I started playing pool at the young age of 7 years old, during the winters growing up in northern Maine when the temperature reached 50 below zero and it was too cold to ski. The rec room at Loring AFB had a couple of pool tables, and as a very athletic kid I had a natural curiosity about the game, and after watching a few games I was invited by one of the airmen to play a game with him. He showed me how to hold the cue stick and make a bridge, and got me a little wooden box to stand on so I could reach the table. It didn’t take long for me to become addicted to the game, and soon invited my friends to play. We spent many a cold winter day inside that rec room, playing for hours, making up our own rules and games, and eventually even betting nickel candy bars on the outcome. Yeah, we were big spenders!
When summer hit, we put the cues away and played baseball all day long. My dream, since I was 5 and saw the Dodgers play in Los Angeles several times before my dad was transferred to Loring, was to be a pro baseball player, and I eventually got a baseball scholarship to college in Texas, where my dad retired in 1966. Through the years, every spare hour not spent practicing baseball was spent in a pool hall, and after my baseball career ended with a torn pitching shoulder, pool became my number 1 interest. I won my first tournament when I was 17, at a bar that my sister worked at, and won a cue stick as first prize. I was thrilled beyond belief, until I screwed the stick together and rolled it across the table. To my horror, it rolled like a corkscrew, being so warped as to be unplayable! Back to playing with a bar stick!
For the next 20 years, I hustled pool where ever I was working at the time. I drilled oil wells all over the country, and made as much money hustling the roughnecks after their shift as I did from my salary. As a mud engineer, I was responsible for checking many different rigs daily, and got to know, and play against, hundreds of different pool players each year. Moving around the country to different areas on a yearly basis, I was able to keep under the radar and remain a relative unknown, so it was never any trouble to get a money game going. I don’t think I ever met a roughneck who didn’t play pool, and most of them had a pretty high opinion of their game. That usually changed when it came time to pay up!
In 1989 I met the Alexander brothers on a golf course in Dallas. Nick, a lawyer, had founded Clicks Billiards many years before, and now had a total of 20 pool halls from Phoenix to Florida, with his original pool hall right there in Dallas at Abrams Rd. and Northwest Highway. Greg, his brother, was the General Manager, and responsible for hiring managers for all 20 of their pool halls. By this time I had retired from the oil business, and made my living on the golf course and pool halls every day. Greg and Nick were both members of Sleepy Hollow Country Club in south Dallas, where I hustled golf every day. Greg was a 3 handicap, and after I had played with him 3 or 4 days a week for several months ( and took quite a bit of money from him), he asked me if I played pool. Heh heh heh. “A little bit”, I said, and he took me that night to the original Clicks Billiards, to try to win a little of his money back.
After he paid up the hundred I beat him out of that night, he offered me a job, as assistant manager of the original Clicks. He knew I had never bar tended before, but assured me I would pick it up quickly, and would fit right in with the pool players who made up their core customer base. Was he ever right! I took to it like a duck to water, and ended up meeting most of the best pool players in Dallas, and some of the best in the country. Clicks had several exhibitions, including one by Grady Matthews, and one by Ewa Mataya, the Striking Viking. Clicks was also where I met CJ Wiley, the road player who won the ESPN Ultimate Nine Ball Challenge in 1995 or 96. There were many, many top notch professional players at Clicks, with many a $1,000 game of one pocket going on day and night, with lots of major Dallas bookies bankrolling a lot of the action, and sweaters on the rail by the dozens, just watching…or praying, lol.
CJ rolled into Clicks in 1990, and proceeded to terrorize the local pros. He was an instant legend, steamrolling every major player in town. Guys who scared the dickens out of me would not even touch CJ when he offered them the 5 and out. His rep grew, and his ranking did too, eventually reaching #4 or 5 in the world of Pool. Working there, I became fast friends with CJ, and when he opened up his own room in Dallas, CJ’s Billiard Palace, I eventually quit Clicks and went over to manage CJ’s place. When he opened up, 90% of the action, and pro players, went with him. He had 12 Gold Crowns, as opposed to the 4 at Clicks, a kitchen, and was open 24 hours. The action never stopped.
So what, you ask, does all this have to do with the title topic? I bought my first cue, a Thomas Wayne model, in 91, and while it was beautiful, with lots of gorgeous inlays, and very responsive, it really did nothing to improve my game. I played with it for 3 years until it was stolen, and I loved the cue, but I could play just as well with a bar cue, providing it was the right weight and had a good tip. I spent 700 dollars for the cue, but I really didn’t need to. It did not give me any advantage over a house cue.
I had a severe back injury in 1994, that made me quit playing golf and pool. I didn’t want to risk an operation, and it wasn’t until 2008 that I got some non-narcotic medication from the V.A. that let me bend over the table again without excruciating pain. By this time, Predator Cues had come out with a 10 piece shaft that was hollow at the tip, significantly reducing cue ball deflection at impact…or so they claimed. Having been away from the game for 14 years, I had read little about these cues, and was intrigued, to say the least.
For those of you reading this who don’t know what cue ball deflection is, here it is in a nut shell: When a cue ball is struck to either side of the vertical axis…the center line….the cue ball will deflect, or “squirt” in the opposite direction. So if you hit the cue ball using right ‘english’…hitting the cue ball right of the vertical center line…the cue ball will deflect to the left, and vice versa.. The amount of deflection varies, depending on speed of the stroke, the distance from the center line (or tip offset) the cue ball is struck, and the mass of the tip. In other words, the more english you apply, the harder the stroke, and the bigger the mass of the tip…..these factors will all increase the amount of deflection, or squirt. This squirt must be compensated for when aiming, or you will miss the shot quite often.
This is where the Predator technology comes into play. With a small hollow space at the end of the tip, the reduced mass drastically reduced the amount of deflection by allowing the cue ball to push the shaft out of the way at impact, instead of the shaft pushing the cue ball out of the way. The 314 shaft became very popular immediately with professionals, and the Z shaft reduced deflection even more by reducing the tip size from 12.75mm to 11.75mm. A shorter ferrule also helped reduce mass, and therefore reduce deflection even more. Independent testing has the Z² shaft and the 314² shaft from Predator as being the #1 and #2 shafts in the world in causing the least amount of deflection. Predator cues and shafts are used by over half of the top 40 professionals, 3 of the top 5 women professionals, and over 35,000 players worldwide, according to the Predator web site. These professionals are not paid to play these cues. They play them because their living depends on their playing ability, which is enhanced with this high-tech equipment.
Since Predator led the way in the mid 90’s, many companies have now joined the technology revolution. Lucasi Hybrid Cues offers the Zero Flex Point shaft on all their hybrid models. This shaft has technology similar to the Predator shafts to drastically reduce deflection. They offer these shafts with many joint types to fit most cues made today. World Champion Thorsten Hohmann from Germany now plays Lucasi Hybrid.
The OB-1 and OB-2 shafts also offer low deflection technology, and John Schmidt recently changed to the OB cue. He said he ran over 400 balls playing straight pool, the second day he used the OB shaft.
I had to try out one of these cues myself, and I must say: I love the new high-tech pool cues. I play with a Predator 5K3, and despite not having played in 14 years, my game has ascended to a level way higher than I ever played before. The reduced deflection makes the hard shots using english much simpler, by reducing the amount of compensation for squirt.
In summation, the advance of technology has shortened the learning curve for beginning and intermediate players by reducing cue ball deflection, and requiring much less compensation for the squirt effect. And the pros, who make their living with a cue? Nearly all of them play a low-deflection shaft of some kind. Why wouldn’t they? If they don’t, their competitors (who all do) will take the money.
While Predator remains the benchmark for low deflection, they are also not cheap. The retail price for a Z² shaft is nearly $300, but the new Lucasi Hybrid Cues, with similar technology (and also new grip technology to reduce impact vibration) are a good lower priced alternative. For less than the price of a Predator Z² shaft alone, your can get an outstanding Lucasi Hybrid [http://www.poolsharkcues.com/product_info.php?cPath=6&products_id=78/] that has advanced low-deflection technology and plays fantastically well. If a World Champion like Thorsten Hohmann is playing a Lucasi Hybrid, you KNOW it is an outstanding cue.
So think long and hard when purchasing a new cue stick. If you don’t use a cue with modern low-deflection technology, chances are your opponent will be. Everything else being equal, a modern low-deflection cue, or an older cue with a new low-deflection shaft, is going to win the vast majority of the time. Greatly improved accuracy will make it so.