How to Play Snooker
By Richard Fountain
You want to play the great game of snooker, but don't know how. It is easier than you think! Well, to get started that is, but how good you become relies on many things. Talent is of course a major ingredient to being good at snooker, however you can still play a good game if you practice hard and are disciplined. Over the next months I will try to help with tips on how to improve your game, from the early stages through to the advanced. Also if any of you out there have questions on playing the game let me know and I will try to help.
Ok, I will assume you have a very basic knowledge in the basic principles of play. The first thing I notice about players who are not very good at snooker is their balance. Balance is a key in any sport, and snooker is no exception. Good balance is obtained by having a good stance.
Now, at this point it is worth mentioning that there have been a few top players who have had a dreadfull stance and still reached the top. The most notorious being of course Alex Higgins. Alex probably had the worst stance in the game, but he could do things on the table which most players can only dream of. But let's not get carried away. Alex and a few other players in the pro game are unusual, and if you really have tried to play in an orthodox way, then and only then should you try to adjust to what suits you. I remember when I used to play snooker every day, I could never keep off of the table. I was lucky that I could arrange my work to enable me to play at least for one hour. I remember when I used to try to change my stance I used to think that if it was a bit uncomfortable then it was not for me. Then I read a book by Steve Davis, and he said that if it felt uncomfortable it did not mean it would not work. He was right I found. Even though it felt wrong, if I carried on, eventually it felt right. Mind you, it did not always improve my game!
To find your balance is the first thing you must do if you want to play snooker. If you are solid on the shot then you will be able to pot with more consistency. The next time snooker is on the TV, watch where the players position their feet. See how the front leg is bent and the back leg is kept straight. This gives a strong base from which to gain that all important balance. The position of the feet is also vital. If your feet are out of line then your whole body will be. For this first part, try to concentrate on the way you stand. Stay down on the shot after you hit the cue ball, until the object ball is sunk (hopefully!). Make a mental note each time you go down on a shot and each time you stand up, of key positions of feet and legs. As an example, if you were potting the blue off of its spot and you were dead in line, stand up and face the way your feet are pointing, and you should be facing roughly 45 degrees away from the object ball. If you follow this as a rough guide then, assuming you are right handed, your left foot should be pointing in the direction of the object ball, but angled slightly outwards, and your right foot should be angled roughly toward the black spot. Over the next few weeks practice how you stand. Do not worry if your game does not improve straight away.
If you play snooker on a regular basis and are getting frustrated because your game never seems to improve, then I will try to help. If you are consistently making breaks of over 30-40 then you are quite a good player. This is a standard which is enjoyable and would probably class you as a good club player. However, there is no reason why you cannot improve your breaks. My biggest problem when I played snooker was that I would be on a big break and then I would miss the most simple ball. This was caused by me concentrating on the harder shots, but taking the easy ones for granted. Another reason why I missed was because I tried too hard for position and forgot the pot! These problems are very common in club and pro players too. There are things you can do to improve.
Firstly, when you are playing for position, make up your mind how you are going to get on the next ball and position the tip of the cue accordingly. The last thing you should be thinking about before you strike the cue ball is the pot. In fact, all of your efforts should be on making the ball go down, because if your technique is good then your tip should have struck the cue ball where you decided and the cue ball should go roughly where you wanted. If this is not the case then you have not struck the cue ball where you intended. This means you probably moved on the shot or your stance was wrong, or both. In any case, if the object ball is sunk and you are out of position, you can at least play safe! A good safety shot is sometimes better than a pot. Over the next few weeks concentrate on the pot more than your position. If you practice on your own try this exercise out:
Place all of the colours on their spots, then try to clear them. But each time you pot one, bring it straight back up. When you have sunk the black, play for position on the yellow and start all over again. See how many times you can pot the colours.
My record was three times and I missed the black on my fourth, however the pro Mark King managed eleven!
I used to hang around the players practice room, and I had the pleasure of watching Alain Robidoux, Jim Wych and Cliff Thorburn challenging other players by setting trick shots for them. Here is one of my favourites.
Place a red about four inches out from each pocket then invite a friend to try and pot all of the balls without missing, however you tell him which ball to pot each time he plays.
This is an exercise which looks so easy but believe me it is not and you can earn a lot of money from it! The key is the centres. If you don't get the white back in to the centre of the table then it is very hard. Try it and see how you get on. Let me know your comments on any of the above.
Richard Fountain (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ready for the next lesson?