Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bridge to Nowhere

An opponent asked me how tall I was at a recent qualifier tournament. If I recall correctly, it was between shots while I was at the table... probably while I was chalking my stick. This opponent was someone I knew, but not extremely well - we don't play together on a team or even in the same league division or anything, but I do bump into him on occasion. He seems like a great guy, and a solid shooter - we've traded matches back and forth.

Anyway, it seemed like a pretty random but harmless question, so I just answered it factually and moved on to the next shot (or two). I knew he was asking me for a reason though, so curiosity eventually got the better of me and I asked him why he wanted to know. He explained that he noticed I gripped the butt of the cue further back than many of the better players he's observed... and suggested I check it out. I took the comment on board, thanked him, and continued on with the match.

My biggest initial concern was that my forearm may not be 90 degrees (or so) to the cue when I hit the cue ball, so I video taped myself shooting a few shots and concluded I was doing OK in that department.

I then decided to review the discussions of related fundamentals in some of my favorite 'basics' books. Capelle's Play Your Best Pool confirmed the 90 degree rule, Dr. Dave's The Illustrated Principles of Pool and Billiards stated that the forearm should be vertical upon contact with the cue ball (pretty much equivalent to the 90 degree rule), Martin & Reeves' The 99 Critical Shots in Pool talked about grip position in relation to the balance point of the stick (suggesting 4 to 7 inches behind the balance point). I recalled my opponent also making a reference to balance point... and I was indeed gripping past the 4 to 7 inch point, but I was reluctant to move my grip solely on this recommendation knowing that it would affect the 90 degree angle (which I felt was more important). Koehler's The Science of Pocket Billiards also talked about vertical arm, and then went on to say this about balance point: "Many instructors start by advising the student where to hold the stick in relation to the balance point. This means that the entire stance must accommodate this grip position. A better technique is to assume proper stance then grip the stick wherever the stance dictates." Since this statement was after the vertical arm discussion, I assumed the vertical arm was included as part of the 'proper stance' and this was more or less in agreement with what I saw in the videos of my shooting.

My opponent's observation was correct, nonetheless... the fact remained that I did tend to grip further back than many of the better players that were more or less my size, so I decided to dig a little deeper. Another factor that could affect my grip position (all other factors remaining equal) was bridge length. Think of it this way - if someone came up behind you while you were in your stance and slid your stick backwards or forwards through your fingers without moving any part of your body, it would change your bridge length and grip position by the same amount. Again, I went to the table and took a few shots... stopping periodically to measure my bridge length. Of course, it varied somewhat from shot to shot based on various factors... but I found that my bridge was consistently on the long side of the recommendation scale... it was generally in the range of 12" to 14".

This was not the first time I'd run across the "long bridge" observation. Back in the spring prior to participating in the APA Singles Nationals, I had a mentoring session with my league operator and he commented that my bridge length was longer than his. He didn't really press me to change it or anything, it was mostly just an observation at the time. I inherently knew from basic math/physics that a shorter bridge would give me better accuracy, so I made an effort to shorten it after hearing his comment.

In the booklet included with his E-Z Shot Cueball, Tom Simpson discusses bridge length as related to accuracy on the cue ball hit... stating that a 3/4" wobble at the back of the stick could cause a 1/4" error at the tip with a 14" bridge. He goes on to point out that an 8" bridge reduces the tip error by half, or 1/8", for the same amount of rear stick wobble. Based on this, he recommends the use of an 8" bridge unless some other factor in the shot dictates the use of a longer one.

Somewhat annoyed by my previous (failed) attempt at shortening my bridge length, I decided to be a bit more aggressive this time. I grabbed a ruler and Sharpie marker, measured 8" back from the tip of my shaft and marked it with the Sharpie. Now I have a good reminder that's "in my face" every time I get down on a shot. I made a dashed line rather than a solid thick line so it's not horribly obtrusive and/or distracting when I need to use a longer bridge... but it's definitely caught me a few times with 'normal' shots.

1 comment:

  1. LOL! Man, you're killing me. You sound just like an engineer! I do the same things! Is there any hope for us? ;-D

    I really like the new application for Sharpie markers. I may try that one also.