CueTips Billiard Instruction – Attention to Detail

Posted on by Mark Finkelstein

I didn’t get my weekly article in yesterday because I was sitting in the dentist’s chair at 8:00 in the morning having my dentist drill into my brain and asking me if I felt that! No, I always make funny noises and squirm when you have a drill running in my mouth.

My dentist is a 78-year-old scratch golfer. But what I was thinking about as he worked on me was how meticulously he set up. He had all his drills lined up precisely where he could get to them, the light handle was wrapped in plastic just so, the scrapers were all lined up in order. Now here is a man who has been practicing dentistry for 50 or more years and he had his tools lined up like a first year dental student.

We as pool players, who play one of the most precise games on the planet, could learn a trick or two from this dentist.

As a good player, you probably think you know this stuff, and you do. But what I want you to do is take this “simple stuff” to the next level. Let’s run down a check list of sorts with an expanded look at the details.

First and foremost is your stance. Are you getting down carefully and putting your feet exactly where you want. Is your stick low enough, are you balanced, are you consistent in your stance for every shot? Jerry Briesath thinks that most shots are missed when you get down on the stance. Most great players will get down on some shots two or three times before they pull the trigger. Do you do this? Or do you take what you have and aim and adjust a little harder? If it doesn’t feel right, stand up and start over!

Next simple thing is your bridge. On standard shots do you put your bridge down consistently in the same spot, is your bridge solid, does the cue stick have freedom to move or is it grabbing, and does your bridge move or open up when you shoot? These are all common errors for good players that cause a miss every now and then.

Next is your head and eyes. Are your eyes on the target location for the cue ball when you swing, have you looked at the target spot and not the object ball for at least one second (remember we are trying to get the cue ball to a specific spot), is your head still when you swing, and do you stay down on the shot until the balls stop moving?

Here is a good way to check yourself out on these details. Set up this shot, a simple up table stop shot.

Set up your phone camera so that you can see yourself shooting this shot. Now take 10 shots. We are not interested in whether you make the balls or not, so just focus your camera on yourself.

After the ten shots, take a minute to evaluate what you did. Take each item on the checklist above and look at your video. My guess is that you will find something that you want to fix!

That is really exciting because instead of just going to the pool room and carelessly running balls, you can no start to work on improving your stroke, and that is the road to getting better as a pool player.

So let’s take this to the next step, as I would be remiss if I showed you the problem, but didn’t give you some ideas on how to fix it. Once you find something in your stroke you want to fix, here is an approach to getting better.

First, you have to have a clear picture of what you are doing, and how you want to change. Then, what you do is set up this shot with just the cue ball.

Now, for the next week for at least 50 times a day, slowly get into your stance and make the correct motion you are trying to learn. Slow speed and high quality are the keys to this. Take your time and develop the feeling of what you want to do.

Once you have this down, try swinging with your eyes closed to get more in touch with the feeling of what you are trying to. Now once you have done this for a week, set up this shot, and shoot it ten times. You are going to video this with the added challenge of having a ball to pocket.

When you look at the tape, isolate the skill you are trying to correct and see how you did. My guess is that you improved a little, but not as much as you like. Great, because now you are on the road to real improvement. Keep at this cycle, working one week of slow quality swings, about 50 a day, and then video yourself.

Is this boring? Yes! Will you give up after a while? Probably! But if you truly want to improve your swing, stick with it. After a while one of your opponents will imply that you must have been a natural at playing pool. It’s our secret about how much hard work it takes. Do the work and I guarantee you that you will like the results.


Are you prepared to win? How many times do you enter a tournament to see how you will do? To me that is like running across Queens Boulevard against the light to see how you’ll do (for those of you that don’t live in NYC, that is one of the streets that has the highest pedestrian fatalities). You are not giving yourself much of a chance.

Let’s look at a different approach. Target a tournament a month or more away. Set up a training schedule where you program in working on your skills. Breaks, using the bridge, safeties, off the rail shots, jacked up shots, long straight shots, etc. Focus on game skills and practice them diligently.

Also program in some competition. Enter smaller tournaments, or play cheap sets, but make sure you are sharpening your competitive nerve.

Now when you show up at the tournament, you have done the work and are prepared to win. Whatever happens you can learn from the experience and add those lessons in to your training plan. Did you get tired? Work on your stamina. Did you miss long cut shots, shoot ten a day with quality.

You get the idea. Do the work and over the long haul, and you will like the results.

See you on the road.

Mark Finkelstein is the House Pro at Slate Billiards on 21st Street in New York.

If you have questions, or would like to see a particular topic addressed, you can email Mark at

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