When I watch pros play one-pocket, pool's most tactical game, I observe that most racks are won with determined, fundamental safety play. One-pocket also offers occasional stabs at some dazzling shots that would be suicidal in other games, but the flashy crowd pleasers tend to be rare. More typically, two players will patiently nag each other with ordinary but effective responses, persistently leaving the cue ball frozen to a cushion or another ball to limit the other player's options and force mistakes.
Because the shooter is often sending an object ball far away from the opponent's pocket while moving the cue ball only two or three inches, competitive one-pocket players must master stun-follow and stun-draw for short, precise cue-ball movement with firm speed - two safety techniques that are useful in all games.
In Shot A, we can hit the 3 ball but cannot cut it enough to shoot it into the upper-left corner. Without thinking, most beginners would probably play the off-angle, cross-corner bank. But the smart shooter would take control of the rack with a safety that sends the 3 ball around the table and hides the cue ball on the rail behind the 6. To learn that shot, first practice shooting stop shots on the 3 ball with the necessary speed to move it three rails around the table and back toward the upper-right side rail. Because the stop shot leaves the cue ball exposed, you must now add stun-follow for the safety. So, cue it up again for the same stop shot and then raise your tip slightly higher on the cue ball, maybe a sixteenth of an inch. With a firm stroke and a precise hit, it will drift forward just enough to reach the rail.
Shot B employs the same principle for stun-draw. Set up the balls as shown and shoot the 4 ball a few times with firm stop shots. Then lower your tip slightly and shoot it until you are consistently drawing the cue ball backwards to die on the 8. Both shots require a surgeon's feel for the cue ball, so be patient as you learn to match different speeds with small adjustments on the cue ball.
The biggest step that beginning and intermediate players can take toward improvement is to shift their thinking about safety from defense to offense. Because a good safety pays off with ball in hand, smart players greet a safety shot as an offensive opportunity. Without safeties, pool would have to join the other leisure sports that lack all the deliciously sinister moves we get to enjoy. The late Danny McGoorty summed it up best when he said that he tried golf once but didn't see the point when he couldn't snooker the other guy on the green.
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