Review of “Play Your Best Pool” by Philip B. Capelle
One of my favorite instructional pool books is Play Your Best Pool by Phil Capelle. It is the most comprehensive and thorough single volume of general pool instruction I know of. My copy, the one I’m reviewing here, is from the 1st printing. The book was updated last year and it’s been made even better.
Phil starts out with the fundamentals; stance, grip, bridge, etc., and covers them in detail. This is all to the good, since without good fundamentals you’ll not advance very far, or at least not very quickly. Aiming is next, covered well in 15 pages, including different aiming methods, where in the pocket to aim for various shots, and even a section on contact induced throw.
Moving forward, the chapters become longer and more detailed as the increasingly complex subject matter warrants. In Shotmaking, a wide range of shots is covered, from cut shots and combinations to banks, caroms, billiards, rail first shots and more. Phil includes a detailed explanation of throw and how it works in quite a number of situations. As is true throughout the book, the diagrams are clear, well labled, accurate and always on the same page as the relevant text.
Play Your Best Pool is the most comprehensive and thorough single volume of general pool instruction.
After covering english, including how to apply it, how it affects the path of the cueball, and how it can wreak havoc on your game until you learn to compensate for its various effects (all explained), the groundwork has been completed and it’s time to discuss position play. This most important of topics is covered in great detail for a hundred pages. Every one of those has at least one diagram and many have more. Many of the diagrams show various options for moving the cue ball to different parts of the table. By devoting so much space to this important topic, Capelle has space to cover the subject both broadly and deeply. He hits all the subject areas, and goes into great detail on each of them. When he writes about all the various types of shots (stop, stun, follow and draw) he breaks each one down into many variations, not only revealing the richness and depth of the subject, but explaining how and when to do each one. You can feel your pool knowledge expanding and you can’t wait to get to the table to try out all the new stuff.
This chapter isn’t just a brute force coverage of a list of shot types. The explanations usually cover subtleties as well. Like talking about paying attention to the details that make the difference between getting the position you wanted and missing it. Making sure you know on which side of the line you want to be on for your next shot in order to be able to move on to the third ball in sequence; paying attention to the size and shape of the the target area, and knowing if being short of ideal is preferable to being long, or vice versa.
By this point, Play Your Best Pool has already more than delivered excellent value for your hard earned dollar. But there’s more; much more.
It’s all well and good to have your mechanics down pat, and extensive pool knowledge to help you do what you want to do on the table. But pool is a thinking game as much as it’s a physical skill game, and the sections that follow will help you with that other half, knowing what you want to do. The next two chapters are devoted to the two most popular pool games of our time, eight and nine ball. In eight ball, Phil covers topics including but not limited to assessing the table and picking the best group, knowing how and whether to run out, or if you need to wait, how to improve the table for your return visit without giving too much to your oponent. Balancing offense and defense and how to play the end game are also covered in depth.
Pool is a thinking game as much as it’s a physical skill game.
Nine ball requires different skills but the idea is the same, how do I best use the skills I have learned and refined in the 1st 200 pages of the book to improve my winning percentage. Nine ball is more demanding technically than 8 Ball, so additional detail is provided for a few specific areas, including position play, shot making, the break and kicking. The strategic areas receiving the most attention are the pushout, safety play, adjusting to your opponent, minimizing the impact of mistakes, balancing offense and defense, and assessing the rack correctly.
Chapters 8 and 9 cover the mental game and competitive play. These areas are more important than you might think, and if you work on them you’ll reap significant benefits. Capelle shows you how.
Wrapping up, chapter 10 is all about how to improve. You’ve spent the money to buy the book and spent the time reading and understanding it, now you need to turn that knowledge into ability. Using tried and true training techniques, this section will help you to focus your effort and get the most out of your practice time. Many drills are presented to work numerous areas of your game. Phil gives a good introduction to the topic here, and he returns to it later with a whole book, Capelle’s Practicing Pool. As a matter of fact, Phil has done that for three games, with Play Your Best Eight Ball, Play Your Best Nine Ball and Play Your Best Straight Pool, as well as expanding on the mental side of the game with A Mind for Pool.
Because of the completeness of the treatment of his subject, the care and detail Phil has given to selecting his examples and the way he illustrated them with numerous clear and accurate diagrams, I’m giving this book a 9 on my 10 point scale.
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