Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pool Synergy: 'Tis the Season

Happy Holidays everyone, and welcome to the special holiday edition of...
This month, our lovely hostess Melinda asked that we write about our favorite pool related book and DVD with the thinking that they'd make good Christmas gifts (or gifts for any other occasion in the near future, for that matter).

As you may already know, I'm an avid reader and have accumulated a large library of books on various pocket billiard subjects including general technique as well as specific strategies for games such as 8-ball, 9-ball, etc. It's frankly very difficult to pick a single favorite book because there are so many good ones. If someone asked me for a suggestion, I'd probably dig a bit deeper about what they were looking for in order to narrow the field a bit before making a suggestion.

In thinking about what I was going to cover for this article, though, one book stood out for me in many ways - it's broadly applicable to pretty much anyone playing pocket billiards so you don't have to worry about knowing whether the person you're getting a gift for plays 8-ball, 9-ball, one-pocket, straight pool, or whatever... and, in my opinion, it won't be one of the first books a billiards player will buy themselves, so the odds are fairly good they won't already have it early in their billiards book collection process. It's also fairly inexpensive, so it makes a good stocking stuffer or something you can give to numerous people (like every member of your team if you're into that kind of thing). For the above reasons and others, I've already given it as a gift to more than one of my pool-playing friends.

For the reasons stated above and others, Pleasures of Small Motions is always one of the first pool-related books that comes to mind when someone asks me for recommendations. Few people will argue that there's a large mental component to the game of pool, and this book definitely helped me sort that out. Written by an avid pool player who also happens to be a psychotherapist with a Ph.D in philosophy, this book is obviously a labor of love by someone who knows what they're talking about (re: both pool and psychology). After seeing the subtitle "Mastering the Mental Game of Pocket Billiards," I expected it to cover things like attitude, confidence, focus, concentration, and so on... and indeed it does. In fact, it gave me a whole new understanding and appreciation for the word concentration. The book goes well beyond the obvious topics though, covering various aspects of the inner workings of the mind and body and how thoughts are translated into the mechanics of playing pool including what can go wrong and why. It also covers some things that I hadn't really considered, such as the importance of rhythm and proper separation of conscious and unconscious control. In my opinion, this book is an absolute must-read for any competitive pool player. And it shouldn't just be read once, it should be reviewed on a regular basis.

Like many others, I've discovered that DVDs are incredibly useful training aids in the sport as well. Pool is a sport of physical action, obviously, and you can't fully appreciate the various techniques from printed word alone, even with the accompanying drawings and photos. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be hundreds of thousands. It really helps to see things play out in video. There are several good videos out there, but I was asked to pick just one...

First off, I wish to acknowledge that my DVD selection might raise a few eyebrows given that it's produced by IPT and Kevin Trudeau. Yeah, yeah, I'm sure you're wondering what could possibly be wrong with a DVD produced by an ex-car salesman, doctor-posing convicted felon who founded the International Pool Tour only to skip town without paying winners after a tournament in 2006 thereby landing a big sucker punch to the sport of pocket billiards that we still haven't recovered from? Maybe I just like living on the edge. Sifting through some of the background material on Kevin, I kept thinking to myself that there must be another side to these stories... until I ran across his clean desk policy and realized he's simply from some sort of alternate universe. Seriously? A company policy that requires everyone's desk to be perfectly clean at all times? How the heck do you get anything done with a perfectly clean desk? By the way, Kevin, your memos need some cleaning - I noticed several spelling and grammatical errors. You might consider consulting that dictionary you recommend in Policy #8.

Anyway, this isn't about Kevin Trudeau trying to peddle some sort of miracle cure, it's about learning how to shoot perfect pool from Mike Sigel... and in that context it's a great video in my opinion. It's also a heck of a steal (no pun intended) right now on sale for $11.95 at Seybert's Billiard Supply.

Several things impress me about this DVD set. It's very well organized into a series of progressive drills intended to perfect your stroke and shot making ability from the ground up... the entire first DVD is dedicated to perfecting the stroke. You don't even get to hit an object ball! These drills epitomize the myelin-producing deep practice discussed in The Talent Code. The second DVD focuses on shot making, and the third focuses on other aspects of the game. Also included is a set of cards summarizing the drills that you can stuff away in your cue case for reference at the pool hall. The first DVD alone is easily worth the sale price at Seybert's.

Sigel discusses a couple of things that some folks don't agree with (such as using outside English on every single cut shot) but he explains his reasoning and it's certainly up to the viewer to balance Sigel's methods and advice against that of others to find what works for them. One thing you'll discover about Sigel is that he really strives for consistency - not just in the usual things like stance and stroke and so on, but in other areas such as cue ball speed and English applied for given shots. Indeed, one of the drills is dedicated to developing a consistent 'default' cue ball speed. Siegel's approach is one of simplification - if you use an ingrained 'default' speed the vast majority of the time or if you always use the same English for every single cut shot (as examples), the amount of complexity that your brain must process to get an imprint of shot and cue ball behavior is significantly reduced.

Contrast that with players who are constantly varying the speed of their stroke, the amount of English applied, etc, etc. Their brains have to figure out how all of those different variables combine to produce varying degrees of squirt, throw, deflection, curve, etc. And if multiple variables change from shot-to-shot, it's nearly impossible to match up the change in behavior to the individual variables in a cause-and-effect basis. Even if you're not trying to figure it out consciously, your brain is trying to sort it out subconsciously.

With my background in software engineering, this focus on simplification really struck a chord with me. I know from experience that by far the most software bugs reside in the most complicated, mangled code. For that reason, the best programmers go out of their way to produce simple, clean, elegant code for a given solution. In the software world, simple is genius. This focus on simplification is clearly Sigel's key to consistent play. This DVD set is a good value all the way up to the list price of $59.95... and it's a complete no-brainer at Seybert's sale price.

Be sure to check out all the other great December PoolSynergy articles!


  1. i'm a big believer in keeping pool simple. good post!

  2. Excellent recommendation! As a manufacturing engineer, quality engineer, statistician, process improvement guru, or whatever hat I'm currently wearing, the common theme for making any process more robust is the elimination or reduction of variation. As Deming said, variation is the enemy of quality. Your description of Sigel's set certainly struck a chord with me also. Now I'm gonna have to find $12 for the set. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. These videos would have been better if Kevin Trudeau hadn't insisted on talking so much on them. Sigel's mouth is bad enough, but he can back it up with immense knowledge and ability. KT, not so much. I've heard good things about The Pleasure of Small Motions before, but never ordered it. I'll have to rectify that now.

    Hope you and your family enjoy the holiday season.

  4. Thanks guys.

    John, I actually thought the format they used on the DVDs (discussion between the two) worked fairly well. I thought it felt more natural than one person talking to the camera the whole time... but then, that's just my own personal opinion. I thought Sigel was pretty reserved too, although he does at one point mention that he has a 30 MPH break... I'll wave the BS flag on that one. I clocked his breaks off the DVD with the iPhone BreakSpeed app and they were consistently in the low 20's. That said, I have no idea whether attempting to clock it off the DVD is accurate or not... seems like sampling rates of the DVD's audio format might come into play... but if that was a problem, I think there'd be a good chance of large variations in results between breaks and I didn't see that.

    Happy Holidays