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Money in the Banks

WorldSuccessfully banking balls is more than just a hope and a prayer.

By Keith Paradise
Photos By JP Parmentier


John Brumback didn't initially learn how to bank billiard balls as a quest to be the best at it. He did it as a way to protect his investment.

When Brumback was around 20 years old, he regularly gambled with a player in Lexington, Ky. and each session had a similar script. The young Kentuckian would win a nice sum of money playing 9-ball, then his opponent would talk him into playing bank pool and win it all back.

"I thought, 'Well, if I just get better at banks and beat him, I can win all of the money," he rationalized. "I went back home focusing on nothing but banks for that one guy, basically."

Brumback would get a lot better at banking, taking home the Derby City Classic 9-Ball Banks title three times and winning the U.S. Open Banks Championship in 2007. He's mixed in a handful of regional championships as well, becoming one of the foremost authorities on the discipline.

"I wanted to be the best at some kind of pool, and I just figured bank pool was my chance to be one of the best," he said.

How a player approaches a bank shot is sometimes determined by the shooter's knowledge and confidence level with the technique. Many of the top professional pool players rely strictly on feel and instinct — so much so for Billy Thorpe that he can't even really provide details on his banking strategy. The young man from Ohio didn't even realize how good of a banking player he was until a few years back when he started entering the ring game at a Michael's Billiards in Cincinnati. Although the entry fee was only five dollars a rail, it wasn't uncommon for him to leave with around $1,500 in his pocket.

"I don't really know how to teach it, man. It's tough," said Thorpe, who won this year's banks ring game at the Derby City Classic and also won the event's banks division last year. "A lot of people ask me how I do it. I just get up there and hit."


Kentucky banks champion Brumback insists he's never used a diamond system.

For beginners and amateurs who aren't as naturally gifted as Thorpe, the method is more of a necessary evil, with competitors sometimes choosing to attempt lower percentage shots in order to avoid a bank altogether. Some players struggle with determining how to aim, while others have difficulty with speed control. Additionally, many don't know the most effective place to hit the cue ball or whether or not using sidespin is necessary.

"When you watch amateurs try these shots, they miss high on the rail because they're using English and throwing the ball," said BCA Hall of Famer Darren Appleton. "You can see a lot of times they're just guessing."

"The biggest thing about banking is people think that it comes off the rail the same way that it comes in," said Professional Billiard Instructors Association Master Instructor Jerry Briesath. "They'll be short on every bank if they think that. You have to overcut almost every bank."

For this year's Instruction Issue, Billiards Digest talked with a handful of professionals, two BCA Hall of Famers and top instructors to get their tips and suggestions on how to make more bank shots. Although opinions varied on systems and approach, many of the concepts were almost unanimous.

"A lot of banking is just learning the shots," said professional player and instructor Max Eberle. "There are a few dozen shots that come up in banks. Once you start to learn your shots you learn how the physics of all of them work."

Speed

When Appleton first transitioned from the smaller balls of English 8-ball to American pool, he frequently banked balls implementing various speeds as well as side spin. Shortly after making the change, the Brit went on an exhibition tour with Varner, who encouraged him to use only two speeds when banking — medium and firm — and to cut down on the spin.

"You get used to the same hit all of the time and you trust the angles a lot more," said Appleton. "That really helped my banking, just trying to stick to two speeds and playing with no English unless you have to use it."

Cue ball speed is critical when banking, because the exit angle of a ball from a table's rail will be determined by that ball's speed. Additionally, the harder you strike the ball into a rail, the more it compresses into the rubber, changing the geometry and physics of the shot."

The majority of the players interviewed recommended a firmer hit on the cue ball that will cause the object ball to slide towards a pocket more than roll. For example, on a table-length bank shot, a ball that is struck at a slower speed will bank at a sharper angle, collide with the side rail sooner and miss its target completely. However, a ball struck on the same line with a firm speed should hold a straightened narrow angle back towards the pocket.

"Most top bank pool players hit it medium to firm speed, and that allows the pocket to gobble the ball up," said Brumback.

Although it's important to learn what the correct level of firmness is, discovering what happens when a ball is struck too firm is also tantamount. An object ball that is hit too hard could compress into the rail and hop, causing the ball to roll off of its intended target or bounce straight back and collide with the cue ball.


Appleton credits Nick Varner with helping him simplify his approach to banks.

Briesath discussed the physics behind a bank shot, explaining that the widest part of a billiard ball is lower than the angled point on a pool table's rail. As a result, a ball that is struck into a rail will compress into the rubber in a downward manner — almost as if trapped under the rubber — then be pushed out with a top spin.

Although learning a firm contact on the object ball can be critical in banking in rotation games like 9-ball, players who frequently play disciplines where minimizing cue ball travel is important — like one pocket or straight pool — will want to develop a softer bank shot as well.

Spin

"There are only two ways to miss a ball," said 1999 Derby City Classic 9-Ball Banks champion Nick Varner. "Either you line up wrong or you hit the cue ball in the wrong place."

Putting sidespin on the cue ball while banking can be both complex and confusing. For starters, the rebound spin off of the rail is the opposite of the English applied to the cue ball. So, applying right-hand English to the cue ball will cause the object ball to strike the rail and rebound back with left-handed spin. It's an application that can come in handy when there are object balls in or near your path, but when it is applied unintentionally it can cause the cue ball to "twist," transferring unwanted energy to the object ball and causing bank shots to veer off line.

Brumback said that one big misconception on side spin is that a lot of spin will cause more transfer than less. Not true. In fact, he said only a half tip to either side of the center of the cue ball will cause the object ball to move much more than applying, say, three tips of left-handed English.

"When you put a whole lot of spin on the cue ball it seems like it slips more, whereas with one tip it gets a better grip," he said.

"Balls are elastic, and that compression is enough to grab the object ball and spin it," said Eberle.

The players and instructors all emphasized executing bank shots with a center ball position. Varner said a player putting unwanted spin on a bank shot, especially a long-rail bank, could miss the pocket by a diamond, and that drills involving hitting the cue ball precisely on bank shots are some of the best practice an aspiring player can work on.


Varner insists bank pool improves his 9-ball consistency.

"I know kids can't wait to spin their ball, but over the years I've spent more and more time trying to stay in the middle of the cue ball," Varner said. "If I play banks before I play 9-ball, I find I'm hitting the cue ball more accurately."

There are situations during a rack when a touch of English can obviously be beneficial. One of those times is when a player is trying to bank a ball that is on or near a rail and is trying to avoid a double hit. One of the reasons for this mishit is the fact that the cue ball doesn't have the time and space to get out of the way of the object ball. A way to try and avoid the double hit is to strike the cue ball with a touch of right-or-left hand English while hitting the object ball with a thinner hit, which will assist with getting the cue ball out of the way quicker.

However, Appleton stressed that players should always check the object ball closely to see if its frozen to the rail.

"If its frozen to the rail you definitely have to make adjustments and sometimes the bank may not even be there," he said.

System

"How many banking systems are there? Anywhere between five and 300, depending on who you talk to," said Eberle. "Everyone develops their own little tricks."

The two ball-striking techniques that professionals will regularly use when banking is to slightly overcut the object ball while also hitting the shot firmly. This allows the banking angle of the object ball to lessen, or "shorten up." By doing this, the ball is able to roll towards the side of the pocket which has a more forgiving opening.

However, determining a unanimous aiming system among professionals and instructors was like trying to get them all to agree on their favorite pizza toppings. It also doesn't help when many of the players in the game today use feel and instincts like Thorpe employs over systems.

"Ninety-percent of banking is feel, and the rest will be method and practice," said Brumback.

"Banks is just visual. If you can visualize it and trust yourself, you can be pretty accurate," said Evan Lunda, who came in second in the Banks division of last month's Derby City Classic.

The good news is that there are numerous aiming systems that have been developed for helping less skillful players find the right angle. Additionally, not every professional relies solely on skill.

Appleton favors the mirror system, which is to essentially double the distance over from the line he's wanting to hit on the rail. For example, if he was banking from one corner pocket to opposite end corner pocket his aiming point would be around the side pocket with a touch of English to avoid scratching. If he were aiming from the corner pocket to the side pocket, the line would be near the middle diamond.


All top bankers agree that proficiency in banks is a reflection of knowledge and trust.

"I use it as a guide really, just reassurance," he said.

Brumback has developed a system of his own through practice and experimentation that involves holding the bank in order to shorten up the shot. However, there is not a specific aiming system that he implements other than instinct, feel and experience.

Eberle also subscribes to Brumback's system, and for good reason. In 2013, he was at a tournament in Tunica, Miss., and purchased the bank pool champion's video: "Bank Pool Secrets of a World Champion." Eberle took his new purchase back to his room, watched the instruction on his laptop and then won the competition's banking event on a 10-foot table the following day, beating Ike Runnels in the final.

"I would not have done that before watching his DVD," Eberle said. "and I still watch it today."

When it comes to the diamond system, most agreed that although it is effective for some shots, it's not completely fool proof. For example, the age and condition of the cloth, room temperature, rail conditions and the amount of dirt on the balls can alter the way a table banks and render the system useless. Good news for Brumback, who not only doesn't use the diamonds, he's not really sure how the system works to begin with.

"I tell people that I've never used a diamond system in my life," he said. "Not ever on one shot in my life have I used the diamond system on a pool table. I don't even know what they're there for."

The variances in table conditions can make a home table advantage critical when playing bank pool, something Varner frequently observed in his home state.

"In the old days, a lot of guys would get broke playing banks in the first town that they went to in Kentucky because the players at each room knew the tables so well," Varner said. "There were probably 100 guys in my hometown who could bank well."

"Everyone wants a quick fix"

"The only way to get good is with a lot of practice," said Brumback. "I think a lot of amateurs are looking for the silver bullet too much instead of hard work and practice. They're looking for tricks."

For any beginning or intermediate player looking to improve their banking game, there have been numerous books and videos published over the last 20 years. Eberle recalled still being a young man in Ohio when he picked up a copy of "Banking with the Beard," by Freddy Bentivegna, shortly after it was published. It was the first time he had read detailed descriptions of the physics behind these shots and how the object ball compressed into the rail.

"This is information that I didn't have growing up," said the 47-year-old.


Says Brumback, "There is no silver bullet. It takes practice."

Today, books, DVDs and online videos are everywhere. Brumback offers two videos strictly on banking, and Eberle's online Pro Pool Academy video series goes into great analytical detail about the art of the shots. Briesath is finishing experimentation on his own banking system, with plans to release the instructional information in the near future. Additionally, a 10-minute internet search will pull up a variety of videos and articles on banking systems and techniques.

However, players and instructors are all in agreement that none of this information matters if the player isn't practicing what knowledge they're absorbing, experimenting with speed, developing a consistent hit in the center of the cue ball and getting familiar with an aiming strategy.

"You can show people every system under the roof, but if they don't put the effort and the time in, and they aren't going to practice these things, they're never going to improve," Appleton said. "I may only practice banks for an hour a week, but it really makes a huge difference. If I didn't, I would always be second guessing myself."


Varner on Banks

So, you want to learn more about banking but don't have the time or money to invest in books, videos and lessons? Not to worry. Billiards Congress of America Hall of Famer and Billiards Digest instructional writer Nick Varner has drawn up three bank shots that players can work on. These exercises are not only a good way to work on game improvement but also to observe how the balls will react differently in different situations.


Diagram One

On table-length bank shots such as this one, the shooter will cut the object ball along Path One and the ball will rebound back rather straight. The harder they shoot the ball, the more they can cut it, which allows for the pocket to play bigger since the ball is travelling in straighter. If the ball traveled towards the pocket at more of an angle, they would need to be more accurate.

However, if the player was to hit the ball soft, the object ball would travel on a path similar to the one shown in Path Two, with the ball hitting the side rail before it even reaches the side pocket.

Lastly, hitting the cue ball firmly with the direction shown in Path Three would more than likely result in the object ball rebounding and striking the cue ball.

Diagram Two

This shot is an example of how adding sidespin to a shot can be an asset instead of a liability.

If a player attempted the bank using a center ball hit on the cue ball and the bank's natural angle, the object ball might clip the nearby 3 ball. However, if the player strikes the rail a couple of inches to the right of the original target while implementing some right-handed English, the object ball will rebound off of the rail with left-handed spin and would turn towards the pocket while eluding the nearby ball.

Diagram Three

This shot is not a dead bank but is a good example of available aiming systems.

The shot is into the side pocket and both balls are parallel near the middle diamond. Rather than looking for a spot on the rail to aim at, move to the right side of balls in order to get behind the object ball and look for the natural angle (shown with the dotted line). This shot can be played with both soft and firm speed in order to see how speed affects the angle.

 

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