Focus 9 Ball

by Jim Walsh

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Maintaining sharp focus at the pool table is one of the hallmarks of the professional or top amateur. But if you, like me, sometimes find your practice games degenerating to just banging balls, then you might try the practice game discussed below to see if your focus improves. At the very least, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find you’re spending more of your practice time in a mentally “high-focus” zone - the place you need to be to see improvement in your game.

While beginning and intermediate players often think solely about win/loss ratio, the advanced player is much more concerned with consistently good play. For your play to improve, you first need to realize that not all of your “wins” are alike. There is a huge difference between a “forced win” resulting from pocketing the 9-ball at the end of a 5 or more ball run-out and a “gift win” where the opponent rattles the 7-ball in the pocket resulting in an easy 3-ball run-out. You must realize that the most characteristic feature of the very best players is their ability to “force a win” and constantly strive to enhance this part of your own game. I believe that Focus 9-Ball can help.

This practice game is intended for advanced players (a more precise definition is given below in the game specifics). It improves focus in three ways. The first is that it places a strong emphasis on positive play such as the careful planning and execution of run-outs and safeties. Secondly, it removes the focus-killing and time-consuming completion of worthless games - those where the game has already had multiple missed shots by each player. Thirdly, these mediocre games are no longer hidden by lumping them into the win/loss totals of the players involved, but are instead emphasized by tracking them separately giving an indication of the overall level of play in the match.

Removing the time spent completing mediocre games is key to increasing the percentage of total practice time spent in a high-focus mental mode. Additionally, the players involved remain focused on forcing a win as opposed to just hanging around waiting for the opponent to make a mistake bad enough to lose the game.

Focus 9-ball is related to playing the ghost which is perhaps the best solo way to practice focus. You probably are already familiar with this game. You rack, break, remove x lowest-numbered balls from the table (x depends on your skill level), take ball in hand and then attempt to run-out. If you fail to run-out, the “expert ghost” gets the victory. If you can beat the ghost consistently removing x balls, decrease the number removed by 1 and try again. If you win races against the ghost by only taking ball in hand after the break, without removing any balls, then you don’t need to waste your time reading the rest of this article.

Solo practice can be somewhat boring. Focus 9-ball attempts to apply the same positives of the solo “play the ghost” game to the normal two-player game of 9-ball. It keeps the concept of the ghost, but in this case the ghost is mediocre instead of expert.

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