A chaotic system is one that shows sensitivity to initial conditions.
Any uncertainty in the initial state of the given system, no matter how small, will lead to rapidly growing errors in any effort to predict future behavior.
Basically, very small changes can result in greatly different final states in a weather system. This could mean that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Australia may lead to the formation of a hurricane in the Caribbean; hence the “butterfly effect.”
In a pool shot or “system,” this could mean that a slight change in the way you address the cue ball could entirely change the outcome of the shot. If you watch a good pool player who first started out playing snooker, you may notice that he has exceptional ball pocketing skills. This is partly because snooker requires tremendous aiming accuracy to pocket a ball; however, excellent cueing skills are equally important.
Out of necessity, world-class snooker players are not only excellent at keeping their body still.
They have finely honed a skill which surely comes in handy for playing all types of pool—accurately cueing the cue ball!
In saying “cueing the cue ball,” I am referring to the contact point between the cue’s tip and the cue ball at impact. Accurately cueing the cue ball means that the player actually hits the cue ball on the spot that he intended to strike. If a pool shot is the result of a chaotic system, then the behavior of the balls can be predicted only if the initial conditions are known to an infinite degree of accuracy, which is supposedly impossible.
However, a pool shot does not unfold completely because the balls will eventually stop due to the friction of the cloth. Now, imagine there was not any friction between the balls and the cloth and you had to accurately predict the exact route of a seven hundred and 25 rail bank shot! Can you see how minor discrepancies in where you cue the ball and the speed with which you hit it can show up way down the line?
Have no fear, though, as under present conditions it is within the realm of possibility to predict and control those little colored balls with hair-raising accuracy. This does require concentration as the outcome is still very sensitive to initial conditions. Cueing the cue ball and following through are like addressing a letter to a friend. Where you cue the cue ball will take it to the right zip code, and the speed will take it to the mail box for perfect position. However, if you give an incorrect address, the cue ball and object ball(s) may arrive in the wrong state!
Increasing your awareness of where you are hitting the cue ball will definitely improve your position game.
If you have the discipline to pay attention to this, you will also become a more consistent shot-maker by learning how minute differences in spin can affect deflection and your line of stroke.
Next time you practice, try directing most of your consciousness towards cueing the cue ball. Even though you will be looking at the object ball on the last follow through, you can still be aware of the cue ball. With practice and good form it will become second nature.
One thing to try is looking at the cue ball on your final stroke once you are confident in your line of aim. This will force you to stay still and give you a new awareness of cueing the cue ball. Also practice your center ball hit by putting the cue ball on the head spot (the spot on the end of the table where you break from), shooting it over the foot spot (the spot on which the front ball is racked) and having it rebound off the end rail so it comes straight back to hit your cue tip. This improves your awareness of center ball and thus your ability to put small increments of spin on the cue ball.
Anywhere on the vertical-center ball axis is still a center ball hit, and it is good to practice center ball follow (top spin) and center ball draw (bottom spin) as well.
Photo: Christopher Octa/Flickr Editor: Dana Gornall