Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Key To A Better Stroke

Let’s face it, I’m no Willie Mosconi, just like A-Rod’s no Yogi Berra, or Mickey Mantle, or Derek Jeter, or Gary Sheffield. A-Rod is a perennial post-season choke artist al a Dave Winfield. I know post season play is not supposed to influence MVP voting; still, I hope he doesn’t get it. Give the MVP to David Ortiz, another guy who can get the big hit when it counts. ‘Nuff said about baseball. Back to pool.

If you’ve read my previous entries, you have probably determined that I am more or less obsessed with pool vision and the importance of seeing the balls in relation to the pocket. Daily I bemoan the fact that I’ve lost that ability and regard it as the main reason I can’t recapture my form of 40 years ago. A recent streak of losses, however, has caused me to take a closer look at my stroke. I was immediately forced to admit that it was atrocious. However, while my efforts to improve my vision have only been mildly successful, there seemed no reason why I couldn’t build an effective stroke and thereby eliminate misses on easy shots.

When I first learned how to play, back when I was a kid, the only guide I had to proper stroking was Mosconi’s little red book. Consequently, my stroke was somewhat like his, at least it incorporated all the elements he talked about, some of which are contrary to current philosophies.

For example, a couple years ago I actually had to bring the little red book (Willie Mosconi on Pocket Billiards) to the pool room to prove a point. One of the resident experts insisted that at the moment of contact the forearm should be straight up and down at a 90 degree angle from the upper arm. When I told him that was contrary to what Mosconi had once espoused, he announced in front of the entire pool room that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

As a matter of honor, I went home, found the applicable passage and made it a point to bring the book to the pool hall next day. Of course, the local expert would not admit he had been wrong. It wouldn’t have been good for his image.

The paragraph I was referring to is on page 35 of the 1968 edition. It reads, “By comparing Fig. 23 (page 34) with Fig. 5 (page 19), you will note that the player is in the same relative position at the backward and forward points of his stroke. At the backward point of the stroke the hand points down to the floor at approximately a right angle. At the forward point of the stroke, the shoulder is in about the same position; the elbow has dropped slightly, and the wrist moves forward. The cue is held as level as possible.” Figure 23 shows Mosconi with his cue drawn back. Figure 5, which is often misinterpreted, is a depiction of his position after the stroke with the cue ball on its way.

As a young lad, I studied that book relentlessly. When I took my stance at the table, I could feel that I was in the same position Mosconi had been in in the various photos. And I had, if I do say so myself, one helluva stroke. It was perfect; and it never broke down. Whether I was on the rail or stretched the full length of the table, it was always true. And when I put stuff on the cue ball, it danced. Unfortunately, after a 38 year lay off, my stroke was gone.

I had no choice but to start from scratch, but my heart wasn’t really in it. So, what I settled for was a tentative poke that wasn’t consistent with my former way of stroking or with the new theories I have been exposed to. What the hell, I figured, since I couldn’t see the balls anyway, what difference did it make. Well, I was wrong.

Like I said, because I was missing too many easy shots I had to admit my stroke was the problem and I started working on it. The first thing I concentrated on was keeping my upper arm still while working my forearm with that desired pendulum action. I also focused on following through on every shot, noting in particular the location of my grip hand, near my right breast, at the conclusion of each shot. And, because I frequently caught myself tightening my grip during the shot, I worked on maintaining a light grip with the thumb and first three fingers.

I found that my stroke was straightest when the thumb was straight up and down, so I incorporated that into the mix. My stroke was coming along but it still wavered during the follow through, veering to the left or right. Then I started keying on the lead edge of my right hand and the bottom knuckle of index finger. When I stroke, I feel that part of my hand and knuckle gliding along the path and driving the cue through the cue ball. It works… for me. My stroke in 100% better than it was just a few weeks ago. How do I know? I’m playing better. I’m not missing those easy shots, and I’m getting better action on the cue ball. If you’re having trouble with your stroke, try keying on the knuckle and the leading edge of your grip hand.