The man, the legend, the Magician, Efren Reyes. Widely acknowledged as the greatest pool player of all time, his knowledge and creativity is unrivalled. However, almost no one praises Efren’s cue action as being ‘solid’ or ‘textbook’. Why is that the case? Is it because of the way it looks? As mentioned in a previous post, a good cue action has nothing to do with how it looks, but rather what it does.
To be fair, the Refined Cueist did make the very same mistake he is trying to alert you to. When the Refined Cueist was still an amateur player, he had the opportunity to watch Efren practice at his local pool parlour. Efren picked out the corner table, unbeknownst to him that the pockets on that table were tiny (roughly 1 1/2 balls width). The Refined Cueist was sure that Efren would struggle; many other pros who practiced on that table before him did. But Efren did not even notice the size of the pockets. It was then the Refined Cueist realised that, despite how it looked, Efren’s cue action was rock solid.
So what about Efren’s cue action can we pick up?
Perhaps the most important thing Efren can teach us is the amount of pressure exerted by the grip hand. But before we discuss grip pressure, it would be helpful to talk about the relevant terminology so we have a clear understanding going forward.
‘Grip’ in this context only refers to action of the hand holding a cue. It should not be taken to mean that a certain pressure has to be applied by the hand. There is also a common misconception or misunderstanding that a tight or loose grip equates to the number of fingers holding the cue, or the amount space between the cue and the ‘V’ (the part of your hand in between the index finger and thumb). This is an incorrect method of defining whether a grip is tight or loose.
For example, you could grip a cue with just your index finger and thumb. It may look ‘loose’, but in fact be ‘tight’ because you are exerting a lot of pressure on the cue. Similarly, you could wrap your entire hand around the cue but exert almost no pressure on the cue. On the outside, it would look ‘tight’ when in fact it is ‘loose’.
Hence, the Refined Cueist prefers to discuss the concept of grip in terms of pressure exerted on the cue. In addition, grip pressure helps explain a major flaw in the cue actions of many players. So what is the proper grip pressure to be exerted?
Given that Efren is the star of this post, you would be right to think that minimal pressure is the correct answer. But the reasoning behind this answer is a lot more complicated than you might expect.
Many commentators describe the advantages of having a ‘loose’ grip include being able to spin the cue ball more (whatever that means) and being able to generate faster cue speed. While those advantages are, at best, tenuous, the true advantage of minimal grip pressure is accuracy. To that end, the biggest reason why players miss is because of changes in grip pressure throughout their cue action.
Imagine you’re applying minimal pressure on the cue as you pull it back. But as your cue comes forward, for some reason or another, you begin to exert increasing pressure on the cue. This change in pressure directly affects the direction your cue is heading, leading to an inaccurate strike on the cue ball. Not convinced? Grab hold of any item that fits in your hand like a cue would. Hold it up but only exert enough pressure so that the item does not fall out of your hand. Now watch and add pressure. You will notice that the position of your hand and item is no longer the same as before. The change in position may be minimal, but imagine the tip of your cue deviating that much before striking the cue ball.
You would be surprised how many people think that they don’t have this problem. There was a particular student of the Refined Cueist who described his one-finger grip as being “very loose”. And at first instance, it did look very loose, even looser than Efren. But unlike the Magician, as his cue tip began to near the cue ball, he would apply a strong pressure on his cue for fear of the cue slipping out of his hand. Hence, you can understand why the Refined Cueist dislikes describing a grip as either ‘tight’ or ‘loose’.
But wait, if the secret is simply being able to keep a constant grip pressure throughout the cue action, why prefer less pressure than more pressure? In theory, if you applied maximum pressure constantly throughout your cue action, you would be able to cue in a straight line. In practice, that is (almost) physically impossible (there are a few notable players who apply great pressure in their grip, and will be discussed in a future post).
First, in order to pull back the cue there needs to be a little movement in the wrist. This is what snooker players commonly refer to as ‘opening up the grip’. However, if you apply too much pressure, your wrist is automatically locked and you will not be able to pull the cue back much naturally. Second, it is harder to judge how much pressure you are applying if you choose to maintain a higher pressure grip. However, a grip which applies minimal pressure is easier to maintain throughout. Third, applying higher pressure in your grip automatically engages the other muscles in your arms. Given that what ultimately drives your cue back and forth is your arm (and not your grip), a tense arm wil result in slower cue speeds.
So what should you do now? The Refined Cueist suggests experimenting with different variations of the grip and discovering which grip best allows you to maintain a minimal, constant pressure on the cue throughout your cue action. Personally, the Refined Cueist considers that more fingers wrapped around the cue is more conducive for maintaining constant grip pressure. There is less fear that the cue will slip out of the grip hand and there is less tendency for you to apply more pressure before impact. However, as always, there is no hard and fast rule and you should adopt a grip that best suits your physical characteristics.