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Play 9-Ball Better In Competition

Learn The Skills Needed To Defeat All Comers

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play 9-ball, play ball, play billiards, play pool

Play 9-Ball better and better, here at About.com

Photo (c) Matt Sherman 2008, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Are you planning to play 9-Ball for an upcoming tournament or enjoy a game of 9-Ball now and then?

A devoted reader asked me yesterday about innovative 9-Ball strategy. The field of competition is quite strong for this nationwide amateur championship, so I’d best have a quality response to share. My answers yield an advantage to you against most competitors, no matter your current skill level.

“Hi Matt,

I would like to hear your thoughts on strategy for the competition. I have a few thoughts of my own brewing around, but I'm welcome to fresh ideas.

My general philosophy is to play 1) safe against a strong player or 2) loose against a weak player until around the 4-ball... a good clean shot off the five, and I can usually get out from there.

If I'm having problems with the table or my stroke, I play defense until I get in enough shots to feel more comfortable. I don't expect the competition to run the rack most of the time, so to avoid a nice seven ball run from the start for me, then leaving the last two hanging [“hanging” being slang for easy to pocket—Guide], I try to force that position to play 9-Ball onto my opponent.

My plans have been successful thus far, but now the level of competition has jumped up a bit, and there probably will be other women at this next level who can run out on a consistent basis... my same game plans might not be as successful. Against these stronger players I generally play safe until I frustrate them... or I try to anyway.

The added bonus for defensive play is the occasional 3-foul win [where a player fouling on three consecutive innings loses the game—Guide]. This type of play can break their will if they were keeping up or demoralize them further if they are already far behind. I'm pretty ruthless when it comes to the 3-foul. Hey, I don't make the rules; I just exploit them to my full advantage.

At any rate, Matt, were you thinking along the same lines for me or is your competition philosophy completely different? I'm curious.

There are some gilded approaches available that will make your 9-Ball play shine, if you let them:

First, do not “psych yourself out” changing strategy for a strong player.

You wrote that you “…Play 9-Ball safe against a strong player or loose against a weak player…” How will you know a new player at a tournament is strong? Many poor players seek to shoot well against their next opponent (you) and get a couple of “good rolls” (lucky ball rolls) straight off. Then and you think they are strong when they aren’t. As Shakespeare wrote, “…A poor player struts and frets his hour upon the stage… it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!”

In other words, even if they seem “strong” and you really can run out from the 6-ball, why would you hesitate there?

It is possible in amateur tournaments for poor players to rise quite high toward the finals and break your rhythm still further. Always play your game. Don’t let their pace dictate yours.

On the other hand, if you don’t see the run all the way out from the early/low balls, it may be time to “ride the 9-ball” for a quick win.

Shoot right at that 9-Ball off the one, two and three balls. Look for caroms as well as combinations on the nine, whatever it takes to not leave the game-winning 9-ball vulnerable following a miss.

Playing “D” for the 3-foul win is almost always a wise choice.

It can be a challenge to think of a situation where this wouldn’t be a good move. If the run is not evident and even when it is, look for a lock safe (or two or three) and stick them with it! Nothing short of cheating tactics or physical abuse destroys a player’s rhythm more than facing several awkward, tricky shots in a row.

Remember to not give ground with non-verbal or verbal expressions.

If you get lucky with a roll or bizarre combination, etc., say a controlled “Yes!” like you planned the shot in advance. Too much emotion gives the opponent a psychological edge again.

Most people think that when their opponent has challenged them to play 9-Ball that the strong, silent type is a some kind of fearsome pool shooter or billiards hustler, when it is far more likely they are merely lousy at making conversation, unfriendly or so bad at the game they need to concentrate to the exclusion of all else.

Call all their foul strokes confidently.

Don’t give anything away with the rules, either. Save the gifts for Mother’s Day and if they foul, call it for what it is and take the ball-in-hand they’ve earned for you.

Finally, but importantly, step to the table as if you are the greatest 9-Ball player ever.

Your rhythm and chalking and stance will greatly improve, even before you take a stroke to play 9-Ball, if you move with purpose and an aura of excellence. As a sidebar, you will quite likely throw your competitor a mental curve with your demeanor.

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