.00 museum quality specimen.  What really makes the cue good is the person using it.

My Trick Shot Videos

Someone asked me the other day why I didn’t have any of my trick shot videos on my blog. Well, I guess I just haven’t got around to it yet. Trick shots aren’t really my thing. I enjoy doing them and will probably do another video before to long but the majority of my time is spent on improving my pool game.

Here are a few of my videos.

This video is one I did almost entirely in one night. The music is from a band I know named Torque, hope you like it.

This video is a older one I did. In a previous a guy had commented that I used trick photography, used strings and had the table slanted to get the balls to move they way they did. So the last shot in this video is for him. I designed it to prove that I didn’t do any of those things. Enjoy.

This video is kind of interesting. I had this guy contact me from the Philippines asking me if I would make a video for him. It seems he was going to start a online billiards store and he wanted to use a video by me as advertisement for his site. He said that he would have a custom Masse Cue made for me if I use it in the video. I sent him my specs for the cue and when I received it I did this video.  I also did the artwork at the beginning of the video. The cue,by the way, plays awesome!

I hope you enjoyed these videos, maybe some day soon I will put some more up or even make a new one. But for now, it’s back to practicing my pool game!

Tip Tools

In this post I am going to cover several products I have bought in my search for the perfect tip tool.  I will only comment on the tools I have owned and used.

The Ultimate Tip Tool——-

NOT! In my opinion it is an ok scuffer but is not the all in one tool it claims to be. There are 2 main reasons I am not too fond of this tool. 1, the burnisher, while it does work  to some degree it can cause more harm than good if you are not careful in the way you do it, causing damage to the ferule. 2, the trimmer on the side of the tool. This device is meant to sand down the sides of your tip to make it flush with the ferule. WARNING, you run the risk of damaging your ferule when you do this.

Think about it, in order to get the tip flush with the ferule the sand paper will come in contact with the ferule. NOT GOOD. For this reason alone I have quit using this tool. Not to mention you have to buy replaceable pads for it.

I consider it to be a good tip shaper as far as the tip radius is concerned but that is about it.  I give it a  4 out of 10 rating.

The Kamui Gator Grip———

This little tool is the best thing I have found for scuffing the tip. What makes it so great is that you can scuff the tip without removing hardly any of the tips leather. Might not sound like a big deal,but when your favorite tip costs around 20 bucks, you want it to last as long as possible.  Since it uses metal instead of sandpaper it should last you a lifetime if used correctly. It’s surface is stainless steel that has laser cut ridges that are designed to agitate the fibers of the tip rather than completely remove them. It’s shell is made of hard wood, mine is ebony, and has a nice finish. It has a magnet in each corner  to keep it closed when not in use. It’s about the size of a credit card and fits nicely into my case.

Beware, it comes at a hefty price like most Kamui products. But when I consider the longevity of this product I don’t mind at all. There chalk however is another matter entirely.

Kamui says it’s the only tool you need to do proper maintenance to your tip. I disagree. This tool is only designed for scuffing. In my opinion there are other aspects of tip maintenance so it falls a little short of their all in one advertising. All things considered it  is a solid buy, I give it a 8 out of 10.

NOTE: When I bought mine they were $35.00, at the time of this writing 3 online stores had it for sale at 45.99. Personally I think this is too high, please keep in mind I wrote this based on my purchase price and not the current price.

Porper’s Tip Clamp

I don’t say this sort of thing very often but stay away from this piece of equipment. I had tried it several times and came to the conclusion that it is a poor design.

How it’s supposed to work:

1. Once you’ve prepped the ferule and tip you put the glue on the tip and place it on top of the ferule and quickly slide it into the clamp.

2. Slide the ring up to engage the clamp. This is supposed to center the tip onto the ferule.

3. Let dry and remove.

What really happens:

Tip never seems to be centered. Any excess glue will weld the tip and ferule to the clamp! I have ruined more tips trying to make this $15.00 mistake work. Avoid at all costs. You are much better off doing this process by hand. 0 out of 10

Sterling Home Repair Kit

Everything in here is total junk except for the shaft slicker. This kit was given to me by a well-meaning friend. While it is a very nice gesture I want you to know that it is a complete waste of money. Everything in this kit is made of the cheapest materials and are a complete waste of time. The tips are worthless uncompressed pieces of regular leather that will flatten out the first time they are used. The chalk is the worst I have seen. The tips clamp is cheap pot metal that will damaged your shaft when used. The glue is just a tube of Elmer’s glue. ETC.

In fact, if you are dead set on wanting this let me save you the expense, YOU CAN HAVE MINE!  0 out of 10

 Cue Cube and Shaft Slicker Combo

I got this as a freebee  from ordering a bunch of other stuff. The Cue Cube is a 2 in 1 deal. It’s a shaper and a scuffer. All in all it does a decent job at both tasks. I don’t really care for the scuffer part because I think it removes too much material and I prefer my Kamui Gator grip for scuffing. It will last a very long time though and if you can keep from loosing it, you will find that it comes in handy.

The leather piece is designed to be used as a shaft slicker. I use this as the last step in cleaning my cue shaft. It will make it smooth as glass and also can be used to burnish the sides of your tip. I have seen this sell between 5-10 bucks and is well worth it for those on a budget. I give it a 6 out of 10.

That’s all for now. I will post more when I get time.

Product Review— Philip Capelle’s A Mind For Pool

I bought this book awhile back and have read it twice. To be honest I think I need to read it a couple more times to really digest it all. Mr. Capelle does a decent job with this book. There are several gems in it that can help you with your mental game as is relates to pool. Personally I think he falls into the same trap as most pool instructional authors by user too much filler in his book but he gets the point across none the less.

Are you have trouble focusing while playing? Are you dogging critical shots? Are you dragged down by self imposed pressure? Well then, this may be the book for you. Philip fills his book with nearly 300 pages of self  help info and you’re sure to find something in there that will help your game.

His style of writing is just so so for me. Sometimes in the book he seems to carry on a bit much and hashes  out the same thing over and over. I felt this book would have been much better if it was condensed down to about 150 pages.  All in all, I though it was worth the read. Capelle does an excellent job of explaining the scientific side of the mental game. He also interjects a fair amount of  humor into his writings which I enjoy.  ( I get tired of dull and boring lecturing)

Capelle is also the author of play your best pool, which I consider a great book. (by far his best offering) On a scale of 1 – 10 I would give this a 7.5. I don’t think it’s the end all be all of the mental approach to pool but it is well worth the money.

If you find this book useful I would also like to suggest  a book called “The Inner Game Of Tennis”. It is quite possibly the best book I have ever read on the mental aspect of competing.

9 Ball Tournament

I ran and played in a 9 ball tournament this weekend. We were raising money for the honor flight so I was happy to help out. The last 9-ball tournament I was in was also a charity event, I ended up winning that one and donated all the money to the cause and i was hoping to be able to do it again.

As usual I always start off playing the toughest opponents right off the bat, even when I am the one making the bracket! Hey, if nothing else, at least I’m honest. There were a lot of the same people in this one that were also in the last 9 ball tournament. But, there where also a few more that I knew would be hard to beat, and one guy that I didn’t know at all.

So to begin with I draw the guy I consider to be the hardest to beat, George. I had met George a few weeks prior. He is a very skilled player and as it turns out he spent a fair amount of time playing and was good friends with Dave Matlock. ( For anyone who doesn’t know, Dave Matlock is a monster on a barbox) We had spent some time playing 9 ball on a 9 ft table, we went back and forth but he got the best of me. And I felt I hadn’t seen his top gear by a long shot, nor has he seen mine. But all things being equal I still felt he was the better player.  So I was determined to do my best. He won the break and ran a few balls and played safe. I kicked out and put a safety right back on him. It went back and forth like that for a few minutes until he made a mistake and I was able to run out. 1 down, 4 more to go. I break and run out the next game keeping George in his seat the whole time. 2 games to 0, me. Then I break dry and George runs out to make it 2-1. I get the next three games making 2 combo’s on a 9 and 1 more run out. WHEW, I figured that would be my hardest match.

Then as luck would have it I played  the unknown guy, Daniel. Daniel had just beat a very good player from my league team and beat him 5-1 so I knew he would be trouble. We both played very well, battling back and forth and playing some excellent safeties. He was very good at getting out of trouble and didn’t miss more than 2 shots the whole match. We both wound up being on the hill, 4-4, and I had the break. The last 4 breaks I had I put the 9 ball within 3 inches of the corner pocket. I was thinking it would be nice to finish this guy with a 9 on the break. I slammed the balls and the 9 went flying toward the corner pocket but just before it went in it was hit by the 7 ball. Oh well, it happens!

So I get a good layout and proceed to try to run out the table. I was firing in every ball with confidence and was sure i was going to win it when the unthinkable happened, the dreaded miscue. I was down to the 8 ball and gave away ball in hand. I was disappointed in myself to say the least but it was a great match, i just hated to be on the loosing end of it! So off to the looser bracket I go with my tail between my legs.

 

My next match was against the player from my league team that Daniel had previously deposited in the looser bracket. I knew he would be tough too so I stepped up and gave it my best. I beat my league partner 3 straight and the match lasted less than 10 minutes. (race to 3 on the looser side) Yes I was a little reckless but I was in the zone and wanted to make up for my loss. I worked my way back through the looser bracket and had to sit quite awhile before my next match.

And guess who that was against, yep, Daniel. But this time it wasn’t so even. In fact, I didn’t even get to see a ball until the third game and even then it was buried! He skunked me and I couldn’t do anything about it but shake his hand and say “Good Game”.

Hopefully some day soon I can play him and get a little payback. He was a good person to play against and I enjoyed his company. To often I play someone who turns out to be a complete jerk and a poor sport. Daniel was neither, he won with dignity and sooner or later I’ll find out if he looses that way. Smart money is, he does.

Practice with Purpose

How do you practice? Do you just throw a bunch of balls onto the table and shoot them in? Do you set up a shot that you missed in a game and drill it over and over? Do you set up a plan and follow it? Do you even practice at all?

Everyone could use some practice no matter how good they think they are. I can’t think of a single area in my game that doesn’t need improving and I play fairly well. In fact there are so many things in my game that I want to improve on I have a hard time figuring out which things I am going to work on during practice. So to help with organizing my practice I have come up with a routine.  A planned routine can really help you focus on improving your weaknesses.

To begin with you need to decide what areas you need to work on.  It helps to have some other people opinions when deciding this. After all, you may think your position play is fine but others who have watched you may not be so sure. Be willing to listen and accept others criticism. Keep this quote in mind, ” I have learned a thing from someone who agrees with me.”

Try to find someone who knows a thing or two about body mechanics as it pertains to pool. Ask them to critique your fundamentals, your stance, grip, stroke etc.

Once you have made a list of the things you want to work on you need to decide how much time you can devote to practice. I try to maintain 1 hour a day practice, although I fall short at times. I recommend you only practice a comfortable and reasonable amount. Don’t expect to improve much if you only dedicate 15 minutes a week. Also you want to be careful not to overdo it. At one time I was trying to practice 3-5 hours a day. This was actually detrimental to my overall game and I soon got burnt out on pool for a while.  Don’t exceed your attention span, if you find that you are forcing yourself then you may be doing more harm than good. I enjoy my practice and look forward to it so the amount of time spent on it doesn’t bother me.

Here is an example of one of my practice routines;

10 min straight in shots ( this serves as a warm up)

20 min 2 rail position shots

10 min break shot (this week 9 ball)

5 min small position drill

5 min safety drills

10 min play the ghost in 9 ball

I like to finish with something I consider to be fun, and for me playing the ghost is always a fun challenge.

Some other things to consider;

Drills-

Drills are great teaching tools. They can be an excellent way to sharpen your skills at the table. The thing about drill is that you need to change them up often. Don’t allow them to become to repetitive. If you are doing the same drill over and over it will lose the majority of its effectiveness.

Challenge yourself–

If you are doing Bert Kinister’s mighty X drill and you are successful 90% of the time, you are not learning anything new. If you are succeeding 75% of the time (or better) it’s time to move on to something more challenging. I was practicing a certain style of break the other day and I was only successful at it 10% of the time.  At first I was discouraged and didn’t want to try  it anymore. But after i gave it some thought I realized that it was worthwhile and I kept at it. Now I am up to 25% success rate and that’s 2 1/2 times improvement over what I was doing. Just remember, if you want to get better at something you will have to challenge yourself.  If you continue to work on things that you can already do well you will not improve much at all.

Set a goal-

Setting a goal keeps you focused on the tasks that you have given yourself. If your safety play is weak then set up some drills to work on it. When I wanted to improve this I started playing this guy i know that is better than me in 9 ball, I made it my mission to 3 foul him every chance I got. And my safeties got much better. No matter what you’re doing it always helps to have a reasonable goal to work towards.

Educate yourself-

The more I play the more I realize that a smarter player always has the edge over an equally skilled opponent. There is so much info on pool today. Books, DVD’s, web sites and personal instruction are all great ways to learn this game. I HIGHLY recommend going to a  professional instructor to help you get started and to continue to improve. A good instructor will correct any fundamental flaws you may have right off the bat. You would be surprised at how much that alone can do for your game. But for those of you who don’t have access to a pro instructor there are several books and dvd’s that are the next best thing.

Another thing you can do is buddy up with one of the better shots in your area. Most people are will to give a few pointers here and there.  Getting into a league is also a good way to learn from other people.  Not everyone’s advice is going to be right, so you need to learn to weed out the bad from the good when dealing with free advice.

Here are some instructors that are well known to be the best in the business. Their experience and ability to teach has been utilized by beginners and pro’s alike. This is only a list of people I have personal experience with or who have an extremely  good reputation, I am sure there are several others out there for you to choose from that are not on my list but are still good instructors.

Scott Lee

119 Apperson Road

Battle Creek, MI 49015

773-551-7473

Email: poolology@aol.com, Site: www.poolknowledge.com

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Mark Wilson

8561 Prarietown rd

Dorsey, Ill 62021

618–888-2333

Email: stlshooter@hotmail.com, Site:  www.playgreatpool.com