Friday, April 15, 2011

PoolSynergy: Fav Game

Welcome to the April edition of:
PoolSynergy is a blog carnival where several pool bloggers collaborate each month to write about a common topic. For those of you in the United States, this time we're offering the additional service of giving you an excuse to procrastinate further on your taxes - at no extra charge!*

* Offer not available in all areas - certain fees and restrictions may apply.

St. Louis Johnny is this month's host and he suggested we write about our favorite cue sports game. I figured the chances were good that the more common games I play (8-ball, 9-ball & 10-ball) would be covered by others and/or pretty well known by the majority of the audience, so I decided to dig a little deeper to cover another game I play regularly for practice: Rotation Pool.

Depending on region or perhaps minor variations in rules, this game is also known by a number of different names including 61, Chicago, Boston, and others. With most of these, the general premise of the game is the same. Since my goal is to give a basic overview, I won't get too hung up on trying to sort out any minor rule differences. There are a couple of other interesting variations I'll highlight later in the article though.

First off, I want to point out that I've never played this game in 'serious' competition such as league or organized tournament. I have played it for money though. Perhaps more notably, I've played it for money in the Philippines! I lost. In fact, I lost a lot.

Luckily, losing a lot in the Philippines in the mid-80's didn't amount to a whole lot. It was probably probably cheaper than going out to a movie today in the U.S., but it was a lot to the guys beating my pants off. If I remember right, a frosty bottle of San Miguel beer was the equivalent of around five cents back then!

Now days, Rotation is one of my favorite games because I use it a lot for practice, and I think it's one of the best practice games going. If you happen to catch me banging around balls prior to a match, there's a fairly good chance it's Rotation.

I don't remember where I first saw the suggestion to use it for practice, but I'm guessing I can attribute it to Max Eberle in some way. The reason it's such a good practice game is that it really forces you to improve your position play while at the same time encouraging more complex combination shots as well as solid safety play. It's like 9 or 10-ball on steroids. As I hinted at above, this game is popular in the Philippines, and likely helps to explain the super human position and kicking skills of players like Efren Reyes.

In a nutshell, Rotation is played with all 15 balls racked as shown. For most minor variations, the important balls are the One, Two, and Three balls in the corners (1-ball at the apex, the other two balls in order clockwise as shown) and the 15-ball in the middle.

Some variations (such as Chicago) additionally require the 13-ball and 14-ball to be in the middle, but most variations do not. The 13-ball ended up in the middle for this picture by random chance.

In most minor variations, the play is as follows: as with other rotation games like 9-ball and 10-ball, the lowest numbered ball on the table must be hit by the cue ball first. Again as in 9 or 10-ball, the object ball can be pocketed directly or used indirectly to pocket other balls with combo, carom, or billiard shots. The scoring is a bit different than 9 and 10-ball... in those games, the ultimate goal is to sink the 9 or 10-ball. In Rotation, points are accumulated for each ball pocketed - one point for the 1-ball, nine points for the 9-ball, fifteen points for the 15-ball and so on. The goal is to reach 61 points (explaining one of the AKAs for the game listed above).

The value of 61 is simply the total number of points available (120) divided by two, plus one (or 120/2 + 1 for the mathematically inclined). It is possible to tie, with both players getting exactly 60. In the rare case of a tie, players generally start over again.

One handy thing about Rotation is that it can easily accommodate more than two players. For three players, the race would be to 41 (120/3 + 1) and for four players, the race would be to 31 (120/4 + 1).

As you get some experience with this game, you'll discover that the scoring can make the strategy interesting and maybe even a bit counter-intuitive. You can work your butt off and run the first ten balls through the heavy traffic of the early stages of the game, for example, and only accumulate 55 points. A miss on the 11-ball leaves five balls on a relatively open table to your opponent, which could very well result in a loss. Therefore, the scoring encourages using tougher shots to sink higher numbered balls when possible... and it also tends to encourage a lot of safety play in the early going as well. All of these factors push your skills to the limit - which is why it's such a good practice game.

If keeping a running total of points while shooting sounds more like work than play, there are at least two variations of the game that come to the rescue: Simple Rotation in which you merely count the number of balls pocketed (with the winner being the first person to sink more than half of the balls - eight). Or Eight-ball Rotation, which is played similarly to 8-ball... one player shoots the solid balls in order and the other player shoots the stripes in order. As in 8-ball, the goal is to sink the 8-ball after sinking all of your balls. For this variation, the 8-ball is racked in the middle instead of the 15-ball.

For your viewing pleasure, the below video is an exhibition match of Rotation between Efren Reyes and Ronnie Alcano (race to four). You may not have seen this match unless you've specifically searched for Rotation matches, but there's a good chance you've seen at least one shot from the match if you've searched for anything like "Efren amazing shots." There's a multi-rail kick shot around the 2:00 point of the second video that I've seen numerous times elsewhere.

For convenience, here are the other parts of the video: part two, part three, part four and part five.

Give Rotation (or one of its variations) a try sometime - it is definitely a pool muscle builder!

As always, be sure to check out the other great PoolSynergy articles written by my fellow bloggers.


  1. i actually featured those videos in one of my earlier posts. glad to see you're enjoying the same thing gary!

  2. It's been 30 years since you were in the Philippines, so I wanted to remind you of a rule that is unique to here. If you are completely blocked from shooting at the lowest numbered object ball you can either kick at it or request that it be spotted. However, electing to spot a ball ends your inning & turns the table over to your opponent with ball-in-hand behind the head string.

    Sort of a funny thing happened to me regarding that specific thing. I'm trying to learn the dialect of where I live which is Bisaya. In my attempt to say that "I can't see" the object ball, I said "dili nakita." Which caused about 20 people to start laughing. Apparently, I had said I can't see, as in "I'm blind," rather than the correct dili makita. Considering how I was playing I suppose "I'm blind" was as good an excuse as any.

    Nice post & thanks to the links to the 61 match.

  3. p00lriah - you had the same video on your blog? Damn, I guess I should pay more attention to it... what's the URL again?? LOL, j/k. I do remember seeing it now. I just happened to snag it as a decent example of a Rotation match.

  4. PoolBum - yeah, I vaguely remember that rule... can't recall if it ever got used when I was playing to be honest. I only played pool for one night while I was there (but it was a solid night of several hours).

    Thanks for the tip on "dili nakita"... I can use that phrase now (literally) since I'm not recovering from my recent LASIK nearly as quickly as I'd like. I'm still shooting reasonably well, but I'll tuck that phrase away in my back pocket just in case.

  5. No doubt only a very select audience would understand the phrase. It's Bisaya which is not the official language of the Philippines. In Tagalog, I think it would be: hindi nakita. I guess about 26 million people here (out of about 80 million) speak Bisaya but everyone can speak Tagalog.