In 1976, three time world 14.1 champion Ray Martin and advertising pioneer Rosser Reeves cowrote “The 99 Critical Shots in Pool”. Forty years later, it is easy to take this seminal book for granted.
At the time of this books release, there was no internet and DVDs had not even been dreamed of yet. For the pool player in the mid 70s who wanted to improve his skills through instructional material, there was very little available. Amazingly, many players who are familiar with this book, still refer back to its dog eared pages, and still find gems in it in the form of shots they hadn’t recognized in recent matches.
The book begins by covering tables, balls, and cue sticks, and some of these first chapters are, to be frank, antiquated. The equipment we play with today has evolved some over the years. The tables and balls are made of more modern materials and cue sticks now range from works of art with sophisticated hand or CNC inlays, to more workman like production models that provide greater accuracy than was available in the past. It is worth reading these early chapters today, if for no other reason, to get a perspective of the transitions the game we play has made.
The authors also touch on the fundamentals of stance, grip and stroke. For the player just starting out, these early chapters will address the basics for you, but to be honest, these subjects have been addressed in a much more thorough manner in more recent publications by other authors who have built on the early classics.
The next chapter deals with a description on how to read the diagrams, but after that comes the meat of this classic book.
Starting with the most basic shots like aiming simple cut shots and short straight stop shots, the next 131 pages are filled with diagrams and descriptions of progressively more sophisticated shots.
While reading through these shot pages and deciphering the diagrams, it is quickly apparent that the authors’ primary focus was 14.1, but the shots are all here to play any pocket billiard game. They range from simple little secrets like nip draws and multiple ball combos and caroms, to some very advanced concepts in cluster recognition and tricky position play. It may have been written with straight pool in mind, but most of this book is still of great value to players of modern rotation games and eight-ball as well.
The next eleven pages are dedicated to shot recognition and though they are written from a straight pool perspective, all games require you to find the unobvious from time to time.
The book ends with the usual chapters on rules of the common pool games and a glossary of terms.
The 99 Critical Shots in Pool is one of the classics and belongs in every pool player’s library. Many books and other instructional materials have become available over the forty years since its first printing, but very few have addressed the subject of shooting balls in the pockets better than this. All these years later, I still get it out from time to time and it always surprises me to find shots I could have used in recent games.