Focus 9 Ball

by Jim Walsh

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Game Specifics

I will describe the game for two above-average 9-ball players. The players should be good enough that they can agree that only a win on their first or second attempt at an intended run-out constitutes a decent game. If both are good players, they can also agree that even a win where their opponent misses on two or more of his run-out opportunities is mediocre at best.

The two players are in a three-way race with a mediocre ghost who gets credit for all the games where neither of the players could produce a run-out.

Each player begins with two run-out opportunities to score a win.

The player will declare one of three options on each turn at the table after the break:

  1. “Go for it”, which costs one opportunity if the run-out fails.
  2. “Run to the x-ball, then play safe”, which costs one opportunity only if the players fails to run as far as x
  3. “Play safe” which does not cost an opportunity, but always costs the turn even if a ball drops.

The break is a free shot requiring no declaration. If a ball is pocketed on the break without scratching, the breaker then makes one of the above declarations and continues shooting. 9-on-the-break is spotted and does not count as a win, but the breaker does continue shooting after making a declaration. Push-outs are allowed on the shot immediately following the break and do not cost an opportunity.

The player behind in the race has the option of breaking or passing the break to the opponent. Players alternate breaks following ghost victories when their scores are tied.

A player can only collect a win by choosing to go for it and then successfully completing the run-out, provided he has not previously exhausted his run-out opportunities. A player shooting after missing his second ”go for it” opportunity is assisting the ghost, does not make a declaration and cannot win.

After one player has failed on his second opportunity, the opposing player is reduced to a single “go for it” opportunity, which must be taken on either the current or the following turn at the table. This potential loss of scoring opportunities encourages players to go for it.

After both players have exhausted their scoring opportunities, the balls are immediately racked for the next game and the ghost is awarded the victory.

No slop. Call ball and pocket if there can be any doubt about shot selection. If the called ball drops in the pocket intended and additional uncalled balls drop, the player continues shooting. If the 9-ball is one of the additional uncalled balls, the 9-ball is spotted and the shot does not count as a win.

It is important to note that the number of ghost victories in a match serves an effective gauge of the overall level of play involved. A winning score of 5-2-0 in a race against the opponent and the ghost indicates a much higher level of play than a score of 5-2-4. It is best also to consider that a 'mediocre ghost' victory really means that both players were losers regardless of their relative scores!

Of course, the term “mediocre ghost” is relative to good player. If the “mediocre ghost” is actually winning a lot of races, then, as in the solo “play the ghost” game, try removing, for example, the two lowest numbered balls on the table immediately after the break. If the ghost continues to win races, then it is likely that both you and your practice partner need to concentrate more on fundamentals than focus and 'forcing a win'.

Try adding some Focus 9-Ball races into your practice regimen. Of course, 'gift wins' will still occur in this game, but even so you will get more opportunities to 'force a win' in your practice session by playing 'Focus 9-Ball' than by playing regular 9-ball. By concentrating on 'forced wins' achieved through run-outs or 'ball-in-hand' type safeties followed by run-outs, I think many players will quickly notice an improvement in their mental approach to the game. Some intermediate players may even be shocked by the amount of mental effort that should happen automatically in their everyday games. Still others may have their egos deflated when they discover the true percentage of mediocre games that they are playing. All in all, I think you and your practice partner will get a lot of value from the time you spend with this game.

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