How to play snooker
You want to play the great game of snooker, but don’t know how. It is easier than you think! Well, to get started that is, but how good you become relies on many things. Talent is of course a major ingredient to being good at snooker, however you can still play a good game if you practice hard and are disciplined. Over the next months I will try to help with tips on how to improve your game, from the early stages through to the advanced. Also if any of you out there have questions on playing the game let me know and I will try to help.
Ok, I will assume you have a very basic knowledge in the basic principles of play. The first thing I notice about players who are not very good at snooker is their balance. Balance is a key in any sport, and snooker is no exception. Good balance is obtained by having a good stance.
Now, at this point it is worth mentioning that there have been a few top players who have had a dreadfull stance and still reached the top. The most notorious being of course Alex Higgins. Alex probably had the worst stance in the game, but he could do things on the table which most players can only dream of. But let’s not get carried away. Alex and a few other players in the pro game are unusual, and if you really have tried to play in an orthodox way, then and only then should you try to adjust to what suits you. I remember when I used to play snooker every day, I could never keep off of the table. I was lucky that I could arrange my work to enable me to play at least for one hour. I remember when I used to try to change my stance I used to think that if it was a bit uncomfortable then it was not for me. Then I read a book by Steve Davis, and he said that if it felt uncomfortable it did not mean it would not work. He was right I found. Even though it felt wrong, if I carried on, eventually it felt right. Mind you, it did not always improve my game!
To find your balance is the first thing you must do if you want to play snooker. If you are solid on the shot then you will be able to pot with more consistency. The next time snooker is on the TV, watch where the players position their feet. See how the front leg is bent and the back leg is kept straight. This gives a strong base from which to gain that all important balance. The position of the feet is also vital. If your feet are out of line then your whole body will be. For this first part, try to concentrate on the way you stand. Stay down on the shot after you hit the cue ball, until the object ball is sunk (hopefully!). Make a mental note each time you go down on a shot and each time you stand up, of key positions of feet and legs. As an example, if you were potting the blue off of its spot and you were dead in line, stand up and face the way your feet are pointing, and you should be facing roughly 45 degrees away from the object ball. If you follow this as a rough guide then, assuming you are right handed, your left foot should be pointing in the direction of the object ball, but angled slightly outwards, and your right foot should be angled roughly toward the black spot. Over the next few weeks practice how you stand. Do not worry if your game does not improve straight away.
If you play snooker on a regular basis and are getting frustrated because your game never seems to improve, then I will try to help. If you are consistently making breaks of over 30-40 then you are quite a good player. This is a standard which is enjoyable and would probably class you as a good club player. However, there is no reason why you cannot improve your breaks. My biggest problem when I played snooker was that I would be on a big break and then I would miss the most simple ball. This was caused by me concentrating on the harder shots, but taking the easy ones for granted. Another reason why I missed was because I tried too hard for position and forgot the pot! These problems are very common in club and pro players too. There are things you can do to improve.
Firstly, when you are playing for position, make up your mind how you are going to get on the next ball and position the tip of the cue accordingly. The last thing you should be thinking about before you strike the cue ball is the pot. In fact, all of your efforts should be on making the ball go down, because if your technique is good then your tip should have struck the cue ball where you decided and the cue ball should go roughly where you wanted. If this is not the case then you have not struck the cue ball where you intended. This means you probably moved on the shot or your stance was wrong, or both. In any case, if the object ball is sunk and you are out of position, you can at least play safe! A good safety shot is sometimes better than a pot. Over the next few weeks concentrate on the pot more than your position. If you practice on your own try this exercise out:
Place all of the colours on their spots, then try to clear them. But each time you pot one, bring it straight back up. When you have sunk the black, play for position on the yellow and start all over again. See how many times you can pot the colours.
My record was three times and I missed the black on my fourth, however the pro Mark King managed eleven!
I used to hang around the players practice room, and I had the pleasure of watching Alain Robidoux, Jim Wych and Cliff Thorburn challenging other players by setting trick shots for them. Here is one of my favourites.
Place a red about four inches out from each pocket then invite a friend to try and pot all of the balls without missing, however you tell him which ball to pot each time he plays.
This is an exercise which looks so easy but believe me it is not and you can earn a lot of money from it! The key is the centres. If you don’t get the white back in to the centre of the table then it is very hard. Try it and see how you get on.
Striking the Ball
Well, judging by the amount of mail I have recieved some of you obviously enjoyed my first lesson. Unfortunately I am not set up yet to publish graphics but I am working on it. My first lesson worked mainly on the stance. This time I would like to talk about striking the ball. It is very important to hit the ball straight, but it is also equally important to time the ball. This is to say that you strike the ball at the time you are supposed to. To achieve good timing is to strike the ball sweetly. Many shots can be missed just because your cue action is all out of time.
The next time you go to play start by placing the white on the brown spot and fire it in line down the table across the spots, hitting the back cushion, and try to get it to return and hit your cue tip. This exercise is of course reliant on a good table. However, you must strike the ball at a reasonable pace to stop the ball turning on the nap. The idea of this exercise is to make sure that you are hitting the ball dead centre. If you reach a good rythym and are more successfull than not, stop after ten minutes. Now do the same exercise again, but this time try to imagine that the white is not there. In other words forget that you are striking the white – just cue through the ball. When the ball has left the cue, see how far your cue extends past where the white started its journey. You should be looking for a minimum of about 6 Inches. If you exceed this, it is ok. Using this follow through technique is the way to hit the ball cleanly. Imagine you are trying to push your cue down a long thin pipe and your room for error is small, then use your cue like a gun, line it up and fire.
Some players often use a mark in the grain to give them a guide, but I prefer to follow my eye line right through to the tip. In coming lessons I will be giving tips on how to screw back with real power, but this guide will help in that department also. You do not have to hit a ball hard to screw back a long way if you time it well. Now when you have practiced for a while, place the blue on its spot and the white in line with it diagonally so it is a dead straight pot. Be about two feet behind it. Now line up the shot as normal, but this time when you strike the ball, imagine the white is not there. Cue through the ball with a nice extension on the follow through. Try to stay on the shot until the blue is sunk. Get used to staying on the shot as this will help with your stance.
For The More Advanced
The exercise above, although written for beginners, also applies to the more advanced players. However, you can try to be more adventurous. When you line up the blue on its spot as detailed above, try screwing back the white into the opposite pocket and then try following through in to the same pocket. Keep repeating this and moving the white away from the blue. In the end you have to try and pot the blue off of its spot from the jaws of the pocket and get the white to follow through and go in off. If you can perform this successfully I believe you would have no problem with your cueing. Do not bother trying to screw back and go in off from the jaw!
As stated above it is a good idea to stay on the shot and watch the object ball drop, even the more advanced players often jump up on the shot and ruin their cue action. One small tip for the more advanced player is when you are playing from tight on the cushion there is a tendency to cue down on the ball. Try not to do this too much. Try to lower your cue arm so that you strike along the ball more. This may seem hard and you may miscue more at first, but if your action is good you can achieve this. It helps the white leave the tip more cleanly and stops ball bounce. This exercise also helps with your timing.
Place two balls touching over each pocket 3 inches away from the bag. Make sure they are dead in line like a plant or a set. Now you can place the white where you like. See how many shots you can sink all twelve balls in.
You will find it is much harder than it looks. The trick is to use screw back when you hit the ball and try to be quite straight. The screw will often make both balls drop at the same time. This can be used as a challenge to a friend and is a good way to earn a few bucks.
Some of you wrote me and said you enjoyed the exercise of clearing the colours. Well, here is a variation:
Place the colours on the spots and pot yellow, black, green, black, brown, black and so on, ending with black, black, then start again.
This exercise is very hard and is a very good way of practicing going up and down the table without getting bored.
Please remember that these tips will not work for everyone. Some players have very unorthodox styles, some just may be different. Mind you, do not be put off just because something feels uncomfortable. Give everything a good try before you decide that it does not work for you.
So, after my first two lessons you can stand right and hit the ball straight. All you have to do now is pot balls! Knowing how to pot a ball is something you either have or you do not have. Of course practice can help but you really need an eye for it. When walking to the table after your opponent has missed it seems he has left you an easy pot on a straight red followed by an easier black. You get down and miss the red! How frustrating. I have done this so many times and so do many people.
There are some things you can do to correct this problem. When walking to the table always walk in to the shot, never approach the table and then slide round to the shot. This is so you see the real angle of the shot. Also when you are playing position for the next ball remember that although it is important to get position, the worst position you can end up in is in your chair, watching your opponent! Work out the angle for the pot decide your position, but the last thing you think of is pot pot pot. That is to say that if you at least pot the ball and run out of position you can still play safe. When playing snooker for the first time do not try to go all out to beat an opponent. Try out different things, even if you try things in practice they still end up different in a match.
Playing snooker is all in the head. If you are confident then you play better. Be positive, make your mind up what shot and play it 110%. A question I am asked many times is what ball do you look at when you strike the white. The answer is always the object ball. This is always for every player. You do not look at the white or the end of your tip, just the cue ball. In fact if you look at Hendry if he is trying to pot a vital ball, he will often watch the ball until it reaches the pocket. This also helps him stay down on the shot. Mind you though, Hendry is one of a few players who, although he looks at the object ball last, watch his eyes when he is cueing up. He keeps looking at the object pocket as well.
As a routine for this lesson place a Red about two feet from one of the black holes, leaving the black on its spot. Then try to pot the red and vary the shot between making it back to baulk and staying for the black. This shot is one of the most common you will come across. Especially after a player has broken off. To be good at snooker you must play shots like this in practice time after time. Another routine is to see how many times you can pot the black without missing and without moving the white between shots.
Being good at snooker is a real pleasure. After all you practice hard, you reach a good standard and the game is so enjoyable. However, so many good players I have seen over the years always practice on the same table week in week out, day after day. They used to call this onetableitis years ago. These players, who never play on a different table, often try to play in tournaments around the country and find it very hard to win. It is vital to play on different tables. Of course it is good to play a lot on one table because it can give you confidence but you must get used to playing on all types of tables and conditions.
Players often write to me saying they have reached the 70-80 standard and do not seem to be getting any better no matter how hard they practice. This is very common because at this stage any improvement is a little at a time and to be honest there are many who give up at this stage. To be a champion is not just about talent, it is about dedication and determination. If they get through these times and succeed in making their first century, many players feel they have made it. Wrong! I have seen many players who can make centuries who do not win anything, it is consistency which wins. If you make Eighty break after Eighty break you can be a winner. Last season Mark King reached a world final losing to Hendry. Up to then he had only scored one century break in the later stages of a tournament which was 102. This season he is ranked No 20. You see some people are obsessed with making centuries. It is winning which counts. Of course some players get to the point of making Eighty breaks and go no further no matter how hard they work, and of course this is because of ability. You either have it or you do not.
If you compete in tournaments you should be taking them very seriously. For instance if you are playing on the weekend at a club in another area, make sure you prepare yourself. Phone the club and see if you can practice before you play, if not, if it is possible travel down the day before and practice then, as most clubs will allow this. The night before your first match go to bed early unless you are playing late, then go to be later and get up later. Do not get up with hardly any time before you play. Give yourself plenty of time to wake up or you will be waking up to a nightmare. Do not eat a big meal before a match as this will sap your energy. Treat any match big or small in all tournaments with the same importance, you are either a winner or you are not.
As a routine this week try to place yourself in a position with say eight reds left on the table and all the colours on their spots. Then try to see how high a break you can make without touching a cushion. Then vary the exercise to only hitting plain ball but hitting cushions. Then try using no cushions and only plain ball! These exercises may seem pointless but they serve the purpose of using angles. Without the knowledge of angles you will never win. Did you know that John Spencer was a snooker genius when he was a teenager but had not made a century. Then someone (I forget who) taught him to play billiards. The rest is history as they say.