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One Pocket. ~ Mark Finklestein

One of the most rewarding things about playing pool is that pool is a great equalizer.

It amazes me how I can still be competitive with 20 year olds and collect social security at the same time! But as I have gotten older, my eyes have gotten a little soft and the edges of the balls aren’t as sharp as they used to be.

Pool gives us a game though where I can use my skills and knowledge as a great equalizer to the young, sharp shooting eyes out there. From another direction, if 9 ball is hoping your opponent misses as the pattern is obvious to you, and you have mastered the intricacies of playing safe in 8 ball, it might be time for you to open the door to a new challenge and a new game, one pocket.

One pocket has a lot more thinking and problem solving than 8 ball or 9 ball, and you still get to shoot balls off. One pocket places a premium on knowledge, patience, safety play, and nerve. One pocket can be easily handicapped depending on skill level as well. If you are new to one pocket, give it a try. I think you will find it challenging, addictive and fun. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon!

The Rules:

I’m not going to bore you with a whole lot of rules. You can find them at this site which is a great site for stories, strategies, and the one pocket community. Basically you have to hit a ball and then after the crash, something has to hit a rail. On a foul, the incoming player gets ball in hand behind the head string and the player committing the foul loses a ball. The object of the game is to pocket 8 balls into your designated pocket. Traditionally each player takes a corner pocket by the foot of the table. The strategy revolves around finding ways to get balls in to play for your pocket, and denying the chance for your opponent to score.


Here is a diagram of the traditional break. The idea is to push balls by your pocket, and leave the cue ball by the 2nd diamond. This puts balls in play by your pocket, and hides them from your

opponent. This break also doesn’t leave your opponent an open shot at their pocket. All good things in this game! The breakers pocket is the top pocket by the rack in this diagram. What we are trying to do is hit the second ball, and maybe just kiss the head ball with inside spin. This hit brings the cue ball to the end rail where the spin flattens the angle a little to put the cue ball on the rail by the second diamond. Hopefully this doesn’t leave our opponent a shot and pushes balls in to play near our pocket.

Answering the Break:

Now comes the fun part. The break is considered worth a ball and a half so it is a bit of an edge. Getting out of the break gives the incoming shooter a chance to turn the break around! Answering the break will challenge your pool thinking and shot making skills. Make a great shot and you have turned the game around. Make a bad shot, and your opponent may not let you back to the table!

Let’s look at some basic answers to the break to get you started on your one pocket journey. Here is the results of a typical break and a common answer. The shooter was a little lucky in that they could see the right side of the 14. By going off the right side of the 14 with the correct speed, you can freeze the cue ball on the back side of the 11, and keep the 14 ball in play for a bank at your hole! Maximizing each turn at the table is one of the secrets of playing top drawer one pocket. The incoming player does not have a clear shot at his pocket, all the balls near your pocket are blocked, the 14 is up table on your side of the pocket threatening your opponent, and there is no easy safe available. Let’s play this out to see what a good player might do in this situation.

What our player did here was take a foul, which costs one point, but not selling out of the game. There are other options off the 14, but I wanted you to see this type of thinking and the cue ball route! By going three rails our opponent was able to get behind the 13 ball. Sure it costs a point, but it doesn’t sell out the whole game. As you can see, finding the best shot that maximizes your turn at the table, and then stepping up and executing it is what makes one pocket such an interesting and challenging game.

Some Strategy Ideas:

Playing the score is a big part of one pocket strategy. For example, when you are ahead, you want to push the balls up table as early as possible. The reason for this is that if you make a mistake, you don’t want the balls in a position that your opponent can run the game out. You want them to work for every ball. Likewise, if you are behind, you want to get balls in to play as soon as possible, hoping for a mistake by your opponent that would allow you to run some balls and get back in the game.

The basic strategy idea in one pocket is put a ball by your pocket and hiding it from your opponent. Freezing the cue ball to the stack, or the back of a ball, or on the rail in addition to putting a

ball in play by your pocket maximizes your turn at the table and keeps the pressure on your opponent, hopefully forcing them to make a mistake and leave you an open shot where you can run some balls. If there is a secret to one pocket it is that you don’t take chances! Many more games are lost because of mistakes than won by great shots. Be patient and wait and wait and wait. Spring your trap when the time is right and you will win a lot more games. Knowing what your percentages are and when to duck or go for a shot all come with experience in the game.

Learning the Game:

The best way to learn one pocket is to play better players. You can also watch Accustats or Youtube matches to see what great players do and how that compares with your shot choices. And of course the best way to get in to the game is start playing it. You will have started on a journey of life long challenges of tough traps, long shots off the rail, and mind bending outs from improbable places.


Photo Credit: Flickr/Juanedc

Editor: Dana Gornall

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