Is Pool A Game Of Luck? (The Truth)

Pool games begin with the player hitting the cue ball as hard as possible to break the triangle of balls. The player watches as the balls split up and bounce off the cushions and each other. Sometimes, balls go into pockets but often not. Seeing this, you may ask whether Pool is a game of luck.

Pool is a game of pure skill and strategy. It does appear that a player depends on luck to pot a ball, especially during the break, but it is no different from a golfer hoping the wind blows in the right direction during a long-distance shot. It is 90% skill with 10% luck.

The break is the only shot when a player hopes for the laws of probability to work in his favor. In any sport, luck does play a part, but it is not to be taken for granted. Let’s take a close look at exactly how pool is played and the factors that influence the game.

Is Pool Luck Based?

During the break when balls are rolling all around the table, hitting each other randomly, it does happen that a few balls find their way into a pocket. This has created the misconception that pool is a game of luck. A pocket is no different from any random point marked on a pool table. In this case, there are 6 random points or pockets on a pool table.

When 15 balls are hit hard enough, it is bound to happen that 1 or more balls will pass over these 6 random points. The keywords in the last sentence are “hard enough”, so professional players spend a great deal of time practicing the break, as well as finding new ways to generate more power. One of the ways is to use a much heavier cue to break the bunch with.

It needs to be pointed out that all pro pool players carry 2 cues: 1 is a breaking cue, along with another cue for regular play. Typically a normal cue ranges from 17 to 21 ounces, but a breaking cue is much heavier, starting from 21 ounces. This only goes to show just how important the break is because it can make or break a match (pun intended). From a good break, an average player can run out.

Is Pool A Skill Based Game?

Pool is a skill-based game. Without basic skills, a player cannot hope to get far in pool. Even though the big pockets and small tables have reduced the skill level needed, there will be many instances when the player’s level of skill makes the difference between winning or losing.

Playing From The Cushion

There are plenty of times when the cue ball is resting against a cushion, or the position of balls on the table does not offer an easy shot. A hard pot becomes even more difficult whenever the cue ball is tight against a cushion. Playing from the cushion is one of the hardest shots to master with the added constraint of not being able to control the end position of the cue ball precisely.

For a beginner, the most difficult shot to learn is striking the cue ball accurately when the cue ball is tight on the cushion. If the cue ball is away from the cushion, the player can place his bridge on the table and have the entire diameter of the ball to hit. But. if the ball is on the cushion then only the topmost third of the ball above the cushion rail is strikable.

The other restriction is that the player cannot form a normal bridge, so has to be content with making the pot and not trying for anything more. Great steadiness is essential to be able to hit the cue ball accurately and playing from the cushion is a shot that even advanced players approach with great care. Very few are comfortable playing this shot as most dread it.

The Use Of Spin

Spin is an advanced concept not taught to players until they have a good grasp of basic technique. There are 4 types of spin: left spin, right spin, topspin, and backspin. Of these, the most important and often used is backspin as it offers a method of controlling the cue ball precisely. All advanced players are well versed with spin, utilizing it often to position the cue ball for the next shot.

Backspin is applied by striking the cue ball well below center. Even though the cue ball skids forward, it is actually spinning backward. When the cue ball hits the object ball, the forward momentum is lost allowing the reverse spin to take over and spin the ball backward. By varying the amount of backspin applied, a player can control the cue ball position precisely to within a few inches.

Left spin and right spin are used to make the ball run faster or slow down. It can be observed in action after the cue ball hits a cushion and then noticeably moves faster or slower. It is worth pointing out that when either left or right spin is used, the cue ball moves in a slight curve that varies with the amount of spin applied.

Since the ball moves in a curve it does not hit the object ball where the player intended it to and an allowance has to be used while aiming, to compensate for the amount of spin being used. This is a complex shot not to be used by the beginner, only by advanced players who know exactly what they are doing. Mastery of sidespin as well as how to apply it requires plenty of practice.

Banking A Ball

Banking a ball is when a player hits a ball at an angle onto a cushion so that the ball bounces off it into the opposite pocket. An area where advanced players excel is in banking a ball; this involves learning angles as well as getting some experience. Generally, a ball hit onto a cushion at an angle will bounce off it at the same angle in the opposite direction.

However, it requires a good amount of practice and experimentation before a player can accurately estimate where the ball will go after it bounces off a cushion.

Cue Ball Control

All good players strive to control the position of the cue ball during every shot. This helps in making the next shot easier while controlling the cue ball again for the next position. Thus, it can be seen that a loss of cue ball control in one shot can rapidly snowball after a few shots.

Is Pool A Game Of Strategy?

While strategy plays a part in pool, the most successful players are those who have been able to merge skill with strategy. There are going to be sticking points where the player needs to plan ahead how to run out. It happens very often that after the break, there are 3 to 4 balls grouped together.

This forces the player to play a cannon into them or use some other way to break them up so that the individual balls break away from the group to become pottable. In the process of opening out these balls, the position to pot the next ball can be lost, necessitating a safety shot. Because of the small table and big pockets, playing a defensive shot in pool is very difficult to do.

When you consider that a single mistake can cost the player not only the rack, but the match, it is clear just how big a part strategy plays in the overall context. Even for the best of players, it is very rare for the game to go exactly according to plan. A few inches more or less in the cue ball’s position can make a world of difference.

The game is constantly changing after every shot needing strategy re-adjustment as well as corresponding changes in play. On its own, strategy cannot claim to be the backbone of the game but does play a large part in any player’s success.

Is Pool A Gambling Game?

Any sport that gains in popularity is going to attract followers who want to bet on the outcome of a game. Pool has more than its fair share of gamblers as many pool tables are installed in bars where people have a lot of time to spare. This inevitably leads to gambling with a few players taking advantage of less-skilled opponents.

These players are known as “pool sharks.” It is sad but true that pool has never received a fair shake in this context and has always been perceived as a “gambling” game. 2 films made about pool never portrayed it in a good light either. One was “The Hustler” with Paul Newman made in 1961, and the other was “The Color of Money” also with Paul Newman made in 1986.

Final Thoughts

Pool cannot be considered a game of luck, as the two huge components of skill and strategy form the core of the game. As in any other sport, luck does play a small role but isn’t the determinant of a player’s success. How far a player goes depends on their skills plus strategy honed to perfection.