Let’s say you are a pretty good 9-Ball player, and you run a lot of racks. How do you win more matches? Play smarter! Note: This article applies to both pool in real life and in Virtual Pool 4 Online.
Good 9-Ball is about controlling the table. If you are shooting, your opponent is watching, you can win, he can't. That seems obvious, but I see players give up control of the table all the time because they don't play smart. Giving up control means leaving your opponent a good shot where they can run balls or play a good safety. Letting them get to the table snookered and kicking at a ball usually still leaves you in control.
It is obvious that if you just run out all the time you never give up control of the table. The reason why players give up control is they:
- Miss a ball
- Play a bad safety shot
- Don’t make a ball on the break
- Have no
- shot on the low ball after the break
- shot on the low ball due to poor position play leave
- shot on the low ball because of clusters that didn’t get broken out
Better execution can increase your runout percentage, but, if you are already an accomplished player, improving execution is a lot of work and small incremental improvements are all you will see.
Most of the time in 9-Ball, before every shot, you have the choice to shoot at a ball or play safe. Making the correct decision is key to keeping control of the table and maximizing your chances to win the game. This is something many player are not doing well and improving is easy, quick and can give you big gains in your win percentage.
For every shot you should ask yourself “What shot gives me the best chance to win this game?” This abbreviates as ‘What Shot Best Chance’ or ’WSBC’.
Situation 0 – The No Brainer
Everybody knows the answer to the situation shown above, so you know how to think WSBC, although you may have never thought of the WSBC decision-making process.
As an personal observation from watching 9-Ball matches, many players don't play safe enough. This article is not titled “Play Safe to Win More 9-Ball Matches” because all of you know about safeties. The reason you don't play them, when you should, is either not using WSBC or lack of confidence in your safety game. Note: You can make the mistake of playing safe when you shouldn't and lose games too.
Sometimes players don't recognize safety options they can play. We all do that. If you think WSBC, you will see more options than if you only think runout.
The most typical WSBC choice is shoot or play safe. This means you should evaluate three factors: Pocketing, Position and Safety. Pocketing, how difficult is it to pocket the ball? Position, how difficult is it to get a good shot on the next ball? Safety, how difficult is it to execute a good safety? We are going to estimate these factors as a percentage chance, 0% to 100%.
Situation 1a – Long Shot on the 1 Ball
Pocketing: only option is a difficult shot, either a thin cut or a long bank
Position: very difficult to get position on the 2-ball
Safety: fairly easy to get a snooker, and if the snooker fails, the shot on the 1-ball will be tough
Situation 1 b– The Safety Play
This shows the recommended safety play. Many players would not play this safety and it is a game winner. Chances are good that you will get ball in hand or a good shot on the 1-ball from this safety.
It does take practice to understand the line and speed of safeties, and if English Is needed to change angle or hold up the cue ball. So don't expect to pull off something like this without practice. With a little practice you can get the hang of safeties pretty quickly.
So what is the evaluation priority, or in simpler words the order we look at the three factors: Position, Pocketing and Safety. For each we estimate a percentage chance of success. The evaluation priority is Position, Pocketing, Safety. I think it is obvious why evaluation of position is first priority, You don't need to look at pocketing the ball if you can't get position on the next ball. Why is Safety last? Because if you think Position and Pocketing the ball are both easy, you don't need to look at the Safety. Runouts are always preferred. You are only looking at playing safe when you get in situations where position and/or pocketing the ball is not easy.
If you can't get position on the next ball, then pocketing the ball is worthless (unless you are shooting the 9-ball). Getting position does not necessarily mean position to make the ball. It could be position to play a great safety. Sometimes, playing position to play safe is the best play. There are shades of gray for position. You need to make a realistic estimation of your chances to get position on the next ball based on the situation and your skill level. If there is a very small area for the cue ball to have a shot on the next ball and the cue ball must move around the table to get there, chances are you won’t get position on the next ball, and worse, you could snooker yourself. Take these factors into consideration when estimating the chance of getting position.
Given you can get position, you need to evaluate your chances of pocketing the ball. If you miss the ball, position for the next ball is irrelevant. What you have to do to get position could make the ball more difficult to pocket.
Safeties can be looked at in two ways: 1) how difficult is the safety to pull off, and 2) if you don't get a snooker, what kind of shot do you leave. Safeties that must snooker, or they leave a good shot, should only estimate the percent chance to get the snooker. Safeties that are good when the snooker fails (leaves a tough situation no easy shot, and no easy safety) are estimated based on getting the balls to a good position without a snooker.
To answer the question, shoot or play safe, you need to compare the chances for success for each. This is basically what WSBC is. Shoot really means Pocketing+Position, because pocketing the ball and position on the next ball must both be accomplished. Shoot and Safety percentages are usually less than 100%. You have to estimate the percentage chance of success based on the situation and your skill level.
To combine Pocketing and Position just multiply the percentages together. For example if pocketing is 90% and Position is 80% then it is 0.9 * 0.8 = 0.72 or 72%. You won’t pull out your calculator while playing pool. This will be more of an estimate. Just realize that the Shoot percentage combines Pocketing and Position percentage by multiplication. This has the effect of a lower Shoot percentage than either Pocketing or Position percentages. It is easy to see that if Pocketing is 100% and Position is 20% that the Shoot percentage is 20%. A low percentage for either Pocketing or Position creates a low Shoot percentage.
Now, deciding is easy, you just choose the higher percentage chance for success. Sometimes both Shoot and Safety are fairly low percentages. That is just a tough situation. You still choose the highest percentage of success because it gives you the best chance to win.
What if the percentage for Shoot and Safety are the the same? You shoot because you can win that turn, playing safe lets you opponent to the table and they could make a great shot or get lucky. You should usually shoot if the Shoot versus Safety percentages are about equal.
Situation 2a – Easy Shot on the 1-Ball, Not So Easy Position
Pocketing(97%+): easy, even with the required left English
Position(45%) : moderate to difficult because of a lot of interfering balls, hitting a ball may make the cue ball come up too short for position on the 2-ball
Safety(98%+): easy just stop the cue ball
Situation 2b – The Shoot Option
Notice that the cue ball has to go through a lot of traffic making position more difficult. It is not guaranteed and coming up short could result in being snookered on the 2-ball.
Situation 2c – The Safety Play
This safety is really easy, just stop the cue ball. You can also try to freeze it to the 4-ball to limit your opponents kick options. Note that the 1-ball is not hit very hard. This is to prevent the accidental pocketing of the 7-ball or 8-ball.
The situation above has a lot of balls in the way of the cue ball for the Shoot option. What if there was one less ball in the way and a larger gap for the cue ball, giving Shoot a score of 80%? The answer is easy, Safety is still the best play as it is much higher than Shoot and virtually guaranteed.
On The Hill
Situation 3a – On the Hill
Pocketing (80%): good chance of missing with the 8-ball on the rail, tight pockets and drawing back for position makes the shot tougher
Position (90%): position is not guaranteed but something that is pretty easy
Safety(75%): you could pull it off though there could be a kiss if hit incorrectly, or a scratch in side or corner pocket is possible, and you could leave a shot, a long bank at a minimum
That was a real life situation for me. I was playing against a champion level player in a tournament, was on the hill, and needed one game to win the match. He needed four games. The table was tough, 4” pockets, which lowered pocketing percentages. What I did is shown in Situation 3b.
Situation 3b – Safety Play
I played safe and won the match on this shot. Shoot wasn't a bad choice as the Safety was not really any better percentage chance. But I decided to play safe in this situation because I felt better about that choice and I didn't want to give the game away, I wanted him to have to make a shot to win. Even if the safety did not come off as planned, other than a scratch, he would have a long shot.
To conclude, I want to encourage all of you to spend time practicing safeties. Then start thinking WSBC, it is the correct way to play pool. WSBC applies to all pool games. This article used 9-Ball as an example because it is very popular. 10-Ball is almost exactly the same so apply WSBC the same way. Other games may have additional factors to consider as the play is not as simple as 9-Ball or 10-Ball but WSBC still applies.
Next time you are watching the pros on the internet stream, pay close attention to the safeties they play.
Something not covered in this article was two-way shots. I'll post another article on that later.
Shoot straight and be happy!
Virtual Pool 4 Online
August 7, 2014