Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Pool Thing: A Homemade Aiming Device

shot lined up with the cornerBefore I start yappin’ about the trouble I have seeing the pool balls, I want to make one thing clear – it has nothing to do with my age. Truth is whatever went wrong with my eyes went wrong 40 years ago.

I started hanging out in the pool room, Teasdale’s Billiard Academy in Dover, NJ, when I was about 12 years old. Far from being a natural, my progress as a player was slow. Then, when I was around 14, old Tizz showed me a book he had picked up from his supplier. It was Mosconi’s little red book. Well, I bought it, and read it, reread it, and reread it again. When I should have been doing schoolwork, I was studying the book. For me, even more important than the knowledge the words delivered were the secrets revealed by the pictures. For hours, I’d pose in front of this long mirror my parents had in the dining room. I tried to duplicate exactly the position Willie had adopted for one of the pictures. Eventually, I got it down, all of it – the stance, the stroke, the position and angle of his head, the attitude of his eyes. And my game improved at a startling rate.

By the time I was 16, I was consistently running 40 or 50 balls, spotting working stiffs 15 or 20 to 50 points, and beating them mercilessly. For you younger readers, let me tell you – back then, straight pool was the game of choice, at least up north. If you came into our pool room and found 12 tables occupied, they’d all be hosting a game of straight pool. Personally, I liked straight pool, or “points” as we often called it, because, first, you could measure your progress as a player simply by keeping track of how many balls you ran, and, second, unlike 8-ball or 9-ball where you can lose because of an unlucky break, there wasn’t much chance that a lesser player was going to pull a 50 ball run out of his back-side.

Anyway, I was playing pretty good. Then a couple things happened. Me and Tizz had a falling out for one thing. I used to open up with him 6 days a week. I’d help him take the covers off the tables and roll them up. In exchange, he’d let me practice for free for a half hour. I did this for a couple years. One day, I had been practicing for about 15 minutes when someone came in who wanted to play, so I quit practicing and went on time. Well, the next day, remembering that I hadn’t used my full half hour the previous day, I practiced for 45 minutes. When I was finished and brought the balls up to the counter, Tizz says, “Don’t think I wasn’t keeping track of the fucking time, you fucking thief.” I was crushed. In the years I’d been helping him, he had never so much as said a cross word. Now, all of a sudden he was all over me. I called him a few choice names and walked out. I felt betrayed. Getting yelled and screamed at was something I had to put with on a daily basis at home, but I thought of the pool room as a safe zone. It wasn’t any more. I quit going. In the months following, guys told me he had been asking about me and he wanted me to drop by so we could clear up the “misunderstanding,” but I never went. And, of course, my game suffered. There was a Spanish pool room up town where I played once in a while, but winning money there could be unhealthy. So, I just quit playing.

A couple years passed, then I heard Tizzie was selling the pool room, so I dropped by one day. I tried playing but couldn’t make a simple shot. At the time, and even now, I attributed my inability to see the balls on the glasses I had started wearing during my lay off. I never believed that I really needed glasses, but the high school doctor had sent home a slip after giving me one of those dumb-ass eye exams and, yaduh yaduh yaduh, within weeks I was wearing specs.

I know, lots of guys wear glasses and play great pool. Unfortunately, they didn’t help me a bit and, in fact, somehow thoroughly screwed me up. My best guess is they loused up my depth perception and maybe my peripheral vision, too. What I do know is I went from being able to spot the contact point on an object ball that was a half mile away to not being able to line up a hanger.

I tried to stage a come back but gave up in frustration after a few months. Then, a period of about 37 years went by, I moved down here to the sunshine state, and for one reason or another decided to take up the game again. Well, my pool vision had not improved over the years and I quickly discovered that the mysterious malady that had struck way-back-when persisted. I still couldn’t sight in the balls and, as a result, couldn’t play worth a crap.

But, this time I didn’t quit. I decided to work on my game and try to get my eye back. Toward that end, I made an aiming device that I use when I practice. If you are having similar problems, maybe you would like to try it.

I haven’t named the device, but when I misplace it I ask my wife if she’s seen my “pool thing,” and she usually knows what I’m talking about. So, let’s call it that – the pool thing. It’s made from an old cost wheel, a souvenir of my days as a double-knit maven for McGregor-Doniger. Any similar device will do. I’ve seen circular slide rules and I recently found something similar in a second-hand shop that was made to calculate “Radiacs,” whatever the hell they are.

Circular Slide Rule or CalculatorAnyway, typically, these things are made up of two or three plastic discs centered over each other and held together with a metal grommet. What I do is carefully cut around the grommet with a razor knife, being careful not to make the resulting hole any larger than necessary. Next, sand the edges of the holes, smoothing out all the nicks and notches made by the knife. When this is complete, what I have are two or three discs with holes at their center. The one I find most useful is about 3 ½ inches in diameter. I’ve made a few lines across it with a Sharpie – one exactly through the center, and two parallel with it that approximate the width of a ball. These lines, of course, are to help me sight in the object ball when I place it on the disc. The balls, you’ll discover, rest nicely in the grommet hole.

So, I aim the lines at a pocket, and shoot balls off the disc and into the pocket from different angles. Though my “pool thing” has not produced any miracles for me, it has helped quite a lot and might help you more. If you’re having trouble seeing the contact point, why not give it a try. What do you have to lose? And if one day we should lock horns and you wind up beating me, that’s okay too. I’m trying to learn how to be a gracious loser.


hal houle said...

There is no need for invisible contact points. There are professional aiming systems that pocket any and all type of shots, including banks, caroms, and combinations.

Ace Toscano said...

Professional aiming system? Invisible contact point? I’m sorry, hal, you lost me. As I recall, the point of contact was never invisible – it was a precise point on the object ball that just happened to be at the far end of an imaginary line that went thru the center of the object ball to the target. When you’re looking over a shot, you should be able to see this dead-center contact point. From there you can make adjustments one way or another depending on what kind of english you’re using or whether you need to cheat the pocket. That’s the system I always used and the one that, I’m sure, has been used by players from Mosconi to Corey Deuel. My little disk trains me see the contact point. And when I put the disk away and play, I do see the balls better. There are scientific explanations of the aiming process but they’re just fancy ways of explaining what happens naturally. After all, apples fall from the apple tree without any help from Isaac Newton.

Anonymous said...

There is NO need to visualize a contact point. Use the 1/4 system or contact Hal for even a better way.

Ace Toscano said...

I reiterate, aiming systems are simply poor substitutes for being able to visualize the contact points on object balls and cue balls. If you can see the contact point on the ob and the contact point on the cb, all you have to do is to deliver the cb to the ob. It's infallible. It's like systems people use for making spot shots - put the cue ball here and aim for the center diamond on the foot rail, etc. That is all unnecessary and inferior to seeing the contact point on the ob and striking it with the cb.