Building a Billiard Library Book #2
On POCKET BILLIARDS
I am not sure how long ago this book became readily available to pool players. It was copyrighted in 1948, but I don’t know how long it took to actually get published and distributed. It was one of the first books I read on the subject of pool, and I am sure that is true for many players.
Willies dominance at the game of pocket billiards was unquestionable from the early forties to the mid fifties. He set the standard for excellence that pool players around the world still strive for today.
At the time Willie played, straight pool, or 14.1 continuous pool, was considered the only true way to crown a champion, and so, that was the game Willie is most known for. It is worth noting, that at the time this was written, rotation and 9-ball were of so little interest that they aren’t even included in the rules section at the back of the book.
As 9-ball became more popular, a more upright stance and the precise position play so crucial to straight pool, eventually gave way to the lower stances that are more popular with modern players and bridge length and stroke lengthened out to suit a new style of play more suited to moving the cue ball greater distances around the table to get shape on a specific ball.
I should mention that even among today’s top players, most of the best have at least a working knowledge of straight pool, and most champions are proficient at it. I don’t believe that is a coincidence. To be a great pool player, the precise position play and the ability to maintain focus are still a great asset.
Later additions may include a forward written by Stanley Cohen who later coauthored Willies Game with Willie Mosconi. It is a brief history of pool and includes some biographical material on Willie, up to and including his role as technical adviser on the movie The Hustler.
The book starts with a Preface by Willie that describes his intent to provide a text suitable for novices and seasoned players alike. No doubt, this book was revealing at the time it was written as so little instructional material was available before its publication.
Although there is far more material available today, and to be sure, some of what Willie only touched on has been expanded upon ad nauseam, the book is still worth reading. It is a great look at the early evolution of the technical aspects of the game that many players today take for granted. Still, the first chapter, while short on material by today’s standards, provides a working foundation for any beginning pool player. In particular, his advice on building your stance has stood the test of time and this information is still valid today.
Just a note: If you are not familiar with the proper use of a mechanical bridge, please read this section. I am often amused by how many otherwise very good players, don’t know how to properly use one.
In chapter 4, there are some nice excerpts about English and its effects on both the cue ball and object ball. I think we can all learn something from his views on English and how infrequently it is actually required. Willie claims that 85% of all shots can be executed by striking the cue ball on the vertical axis (center ball). That claim may be exaggerated, but not by much. Most pool players, myself included, use English far too frequently.
Chapters 5 and 6 take you through the process of sighting and aiming. Again, much of what he gives us here has been covered in much greater detail in later books by other authors. What Willie covers in these two chapters is nothing eye opening for anyone who has played for even a little while. Having watched every clip I can find of Willie shooting, these chapters are the first indication I have that maybe even Willie wasn’t sure how he did some things. I doubt Willie ever measured out three quarter hits in his life. He just knew how to make balls. Also, there is a hint of what would be referred to by later authors as the “ghost ball”, although he never actually uses the term. Chapter six is of particular interest because it deals with combination shots, kiss shots, and carom shots, all of which he was particularly adept at as they are so crucial in straight pool where clusters have to be read and dealt with.
Willies discussion of bank shots is of particular interest, mostly because it is incorrect. The method he describes will miss long on anything but a dead bank shot and the farther away from dead, the worse this aiming description becomes. If Willie actually wrote this (as opposed to a ghost writer) it is another example of Willie being proficient at certain shots without really knowing how he did it. Anyone who has shot pool for a while has a few shots in their arsenal that developed by just shooting them a lot. Once you are comfortable with them, they become feel shots rather than a cerebral process. Willie was proficient at banking, as with most techniques, and I doubt he ever had an actual system for aiming them.
Chapters 7 and 8 deal with straight pool (What the book refers to as the championship game) and strategy. For those who have not played much straight pool, but would like to, it is a valuable look at the basics of the game. It is the earliest reference to terms like “break ball” and “key ball” in my library. Also, some safety play that, while not unique to straight pool, is certainly more important than in some other games, is discussed.
hapter 9 discusses speed of stroke. I found this subject to be particularly interesting because, like most players, I tend to take this subject for granted too often. Most shots can be hit with a range of speeds depending on what we are trying to accomplish with the cue ball, and speed affects shots in more than one way.
Willie closes his book with a discussion about practice and concentration. It is a short chapter on a subject that probably deserved more attention. Willies focus and concentration were uncommon, as attested to by his record 527 ball run in 1954, and no one attains anything close to his expertise at anything without a great deal of practice. He almost brushes past the subject in only 2 ½ pages. It probably deserved more as it was certainly a factor in his long dominance of the game.
Willie Mosconi concludes his book with a claim to have provided us with what we need to improve as players. He was right. It is certainly not everything you need to know to become a champion, but it is a good start. I first read this book many years ago when it was one of only a few books on the subject of playing what we call pool and what he called pocket billiards. In going back to this dog eared and dusty book, I was pleasantly surprised to find some reminders of things I should either pay more attention to, or find more source material for. It’s a historical piece and if you are building your billiard library,
I recommend you add it.