View Full Version : Teaching When To Play Safe?

11-05-2009, 02:23 PM
What I notice most in new players coming from basically bar pool, into BCA rules, is that many wrong shots happen because they can't conceive when NOT to shoot an open ball but play safe instead. So far I've had little success in trying to relay the concept to players I try to help by stressing that is OK to be a meanie by jamming up the opponent when the position for the next ball sucks. Are simple safeties something that some players simply have to learn the hard way, by being beaten up by them, or is there a simple and effective way to instruct a "green player" in BCA as to when the safety option is the best percentage shot at those times? TIA...sid

11-05-2009, 05:26 PM
Sid, after some 30 years of playing, I still often think...I shudda played safe, afterwards.
I think when and how are part of the learning process, the more you play, etc. Another 20 years I should have it figured out.
AS to how, the best tip that I ever read to begin the process on that, is to look for the wall of balls, which may be just one ball or a group of balls,as the place to duck and hide the cue ball, or maybe even the object ball. That's pretty basic stuff though along with the next option....distance.
As to when...your percentages idea's are a good place to start from

11-06-2009, 01:51 PM
Thanks Wolf, these are concepts I also use myself. I maybe should have worded my post a little differently, as in "How would you instill the instinct in a new player as to when safeties are the thing to elect at that time. Maybe another question is how do you make a fresh BCA player start looking for these safeties, instead of them going for pocketing balls, which is the natural instinct of a bar player's mentality. I think that once you can get someone to think defense at the same time they play offense, that safeties would become natural. How you change that thinking of shooting at everything, is my roadblock for hopefully helping others today...sid

11-06-2009, 02:24 PM
It's certainly difficult to 'instill and instict' as we live in a culture of offense and aggression. Passiveness is rarely rewarded.

There are probably a couple ways to make them think about it though. Get a player to talk through their thought process. The more you can understand what they are thinking and point out the fallacies in their 'logic' (e.g. I'm going to pocket the 2 and go 7 rails for position on the 3!).

Certainly there are drills (or one-pocket) where the primary objective is not necessarily pocketing balls, but putting the cue ball in a poor position for the next shot (I do this naturally to myself a lot of the time). From this, they may realize that it's easier to play a safe than to try to get position.

Finally, maybe come up with a list of questions to go through as a pre-shot routine:

1. Which ball should I pocket?
2. Where is the cue ball likely to go?
3. Which ball can I pocket from there?

Or some variant thereof. I mean, that should be the general thought process anyway, but if you answer 'I don't know' to questions 2 and 3, then you play safe.

Well, I was typing about as fast as I was thinking so hope some of this makes sense. It's a great discussion point though.

11-06-2009, 02:58 PM
Funny you should bring this up. I just finished an article for John Biddle's Pool Carnival titled "Offensive Safety Play" or something like that to be published on Nov 15. He has asked us not post before hand so I should not discuss it.

His first Carnival should be interesting with several well known authors writing on pool strategy. Take a look when it comes out. It looks like the pool carnival is a very interesting idea.

11-06-2009, 03:53 PM
I have a friend who has played in a league for over 10 years. He HATES and REFUSES to play safe. Even when he gets BIH, he usually plays the QB where it lies. I can't get him to understand that playing safe is a legitimate way to play. I taught a guy to play safe in a one on one play. We went to a club and I spent the evening showing him how and when to play safe. He was from the old school of playing, and he was in his early 60's at that point. He learned and it has paid off. Try a one on one, there is no pressure from a game situation to win. Just a practice session.


11-07-2009, 02:02 AM
I look forward to reading that...my idea of an offensive safety, is to move a ball while ducking, to a spot where you either can win in one shot, or a good place to begin a runout.
And that reminds me of an article that I read many, many years ago in "The National Geographic", and wish i had copied and saved. I've tried a search, but with no luck.
The article was on checkers, and how the winning strategy, or primary objective is to gain control of the board. The key positions were near midfield on the board.
establishing control of the table, before you go all out to win....might be similar to your philosophy, but I'll wait to find out.
Oddly enough, moves in Checkers are called strokes, and there were a few named ones, but the only one I remember is "Wiley's Sidewinder, a classic multiple jump of the other guy's pieces.
(Wiley's Sidewinder is now a musical group...WT*)
C.J Wiley was on top of his game when I read the article , so it is ingrained in my memory (just don't ask me where the remote is, or my cell phone)

11-07-2009, 02:19 AM
Sid, I'm a "B" play on my good days, so I'm able to sneak up on the "A" players and occasionally beat the Master ones (I'm still waiting though to get to the table against Dan Louie ...he's so afraid of my game, he won't let me have a clear shot)
So I give out pool advice with the caveat "use at your own risk"
The concept of getting them to look 3 shots ahead might be a start. If there is no clear path, or the pattern is not in their wheelhouse, maybe that is a good time to think defense. The "bunt" safety is the easiest to teach, maybe? Just push your ball up to theirs, or take the foul and push theirs up to yours.

11-07-2009, 08:28 AM
People have different intelligence levels (IQ)...

I have come to the conclusion that some people just do not have the mental ability to "think ahead", or consider the ramifications of what they are doing "right now", or imagine what their opponent might be able to do after they shoot. (The ability to plan ahead.)

This is like trying to get someone who is color blind to recognize colors! They just don't have that ability.

In my experience with people who are quite intelligent, you can explain to them ONCE the concept of safety play - show them specific situations/examples. Then they instantly "get it".

And they forever after that use this to their advantage when they can. They may sometimes "forget" to think about that option, but after shooting will say they should have shot a safety.

But with those who are less intelligent, you can tell them over and over about these things. Point out many different situations where a safety would be the best shot, yet they never "get it".

A good example is playing 8-ball where the person has just 1 ball left on the table and an impossible shot at their ball. And the 8-ball is at the far rail. And the only easy shot for their opponent would be if the cue ball is left at the far rail. Well time and time again, these people will attempt their difficult shot, not make it, and leave the cue ball at the far rail! (Then their opponent has an easy shot on the 8.)

As a matter of fact, you can guarantee that the "safety challenged" player WILL leave the cue ball in a good spot for their opponent every time in these situations!

Yet it is clear as daylight to the "safety capable" player that this it the last thing you would want to do...

11-07-2009, 10:18 AM
Most bar players begin league play with a bar pool frame of mind. Its the only foundation they have, so its to be expected. Defense is simply not an option in a bar. Worse, its considered dirty play. But once they lose a match or 2 to some good defense, they will see the light. Thats tough to swallow as a coach, but theres no substitute for experience.

I used to be opposed to jump cues, until I got a few 3 rail safeties rammed up my a** by a great jumper.

11-07-2009, 11:54 AM
" Most bar players begin league play with a bar pool frame of mind. Its the only foundation they have, so its to be expected. Defense is simply not an option in a bar. Worse, its considered dirty play. But once they lose a match or 2 to some good defense, they will see the light. Thats tough to swallow as a coach, but theres no substitute for experience."

If only that were true. Had two players crying the blues about having safes played on them during leagues Thursday night. Saye, safe, safe the younger one says; if I hear safe one more time I'm gonna throw up. The other one was saying they should just go for the shot like a real man! I just shook my head and wondered if they knew why they continue to play in the lower division year after year while others move up the ladder.

11-09-2009, 12:05 PM
I think you could sell people on playing safe if the offensive side of safety play can be seen.

Particularly with ball in hand, which makes most people switch any thought of safety play to run out mode.

But imagine you have a cluster tieing up two of your balls, which even ball in hand cannot solve directly. The key here isn't simply safeing the opponent and getting ball in hand-- that still doesn't get you out on your next turn. However, if the safety can be played right at that cluster, breaking it up, so that the ball in hand then gives you a playable out, you've done both a defensive move while preparing for your offense next inning.

Similarly, the safe might instead include rolling one of your own balls toward the cluster, to provide an easily played break out shot in a later inning, and especially if the safe yields ball in hand.

Buddy Hall has a tape called 'How do you win from here?' A lot of what it shows is how and why a safe is preferable and the higher percentage play in a given game situation. As Buddy explains, maybe you have a 65% chance to get out, but you could increase that to an 80% to a 90% chance if you have the patience to play the safety instead and wait one inning.

Part of the problem, beyond the offensive only mind set many grew up playing with, is that the skill set for the delicate safe isn't part of the player's bag of shots. Frankly, and I've seen it many a time, a failed attempt at safety play often is as much a sell-out of the game as going for a lower percentage shot. Now this presents a kind of vicious circle-- players don't play enough safeties to learn the speeds and the moves, and so when they should play a given safety, they don't have any confidence in being able to execute. The only answer to this is for safety play to be practiced in non-game play situations (exactly where many people think going for harder shots is ok, considering it's not a game that counts).

11-09-2009, 01:23 PM
There is a cliche in the league I played in, "If you can't run 8 don't run 7." Seems to help some players. Others just don't see the logical extension of that type of thinking.

11-09-2009, 02:37 PM
Knowing when to back off of the run,and play safe is an advanced technique, imo, and takes time to learn....I'm still learning.
Setting up ahead of time, for a killer safe, a shot or two into your turn at bat isn't easy for a beginner, and harder to visualize imo then playing position 3 balls ahead for a run out.
I think there was an old saying that went something like....running the rack requires control of the cue ball, playing safeties requires controlling both the OB, and the CB.
But I could be wrong... I had Dewey picked as the winner in '48

11-09-2009, 03:08 PM
The way I look at a pool game, is that it's like a chess match...the board/table changes in real time and alternate game plans become swayed. IMO it is those who sense and feel "the new moves" as those chess plays develop, who really do well. I especially liked this phrase posted here by JoeW, "If you can't run 8 don't run 7." Damdest thing though it that so many new BCA players do just that very thing, and wonder how they got picked apart by the opponent, and lost. My methodology is most likely wrong, but I immediately read a table at all times for a safety, ie. walls, pinch rolls, runout possibilities, yet that's done as the game progresses as much as it does before I come out of the chair to shoot. Being so safety conscious all the time maybe limits my offensive game, but I can more consistently manufacture a decent safety than I can trust myself to not get out of line on a run while losing by blocking balls. BIHs really do push a 65% success ratio to 90%, even done half-azzed.

Thanks for all the advice on how to instill ideas in others. Reality seems that there will have to be a lot of bruising and loses for many to come around, which is a natural shame IMO...sid

11-09-2009, 03:14 PM
I agree. So many people in our league are always talking about running racks, and getting a break and run patch. I try to tell them that failure to run out completely can cost you a game. I would rather win in 3 or 4 innings than miss a run-out and lose in one!


11-09-2009, 03:32 PM
Chess is a game I regret never taking up. I enjoyed the Movie
"Searching for Bobby Fisher" A pool playing friend of mine, actually played some, with the guy, played by Ben Kingsley, and saw the chess prodigy play as well, in central park. I probably would have been a prodigy as well, if I had ever learned which pieces did what.
I even tried to read up on the classical strategies,.. only two terms I remember though is the Sicilian Defense, ( sawed off shotguns?) and the Blackmar Gambit ( I didn't quite have the spelling down, but thanks to Google...)
And now that I read about it:
"The popularity of the Blackmar Gambit, however, was short-lived, as it is basically unsound,..." It does sound like my pool strategy.

11-09-2009, 07:26 PM
Sorry, not these two. One is stuck in the 50's and the other young one is not open minded IMO. They're like twins born 50 years apart. Bar players all the way. I don't see the point in beating a dead horse with these two.

11-10-2009, 08:24 PM
"If you can't run 8, don't run 7" is a good thing to remember, the problem is, a lot of players will *think* they can run 8 and will end up selling out since their plan consisted of landing the cue ball in a 2 inch target space for shape and missing it by a bit either way.

Like Sid, thinking about safeties may limit my offensive game, and it ends up killing me since my 8 ball league keeps track of ball count. I tend to win games with few of my opponents balls on the table, but lose with lots of mine because I choose not to go for the run that I don't see and may miss by safe by a small margin. That's another point, that I see many players try to play safe giving themselves a small window to place the CB and/or OB and end up leaving an open shot. A lot of safe's require fine speed/spin control which many players don't try to develop.

11-10-2009, 11:25 PM
Sid, I had forgotten about another pool/chess analogy, that someone told me a long time ago.
In chess the more pieces that you lose, the weaker your position is.
It's kind of like that as you pocket balls in 8 ball but don't get out.
On a similar note....in league pool there is usually one player on the team that stops the presses,calls time out to tell you the "only" way to get out on your 2 ball run. I'd tell them that since each ball would go in 1 of 6 different pockets, that makes 36 different patterns that one could use to get out....you sure this is the only one?
I used to never get invited back for a second season with the same team....never could figure out why?

Gayle in MD
11-11-2009, 11:47 AM
Funny seeing this today, I was just writing about the same thing yesterday on the NPR.

Just a suggestion, I'm far from an expert, but: See if you can get some of the players you are speaking of to practice safeing the ball.

Lot's of people fail to practice safe's, and then presume that since they aren't confident enough to pull off a good one, they might just as well go for the shot, which is usually near impossible.

If they don't practice safe's, the hard shot seems a better bet to them.


Also, I notice most safe's are missed because they shoot too hard. Even the pros do that often when shooting a safe.


11-11-2009, 11:58 AM
Some folks seem to think safety play is for chickens. One thing I try to do is explain that a well executed safety is just as pretty a shot as a pocketed ball. Often more so. So a well executed safety is actually a skill shot in many cases. Also safety is smart play and just banging balls with little or no hope of winning is stupid play regardless of what their "daddy told" them. So tell them how awesome a safety is in regard to skill and if that doesn't work insult them. Aside from that showing them that they can't win without safety play will bring them around due to frustration. Do this by safeing them mercilessly and don't ever let them have a shot. Game after game after game after loss after loss. Most will come around just for revenge or they'll quit and go find someone they can beat playing stupid. I don't really want an intentional loser on my team anyway.

11-11-2009, 12:51 PM
Billy Bob I am sorry but there are few if any hopeless cases as students however there are many many hopeless cases as teachers. I have been teaching competition pool for 17 years and I have seen this question come up many times.

How most people try to teach other people the game is exactly backwards. What they will do is point out what the person did wrong and what they should have done in that situation. Sound familiar? I say that if you employ this as a teaching method you may be forever frustrated as a teacher because your students will progress very slowly if at all.

When one learns math for example do they memorize the sum of 2 + 2, 4 + 4 and 8 + 8 and from that extrapolate the mathematical formula? Or do they learn the process of the addition of two integers to come up with the correct sum? Stupid question you might say; and I say, so why are you trying to teach pool that way?

To teach someone effectively you must first find out what is missing or broken. As far as safeties are concerned well over 90% of the time it is that their odds computer is spitting out the wrong data. The first order of business is to get that taken care of by having them tell you what the odds are of making any given setups you want to do. You will find that 95% of the time these people have absolutely no clue as to how often they can make what. Once it is brought to their attention they will start to nod their head at you.

After that you should start to play one pocket and strait pool with them as well as 9 ball with the rule that you can make a ball and call safe. With someone who does not play safe you will win almost every game unless they get really lucky. Play these 3 games with them twice a week for 1 season and they will be playing safeties and 2 way shots before you know it.

11-11-2009, 01:05 PM
Maybe that is the "hook" to get folks to begin playing safeties....mentioning that it is a skill shot!!!. I like it!!!
I play on a team of marginally skilled players...given the right
layout, I can run 3 balls, so they think I am an
advanced player. "In the land of the blind, the one eyed man
is King". They will sometimes ask for my input on
their options....but they balk at my safety suggestions
as they are all "run out players". My idea why they resist is
you don't look all that bad when missing a shot, but selling
out while trying to play safe.......

11-11-2009, 03:46 PM
Playing safe iz a big part of English billiards.
THE BREAK. The break iz uzually a safety -- uzually u hit the red into baulk, leeving your white out of baulk but near a side cushion -- or, u might try to put both balls in baulk -- or, u might leev both balls out of baulk but one on the left cushion and one on the right.

MISSING. Back in 1965 u were allowed an intentional miss -- ie u didnt even havtahit a ball (or rail).

COUP. Untill 2008, u kood shoot into a pocket for some shots -- called "running a coup" -- leeving the opponent with just the red to play at.

Praktising safetys and praktising trying to score off safetys iz a big part of modern English billiards -- it iz one of the reasons that English billiards iz the best (most enjoyable) cue'sport in the world.

Join your nearest league (probly in Canada).

11-11-2009, 04:09 PM
<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: JoeW</div><div class="ubbcode-body">There is a cliche in the league I played in, "If you can't run 8 don't run 7." Seems to help some players. Others just don't see the logical extension of that type of thinking.</div></div>Joe -- When i used to try to play backgammon, theory had it that a 1 in 3 chance woz worth taking -- ie anything better than 1 in 3 gave u the edge -- koz if u didnt take the risk then u were handing your opponent your 1 in 3 for nothing.

So, how kood this sort of statistik be applyd to pool ??????????
In a simple situation, say with just the 9Ball (or 8Ball) remaining -- what are the odds ?????????

What iz the odds for potting the 9.
What iz the odds for the opponent potting the 9 if i miss.
What iz the odds of me playing a safety az planned.
What iz the odds of the opponent potting the 9 off my safety.
What iz the odds of etc etc etc etc etc etc.

Kood u do tests -- 2 equally matched players (and for 2 non'equal players) -- playing say 100 games -- with just the 9 -- the 9 and Qball placed by hand -- in the same pozzy every time (or/and in different set pozzyz) -- both players playing zero safety -- then both players playing lots of safety -- then only one player playing zero safety.

What rezults might a statistician kum up with ????
What rezults might a psychologist kum up with ????

U might firstly need to calibrate eech player -- eg by having the player play lots of set shots -- eg potting -- to check performance.
U might havta calibrate for safetys too.

11-11-2009, 04:45 PM
This sort of experiment kood allso be dunn by computer v's computer (u know what i mean) -- eech computer being given a Rating (ie being set on a Rating) -- and for varyus kombos of Ratings.

11-11-2009, 06:25 PM
<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: wolfdancer</div><div class="ubbcode-body">Maybe that is the "hook" to get folks to begin playing safeties....mentioning that it is a skill shot!!!. I like it!!!

Our team has a "scratch pot" If you give up BIH during a match it costs you a dollar. Maybe we should tell them if they play a lock-up safety and get BIH out of it, they get a buck!


11-11-2009, 08:33 PM
While Bayesian approaches in a regression model could be used, it would require entering several variables and probably too many to derive a reliable equation. In my experience, more than about four variables results in estimates that are not useful except for theoretical analysis in this type of situation. As I am sure you know there are many variables to be considered when developing one's strategy.

The the use of clustering procedures in an ipsative analysis one could identify the pertinent variables that might be if use.

(BTW I am an applied statistician and taught advanced graduate statistics and psychometrics for many years.)

The logical extension of the statement, "If you can't run 8 don't run 7" involves the idea that if you can't run two don't run one. The strategy is to set up the table for a run out from wherever one is in the game. Not everyone agrees but it does depend on one's goal.

11-11-2009, 10:28 PM
Joe -- But when just the 8Ball iz left, iz a safe mostly eezyr (better) than having a go.
Can u send the 8 for a ride (or do u havta nominate).
If u stun on the 8 (to minimize scratching) but send it into orbit.......
1...... what are the general chances of the 8 falling.
2...... what are the chances of fluking a safe'ish leev anyhow.

11-12-2009, 02:27 AM
another good idea!!
The carrot and stick approach, sort of???

11-12-2009, 03:11 AM
Mac,I think I understand what JoeW was saying?????, but then I also believe sometimes that I know what you are saying.... and wonder if my layman's ideas belong in this "over my head" discussion about the game.They might be more fitting as applied strictly to run out strategy, but I'll take a shot at it, and probably come off badly....(as usual)
I once read there are 5 different types of intelligence...checking today, someone is claiming 7, and someone else has raised the bar to 9.
I think the one that pertains to pool would be spatial intellect.
I assume that pattern recognition would fall under spatial intelligence?, and that the pattern has to reevaluated after each shot in pool. Also on the several different sites I eyeballed....hand/eyeball coordination was listed under spatial intellect, but I can't find that now.
So in my poor understanding of what I just read ...one would first identify the primary pattern, predict the resultant pattern change for the next three shots, taking into account one's own mechanical ability, and then make the go/no go decision to either continue the run, or play safe?.
If I am at least partially correct...I'm not sure that can be taught, rather then learned.....so I'm back to my original premise that you can teach someone "how" rather easily, but teaching them "when", is a horse of a different color.
Good thing I never had to consider all the things that Joe mentioned as I would still be bowling instead of playing pool, and don't have room in the house for a bowling alley.

11-12-2009, 03:38 AM
I like Wolfdancer's way of stating it better than I like mine -- well said. While I obviously think that math analysis is of use in many ways there are places where it has little value given our current tools and the time it takes to use them.

11-12-2009, 07:29 AM
<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: wolfdancer</div><div class="ubbcode-body">another good idea!!
The carrot and stick approach, sort of??? </div></div>

Pretty much. Rewarding them for executing smart shots. At least they might begin to associate playing defense with something positive.


11-12-2009, 05:59 PM
I like the idea of getting a buck for playing an "intentional" lock up safety. I also like to watch my opponent suffer through a horrible safety trying to figure out some way to do the near impossible. Priceless! ahhh, the simple pleasures.