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TRIED & TRUE : Pool Pointers Rack Up Pocket Change

This column is one in an occasional series of first-person accounts of leisure activities in and around Orange County.

August 04, 1994|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to the Times Orange County Edition

If cue balls were people, I'd be considered equal to Joe Frazier by now.

I'd been pounding on them since I was a kid, punching, flailing, hammering, poking, ramming at them in a frustrated effort to get them to do something other than roll aimlessly around the green felt.

I'd marveled at such wizards as Willie Mosconi and Steve Mizerak, who could make the cue ball sing four arias from "Aida," win the Indy 500 and, by the way, still pocket the shot. They were effortless and smooth and very, very cool. Heck, if they wanted to, they could draw the ball backward into the parking lot with a shot so silky-looking it would barely make a sound.

But all I could do was pound on the stupid thing, and the best I'd been able to do was to stop the ball dead after the cue ball struck the object ball.

Big deal.

But at this writing, one day after spending an hour shooting pool with a woman who looks about as much like Willie Mosconi as Elle MacPherson looks like Yogi Berra, I can yank the ball all the way back to San Diego. And, oh yeah--I can probably make the shot too.

And here's the very, very cool part: I can do it without beating the ball like a dirty rug. Now it's more like Zorro casually carving up Sgt. Garcia.

Don't get me wrong; most serious pool players will still eviscerate me. But I know at least two or three guys who have regularly beaten me silly at eight-ball over the years who are about to lose their beer money.

Thanks, Robin Bell. You're my hero.

She's also a two-time Women's Pool and Billiards Assn. world champion, and she can make the cue ball dance "Swan Lake."

Robin, cheerful and patient, agreed to provide me with a one-hour tutorial last week at Danny K's Cafe and Billiards in Orange in the hope (mine) that it would prove that even the most cloddish cue handler can learn a couple of basics and at least look more confident.

Confidence turned out to be a kind of buzzword in our session. After watching me jerkily shove a table full of balls around without much result, Robin stopped me and announced that she had spotted--immediately--my two most glaring errors.

First, she said, I was hitting every shot using the same bridge--that is, holding the cue in my forward hand exactly the same way on every stroke. I was using what she called a "follow" bridge, essential when you want the cue ball to continue rolling after it strikes the object ball but worse than useless if you want to draw the ball back.

Second, "you don't have any confidence," she said. "You're hitting the ball as if you don't believe you're going to make the shot. You're poking at it and then jumping right back."

Well, sure. I've never figured on making a shot. That's why I like to play pool: Every good shot is such a nice surprise.

But, Robin said, that sort of thinking is pure death to serious players. You have to get down over the ball with all the icy cockiness of a safecracker.

We worked on it. Robin lined up four balls across the table about a third of the way from my nearest rail and told me to shoot them into the far corner pocket--using not my old "follow" bridge, but one she showed me, a "draw" bridge. The draw bridge involves flattening your bridge hand tightly on the felt, lowering the cue and striking the cue ball below center.

But that alone wasn't enough. I must, Robin said, "stroke through" the cue ball and remain hunched over the table after the stroke, not merely poke it and leap out of the way. I must not give the ball a big whack. Stroke it.

The first couple of tries found me back in my old pattern: I couldn't seem to resist backing off immediately to see if the ball was headed for the pocket. Forget that, Robin said. Take a few seconds to line up, then, when you're satisfied, get down over the ball, settle in and make the shot. Stay down. Stroke through the ball.

And, to my enormous delight, the cue ball drew back so cleanly and smoothly that I was still watching it when the object ball rattled into the far corner pocket. Robin smiled, pleased. I was still in shock.

Back the ball came, again and again. Soon Robin had me drawing it back to specific points on the table, a bit of precision I had only dreamed about.

Then came the follow shot. I already knew the bridge. Robin showed me how to position the tip of the cue on the ball and reminded me that I was still to use the same long, smooth stroke. Into the pockets rolled the balls, and the cue ball was following and stopping almost exactly where Robin indicated.

It was like unwrapping a really terrific present.

We tried a few breaks, a bit of business I had never been good at. Same follow technique, she said, only with a stronger stroke. The cue ball struck with a completely satisfying whip-crack sound, and the rack of balls scattered gloriously all over the table.

Robin reminded me that it's actually impossible to achieve any kind of continuity with a single hour lesson for $50 (she usually teaches them at Danny K's in packages of six and is much in demand), but I smelled blood anyway. There were clocks to be cleaned, old humiliations to avenge, adversaries to be dazzled.

And maybe even a nickname to be adopted. "Fast Eddie" is very, very cool, but it's taken.

How does "Half-Fast Pat" sound?

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