Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Pendulum Stroke: No Can Do

Once again, in exchange for polishing his shoes, the warden has given me access to his computer so that I can contribute to this month's edition of PoolSynergy. You can find links to all this month's posts here on the Pool Student's Blog. Now, let's get on with it.

It makes so much sense, the modern pendulum stroke - back and through, back and through - that it, no doubt, should be the foundation of every serious pool player's game.

It's rather simple, in theory. As you take your stance, with the tip of the cue just shy of the cue ball, your forearm should be straight up and down. From here, you draw the cue back then propel it (or, in pendulum language, "swing it") forward and through the cue ball. No unnecessary movements, just a simple, repeatable pendulum motion.

I've had this method explained to me by veteran players in the pool room. I've read about it in books. And, I've come across it on countless internet sites. Here's a blurb from a section on the stance at

The back arm or more specifically the back hand placement on the cue is critical to your success. The correct place to grip your cue is the place where a line drawn from your elbow to your wrist points straight down to the floor. This is the hand position you want when the tip of your cue is within an inch of the cue ball. This pendulum thus created (elbow to wrist) can move freely forward and backwards. It also allows your bicep and triceps to be completely relaxed, until you take your stroke. It helps to practice this by getting in a shooting stance without a cue. Swing your elbow forward and backwards without dropping your shoulder. Relax your elbow while holding your shoulder firm. Gravity will show you the natural point straight down. You have created the pendulum.

Here are some pictures I found of players who have adopted this same form of address. Note the perpendicular position of their forearms.

Oh, if only this method would work for me. I'm telling you, I'd be one hell of a player. I mean, in theory, nothing is more important to your game than a straight and dependable stroke. And don't think I haven't tried it. I have - in countless practice sessions and at home leaning over the kitchen table with cue in hand. But, try as I may, I can never get the desired pendulum action to manifest itself in a straight and true stroke.

I guess the problem is I'm just not comfortable with it. Back when I learned to play, back in the 1960's, no one was espousing the pendulum method. Sure, people were using it - my Uncle Nicky, the best player in the town of Dover, NJ, was a stellar proponent of the pendulum stroke though he probably didn't know it by name - but it wasn't the prescribed way of stroking. In fact, the only guidance I ever received on the subject was from Mosconi's little red book, "Willie Mosconi on Pocket Billiards." Though Willie did speak of a pendulum action, meaning, I assume, straight back and straight through, he also included this dictum in the section on Follow-through:

... 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 in 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.

My friends and I read Mosconi's book so many times we could recite certain sections verbatim. And we studied the pictures in fine detail. As for me, when I stood at the table, I felt exactly like Willie looked in figure 7, if you know what I mean.

Here'a a picture of Willie addressing the cue ball. Note the position of his arm.

Obviously, to follow through from this position requires coordinated movements of the elbow, wrist and hand, much more complicated than those connected with your basic pendulum stroke. Still, somehow, back in the day, I managed to harness this piston like motion producing a stroke that was uncompromisingly straight in all situations. Unfortunately, after a 38 year hiatus from the game, the movements involved proved too intricate to recreate from memory. Hence, my current systematic lack of a coherent stroking philosophy.

Finishing up, I must note that, while Willie's method seems contrary to those currently espoused, you have to remember that he was primarily a straight pool player who sailed through racks with an economy of movement of the cue ball. Understandably, that required more finesse and touch than nine-ball, a game that often necessitates a more open and free-stroking approach. Now that I think of it, maybe that's my problem - I'm trying to survive in a nine ball world with an outmoded straight pool stroke.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Inside and Outside English According to Butt-Hole Bruce

Dumber Than Dirt and Twice as Grimy

It started out innocent enough – me and this guy, Bruce Ignatius "Big" Poozey, a/k/a Butt-Hole Bruce, one of those poolroom bull-shitters who never shuts up, were standing around the pool table discussing methods of shooting balls down the rail at an angle. Sometimes he aimed the forward edge of the reflection of the table light on the cue ball toward the trailing edge of the reflection on the object ball. Sometimes he went for the half-ball hit, blah blah blah. I, myself, prefer to aim at the point of contact and shoot. To each his own.

Anyway, at one point, I cut a ball left down the rail while applying right spin to the cue ball. “You put inside english on that,” he said.

“Outside,” I replied, calmly. I figured at this point that he hadn't been watching closely.

“No, no, no,” Big Poozey insisted. “If you hit that shot with right english, that’s inside English.”

Now, this wasn’t a big deal to me, but I knew what I knew and I wasn’t about to back down even though, by and by, he started getting downright ugly with his insinuations that I was the dumbest mother f’er that he had ever come across. Several times, in the course of his explanation, he took his stance at the table with his cue tip directed to the right side of the cue ball. “That’s inside english,” he’d say. Then, he would scurry around the table to where the object ball sat and frantically motion with his hand along the path the ball would take to the corner pocket. "The ball goes inside the rail and inside the pocket - that's why they call it inside english. I've been playing this game my whole life and I ought to know."

He carried on repeating his argument at least a dozen times and elaborating on it by insisting that if you cut a ball to the left with left hand english that was outside english. Of course, I insisted that he had it all ass backwards. Which he did.

Finally, the guy got worked up to the point – his face was purple and veins were popping out of his head - that he bet me his hundred to my fifty that he was right and I was wrong. I quickly agreed. Then he started looking around the pool room for someone to come settle the matter, but I didn’t want to get anyone else involved. I vetoed that idea and promised to bring a book the following day that would spell out the difference between inside and outside english. “I’ll bring a book,” I said. “If it agrees with you, I’ll give you fifty. If it agrees with me, you give me a hundred.”

“Go on the internet,” he said, still agitated. “See for yourself.” I didn’t bother – I knew I was right and he was wrong. When I got home I found a couple simple straight forward descriptions of inside and outside english, one in Phil Capelle’s Play Your Best Pool, the other in Essential Pool by Arthur “Babe” Cranfield and Laurence S. Moy.

In Capelle’s glossary he defined “outside english” as applying side spin on the opposite side of the cue ball than the object ball is traveling. Conversely, “inside english” was described as applying side spin on the same side of the cue ball as the direction of the cut shot. Essential Pool states basically the same thing, with illustrations. I put the books in the back of my car and carted them to Capone’s the next day.

Well, as I pulled into the parking lot, there was the guy getting out of his car. I gestured to him to “hold it” and stay right there. Books in hand, I joined him at his car. “Let’s get this settled, now,” I said. “No need going inside. Here are the books.”

“Wait, now,” he says, before I even had a chance to open my books “let’s make sure we have this straight.”

“It’s simple,” I offer. “You said if you cut a ball to the left with right hand english that that’s inside English.”

“No, no, no,” he interrupted. “That’s outside english.”

“That’s not what you were saying yesterday,” I countered.

“I’ve known that my whole life,” he claimed.

It was obvious what had happened. Sometime after he made the bet with me, in his ongoing agitation, he had repeated the story along with his ridiculous theory to someone who had straightened his ass out. I later learned that he had cornered Dan, Capone’s resident instructor and expert, and grilled him for a half hour on the subject of inside and outside english. A pretty long discussion on a topic he’s known so thoroughly his whole life. Now, all of a sudden, he was claiming he had been right all along. “What happened,” he was trying to explain, “is you and I were betting on the same thing.”

“You’re backing out of our bet you fucking liar,” I said to him, remembering how ugly he had been the previous day. “You owe me a hundred.”

He continued his lying inside the pool room and I kept to the truth, saying “You owe me a hundred.” I promised him I’d remind him he owes me a hundred every time I ran into him from that day forward till the day I die. But, to be honest, and that’s what this is all about, some days I let him slide and don’t say nothing. Other days, I needle him. But, if his name ever comes up in conversation I feel beholding to tell this little story.

Anyway, I’ve heard since about a friend who had a similar experience with this asshole Bruce – they made a side bet on a game, but, when the guy our welcher was backing came up a loser, he swore he had been betting on the other player. In other words, he changed the bet around just like he’d try to do with me. I’m sure, over time, he’s decided that this is the best course to take when backing out of a bet. And, I bet the line of people he’s beat out of money would reach from here to the backwoods of West Virginia where he hales from.

This is an ongoing saga. To put it succinctly, this guy made a hundred dollar bet with me, lost, then refused to pay. At first, he swore that I had misunderstood him and that he and I were actually betting on the same thing. After a couple weeks, he reversed that and started to put us on opposite sides of the original bet. Oh, yeah, and now he says I owe him money.

I saw him today up at Capone’s and immediately started chanting “Where’s my hundred?” He doesn’t like that. I could tell. That’s why I’ll keep it up. Anyway, when I was done playing and went outside he was waiting for me. “What are we going to do, Ace?” he asks. “You could pay me the hundred you owe me,” I said. Then he went off on a tangent about how long he’s been playing pool, blah blah blah. It was only me and him out there, no bystanders, so I kept saying “What’s the sense of this? I know you’re a liar and you know you’re a liar.” We went back and forth like that, me calling him a piece of shit, him calling me this, that and the other. He was speechless for a second when I mentioned that I'd been talking to other guys he fucked out of money, but only for a second. He was committed to the lie, now. That’s why he was compounding lie upon lie. A consummate pathological liar – he’s been doing this so long he has it down to a science -- he’s deliberately trying to behave as if his lies were true and he truly was the offended party. For show. Once in a while my degree in psychology comes in handy. Take it from me, this friggin’ guy is nuts.

As for the hundred dollars, I don’t even want it any more. If he gave it to me, today, I’d tear it up and flush it down the toilet. Then, I’d wash my hands real well.

There’s a lesson to be learned here -- don’t ever bet with Big Poozey.